Creating a Life That Works For The All of You
For the first 30 years of my life I found it easy to describe myself. That self could encompass any range of titles, labels, or feelings depending on my role in life, position or mood. In college I was a student-server-girlfriend-vegetarian for a year. When I started working in career coaching after grad school I was a listener-mentor-a single person-yogi novice. All of these things were defined and controlled by me and I was comfortable balancing them all.
All of that flew out the window with motherhood.
The second the obstetrician placed my beautiful and loud (doctor’s first words were “she has lungs!”) daughter into my shaking arms, I was suddenly overcome with love and purpose. But weeks and months later I was also unsure as to what do to with all of the parts of me that made me who I was prior to becoming mother to this amazing little girl.
Motherhood was something I yearned for and very much wanted. I read books on parenting and felt very prepared and a bit overconfident for my new role – until I officially became a mother. Suddenly, I was questioning myself on everything: cloth or disposable, cry it out or co-sleep, organic baby blender homemade creations or the jarred store bought variety, helicopter parent or tiger mom, and the list goes on and on. Not only was I indecisive but I was so consumed with love for this little person that I thought in order to be the best mother possible I should give up everything that defined me pre-baby and focus on this new all important role of raising a human being.
This played out by turning me into a confused, sometimes bitter, and teetering between overt self-sacrificing/bewildered that I lost my “cool pre-baby” self. For example, my personal priorities took a nosedive as I lamented this post-baby belly yet felt guilt-ridden at the thought of hitting the gym and leaving my newborn with a sitter. Professionally, I tried to balance everything calmly and maintain these two separate roles effectively. I had worked hard on my career but I also loved this little baby and didn’t want to miss all the milestones while I plugged away at my computer. I tried to have conversations with mentors and supervisors and was basically given the advice of “this career is 60+ hours a week so find a way to make it work” or “I completely understand. I remember my wife struggling but ultimately she knew family was most important so she stayed home with the kids.” All me
ssages implicit in their meanings and all sent me, the not-so-confident mom reeling and questioning my priorities.
In time I worked on creating a career that worked for me and all of my roles. I said goodbye to the attitude of work first and focused on finding ways to prioritize. Now, I encourage new moms and clients to think about being both women with a unique history and distinct passions and experiences as well as mothers in love with amazing children. Personally, I now I try to weave both aspects into every decision I make and every encounter I face. I no longer think that being a good mother means being only a mother. I think about how I want my girls to know who their mom is in all of my flaws and idiosyncrasies. I focus on teaching them the value of work ethic and the importance of loving what you do by modeling this for them. After all my greatest achievement will be raising strong independent girls who will one day have fulfilling careers of their own – girls who have many roles, including mother, and who embrace their whole selves and will raise children who do the same.
New motherhood knocks you off your feet, not only with sleepless nights and mountains of dirty diapers and laundry but with a love and adoration that is consuming. This all-consuming love for your child can take your breath away and ask you to question all that you thought was important pre-baby. This is normal and often necessary in the bonding process. It is imperative, however, to journey back to finding a new normal that does incorporate some of your pre-baby traits and passions. For some that journey is easy and comfortable. For others, like me, it can be riddled with confusion and guilt until one day you look at yourself and decide that you must find a way to be both.
What has worked for you?
Photo credit: iStockphoto
About the author: Maggie Tomas works at the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota as Associate Director and Career Coach in the Graduate Business Career Services office. Her background includes teaching and career counseling at the college level, namely at the University of St. Thomas, University of California Santa Barbara, and Brooks Institute, where she served as Director of Career and Student Services. She is a contributing writer to several blogs and publications including Opus Magnum, Women of HR and Job Dig.