As Mums we so often hold the weight of the world on our shoulders. We put the needs of our family first. We become Mum, then wife and often feel like we loose ourselves along the way. We try to be the Perfect Mum, raising perfect kids and keeping our house perfect at the same time. All the while we loose site of the most important thing. US. We need to love ourselves, we need to make ourselves a priority too. There is nothing selfish about this act. Not only is self love important it is imperative to be the best version of ourselves. How can being the best version of ourselves be selfish? If we cannot love ourselves, cannot make our own needs a priority, if we give and give and never refuel, we lead ourselves into resentment, anxiety, depression and a everything in between.
Everything in the universe are made up of energy, and we give and receive that energy throughout our lives. The more we have the more we can share and when we become depleted we need to fill our personal energy tank. Everyone does this in a different way, whether it is through exercising, mediation, adventure, reading, connecting with others, connecting with mother earth, interaction or solitude. We know what energises us and are naturally drawn to that through our lives, we may not even realise this is energising us just that we enjoy doing it. We find a partner who recharges in a similar way and we build a life together. Then we bring kids into the mix. We are told from the moment we share our pregnancy news that life will never be the same, that sleep will become more precious than gold, that date night is a thing of the past and that you will never get a moment of peace to go to the bathroom. We vow that will not be us. We will incorporate this precious new being into our current life, sure things will change but not that much, we will still be ourselves, just with more love in our lives.
But suddenly life is upside down, we have this entirely dependent being, that needs us for everything. They need to be fed and cleaned and nurtured, they need help to sleep and stay safe and healthy. They cannot survive without a loving nurturing parent there to care for their every need. We go without sleep, we feed them on a 24 hour loop, we love and protect them with all that we have. We give and we give and we expect nothing in return. We experience true unconditional love. While we do this we draw from our energy reserves, without thought or care. We are designed to do this, but only for a short time. Unfortunately what many Mums do is start believe this is what we must continue to do 24/7. We must put our Childs needs ahead of our own. The reality is that we all need to refuel ourselves, and if we do not, we cannot be our best selves.
Personally I had long dreamed of becoming a Mum. I had a very specific picture of the Mum I would be. I would spend every minute with them. I would sing and dance and play games. We would walk regularly and as they got older we would go to the playground every week. I would exclusively breastfeed for 6 months and then bake all healthy balanced meals from scratch. I would not use the TV babysitter or childcare. I would be their world. I was very specific but life rarely unfolds exactly as we expect. When my daughter was 4 months old I thought I would die of exhaustion. I thought I knew what exhaustion was but I reached a new level, one I never imagined possible. She wouldn’t sleep more than 40 minutes before she needed another feed, she would wake and cry every time she was put down and we found ourselves in this vicious cycle where she was unable to sleep as she was hungry but unable to feed as she was tired. I was not good at asking for help. When I expressed I was struggling those around me gave encouragement and advice but I was too caught up in being my daughters world to accept physical help. How could I possibly have someone else step in, it was all on me. My husband tried too but when I was not doing it all I felt like a failure so I never really asked for what I needed. Just as I was coming out of the fog of motherhood and returning to work I found out I was pregnant again and when my Princess was 18 months old we welcomed her brother. Now I had 2 children under 2, a toddler and a newborn, neither of whom enjoyed sleep. This time I was more prepared and better at asking for help but the kids were still my top priority. My most important role in this life was to be there for them, to be their world. Fast forward another 2 years and baby number 3 was added to the mix. Wow I feel exhausted just typing that! It is amazing the bodies memories for this time, I can physically recall how I felt with 3 kids under 4. So much love and joy, but all covering fear of f***ing it all up! I was angry and irritable and crying everyday. I would scream at the kids when all I wanted to do was scream at myself for getting it all wrong, for not being that mother I thought I would be, with patience and kindness. I loved my kids but I did not love myself.
That is where my journey into finding myself again began. I leant that while I was not the mother I had always imagined I would be, I was still a good mum. I learnt that comparing myself to that image I had created as a child was not only not serving me but it was crippling me. I learnt that I was not failing but that I was also not loving myself. As my reserves got low I needed to tune into me, to listen to my body and connect with what makes me Michelle not just Mum. It took me a long time to reconnect with myself and to learn what I needed and even longer to ask for it. The fear of being a selfish Mum exists in most mothers I believe, and while some do refill their tank by being with the kids I need time to myself. I never realised how my introverted nature was totally contradictory to my picture of being a 100% present Mum. I was not able to be that Mum I thought I would be, and that’s okay. I learnt that simply the act of being alone was restorative, that being in nature brought be joy and that yoga and meditation brought me peace. I learnt to not only ask for those things but make them an important part of my weekly routine. At times I have felt like I was being selfish (and I have even been accused of it) but I know that if I do not take care of myself I am unable to be the Mum I want to be. One who does enjoy playing with the kids, and cooks (mostly) healthy meals. I learnt that if I need to use the TV babysitter or childcare, or take away dinners to get those things then it is far from selfish; it is in their best interests too.
Recently former Australian Olympic swimmer Libby Trickett has come out and spoken about her own experience of becoming a Mum. She explained how she had the idea the mum she would be. She aligned herself to a parenting style but months of limited sleep later she said she “Developed a temper [she] never knew existed” a level of resentment crept in and a yelling episode left her knowing it was time to seek help and she not only did this but has bravely come forward and told this story. Ultimately she shares that she has learnt that she needs to make time for her, that it is important to be Libby not just Mum (you can listen to the full interview here.) It is Mums in the public eye, like Libby that show other mothers out there that you need to take care of yourself and I commend her for speaking out openly and honestly.
The awareness of this need to love yourself and make your own needs a priority is slowly gaining traction as more mums speak out about it. As more of us stand up and say I can be Me and a Mum and that the two are not mutually exclusive. I think the societal expectations to be that ‘perfect’ mum have hit our generation so much more than our own mothers with the rise of the information age. Thanks to the internet we have access to so many new parenting styles, each professing to be the ‘best’ and ‘only’ way to raise happy, confident kids. We so desperately want to get it “right” that we do not allow ourselves the space to learn, we just throw ourselves in with 100% commitment and no regard for our own needs.
This is not a phenomenon exclusive to Mums. The feminine nature is to give so often Women find it harder to ask for what they need. But we are all a balance of feminine and masculine traits so Dads can certainly experience this too. I can only speak for my experience.
How do you connect with you? How do you refill your tank so you can continue to give to your family?