When I was around 13, my mother went on a mini-vacation without us. At the time, I recalled that being the first time she had ever done something like that for herself. I could not believe she had waited so long to enjoy a simple trip without her children in tow. I remember explicitly telling myself that she deserved to have gotten away much sooner than that.
Over the years, my mother sacrificed or delayed numerous instances of self-care, as well as personal and professional goals. She never lamented any of it, nor did she try to make us feel guilty for her choices. Though she kept that to herself, I felt bad that she was expected to put everything on hold or swap her dreams for ours because she had children.
I didn’t grow up dreaming of being a mother or a wife, but I knew that if I ever had children, I would do things differently. I don’t think my mother’s choices were bad—that’s not why I vowed to do it differently. I just believed that motherhood could be a part of my life without becoming my whole life, and I was determined to make sure it didn’t overtake me.
By the time my children arrived, I had given myself four main rules to help me maintain my personhood outside of motherhood. Nearly 12 years since becoming a mother, I still abide by them. When other moms ask me, “How do you keep from losing yourself?” I share these four rules too.
Rule #1: Learn to say no.
Everyone says this about everything, but it’s serious business. One of the many unrealistic expectations of mothers is that we should be 100% selfless and willing to give or share everything we own. Well, I refuse. There are ample situations in which I reject that expectation, whether it’s as major as giving up my career or as minor as sharing my cookies.
Do I find myself sharing most things? Yes. However, when I don’t feel like being selfless, I say no. My children are not as taken aback by it these days, and I have my husband to appreciate for co-signing my choices. He has no problem reaffirming that [whatever it is, be it time or a cookie!] is mine, and I don’t have to give it to them!
Rule #2: Reserve time for yourself.
No, seriously. Being by myself with my thoughts is extremely important for my sanity. Every week, I have at least a few hours without “mommy duty.” That, too, is something my spouse has always embraced. They regularly go with their dad to run errands, visit The DoSeum, go to bounce houses, etc. so that I can decompress. If I’m the one who wants to leave the house, I schedule a manicure/pedicure, massage, facial, or just treat myself to a movie or lunch. I’ve traveled often when I wanted time outside of the city or state. It doesn’t really matter what I’m doing as long as “mom mode” is deactivated for the moment.
Rule #3: Stay connected to what matters to you.
When we moved to Washington D.C., Brazil, D.C. again, and Switzerland, I needed to maintain my connections to people, industries, and outlets that were important to me before or at the beginning of motherhood. It was especially important then because I spent a significant amount of time as a stay-at-home mother. I found other ways to be involved and build my professional experiences.
Over the years, I began to view my life outside of a single purpose. Instead, I embraced that I was born to do a multitude of things and that it was up to me to decide what those would be. Motherhood was one purpose I chose, but my career and personal growth were also equally important to me.
Rule #4: Cultivate friendships with other like-minded moms.
Most of my closest friendships are with other mothers who share similar experiences to mine. We’re able to emotionally support and provide guidance to each other because we understand the struggle of working to maintain who we are while learning to be a mother to someone else. I value those relationships because they are often the mirror I need in my life. In a world that does its best to make mothers feel inadequate regardless of our choices, I appreciate the women who encourage one another to do what is right for themselves.
I can’t say that my choice is always easy, but it’s always right for me. I want to live a complete life, and for me, that means having a life outside of my children. Fulfilling every purpose is critical for my happiness, and every day, I am thrilled to walk in those purposes.