Moms, You Can Have it All

Moms, You Can Have it All

I'm going to vent for a moment, about mom-life, because it's necessary. Fellow moms, I'm doing this for you. If you'll bear with me, wonderful advice and perspective, from my dear friend and Ph.D. in Psychology, Dr. Morgan Van Epp Cutlip, will follow. Trust me, it's worth the time.

As a stay-at-home mom turned entrepreneur, I have days where I feel like a multitasking ninja. I also have days where I’m pouring salt in my coffee, and calling my children by the wrong names.

When my children were born, I became a stay-at-home mom to three boys and the CEO of our household. This may not pass as an actual career, and I may not receive a paycheck, but let me assure you, it’s a 24/7 job. Daily responsibilities include: All the grocery shopping, cooking a healthy dinner every night, cleaning the house, picking up my husband’s dirty towels and coffee cups (that he leaves everywhere), organizing the family calendar, helping with homework (that I often don’t understand- long division? Really?), doing all the laundry, taking care of everyone when they’re sick, providing never-ending snacks, arranging play-dates, story time, learning all the names of the dinosaurs (which, by the way, are impossible to pronounce), teaching my teenager the importance of personal hygiene, listening to background history of every character in the new Avengers movie, and last, but certainly not least, watching over their emotional well-being, and raising them to be strong, kind, passionate, and honest men, who will hopefully leave the world a better place than they found it. Oh, and keeping them alive.

 Photo by Meagan Murtagh

Photo by Meagan Murtagh

To my children and husband, I am everything, and when I say everything, I mean I do EVERYTHING. My home is a balanced eco-system, in which I am the main source of life. I am the catcher of all the juggling pins. The wizard behind the curtain. It’s a massive responsibility, one that I take very seriously, and one I’m grateful to have.

However, this past year, the precious balance of my household has been challenged…by me. Because I wanted to be more. More than a mother, more than a wife, more to myself.

 Morgan and I, talking shop in her beautiful home, in San Clemente, CA

Morgan and I, talking shop in her beautiful home, in San Clemente, CA

I realized in the act of being everything to everyone, I lost who I was to me. That woman who was creative, driven, artistic, determined, and capable, she was fading away. That strong, sassy, and vibrant woman my husband fell in love with, I saw her in our wedding photos, but not when I looked in the mirror. I began to feel discouraged and disappointed, not with my family or my life, but with myself. I knew this wasn’t a good path. I knew a change needed to happen. How could I be a role model to my boys if I let my own dreams go?

So I took steps to find that woman again, and I brought my buried dreams back to life.

 Photo by Meagan Murtagh

Photo by Meagan Murtagh

That dream was to start a bakery. I began with a blog. That blog turned into business, and that business is growing. For the first time, in a long time, I feel recognized as more than a mother and a wife. I feel validated as woman with potential, a woman with a bright future, a woman who built something all her own. I’m excited everyday and I’m happy.

But herein lies the problem. This grand adventure I’ve embarked on requires a whole new, equally massive responsibility, one I take seriously, and one that is causing my head and heart to spin, because there is simply not enough hours in the day to still be everything to everyone and maintain a growing business. I’ve changed, but the expectations of my household and family have not. I’m now tripping over my juggling pins, my curtain has fallen down, and I’m struggling to bake cupcakes while my toddlers run rampant around the house coloring on the walls with Sharpie markers.

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I feel guilty. I feel pulled from every angle. I feel overwhelmed. I know in my heart, I have to keep pushing, because I believe I’m onto something great. I believe in myself. But how do I find balance? How do I be everything? Can I divide my time between my children, my husband, my work, and myself so that everyone is happy and fulfilled? Am I wrong for wanting to be more than a mom? Am I selfish? Or, can I have it all?

It’s times like this, when I’m about ready to crumble, I reach out to my friend, Morgan, who always reassures me that not only am I not insane, I’m not alone. As a wife, and mother of two beautiful children, she’s no stranger to the balance of work and family responsibilities. Morgan holds a Master’s degree in Human Development and Family Science, and a Doctorate in Counseling Psychology and is in the process of writing her first book. Needless to say, she gives amazing advice. As I unloaded my stresses, over coffee and cake, and listened to her perspective, I felt a need to share her outlook. I’m not the only mom struggling to find herself. Here’s what she had to say:

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Moms, you can have it all.

Dr. Morgan Van Epp Cutlip, Ph.D. in Psychology

My dear friend, Lindsey, nailed it when she asked, “Am I wrong for wanting to be more than a mom…?”.  Because one of the risks of this whole motherhood gig is that we can so easily run around meeting the needs of everyone else while completely leaving ourselves behind.

