One of the things that I find most fulfilling and enchanting about motherhood is that in a world where selfishness and narcissism are all too common, it is a truly selfless vocation. It is the dedicating of one’s self to another human being, wholeheartedly and forever, and I think that’s really beautiful.
For many parents, though, I think this selflessness can often feel limiting. When caring for a baby, it can seem as though one’s autonomy has been taken away. Many of the choices one used to have are gone. This can ring particularly true for mums who have the opportunity to stay at home with their babies. Taking even one year’s maternity leave can unfortunately often equate to one hell of a step back in terms of career progression. Personal interests and passions can also be a natural sacrifice along the parenting voyage. When your life suddenly centres on someone else, it can be hard to stay focused on and dedicated to the things that matter to you.
But since joining the mummy club, I have noticed a pretty cool trend. Many women I know are using the experience of becoming a mother as a chance to take control of their lives, change direction and start pursuing what it is they really want. So maybe, just maybe, modern day motherhood can be liberating rather than limiting, rejuvenating rather than restraining and inspiring rather than stifling. Maybe, it can actually open up new and wonderful doors instead of closing them.
For me, this has certainly been the case.
I have been a high school teacher for six years and have loved it. I get huge satisfaction from working with children and love helping to instill in them a love of reading and writing. I have met amazing people and made life long friends but most importantly – and apologies in advance if this sounds incredibly cheesy – I truly feel like I may have actually made a difference in other people’s lives.
But, over the past couple of years I have been having doubts. I have been plagued by the thought that while teaching has been a wonderful part of my life, it is perhaps not something that I can see myself doing forever. I have not been able to shake the feeling that there could be something better suited to me, something I would enjoy even more than teaching and find even more rewarding. Whether this is actually the case or whether these feelings simply stem from my typically short ‘Gen Y’ attention span remains to be seen. Nevertheless, these thoughts have been there, in the back of my brain, bugging me for a while now.
Then I had my little girl and embarked on 12 months’ maternity leave. I should say here that I feel incredibly lucky to be in position where this was an option. I know that many women simply do not get that luxury and must return to work despite wanting very much to spend time at home with their child. I hope one day that all women have the opportunity to do so if it it is what they want. But for me, becoming a stay at home mum made me feel enlightened and freed and not just in the traditional sense. It wasn’t just that I felt spiritually changed, as I’m sure all parents do, but I actually felt liberated in many other aspects of my life. Aspects that really have nothing to do with my daughter or my role as a mother.
I am only 6 months into my year’s leave and already my whole outlook on the world, and my position in in it, has changed. Please note that I have not called my maternity leave a ‘holiday’ or ‘time off’ because, funnily enough, looking after an infant is bloody hard work, something I desperately wanted to tell a few people back in January when they said they hoped I enjoyed my ‘little break’.
Over the past few months I have been able to think very carefully about what I want out of my life and career. I have considered exactly what I think I can offer the world and what my true strengths are. I have found a new sense of courage and confidence that has led me to explore old passions such as acting and writing. I actually feel as though I have a number of options in front me that I did not have before having a baby.
Had I not gotten pregnant, I would never have just quit my job to ‘discover’ what it is I want out of life and explore the things that make me happy. Not only would I have been terribly embarrassed telling people about my journey of self discovery but factors like money, my professional reputation and the opinions of my friends and family would have slapped me over the head before I could even say the word ‘blog’. In short, I would have felt like a self indulgent fool. But having a baby has given me a ‘get out of jail free’ card, an escape route of sorts. A way to take a step back from the daily grind and reassess where I am and what I want to do, even if I’ve done it while in a perpetual state of severe sleep deprivation.
And interestingly, many other mums feel the same way. A good friend of mine, who is mother to two beautiful babies, put it this way: “Having a baby and being able to take some time away from my job gave me the feeling that I could do anything. I suddenly had the space to think. I felt like I could change paths and explore new avenues without feeling any judgement”. For her, maternity leave was the perfect opportunity to go back to university and study in a field where her passions had always lain and she is very much aware that it was an opportunity that she would not have had otherwise.
Another friend of mine agrees. She discovered very soon after having a baby that her fast paced, high stress job, at which she was incredibly successful, was just not for her. After returning to university and deciding on a very different professional path, she not only feels more personally fulfilled but happier and better equipped to be a committed parent as a result.
But for some, the change in direction comes preemptively. A friend of mine, who has recently given birth to a beautiful baby boy, took on a new role in anticipation of becoming a mother. She moved from a job that she did not see as being cohesive to motherhood to one that was more child-friendly. She still agrees, though, that having her son has most definitely allowed her to reflect on what it is that she wants. She told me that taking time off with her little man has reaffirmed for her just how passionate she is about her chosen field.
As wonderful as this all is, though, almost every mother that I have spoken to has alluded to the overwhelming pressure that they feel to be doing something other than looking after their children. As one friend put it- “I often feel like being a mother isn’t enough. I’m glad that I can say I’m studying because it makes me feel like my lifestyle is more acceptable or worthwhile. I’m not just a mother, I’m also a student”. It seems that a lot of mothers are not comfortable with ‘just’ being a mum. God knows we’ve all been regularly served questions like ‘when are you going back to work?’, ‘how long do you have off’ or the unbelievable doozy ‘what on earth do you do with yourself all day?’ I wonder whether the social expectations that are placed on us to do more than raise our babies is perhaps one of the less positive reasons we go searching for something more while on maternity leave. Because we feel like we need something else to do.
It’s funny, isn’t it? Once upon a time, motherhood was considered all a woman could or should do while nowadays we feel like it isn’t enough.
Or maybe it is just that we need stimulation. Something to think about that is a little more intellectually challenging than ‘when did she last feed?’ or ‘how many nappies have I got in the baby bag?’. That is certainly why I have turned to blogging – to simply focus on non-baby stuff for a while.
But regardless of the reasons behind this phenomenon, it is certainly real and it certainly gives me hope. Becoming a mother no longer has to mean that the other areas of our lives become stagnant. Motherhood can give birth many new and exciting adventures.
Now all I have to do is focus on becoming an Oscar winning actress or a super successful blogger so that my hubby can one day have a similar experience to the incredible one I’ve had this year.