As a pediatrician, I meet a plethora of mothers who come in and out of my office. Some of these mothers do not work outside the home, but certainly work assiduously inside the home. Some mothers work part-time (2-3-4 days per week) and many mothers juggle full-time jobs with day care drop off, laundry & housecleaning, and the raising of their children.
Regardless of these mothers’ full time or part-time status, I regard each of these mothers in their primary job: to love and nurture their children, to tend to their children’s health and well-being. Our appointments are typically very meaty or hearty – a veritable beef vegetable barley soup to consume in a short 30 minute well-child care exam. Depending upon the age of the infant or child, we discuss diet and nutrition, sleep patterns and snoring, elimination and bedwetting, school performance and developmental milestones, activities and mood. Sometimes I am so focused on making sure my patients and their parents have all their questions addressed and then relaying my anticipatory guidance, that I don’t ever truly get to know these mothers as individuals.
Over the years, I have learned that not only are mothers amazing and patient, kind and giving, anxious and angry, they also have such a rich and interesting life outside of their children. I have met many mothers who are marathon runners, yoga instructors, dancers, champion ice skaters, world travelers. I have met mothers who are physicians, dentists, nurses, police officers, scientists, engineers, teachers, accountants and financial advisers. A mother may appear to be anxious or harried (of course sleep deprivation never helps) but they may also be a CEO running a Fortune 500 Company. Other moms are multi-tasking by launching a creative children’s clothing company. I love to see that many mothers have phyllo dough layers beneath their robe of motherhood!
After the office visit, I am sometimes lucky enough to have a little extra time to spend with these amazing mothers. I love hearing about their experiences outside of their childrens’ lives. What I have learned through the years is that the evolution of a serene and measured mother takes time. More often then not, the infant and toddler years are sacrificed to the physicality of the children’s needs. The grade school years can draw great emotional or mental upheavals. The adolescent years can be entering a different galaxy altogether. Through this time, the most relaxed and collected mothers tend to be the ones who sacrifice immensely and provide unconditional love, but also try to sift through the bedlam and glean a couple of seconds or minutes or even one or two hours for themselves. These mothers may run 5 miles daily or practice yoga or play tennis. They may learn to paint, take piano lessons, go to church alone for quiet reflection, or take an astronomy class. It is so important to keep a little segment of time for oneself, maybe while the kids are taking a nap or learning in preschool or tumbling in gymnastics lessons. It is important to realize that although children should be the Ichiban priority, a mother should never lose sight of her former self before children. A mother will never be the same after welcoming a new baby or child into her life, but that primordial self can now be enhanced and illuminated with maternal love, rather than detained or suppressed. As mothers, we probably all need to learn to be a teeny bit selfish. The 20 minutes of meditation or piano playing or exercise in lieu of a clean house or extra sleep may be all it takes to make us become a happier, healthier, and more temperate mother.
As a working mother, I am still learning to find that daily peace and equilibrium. When I first became a mother, I was immersed in the 120 hour work weeks of my last year of medical residency. I didn’t feel like I could do anything extra for myself and needed to rush home to soak up time with my oldest son. Eight years later, I have noticed a tremendous decrease in my anxiety and frustration with my children when I cut my little slice of personal time and then take a nibble or a bite. Don’t forget to swallow! I often do. I sacrifice sleep and a completely orderly house in lieu of these precious moments. I run, practice yoga, play the piano and of late, I blog!