When our oldest child was born I remember the midwife saying to me, “Happy BIRTHday. There are two births today, your baby and you as a mama, you will never be the same.”

In the moment, I couldn’t even wrap my head around what the heck she was talking about.  But it didn’t take more than a day or so until the weight of her words sunk in right smack dab in the middle of my heart.

Overnight I had lost my freedom. My freedom to run an errand without the worry of how my baby will handle a trip to the store, or without lugging a 60 lb. diaper bag and a car seat, and a stroller or maybe I should have just used the wrap? How long are those things anyway, like two football fields?!

Oh my, and freedom from worry. Yes, I had stress before, but not like now. I didn’t realize how many obscure scenarios I could manufacture in my mind of ways our baby could be harmed.  Or the freedom to go to a restaurant, or work when I wanted, or sleep, or shower, or even pee when I had the need. Everything just felt so hard.

 Photo by Meagan Murtagh

Photo by Meagan Murtagh

Please don’t get me wrong, I was, and still am head over heels in love with our daughter and now also our son. I always dreamed of being a mom and nothing in my life has brought me so much joy. However, I distinctly remember standing in front of a mirror a few days postpartum and looking at my tired eyes, giant boobs, and droopy belly and thinking, “Where did I go?”.

It is normal to initially lose yourself, but you’ve got to discover and reclaim the parts of yourself that were temporarily sidelined when you became a mom.

This is one of the many complications that exist in motherhood: the feeling of losing yourself when gaining your child. Sorrow and joy all in one tsunami of emotion. I am not sure that we talk about this directly enough or maybe, in our pregnant glow, we just can’t hear it, but this identity shift is really quite a crisis.

The majority of writers and counselors approach this as mourning a loss of who you were before children; however you are still you. You can embrace the new while reclaiming the old. You can have it all.

 Photo by Meagan Murtagh

Photo by Meagan Murtagh

1. Sometimes I feel like a nut, sometimes I don’t.

When our daughter was born, I felt overwhelmed. Overwhelmed and surprised by the intense anxiety I felt, because traditionally, I’m not that anxious. I’d say that continues to be the defining emotion of motherhood for me.

Sometimes it’s overwhelmed by joy or frustration or love or exhaustion or messes or laundry or the tugging demands of being a work-at-home mom, or hugs or kiddo kisses. But generally if I’m feeling a bit of something, overwhelmed is what it is.

I want you to know whatever you’re feeling is ok. It is normal. It may not look like my experience or Lindsey’s, or your best friend’s, but it is your experience and it is ok. What has helped me is talking about it with close friends or family that I trust. With my tribe of moms that don’t judge but just nod in unison, “yup, we’ve been there.”

So this first point is just a reminder that we all have our reactions to motherhood, and whatever yours is, please know it’s ok. Please don’t assign a label or judgment to it. Just name it, examine it, let it wash over you, and then move the heck on.

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2. Don’t throw out the old when you become the new.

When in the throes of motherhood, it is easy to just put your head down and deal with whatever is thrown at you. To wear a thousand hats, and live in a state of “busy” or “overwhelmed” or “overscheduled.”

It is not uncommon to carry on like this and wake up one day and realize you have lived completely consumed by your mom identity and have ultimately lost parts of your pre-kid self that were important to you.

So I want you to hear me on this one. You manage your relationships with others, but ultimately if you don’t manage your relationship with yourself, let alone even know yourself, just about everything suffers. To be the best mom, best wife, best employee, best insert role here, you must have an awareness of who you were before you had kids, who you are now, and how the two can best be integrated.

I’ve read things before about mourning the loss of self when you become a mom. I’m not saying this is a bad idea, but I think there should be a follow up step which is to examine the parts of your pre-kid self that are important to you and find ways to bring them with you when you become a mom. Because the bottom line is…you are still you.

So find ways to continue to nurture and maintain those parts of you. Becoming a mom doesn’t have to mean abandoning your former self and you don’t have to try to “stay the same” as you once were, rather it is an integration of the two.

So, I challenge you to take a step out of it for just a moment and reflect on yourself. Gasp!!! Yes, taking time for you is totally ok! I want you to find a quiet space or a quiet moment and think through, heck, even write out answers to the following questions:

  • What is something that fills me with joy/pride/sense of accomplishment that is separate from my identity as a mom?
  • What are the parts of my pre-kid self that are most important to me?
  • What are parts of me that I didn’t know existed until after kids?
  • If I could wave a magic wand and create my ideal motherhood experience, what would that look like? What would be the same/different?
  • What are some ways I can continue to develop my most important pre-kid qualities?
  • How can I better make integrate parts of my pre-kid self into my identity as a mom?
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3. Don’t let your expectations lead to disappointments.

