Parenting – Get your groove back
Motherhood doesn’t mean losing your identity. Here’s how to balance family responsibilities with leading a fulfilled life as a woman.
The introduction to motherhood is stressful: you’re all about changing nappies, feeding baby, being sleepdeprived and feeling overwhelmed. And the fact that life doesn’t stop just because you’re a mother only adds to your stress. You must still be a partner, careerwoman and friend. So, when do you get to be you? Motherhood may be rewarding, but it’s okay to miss the person you were before having children.
We asked moms how they managed to find their identity and reconnect with the fun person they used to be before children took over their lives.
BUILD YOUR OWN VILLAGE
Trying to do it all on your own is a trap. Delegate tasks and ask for help, advises Zimbini, 30. “I rely on family and friends to step in now and again. Their support keeps me going and gives me peace of mind,” she says.
Parenting coach Susan GregorHarlen says trust is one of the main reasons mothers hold back. “Most moms don’t trust that someone else will be good for their children. They think the father won’t put the kids to bed on time or the aunt may not do the things we do for our children. You need to learn to let go,” she says.
The old cliché that it takes a village to raise a child still holds true, says Kego, 33. “Having my family around helps. My mom is great at fetching my son from school and attending school activities when I’m swamped at work. I also have a helper who assists me to run the house.”
KEEP YOUR GIRL SQUAD
The friends who knew you before you became a mom are important. Some of them may not have kids, but they’ll be sympathetic when you want a shoulder to cry on. This is what Amanda, 28, learnt when she became a mother at just 17. “Don’t ignore your friends – it’s so easy to get caught up in raising your baby. I was fortunate to go back to school and have my mother step in to look after my daughter. It enabled me to get back to my old self.”
Your friends know you best, as Mbali, 33, came to realise. “Surround yourself with like-minded people,” she says. “It’s important to have a life outside your
kids. Having ‘adult time’ to go out with your friends, without the children, is reinvigorating,” says the mother of twins.
Gregor-Harlen agrees. “Your friends understand you. At times, you just need a sounding board, not someone to fix your problem. It’s best to have a variety of friends, from single women to career-focused women to other moms. Otherwise, all you talk about is your children. This is ideal as you’re stimulated in different ways.”
BE STRICT ABOUT ‘ME’ TIME
Whether it’s being with your girls, shopping or taking a nap, you need to set time aside for yourself. Khathu had her first child when she was 26, and now, a few years later, she still struggles to balance motherhood and socialising. “It’s hard to set aside ‘me’ time. I’m learning to schedule it. I told my husband that I’m doing something for myself at least once a month.”
To put her plan into action, Khathu decided to go back to school. “Now I juggle school, kids, work and being a wife. I do feel guilty, but I’ll get there.”
Mia Renee Redrick, the author of Time for Mom-Me: 5 Essential Strategies for a Mother’s Self-Care, recommends journaling. “The goal is for you to hear yourself again. Have a written record of things that you want to change. Taking the time every day to hear your inner desires is the best way to live fully.”
Mahlape, 38, realised later that she’d lost herself and didn’t take time out when she had kids. “I became a mom at 28. It was exciting and life-changing. That’s why it was so easy to lose myself. I didn’t even notice it happening. I only learnt later that it’s important to take care of yourself and still be you.”
Gregor-Harlen advises starting to take ‘me’ time with small steps. “If you don’t, the world inside you will erupt. You’ll feel resentful and it affects everyone at home. You’ll feel as if you’re failing those around you. It becomes a vicious cycle. Even if it’s 15 minutes a day, take the time to do something you love, and then grow from there.”
LET GO OF THE GUILT
Mother-of-one Nozuko, 38, says she stopped wanting to be perfect. “I created the boundaries after I suffered from a mild form of postnatal depression. I was overwhelmed that this baby depended on me for everything. I eventually decided not to feel guilty for not being the best me all the time. I also got my husband to step in for two hours so I could go to the cinema or got the helper to watch my child while I went to gym. I let go of the guilt and realised I’m still Nozuko with dreams and ambitions, and it’s okay to not be perfect,” she says.
Gregor-Harlen says guilt prevents mothers from taking care of themselves. “Women feel that if they spend time on themselves, they’re neglecting their children. They feel they’re not being the perfect mother. Ask yourself this: ‘If I can give myself 10 minutes to have a cup of tea, will the world end?’ and ‘Won’t I be a better mother if I’m calmer after having done something nice for myself?’ If you don’t take the time to unwind, you bring your stress into the home environment and no one wins.”
Redrick says finding your happiness makes life easier. “A mother’s happiness contributes directly to her family’s wellbeing. My mother said being a mom is what you do, not who you are. Being a good mom has a lot to do with your ability to be good to yourself, so create a balance by living fully, staying healthy, dreaming big and finding ways to grow.”
KNOW THE STAGE YOU’RE IN
There are various stages of motherhood, depending on how old your child is. Babies and toddlers are more demanding of your time and attention, but they grow to be more independent. So, it stands to reason that if you have a two-year-old, your life will be structured differently from that of your friend with a pre-teen.
Noluthando, 34, is a mother of two. She explains how she learnt to let go with each milestone her son reached. “With my first child I was overwhelmed and didn’t know what I was doing. I tried to handle everything myself and be a great mom. I didn’t take care of myself or my appearance. I was a student at the time, as well as a wife and a new mom, so I was constantly busy. It was only after my son turned six months and I began bottle-feeding him that I realised I could leave him with my aunt and do things for myself. I realised that the more he grew, the more I could let go a little. It’s great now with my second child, because I know better and my son helps out. He likes playing big brother.”
Marcia Matau, a counsellor at Careways, says: “Learn to let go and stop trying to do everything right. If you have older children who can help you around the house, let them. And take the time to take care of yourself. ”
CREATE A VISION BOARD
Whether you want to get your body back by losing weight, move to a bigger house or start a business, pin all your hopes and dreams on this board. Cut out pictures so it’s visual or pin motivational quotes onto your board. Redrick suggests you ask these questions before journalling or making a vision board: What do I want for my life? Who am I? What do I like about my life? What do I want to change? What’s working and what isn’t?
Then do it. Phumi, 32, says: “I don’t have a vision board, but I’ve stuck little notes and self-proclaiming messages around the house to remind me of my goals. My partner thinks I’m crazy, but he’s come to understand why I do this and reads the quotes too. This motivates me to know who I am and what I want beyond being a mom and partner.”
Mind power expert Robin Banks says one’s thoughts determine one’s destiny: “Your mind is like a garden of rich fertile soil. Any seed you sow, nourish and care for will grow. It makes no difference to the soil what seed you sow. Same with your thoughts: it makes no difference to your mind what thoughts you focus on, be they thoughts on success or poverty, happiness or misery. But it makes all the difference to you and the harvest you will reap in your life.”
Matau adds: “Having children doesn’t mean you have to give up on your dreams. This will lead to regret. Keep reminding yourself of your aspirations with journalling or a vision board while being the best mom you can be.”
Gregor-Harlen concludes: “To avoid feeling overwhelmed, ask yourself: ‘In five years’ time, will this affect my child’s future or my life?’ If not, let it go. And let go of wanting to be perfect because perfection is an illusion. Forgive yourself and pursue your passion. Remember: all kids want is happiness and calm.”