You’ve immersed yourself in motherhood, but soon realise you can’t remember who you were before the pitter patter of little feet. Our experts advise on how to strike a balance. By Thobeka Phanyeko
Our priorities change as we move through the different seasons of our lives, and it’s only natural for a new mom to tie her identity to that of caregiver.
Your relationship with your partner could slip through the cracks while you’re finding your feet though, and if you’re a single mom, you might be grappling with the idea of dating again but a fear of tipping the scales could be holding you back.
Life coach Sharon Piel agrees and says motherhood is life-changing and many women lose their sense of self. “Although taking care of your child’s needs is paramount, you need to remember you’re a woman as well as a mother – you have your own needs, goals and aspirations,” she says.
The journey begins
It’s not uncommon for new moms to put their careers on hold when starting a family. Sharon notes that while some moms prefer to stay at home after having their baby, others look forward to returning to their careers. “Either way, new moms experience ‘mom guilt’, with stay-at-home moms feeling guilty for not feeling completely fulfilled by their role as a mother.” They may also experience feelings of isolation and miss the mental stimulation and adult conversations of a work environment. “Women who prefer to, or have to, go back to work, may feel guilty for leaving their baby in the care of someone else all day.” Sharon explains that when it comes to whether or not to return to work, there is no right or wrong choice. “Make a decision that you’re happy with, based on your own personal needs and circumstances.”
Find a balance … or not?
Personal development coach Thembi Hamma says there’s no known formula to strike an even work/family balance. Instead, be mindful and flexible about both your career and your family life. “Respect both as important and uneven facets of your life and establish practical and workable boundaries that suit your unique circumstances. All you can do is get up each morning, show up and do your best.” Remember to ask for help – if you’re juggling a career and a household, hiring a helper or getting your partner more involved in household chores will lighten the load.
“As much as we would like to take care of everything, the truth is, we can’t do it all by ourselves,” says Thembi. She also cautions that trying to be superwoman will not only exhaust you, but demotivate you as you struggle to meet unrealistic expectations.
Revisit your career goals
If you’re employed full-time and looking to climb the corporate ladder, being a mom shouldn’t deter you from pursuing your dreams. Thembi suggests using your time wisely, “Focus on your work and get as much done as possible, that way you won’t have to take work home.”
A good night’s rest can do wonders for your mood and energy levels. “Get enough sleep and resist the temptation to stay up late at night as this will only make you grumpy and unproductive the next day,” says Thembi. If you find you spend a lot of time on social media, it’s a good idea to be more intentional about how you spend your time. “Cut out any unproductive habits that take up precious time.” If you’re considering starting a business, Sharon recommends network marketing and selling as this is a popular choice that allows you to make your own hours. If you’re set on pursuing the entrepreneurial path, ask yourself: “What am I an expert in and how do I use this to start my own business? Which of my hobbies can I turn into a business? What do my friends and family say I’m good at?”
Find your passion
Sharon notes that it’s common for moms to change careers after having a baby or when their children are older and start going to school. To discover your passion and purpose, you need to reflect on what’s important to you. How can you make a difference to the world? What is the legacy you want to leave behind, and how can you use your strengths, knowledge and expertise to do this? Make a conscious decision to surround yourself with people who are inspirational. “This will inspire you to bring out your best,” says Sharon. When you’re excited about life, you exude positivity and your kids want to be around that. They look up to you, and connecting with something you’re passionate about lets them know that it’s OK to be multidimensional.
Rekindle your relationship with your partner
Remember, you were a wife or partner before you became a mother, and because your baby has been your priority,
you may have forgotten that there’s someone else who needs your love and attention. “This is possibly one of the biggest challenges after becoming a mother,” says Sharon.
“Make spending some alone time with your partner a priority. Just like getting your baby into a routine, find your new ‘normal’ with your partner.” Reconnect and go on dates. “It doesn’t always have to be in the evenings – even a lunch date will give you that much-needed break.” You can always find a trusted babysitter who will allow you to focus on the other important person in your life.
Our experts agree that between juggling responsibilities and the need for rest, it’s easy to forget your partner. Thembi cautions that putting off spending quality time together, or leaving it to fate, could mean a well-run home, healthy and happy children, successful careers, but losing each other in the process.
Give yourself permission to date again
If your life consists mainly of you and your little one, the thought of dating again may be daunting. Sharon says it’s perfectly OK to want to go out every now and then, and to pursue a relationship if you meet the right person. “Make sure you have a good support system and that your child always knows she is loved and is your priority.” The routine you have in place should continue even with a babysitter as this will make you and your child feel more secure.
Schedule some ‘me time’
Spending quality time with yourself to reflect on your life decisions will help you keep track of your dreams, goals and aspirations. “We all need that break from the hustle and bustle of life to regroup and take stock of what is happening in and around us,” says Thembi. If your idea of unwinding is a trip to the spa, watching a movie or sitting quietly in meditation, then go ahead. Thembi explains that when we take time out to recharge our batteries, we’re more effective.
Sharon agrees that it’s vitally important for women to take care of themselves. “Women wear so many different hats, so we need to take time to get in touch with who we are at the core. Remember, you can’t pour from an empty cup, so taking care of yourself is not selfish, it’s self-love.”
Thobeka Phanyeko is mom to Oratile, 4. She is a journalist with a BA in Media studies from the University of Cape Town and has extensive experience as a journalist and content producer which she gained from Reuters, eNCA and Caxton Magazines. She is also a life coach and NLP Practitioner and is passionate about motherhood and women empowerment.