This is a biggie. This point has to do with the power of expectations. When you first became pregnant or maybe even way before, you most definitely had a picture in your mind of what type of mom you’d be and what being a mother would look like.  And if you are married or in a relationship, you probably had an image of what your partner would be like after kids too.

These mental pictures or beliefs fuel the expectations we have for our experiences, ourselves, and of others. Although this is normal, be aware of those pictures in your head that create expectations vastly different than your reality.

Like, I thought I was totally prepared to be a mom since I had good parents and studied child development. I mean really, I have a degree in this stuff, what’s the big deal?! Our daughter was born SO strong willed. I had no idea what I was doing. My expectations were completely misaligned with my reality, and this resulted in feelings of anxiety and stress, and sometimes feeling like I was failing at motherhood.

Or maybe Lindsey had a mental picture of her marriage where her husband would pick up more around the house. So if she saw a towel laying on the floor, her expectation wasn’t met and she may have felt disappointed, angry, frustrated, and maybe even under-valued, disrespected, and unloved.

So part of managing your identity as a mom with your pre-kid self is becoming aware of the picture in your head of what this all looks like for you.

Ask yourself…

  • What did I imagine motherhood would look like?
  • What type of mother did I imagine I would be?
  • What did I expect my kid(s) to be like compared to who I imagined they would be?
  • How did I think my life would be the same or different after kids?
  • What parts of myself did I think I would be able to hold on to?
  • What parts of myself did I think would be different?

These questions are so important when managing expectations about your experience as a mom. It is normal to have them be a mismatch with reality, but this tension can cause swarms of different emotions.

So I suggest taking some time to really put pen to paper and work through these three steps:

  1. Write out all of the expectations you’ve had about motherhood (i.e. about you, your child, and your other significant relationships).
  2. Then, think about how these expectations fit in with your reality. Where are they spot on? Where are they misaligned?
  3. Finally, brainstorm ways to make adjustments within and outward. So within would be making adjustments in your beliefs about yourself, motherhood and others so that your expectations are more realistic.  The outward would be how you can make some changes in your routine, your relationships with others, how you express your expectations and ask for help.
 Photo by Meagan Murtagh

Photo by Meagan Murtagh

4. What can you do for you?

Lindsey so clearly outlined all of the ways she helps her family, and all of the ways she meets their needs. In all of your relationships, you meet needs of others and they, hopefully, meet needs within you.

However, you are also in a relationship with yourself. So it is so important to really take inventory of what your personal needs are.

I want to highlight something here that deserves an entire post and that is guilt. Please hear this loud and clear: Life is a series of trade offs. You don’t usually do things because you have nothing else to do. Instead life is filled with choices and missing out on one thing to do another. So I am asking you to examine what you need, which can be hard for many moms. But you must learn to do this because part of the art of motherhood is balancing you with others without feeling shame and guilt.

So take some time for you and to think about what needs you have.

There are two types:

  1. Needs only you can meet: You have some needs that only you can meet. Like, self-care in the form of exercise or getting your hair done or whatever you need that you must manage.
  2. Needs that you depend on others to meet: It is true there are some needs you have that have always existed or that are new now that you have kids, either way these are needs that require dependence on others to meet them. Things like quality conversation, intimacy, and words and gestures of appreciation.

One extra statement here: there are different types of needs (think Love Languages, or intimacy, tangible goods, providing time away, quality conversation) but there’s also intensity of needs. This means you may have several types of needs that are important to you to be met, but some are more intense than others. And expect that what you need and how much you need it will absolutely change over time.

Take some time and outline what needs you have that you can meet yourself and what needs you would like close others to meet for you. After you outline some of your current needs, choose your 3 most intense, and make meeting those needs your top priority.

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Conclusion

To state the obvious, becoming a mom means giving up parts of yourself in order to put your child(ren) first. However, I want you to hear this; you must move yourself back to the forefront and manage your identity and needs in order to be the best mom you can be.

I am not saying, to do this at the expense of your kids, but to do it for your kids (or partner or job or whatever). It’s a little like the instructions on an airplane, “please put on your oxygen mask first before helping others.”

I am giving you permission to give yourself some attention, to explore your identity as a mom, to give yourself some love, to find time for yourself, nurture what brings you joy, and do more of what makes you your best mom and your best self.

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Morgan Cutlip is a wife, mom to Effie and Roy, a Ph.D. in psychology, and life long lover of all things relationships. She develops relationship education programs and resources with her father at Love Thinks and manages the My Love Thinks blog. She has presented topics related to emerging adults and millennials, premarital predictors of marital success, and marital relationships in conference keynotes including Smart Marriages, NARME and Women of Purpose. You can hang out with Morgan on instagram @mylovethinks where she shares stories and advice on dating, marriage and motherhood.

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