A brief portrait of the woman I was before I had a child: outgoing, a little reckless, oversexed, workaholic, a bon vivant with an undercurrent of mild chronic depression. You know the type. An artiste! Just kidding. I was a regular old lady with a career and a social life.
In deciding to get pregnant, alongside all the fears about my life changing forever and losing my identity by necessity, I was sure, sure, that I would also undergo a spiritual transformation that would make it all “worth it,” whatever that even means. I pictured a ray of light beaming down from the ceiling of the delivery room onto my bosom, where my delicate snowflake of a child—who I couldn’t quite picture, but would surely be able to post-birth—would be suckling from my breast, eyes-a-soul-quenching-twinkle. I’d heard the “you’ll finally understand true love” and “your life will have a new greater meaning” yackity-yack my entire life, and I believed it. I believed it so hard, imagine my disappointment when I birthed my daughter and... not much happened?
I mean, no, that’s a lie. Life changed, drastically, but not really in any of the positive, magical ways I’d expected. Yes, I love her more than anything and I will fucking cut any bitch who ever hurts her, just try me. But where I thought there would be this force from the fourth dimension—the zeitgeist of motherhood guiding and motivating me through the next 18 to infinity years—instead there was just a screaming baby and a lot of extra shit to worry about and new physical pains that made it all more difficult than it would’ve been, had I not just given birth.
For the past few years I’ve been set adrift, not really sure who or what I am other than “mom.” I’ve said, “I guess I’m just a mom now?” many times to my therapist and she laughs at the implied derision in my choice of words. That’s when I jump to defend myself. “I don’t mean that it’s not an important job, but it feels like all I am and I used to be so much more.” (Maybe so much more vapid? Whatever.)
I suddenly had no other identity. I was not working full time, not going to clubs, not even really dating my husband in a fun way at that moment, not traveling the world by myself, not quite familiar with the person I saw in the mirror when I bothered to look. I was a feed bag that sang nursery rhymes to a mute lump of perfection, and the whole thing was melting my brain. Worst of all, it seemed like no one noticed. I became invisible next to my striking daughter, who is hyper-alert and engaging. I became an empty chair that sits beneath the Mona Lisa.
Now, added to this loss of self was another complicating factor: I was also under the self-imposed pressure to be A Supermom. If I had to guess where this stemmed from, I’d say it’s the complicated relationship I’ve had with my own mother, who was there and there and there—and then suddenly not there when we left my dad because she had to get a job and be a single adult. I think experiencing her sudden absence made me want to be the perfect mom to my child, forever, and that part of why I waited so long to have kids was because I wasn’t sure I could live up to that idea of perfection.
Here’s what it looked like, in my imagination: breastfeeding, reading books, outings to story time at the library, music in the park, overnight camping trips, adopting pets. Daily academic lessons, musical training, ballet, in addition to school. Long, intimate talks about life and love and safety and security and liars. Packing lunches every morning; cooking dinner together every night. I could go on and on, but you get it. I wanted to be perfect. Now notice something: nowhere in this plan did I think to take care of my own desires. Yes, I like camping, but with a baby? Probably not the most fun. Yes, I like cooking dinner, but I like going out with my friends just as much. Being around for my kid 100% of the time seemed like maybe a good idea until I actually did it and completely forgot about myself. And it made me kind of miserable? Guys, I completely missed twerking as a cultural phenomenon. I’ll never get that time back.
So, a few months ago, I decided to stop trying so hard. I’m not going to be the best mom ever, nor do I aspire to that. Fuck it. According to my friend Lakshmi, her mom already owns that title, so why even bother? Instead, I’m just going to be myself again, which I knew how to do before I got pregnant. I’m hoping that by focusing my efforts on that, I will be the kind of person my daughter respects, and I’ll have a lot more energy and, well, fun to share with my little family. I’ll also be giving her a chance to figure herself out, instead of anticipating every one of her needs and crippling her as a result. Besides, I’m not even correct about her needs half the time. I’d be doing her a disservice to pack her life full of only my ideas and projections.
I know this isn’t a new idea, by the way. In talking to my therapist (which I do, a lot, as part of being “me”) she reminded me of the concept of the Good Enough Parent, coined by the psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott—who, according to Sheila, was “a genius.” My understanding is that Good Enough Parenting is about allowing room for failure for everyone in the family. Failure is how we build self-esteem, it’s how we learn to cope in the world, and it’s an inevitability. I’m going to give myself permission to fail, which Winnicott said helps kids “adapt to reality.” I’m into that.
So, what does this look like? For me, it involves flying solo to Beirut to see one of my best friends, eating great dinners out with pals, taking a class or two, having hobbies. It involves rap concerts and wine. It requires that I work hard at a job that I love—one that completely distracts me from my home life for a good chunk of the day—and that I make my own money so that I don’t have to ask anyone if I can hire a babysitter. I’ll just hire the damn babysitter (or share one with a friend so we have more wine money). It means wearing difficult lingerie for fifteen minutes every once in awhile, even if my kid is having trouble getting herself back to sleep for ten of those minutes. And it means really loving babies, especially mine. (New moms: can you even remember being gaga over babies? For me, the trick is giving yourself the chance to miss yours every so often.)
Mainly, though, I’ve decided that being myself is the best thing I can do for my little boo boo darlin’. I was the shittiest supermom—all stressed out and never satisfied—but I’m a pretty good average person. I fuck up. So does my kid. We love each other. And when I think about my own kid having a kid, it breaks my heart to think she’d put so much pressure on herself. “Just be you, girl. You’re the best!” I say it to her all the time, and I mean it. She’s sweet, she’s a pain in the ass, she’s a beautiful monster and she’s only human, just like me.
Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.