The Motherhood Identity: Being Not Mom

Making Time for "Not Mom" Makes Us Better

Last week, we took a road trip for our Summer 2018 family “vacation.” Nine hours driving to a lake where we stayed with extended family for four days, then back to the city where we left the kids with grandparents while my husband and I took 48 hours for a mini-getaway. We ate really good food, binge-watched Netflix before bed, slept in, hiked, went to a sculpture garden, an impromptu show at a theater, and even enjoyed afternoon beers at a brewery. I finished two novels. We talked about our lives, and our future. And I realized how critical this time of being Not Mom is to my well-being, and always has been.

When I first became a Mom, I felt transformed in all ways: I had a new identity that undoubtedly placed another life as far more important than my own; and, sleep would never be the same. I remember the realization after the first few sleep-limited nights, that there was no “sleeping in on the weekend” to catch up. This little bundle of miracle was now in charge of my sleep; whether because she needed me, or because I lay awake worrying about her needing me, I would never sleep again as I did in my pre-Mom life.

For me, sleep was the most abrupt and constant change to my daily life, but of course those changes from a childless couple to a family of three abounded in ways big and small. One of these big ways was that we no longer had time for just the two of us. Once our daughter actually abided by a somewhat regular bedtime, we were too exhausted to actually interact once she was asleep. And of course, there was no time for just me.

As I would rush back to reunite with her, worrying if she was okay without me while I was gone (especially with the first), I still knew I needed to leave to be me.

I have heard from parents how they never left their children with babysitters, or even other family caregivers. I have heard of couples who did not go out alone with each other for years after becoming parents. As with all things parenting, it’s good to “know thyself” and I knew I wasn’t one of these parents.

From the first days and weeks of the complete newborn takeover, I craved time for myself and with my husband, when I was NOT being a mother.

Now, almost nine years after becoming a mother, and going through the many phases of early childhood with three different children, I still yearn for those moments of being Not Mom. Having older children affords more freedom. It’s easier than it was, but motherhood has also become even more enveloping as we realize with every passing year how much we affect our children, at even deeper levels and with higher stakes.

I knew from the beginning of my motherhood that I needed to resist the magnetic pull of absolute dissolution of my former self. I took any opportunity to leave the house without my baby, even for an hour. As I would rush back to reunite with her, worrying if she was okay without me while I was gone (especially with the first), I still knew I needed to leave to be me.

In the spirit of providing a voice of support, encouragement, and even professional permission to put yourself first, I offer to new mothers and mothers struggling with finding time for themselves, a list of 5 reasons why it’s good for you to be Not Mom:

5 Good Reasons for Being Not Mom:

1.    Being Selfish Is Good For The Kids. It’s really hard to stay connected to the Not Mom parts of ourselves when we are constantly in Mom mode. As Mom, we exist to meet the needs of our kids. They are wired to be self-centered especially in the early years, to get their basic needs met, and then to figure out who THEY are. Our job is truly to serve them as navigators of their paths in this world, not the other way around. We hopefully had parents who did that for us, so we can do it for our kids. But to exist for the sake of others ALL the time is draining and we might get more self-centered with our kids if we don’t get our own time to be all about us.

2.    Who Am I? If we stay so focused on helping our kids figure out their passions, we might forget our own. When I have time alone or with my husband or friends, I connect with what gives me energy: reading excellent fiction, walking slowly and thoughtfully through an art museum, hiking a trail without doling out snacks and fielding complaints, eating gourmet food that I don’t have to clean up, exploring new cities at an adult’s pace. How can we encourage our kids to be passionate and discovering life if we aren’t doing it too?

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3.     We Are Not Islands. Perhaps the biggest challenge of the baby and young child years is how our social life becomes a dark, narrow tunnel of necessity. When it’s hard enough to have a 5-minute uninterrupted grown-up conversation with our partner, a 20-minute phone call with a friend seems completely undo-able. But our friends and partner know us in ways our kids never will (and probably shouldn’t!). These relationships keep us connected to our core Not Mom selves. Why should the kids have all the fun? We need grown-up fun too! (And all the invaluable support through life that comes with these adult relationships.)

4.     Role Models. As much as I’m not living my whole life only for my kids, they are always watching. They know I work helping other kids. They now call me “the woman with the website,” thinking I’m some sort of famous because they can see my picture on the internet. They may not comprehend all of who I am outside of being their Mom, and they don’t need to, but they do see me as being more than their Mom in the world, which is something I also want for them in whatever their futures hold.

5.     It’s Healthy. All of this points back to the most important foundation for any parent: being the healthiest we can be to be the best parents we can be. “Wellness” and “balanced lifestyle” are all the rage right now, but as a health psychologist I can speak past the trendiness. Real mental health risks exist for parents – especially researched in mothers – who do not have enough support, or who are highly stressed by demands of parenting and working. There are books written on this, but I will briefly say that finding time and space for being Not Mom is part of this pursuit of wellness and balance. Every little bit helps.

Even when I am not with my children, they are always with me. When I take time and space for myself and my other relationships, the essence of them is part of me, a constant I could never imagine not having. When I return to them after any absence – no matter how short or long – I have missed them. It doesn’t mean I hadn’t wanted to be away, but it makes me even happier to be back.

Being a mother is being the best and worst of me. It is the most defining of all my identities, the most coveted, the most meaningful. And taking breaks from it helps me embrace it even more, and be even better.