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Like so many modern first-time mothers that have come before me, I spend a fair amount of time scrolling through Facebook. The other day someone posted a video of Jada Pinkett Smith answering how hard it is to be a wife and mother to her daughter. And her answer is one all moms need to hear.
She talks about the messaging we get as mothers—that we must sacrifice everything for our children—and how she believes this can create so much unhappiness. And I'd have to agree.
I haven't been a mom for very long—not even six months—and unfortunately, I am not yet overwhelmed with love and gratitude for the little person I made. He's beautiful, I care about his well-being. I take care of him and try to do all the things you're supposed to do. Tummy time, reading and singing.
I hold him and kiss his face and play peek-a-boo to teach him things go away but they come back. Perhaps I need to play a little-peek-a-boo with myself because the person I was has certainly disappeared and she does not appear to be coming back.
I wrote about my postpartum depression last month and one of the comments that stuck with me was how I needed to let go of my old self and accept all of the sacrificing I will have to do as a mother.
I am unhappy.
I have a beautiful healthy son, a wonderful caring husband and a lovely home. But it's not enough.
Doing laundry, cleaning the kitchen, cleaning poop and spit-up off the baby and me, watching TV and going on Facebook are not enough to make me happy.
20-30 minutes of random exercise usually interrupted by a crying baby that only likes to take short naps, is not enough to keep me happy or keep me healthy.
I thought, I have to do something or I'm going to crash and burn and bring my whole family down with me.
Hanging out with other mothers once a month while trying to pretend that I'm okay is not enough to make me happy.
Working a few shifts on the weekends at the library once in awhile is not enough to make me happy.
I'm almost scared to say these things aloud because modern day motherhood doesn't allow for us to say it: being a wife and mother isn't the be-all end-all of a woman's life—at least not this woman.
My new therapist has a 17-month-old at home and I feel like she understands. She's been telling me we need to get some help in the home, that I can't go on as I am without burning out, that I need to practice self-care. Yes, I nod during the sessions, then I run to the grocery store afterwards because it's the only time I can go without my baby. Then I get home and it's time for me to walk the dog and put the baby down for bed. We sleep and the next day it's back to the drudgery. Washing bottles, getting peed and pooped on, wiping spit up off of everything. I do it all over again, minus the chance to get out of the house by myself.
Watching a big star like Jada Pinkett Smith saying motherhood is hard and she struggled gave me pause. Damn, she's rich and can get all the help she wants and she's still seeking balance. She still has to remember to take care of herself and pursue her own dreams.
I thought, I have to do something or I'm going to crash and burn and bring my whole family down with me. So I put my son down for a nap and let him coo and gurgle in the crib with the monitor on while I took a shower, and put on some makeup. I gave myself a superior smoky eye and bright red lipstick. Then I waited for my husband to get home and when he did, I called a cab and went out drinking with girlfriends. I was home in time to put the baby down for the night.
Our men can't do it, our children can't do it—we have to be responsible enough to take care of ourselves. Starting right now.
Then I set up a sitter for the following afternoon. I went to the gym and got my nails done. I applied for a job at the library. I worked on a writing project. And I started to feel just a little bit... good.
I'm a creative person, I like to write and doodle and make pottery. I'm a performer. I'm energized by social interaction. I love parties and cocktails and happy hours and giving advice to my girlfriends. I like my work as a librarian. I enjoy sitting at the reference desk and answering questions.
I don't enjoy being at home all day with my baby. It sounds selfish and weird and no matter how many times someone uses the analogy of putting on your oxygen mask first, it still doesn't feel right to say I'm putting myself ahead of my child.
It seems unacceptable but it isn't. There is no way I can continue to take care of my family feeling as overwhelmed, sad and exhausted as I feel right now. I need to be filled up before I can give more.
So today, the first Monday of 2016, I have a sitter coming for three hours so I can go to the doctor and the gym. My husband is going to eat leftovers for dinner and take care of the baby while I go to therapy and then go out to dinner by myself.
This isn't a special occasion. I need regular help and a break from my baby a couple of times a week and some time to myself every single day. That is how things are going to get better, because I can't take it if they get any worse.
Jada is right. We have to be responsible for our own happiness and fulfillment. Our men can't do it. Our children can't do it. We have to be responsible enough to take care of ourselves.
Starting right now.
Far too often women put off their dreams for later but later never comes. If you're a new mom out there feeling like crap, carve out some time for yourself. In the end, your family will thank you for it. Because, as we all know, a happy mama and wife equals a happy life.