Discovering Our Own Worth
Shortly after the birth of my first child, my obstetrician offered this sage piece of advice: "Remember, if Mama ain't happy, nobody's happy." She and I had been discussing my desire to return to work. According to my doctor, it didn't matter if a mother wanted to work or she wanted to stay at home full time with her children—the most important thing was that it had to be the mother's choice. "Whichever path you choose, make sure you take care of yourself in the process. Don't get so consumed with the needs of others that you forget who you are. A happy mother makes the best mother," she advised.
I followed my doctor's advice by going back to work; it was something that I wanted to do for myself. Yet my return to work didn't last long. My son became vulnerable to colds and ear infections, spending the first nine months of his life in and out of his pediatrician's office and experiencing two overnight stays in the hospital emergency room. It was the outpatient surgery to put tubes in his ears and our pediatrician's comment—"The best thing for this child is to be at home with his mother"—that made me rethink my choice of returning to work.
I did what many mothers would have done: I gave up my career to stay at home with my son. It worked out fine for the first few months. Then it hit me—as much as I adored my child and loved being his mother, I felt incomplete.
Gail McMeekin, who began her career as a family therapist, has counseled many mothers struggling with issues such as mine related to personal identity. As a career and creativity coach, she has worked with moms who have experienced the challenges of adjusting to "life after baby." These challenges include loss of self-esteem, confidence, social support, and validation.
"In this society, we get strong messages that to focus on our own needs is selfish and unfeminine, and we get very confused and neglect our own self-care," says McMeekin. "Women often don't focus on their own needs until the end of the day when everyone else is taken care of. It is important for mothers to negotiate to have their needs taken seriously as well. But it means letting go of old models and stereotypes and it certainly helps to have a supportive partner."
Jones reminds us, "There are no standards for what makes 'a good mother' and it is impossible to be 'on' all the time. A mother should not rely on her children as her sole source of fulfillment. Nor should she base her self-esteem solely on her childrearing abilities. It places way too much pressure on the child and the mother. Mothers have their own unique worth outside of parenting, and each woman should take the time to discover their own worth, independent of their children." Jones says that by not honoring our true selves, we could face feelings of resentment.
"I have found when women come together in groups and share their true feelings about their transition into motherhood, there is a bonding," says Jones, who is also a personal coach that leads workshops for new moms. "Women feel relieved to know others have found the transition to be much larger than they anticipated. It is also validating when people share their truths with one another."