On the eve of this Mother’s Day, upon which I’m ripe with our third (!!!!!!) child, I thought an ode to the mamas out there called “Hold Onto Yourself” would be appropriate. I’ve come to find these simple words to be a helpful mantra. But in reality, this is a reminder and ode to myself. I was a late bloomer in life and took some time to figure out what I wanted to do. I was deathly afraid, while pregnant with my first, that I would lose myself in motherhood. As the years have gone by, not only have I hung onto myself but also I’ve come to find that doing so is the recipe to sanity in the whirlwind of parenthood.
So this is a little ditty to say, hang on to yourself, whatever that means to you. If it means an office, the stage, the kitchen, the written word… hold onto your passion, your work, your dreams. Hold onto that very specific thing that makes you, you! You can still be defined as “____’s mom” (I know I often am!), but reserve anther definition that is defined solely by you. Defined by your work or your desire and dreams, whatever they may be. I say this because our kids leave us. They leave us earlier than we realize. My 6-year-old already doesn’t need me the way she used to. Her need for me is intense but not a 24-hour-a-day affair. Our children’s needs change as they grow and, as hard as it is, I find I need to step back and let them stumble, fall, be disappointed, pick themselves back up and find the absolute pride in having done it one their own. I find this requires from me the ability to lose myself in my work, in my friends, in art, in my husband, so that I’m not so lost in them that I don’t know how to step away.
I like to think of who I will be when our nest is empty. What will we do with our golden years? What will I have accomplished both in the home and outside of it? Will we take the romantic trips that we couldn’t in the 18 plus years that invoke family travels? Will my kids go off to college proud of the work their mom has done? Will they go round the introduction circle and introduce themselves, proud of their parents’ accomplishments? Will I feel aimless? Content? Lonely or fulfilled with the few decades in the life work balance? Anywhichway, I want to know who I am when my kids leave. I want to still be “____’s mom”, but I want my other role to shine equally as bright.
That’s not to say that this isn’t difficult. I find great relief that the struggle of mother’s guilt, work/life balance, living with two minds, is finally getting its moment in the sun. I get it, I get why moms throw in the work towel and pick up the burp cloth. It’s hard to balance motherhood and work. Even if you have the most artsy fartsy, flexible, self-scheduling job like I do. It’s hard because you always feel guilty. You always feel like you aren’t doing enough, aren’t present enough, both as a mother and in your work. My kids have a special way of laying on the puffy faced, tear stained, longing eyed pleas that so many times has made me want to turn on my heels and quit whatever it was I was doing to be with them.
I really don’t think men feel this same kind of guilt. It’s not because they are terrible, Mad Men-esque workaholic cavemen, but simply because society congratulates their long hours at the job. They are patted on the back for bringing home the bacon and clubbing away the fierce wild animals of hunger and want. But women, when we do this, are selfish; we are bad mothers, we are she-devils. It ain’t fair, ladies, but I’ve found my worst enemy is my own nagging brain.
Many women, especially artists it seems, worry that motherhood will detract from their ability to create. I’ve found the exact opposite to be the case. Being a mama surrounds me with love, lessons, obstacles, stories and the love I need to feel full. If you can accept that things will inevitably change upon becoming a mother, you are hitting the ground running. A main challenge is no longer having the time to wait for the muse to whisper in my ear. My navel can no longer be contemplated. Inspiration has to be summoned in a timely manner, but I find that following my initial instincts versus having the time to second guess them is a gift. I work faster now; I work more concisely, and waste less time because I have no time to waste. I have become ultimately more prolific, accomplishing more in an hour or two than I did in a day before I had kids.
I’ve found that motherhood opens up vulnerability but also fierceness. It’s an opening experience in general that I’ve found very useful in my work. Sure, there are all the really difficult time constraints, time fragmentation, the utter exhaustion and living with a mind that is always in two places, in your work and with your children. Your mind never fully leaves your children, but I found that I’ve become more emotionally available, more present and much more willing to go out on a limb with my work.
When people say my art is my children, I don’t believe it for a second. Work and kids are two entirely separate things. Your work, especially if you are an artist (I say this because I am one and this is my reference point) is something that you can control, something you create solely and something that is a true reflection of you. As much as we’d like to believe that these are qualities that children inhabit for us as well, we know darn well that they aren’t. You can’t walk away from your kids at the end of the day. We ultimately can’t control our kids or force them to be a reflection of us. They are their own people who grow into souls inexorably tied to us, yet wholly their own people. The satisfaction of work and creating is wholly different than the satisfaction of raising reasonably adjusted and functioning kids (which in my book is a victory!).
The argument I am making is to hold onto the thread of inspiration. Hold onto the thread of whatever makes you, YOU! Hold onto the thread of dedication and discipline as twin threads of those you hold onto as a mother. These threads are stronger than we give them credit for. They are spiders threads, seemingly fragile but will truly only break if we force them.
Happy Mother’s Day to all you mamas out there. Hold onto yourself extra tight today. I salute you and the hard work you do!