I am not going to lie. Motherhood does not always feel natural to me. At least lately, I have grappled with the concepts of identity and boundaries when it comes to organizing my life as a mother, a woman, and someone who actually loves to work.
Without a doubt, both my children were planned, impatiently awaited, and loved from the very beginning. And I think I did a fairly good job with the whole attachment parenting program. I mean, I home-birthed, I nursed far beyond the recommended age, I carried them around in slings, and wraps, and carriers, and I will never forget the sensation of freedom when I realized that I could have both my arms and hands back and do anything if I just put baby on my back. I encouraged baby-led weaning and stayed on top of the ever changing nutritional advice for 6-12-months-olds. And I (almost) never bought processed baby food. Oh, and co-sleeping. I definitely did that, too. What nobody tells you about co-sleeping is that it is perfect and blissful until it becomes excruciatingly draining when said baby, now a toddler, continues to wake like a newborn because her or she is used to the next snack being within reach at all times. Long story short, I fully embraced and immersed myself in these parenting ideals. And I loved that chapter, to the extent that some dear friends back home began to express concern. “is this not too close?” they asked, and “Are you still taking care of yourself?” My best friend was literally relieved when I first complained about motherhood. I will never forget her words: “It is refreshing to hear that not everything is always perfect.” At the same time, I have to admit that I thoroughly enjoyed this phase of my life.
But now that my youngest is about to turn three years old, and now that I am done with diapering, and nursing, and baby wearing, now that basically real life kicks back in, I feel less willing to put myself on the back burner. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t love my kids any less, it’s just that I feel less willing to compromise. And I am realizing that in order to truly feel fulfilled, I need me in my life. And me is more than “just” mama.
me had a vibrant social life prior to kids with an eclectic mix of friends and acquaintances. me also went to graduate school to get a Master’s and a PhD, by the way. me used to pull all-nighters to finish academic projects or simply to listen to music and write. me used to be someone who refused to talk in the morning before the first cup of coffee, someone who never said no to the next challenge or adventure or impromptu travel. me actually detests routine and predictability. me prefers happy hour over arts-and-craft-meetups, and work meetings over bake sales. In fact, me would be thrilled right now to pack her bags and explore the world.
The question then becomes: How can me also be a mother? Or more importantly: Can me be a good mother?
Now, my vision of “a good mother” is most likely skewed. I grew up in West Germany where the remnants of National Socialism to this day praise and reward mothers who, fully dedicated and committed, stay home for the first few years of their kid’s life. And my own mother – she was a single mom and worked full-time once I turned two-, spent every non-working minute watching over me. As thankful as I am for her dedication, commitment, and sense of responsibility, as a mother myself, I am genuinely wondering if this is what it takes? I always felt loved and secure, but would I have felt any other way if my mother had put herself a little bit higher on her list of priorities? She didn’t go out, she didn’t shop, she didn’t date. But I’m afraid that’s just not me.
There’s a type of mother that, until recently, used to compound my own feelings of inadequacy. I used to think that she represents the only way to be truly a good mother. She is the one who has three, four children hanging from and tugging on her. The one who somehow manages to hold a conversation in the middle of constant interruptions but who keeps her composure and still looks absolutely happy and satisfied. The one who used to have a career but has become the default parent. The one who reminisces about her adventurous life but has happily put it ad acta. But I’m afraid that’s just not me.
What I’ve come to realize in recent months as I have pondered these questions is this: mothers come in all kinds of shapes and ways and types. Motherhood is not a fixed concept. It’s a process, a give and take, and it is bound to evolve, across generations, and across different stages in your life. In the end then, I dare to propose that what makes us good mothers is the ability to tune in to our needs, and to adjust accordingly. I am still not sure yet what precisely this will look like for me but I am starting with a solo trip to one of my favorite places, Berlin.