Last week a friend of mine took a mental health day. She put her child in daycare and got her hair done. Bloody brilliant. She is my new parenting hero. I want to see more mums doing similar things, because as much as we are constantly told to take ‘me time’ and to put ourselves first, there is still judgement when women do this.
How many mums do you know who complain that they don’t have the time or support to have any ‘me time’? And how many do you know that are going off to do their thang without a twinge of guilt?
Why, when we are told over and over again to look after ourselves, do we find it so hard to put ourselves first? Why is it more accepted to suffocate under the expectations of motherhood than it is to kick up our heels and embrace time on our own?
1. Mother guilt
Mother guilt comes in many shapes and forms. It could hit you the first time you leave your baby with your mum while you do the shopping, when you use the squeezy pouch instead of homegrown and made pureed pumpkin, or it could strike when you return to work.
The underlying feeder to mother guilt is the belief that your baby or child cannot survive without you. Which, in the very early weeks and months, is true. They need you to protect and feed them. But they don’t need you all the time.
This was not apparent to me when my children were babies. Taking time out to do something just for me – like yoga, seeing friends or even going for a walk – seemed incredibly selfish. How would my baby survive?
2. Motherhood changes your lifestyle
There’s no avoiding the way your life will change after having a baby.
Your initiation to motherhood can be 22 hours a day in a chair, breast or bottle feeding your hungry child. A change of scenery may involve getting to the post box to check the mail. Simple acts like ducking out for a coffee or to see a friend are hampered by a child that needs four bags packed before you leave the house (and are likely to deliver a poonami the minute you’re ready to go).
When the smallest daily tasks take up all your energy (I used to feel victorious when I got a washing load done), carving out time for something that doesn’t contribute to keeping your household running seems a waste of time.
3. Gender stereotypes are still strong
I am constantly surprised at how gendered family life still is in 2019. I have many friends where the assumption is that the mother will do the heavy-lifting when it comes to the children. Even if they work, they are still the ones that do school drop off, lunches, clean the house and stay home if their children are sick.
Women still do the majority of the caring roles and domestic duties in Australian families.
Formerly equal partnerships slip into stereotypical roles and expectations that leave many women groaning under the weight of resentment. A father’s ‘me time’ is assumed. He will go to the gym, play golf, go away for the weekend – but she will pick up the slack and keep the home fires burning.
Women in this position take on the domestic work as part of their role as mother and wife and don’t stop to think that they have an equal right to their own time.
I’m not saying that mothers everywhere should burn their school-week organisers and leave their children crying at the door while they leap into every opportunity at ‘me time’. Becoming a mother means change, and we can’t do everything we used to. There are times when we need to be with our children, and times where we need to hold the fort for our partners.
But (if you’ll excuse the expression) we don’t need to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Just because you become a mother doesn’t mean you aren’t entitled to your own time – whether it’s as frivolous as a morning shopping or a swim in the ocean.
Putting yourself first takes negotiation and grit. It’s not a waste of time, and your child won’t perish without you.
Ultimately it involves a wholehearted acceptance of your own value, which is probably the best place to start.