The first time I heard a mom say it I was dropping my daughter off at preschool and I had a newborn in my carrier. She said it with a deep and exhausting sigh as her twins ran circles around her. “I can’t wait until they grow up so I can have my life back. I used to have a life you know.” I nodded, showing my allegiance with an obligatory smile, agreeing with the idea that we both had lives we had left behind. As a new mother, I felt initiated into a sort of “moms that keep it real” club.
When I got to the car I felt confused as to why I hadn’t said something more to her. Something uplifting to remind her it wasn’t all so bad. That’s usually more my style. The more I thought about it, the more I realized why my first reflex was to nod in agreement. I realized I didn’t say anything because I sort of felt it too. Even if life before children hadn’t been ideal, it was mine. My time was mine, my thoughts were mine, and my body was mine. I longed for the days when I didn’t have to strategically plan out my bathroom breaks, the days when I didn’t smell like breast milk all the time.
I didn’t love my job before I quit to be a stay at home mom, but I had co-workers and adult conversations on the regular. The tasks that I accomplished involved pay incentives that motivated me to be better. My team pushed me and motivated me to be better. My greatest accomplishments now were taking a shower, showering the children, changing dirty diapers, feeding the children, keeping them from killing themselves or one another, and trying to keep my self alive my piecing together a meal between all of that. Meeting my new goals was satisfying at times, but it was clouded by the thought that these goals were not my goals, they were motherhood goals, family goals.
I felt like with my smile and nod I had entered into an agreement between that mom and myself, a mom code, where we were both made a pact to keep strong until this child raising time was over and we could begin truly living again. It’s like we were the Isrealites wandering the desert, in our case it was 18 years not 40–but it might as well be 40, before reaching the promised land. I didn’t disagree with her because like many new mothers I thought that motherhood was a time we had to serve, denying ourselves completely, until our children had grown up. Then, and only then, was it finally time to turn to ourselves. The thought was deeply sad to me, and as I strapped the children in their car seats (and they both screamed at the top of their lungs) I felt hopeless. Will I ever get my life back? Even so, will I ever be ok with not being the woman I could’ve been? Will my mind slowly whither away amidst the mundane life that is motherhood? Will I really have to wait until they’re grown up to live again? Will I ever not smell like breast milk (the most perplexing question of all)?
The cloud of despair grew darker whilst I lost myself for a few minutes in pondering my past and future. A whirlwind of ideas enveloped me. In those moments I had reinvented a whole new persona that could’ve been, a world-traveling journalist with so much to see and write about. Living a life of adventure, social and political change, while maintaining a sense of minimalism and humility in her New York apartment. I mean, I wasn’t on that track in any way, but hell, it could’ve been me. My thoughts ran wild, but I composed myself and tried to make it through the rest of the afternoon. Unfortunately, I didn’t consolidate my feelings completely that day. The thoughts and feelings that filled me reemerged occasionally in the years to come. They would arise slowly, usually spurred by a comment from another mother, that referenced the women we were before we had children. You could almost see the minds of all the mothers drifting off into their own invented reality of what that life would be. Regardless of how real (or in my case, very much invented) our lives could’ve been, the invention has the seductive power to take us away from our “mundane” present moment.
Since that time I have discovered a very surprising but important truth about motherhood, about being a woman. Motherhood has all that we need to help us become the women we were meant to be (whatever that may be for you). The moments we have right now with our children are the moments that can truly transform us. It’s not about what we left behind to be a mother, be it a career, a lifestyle, a community, a status or a living situation (or etc). Where we are now is where we are were meant to be. Everything and everyone in our present life is there for us to grow, expand, and learn to begin again. Make no mistake, motherhood is a new beginning and like all new beginnings it takes time and effort to adjust to the changes. But it is important to focus on the “beginning” aspect and not the “time and effort” aspect. When we shift that perspective we will see that motherhood is the next step in our life, and not simply a place holder for our life. Not only is motherhood not stopping us from achieving the adventure we seek, but it’s actually the way to reach it. I truly believe that happiness is not in an imagined past or an idealistic future. I believe that happiness is here for us in this very moment. If you look at your child right now and try to listen or understand them, there can be so much joy in that small interaction. Creating that space to cultivate presence in our lives is a skill that we learn. When we master the skill of being in the present moment we can take what life gives us and we can transform it into something of great value.
We can’t embrace what this moment has to offer when we let our minds fill with the delusion of all that could have been or could be in some ideal future. Who can argue with what doesn’t exist? We could actually sit around for hours talking to ourselves or someone else about all the potential we had and all that we could’ve been if this or that hadn’t occurred (in this case, being a mom). Fortunately, the problem was never motherhood. Being a mom is not what’s keeping us from reaching our potential. The problem with the stories we tell ourselves is that they are unarguable and can exist forever if we allow them to. These make-believe lives lead us away from living the life we are living now. I’m not saying motherhood always feels beautiful, but there is always something beautiful in motherhood. There are so many miracles on so many levels, beginning with the miracle that is the duplication of cells that spontaneously form a perfect little life without anyone having to guide them. The ability to shape and form our children’s beautiful little minds is in itself a miracle. The impact that we can have on our children who listen and watch us, their idea of what is important, essential, and valuable to them is found in the way we manifest our own beliefs about ourselves and our world. If we wait until our children are older to live with intention, joy, and presence we will neglect the growth we could’ve been cultivating for years. The time to live our true life is right now.
What we offer one another as a community of mothers really alters our mom culture. We shape our mom culture when we use words that distance ourselves from our motherhood experience and create a sense of “them” and “us” with our children. When we say things out of regret, or without really extracting the value of our present moment, not only do we miss everything, but we also inspire the same thoughts in other moms. Our positivity is catching, but so is our negativity. We have all had negative experiences as a mother, but that does not mean that motherhood is itself a negative experience. The distinction is important, the words we use really do matter. On your next play date if another mother shares something negative, we can listen, and let them vent, but we don’t have to feel that our loyalties lie in agreeing to circulate negativity. We create the reality of our lives. It’s a difficult statement to hear if we don’t feel we are in a good place, but luckily, it’s truth holds the power to transform that place into a different reality. One that is filled with purpose, adventure, direction, and daily insight. It’s my wish for us to feel and know that everyday we get closer to fulfilling the greatness of what we are meant to be. Live your best life now because these really are the best years of our lives.