Even though we’re already into 2022, many of us are still thinking about goals and plans for the New Year. I listened to a podcast recently that blasted January’s public relations company for making everyone feel bad about themselves. Instead of promoting “New Year, New You,” the podcasters honor “New Year, Same You.” Although we’ve entered into 2022, we have the same mind, same body, same soul.
Yet, each January we’re forced to conjure all the reasons we can be better.
And if any realm is self-deprecating it’s that of being a mom. Motherhood is more unique than ever before, and it’s not that previous generations of mothers loved their children less, it’s that our generation puts too much pressure on modern moms to be perfect.
Further, this quest for perfection is fostering several negative trends, such as a significant increase in female alcoholism, a robust number of moms with mental health issues and addictions, and an unrelenting influencer marketing community on social media who, through superficial advertising, makes today’s moms feel less than worthy.
Two consecutive life events forced me to reevaluate the definition of motherhood and my ability to live up to society’s idealism. My mother passed away in 2016. It rocked my world to the point where every day felt disorienting and the most minute task exhausting. During that time, the only impetus to rise from bed was being Mommy to my own two little boys.
Then, I got a divorce. I became less than perfect. I went from being a mom blogger and someone respected in the community as a go-getter, PTA member, involved-in-everything type of person to someone who was judged. How could a perfect mother allow a divorce? How could a perfect mother move out of the family home and purchase her own house? How could a perfect mother start working full-time when before she was working part time so she could volunteer and focus on her children? How could a perfect mother do these things?
Somewhere amidst all that darkness, I found a silver lining, or maybe it found me. I no longer had my mother to consult and no longer had my own façade of motherhood to maintain. I was stripped of everything, exposed.
With the external world a lopsided landscape, I was forced to look inside myself. I remembered the woman I was prior to motherhood when I lived by myself in an apartment in downtown Asheville, dined at exotic restaurants and sat at coffee shops for hours taking notes for books I would one day publish. I experimented with dishes like ceviche and gazpacho. I traveled to new places simply to wander and explore. I dabbled in all types of music, religions, meditation and yoga styles. I took long, relaxing baths and learned how to knit and make jewelry. I was strong and independent with massive dreams and goals.
This phase of my life was adventurous, but it wasn’t easy. I sometimes drank too much wine, spent more money than I had, did not routinely exercise and occasionally hung out with people who steered me in wrong directions. I wondered who my future husband would be, what career I would finally settle into and whether or not I would become a mother. Back then, it seemed like a confusing yet invigorating time in my life, but now as I reflect, it was an incredible period of growth, learning, evolving.
Your struggles are assuredly different from mine. Nonetheless, all moms harbor feelings of guilt, regret, shame and melancholy. I’m not an expert, but over the years I’ve learned some helpful tactics.
First and foremost, be gentle with yourself. Getting up every single day and caring for children is hard in every sense of the word. Merely doing that is enough.
Limit your time on social media. You may think scrolling through photos of picturesque families, fit moms, luxurious vacations and expensive products is fun, but is it? There’s an old adage that says, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” If you must get on social media, cull down the pages and people you follow so your feed is relaxing, motivating and uplifting.
Today’s families come in all shapes, varieties and sizes. Gone are the days where a traditional nuclear family is the norm. Whatever your tribe looks like, take care of yourselves physically and emotionally, take care of each other and take care of the unit. A family is only as strong as the mental health of the adults leading the charge.
Most importantly, remember that our kids love us more than we can imagine, even though we often feel like we’re not doing enough or that what we are doing isn’t up to par.
I was a child of the 1980s. During the old days, moms pushed us outside to play until dark, washed our Keds sneakers 100 times before buying new shoes, gave us our older siblings’ hand-me-downs and told us to be appreciative. A birthday party was a brief get together at McDonalds with the Hamburglar in the background. My mom wasn’t a smoker, but my friends’ moms often smoked in the car or in the house and we kids didn’t think a thing of it. If my mom didn’t have time for me because she was talking on the phone, coloring her hair or working a second job, I moved on and not one time resented her.
As we go into another 12-month cycle, remember to put your metaphorical oxygen mask on first so you can breathe life into those beautiful children of yours. Take time to do something that would make your pre-motherhood self proud. It may be a new year, but you are the same you and remember, that is perfectly okay.
A version of this post originally appeared in print in The Smoky Mountain News.