I was talking to a mom today who is preparing for the birth of her second child. She mentioned something that took me back to that same time in my own life. She said that she wasn’t sure how many more children she would have because she felt like her brain was going unused and she wasn’t sure how many more years of that she could handle.
I remember feeling the same way when I had one or two children. A thought that was constantly on my mind was how being the person who had gone to college and now cleaned the poop just didn’t feel fulfilling every second of every day. In fact, sometimes I felt like I was kind of wasting myself. It certainly felt like my mind might waste away in a flood of non-verbal kid communication, dishes, and urine.
Somehow though, over the years, I have managed to find a lot of joy AND intellectual stimulation while being a mother. Here are a few things that have helped me be not just happier, but more at peace, as a mother.
Find other women
It is so very easy to disappear behind the doors of your home when you have little children and interact very little with the outside world. Honestly, who ENJOYS breakdowns in public, packing the car for an hour so that you can go on a short errand, or making sure everybody has a change of clothes, a snack, and a special toy every time you leave the house? Having little kids can make it HARD to get out.
Guess what — you still need to do it! I really believe that women need other women. In fact, I am going to sound sexist and say that for most women, the need to TALK to other adults each day, is just that — a NEED. We need each other. Our shared wisdom, our conversations, our advice, our compassion. Women need each other and we can’t often find each other if we stay at home all day. Even with the advent of the Internet, we still need this — and not virtually. We need each other IN PERSON if we want to be happy as mothers.
The modern playgroup is a scattered, suburban answer to the need for female companionship. La Leche League, church groups, attachment parenting groups, walking clubs, gyms, WHATEVER — getting out and being with real people is a very important part of staying intellectually active and finding happiness as a mother. Despite our big cities and our fancy minivans, we can become very isolated very quickly and the results can be devastating.
You know what else? If you don’t have groups like this in your community, you have a fabulous opportunity to become an activist. There may not be organized groups but there are almost undoubtedly other MOTHERS who feel the same way you do.
Find them. Join them. Start your own group. You can make a joyful difference in your life and the lives of other mothers.
Do SOMETHING you love
I think one thing that is different for me now than when I had one child is that I have passions outside of my home. For some women, this comes in the form of paid work, for others it is community or church service, and for others it is expressing talents physically. Whatever it is, do something that you ENJOY. When Betty Friedan was doing research for “The Feminine Mystique” she said she couldn’t find a single happy housewife. But one thing about those women she was talking to was that they ONLY focused on their home and family and on NOTHING else.
I hope my focus is primarily on my family. But I find that when my focus is ONLY on my family, and never on my needs, loves, and passions … well, I start to go a little nuts.
There is nothing selfish about admitting that you can be a better mother and person if you occasionally do things that you enjoy that don’t directly involve your two year old. So don’t feel guilty about it!
This may not be true for everybody, but for me, I just HAVE to read. It can be hard to find time to read when you have a seeming hoard of screaming, needy, little ones. But we still need to work our brains, even when we are mothers. Being a mother doesn’t mean you have to stop all learning and just clean toilets. I promise!
Mothers can keep learning and growing and becoming better people even as they raise the next generation. In fact, staying intellectually active can make us better mothers, more confident women, and happier with ourselves and our place in the world. There is much to learn as a mother and even as a homemaker. There are skills to be learned and there is knowledge to be had. We don’t have to be paying top dollar for a university education in order to grow and learn. We can often do that from our own home or library.
I really believe that motherhood is gift, a challenge, and a pleasure. I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the chance I have had at motherhood. Yes, at first it seemed … well … mind numbing! But it doesn’t feel that way anymore. There is so much joy, and yes, INTELLIGENCE, involved in being a mother. This is the world’s greatest profession.
About Sarah Clark
Sarah Clark is a mother of four children 7 and under. She writes about motherhood and natural birth at her blogMama Birth. She is also a natural birth teacher and is on the board of directors for Birth Boot Camp, a natural birth education company.