This is the second post in a series reflecting on motherhood from the perspective of having a high school senior. Find the first post in this series here.
When I was expecting my oldest son, I worked for a company that did not offer paid maternity leave. I was able to collect short term disability for eight weeks at a percentage of my pay, but I hoped to have more time than that at home with my baby. As my spouse and I deliberated how much time off we could afford for me to take, I pitched to him the benefits of having me home full-time for a while longer. In a conversation that has now become part of our family lore, I reasoned that by not working we would save money because I would have so much free time. No need to spend money on takeout when I could cook a meal from scratch every night! No need to get housekeeping help since I could dust and mop the floors while the baby napped! No need to send my spouse’s shirts for dry cleaning (he wore suits to work every day) – I could wash and iron them during my down time. I’m pretty sure I also thought I could declutter the house, sell our old stuff on eBay and squeeze in a workout while the baby slept.
Are you laughing yet? My ideas for what I could accomplish with an infant were completely unrealistic. I approached new motherhood with the perfectionism and zeal I approached everything in my life…and I set myself up for disappointment and a pervasive feeling of being constantly behind.
When Sam was born, I was completely smitten. My days moved to the constant rhythms of mothering a newborn. I was lucky if I remembered to eat lunch before 5:00 PM and I began to feel like I was winning if I got a shower in every OTHER day. All of my grand intentions suddenly felt hopelessly naïve and totally out of reach. Many of them fell off of my priority list altogether. What mattered to me changed. Being with my little one, soaking in those moments which would not come again, trumped everything. Being the mother I wanted to be meant letting things go, sometimes even things I really wanted to do.
Motherhood for me has been a repeat of this lesson in ways both small and significant. I can be present for my kids in their most important moments and care deeply about the work I love, but I might not also be able to host every class party with Pinterest-worthy creations. I can show up at work with passion and commitment, and I have also temporarily stepped back and declined opportunities for advancement during particularly tough seasons in the life of our family. My husband has done the same.
Today, I outsource and simplify the things I can. I ask for help before I’m sinking (well, most of the time). I practice saying no and I give myself permission to change my mind. Sometimes I disappoint people, but usually not the most important people.
Productivity and exhaustion are not badges of honor. In fact, trying to be and do everything perfectly often gets in the way of being good enough. I wish I could have helped her figure out earlier that she could absolutely do what mattered, but not everything at the same time. It would have saved her a lot of sleepless nights…and that mama really needed her sleep.