Thursday, April 3, 2008

The New Model

When I talk about trading up, I mostly mean for a new car, a new house, a new pair of jeans, but of late, I have noticed that I do not need most of those things (although a new house away from our LOUD neighbors would be nice). Instead, I need to trade up on my model of motherhood.

I think my ideas about motherhood stem from my own mother's perceived shortcomings. I had my own thoughts about what my mother was like and they were confirmed last week when my cousin said, "she really wasn't the bake you cookies, kiss your skinned knee type mom was she?" Nope. She wasn't. My mom had her own life and her own agenda. She traveled, did hours of yoga and swimming and meditation everyday. She was involved in politics and had tons of friends and a wanderlust that took her away almost a month out of every year in total. If she felt guilty, she never admitted it. She once told me that I was not her first priority, that she was. Do I agree with telling that to a 12-year-old? Probably not. But I was not raised in a household where mommy was a martyr.

Currently, it seems that the model of motherhood is a self-sacrificing woman who inexplicably enjoys the vocal stylings of Raffi and the Wiggles, loves taking her children on various outings and finds no greater joy than hauling 25-pounds of baby gear and a napless baby to the Children's Museum. I know she is out there. Mostly, I know this because she is the same mom who complains about her husband and says she has to do everything herself. Then she sighs, lifts her baby into her lap and says, "it is all worth it, though. Little Bobby is such an angel." This woman can be recognized by her ability to speak mostly in platitudes and the fact that she either has not had sex in months or is trying to have another one.

Do I sound bitter? If I do, it is only because I am jealous. Because the truth is, I will never be that woman. I am the first to point out inequity in my relationship (see yesterday's post), the first to hire someone to help me when I need it. I do not do martyrdom at all. I need a bounty of me-time, probably more than most women combined. I like my pedicures, my running routine, my steam baths (when I am not preggo), my movie/dinner nights with friends and alone time to work and surf the net and watch movies. I could quite easily fill my days with massages, acupuncture, shopping, pedicures, hair appointments and some work. I guess I am what most people would call selfish. But is it selfish to feel like I deserve to be pampered? Is it selfish to have desires outside of my child? I want praise from good editors, to see myself become a published author and sparkly polish on my toes. I am Sam's mom and I adore her, but I am also still myself.

Knowing this about myself, some days are easier than others. Yesterday was a hard one. Sam was so needy and I had so much I needed (and wanted) to do. Most moms will admit to having a hard day, but often in my hard days I realize how much I love Sam and how little I love being a mom. I hate to say that, but it is partially true. There are aspects of being a mother that blow my mind, that I adore. But the nuts and bolts, day-to-day pieces of taking care of another human being are often humbling and exhausting. They can be boring and mind-numbing. How many times a day do I need to get her a baba or pick her up when she is whining or walk her to see the puppy. I do not enjoy much of what I do with her unless we are joined by R. I do love our family time. That is when I am the happiest that we had children. But my time alone with Sam is almost always hard. I do not do self-sacrifice well at all.

Yesterday I hit a particularly low point when my friend came over with her own baby ostensibly for tea and chatting and she ended up watching and changing Sam while I made a phone call and wrote a bit. I know I will return the favor for her at some point, but I felt like the pond scum of mothers. I feel so guilty for not appreciating my child's babyhood more. She is only this young once and I fear that I am wasting it by having twenty other things I would rather do. This is the part no one tells pregnant women about mothering. "Your life will change," they all say. But what they don't say is that does not mean no movies, vacations or time to yourself. Those things still happen. It's just that when they happen, they are often served with a massive side of guilt. I can't take a step away from the babe without feeling like I am leaving her behind and wanting to cry.

The fact is, none of this stuff is easy. I am blessed to have amazing friends both with and without children who can give me perspective when I feel particularly low.
"You are not a bad mother, it is just that the job is hard," my friend K told me yesterday. And she is right. It is hard, especially for a woman who was raised to value her alone time and to spend more than a little time on her own improvement. My husband once joked that it seemed to take an army to keep me happy: an acupuncturist, a therapist, an esthetician or two, a hair stylist, a nice gym with babysitting, a twice monthly massage. It does. I have made compromises and certainly cut back on the more frivolous pursuits on that list. But, for me, happiness requires more downtime, more time away from my child than other women. That is just a fact.

Instead of allowing that truth to consume me and fill me with guilt, I have decided to allow it. I have decided to alter my model of "the good mother" as best I can. I need to find a new philosophy, one that allows women to love their children fiercely and also to be bored of some of the day to day tasks of motherhood. I need to create the model where it is ok for me to sometimes wish she would just nap so I can surf the net. I do not always have to be productive. Sometimes I can just have time for me.

My new model says that is the healthiest way to be.


Kristi said...

Amen. Great post. Great model. And I think a lot of mothers out there think the same way you do. I have the opposite situation. I was raised by a mother martyr, whose mother and sister were also mother martrys. It is hard not following their model, especially when they're around, because obviously, there's a whole heaping helping of judgment and "that's not how a mother should act" going on when they're around. But you know what? There is no one right way to mother, and I firmly believe that a mother that takes care of her own needs, instead of subjugating them until junior is off to college, is the smartest and healthiest mother there is.

Stephanie said...

There is no reason for you to feel guilty. Most likely you are taking steps to prevent a midlife crisis somewhere down the line. Isn't the ability to create your own model really what feminism is all about?

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