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Mothers, take a break before you break

 Mothers, take a break before you break (Photo: iStock)

Earlier this week, I had a chat with a family friend, a lady. Sarah* is married with children, “two adorable boys,” as she terms them. Both are in their early teens and can be cheeky at times, but she never seems to mind. She loves motherhood. “The boys, including their father, look after me,” she says.

“Then you must be looking forward to Mother’s Day, right?” I asked her. She paused and cast her glance to the dark skies pregnant with yet another downpour.

“Mother’s Day? What do you know about Mother’s Day? So they set aside a day to remember mothers, huh?” The questions were rhetorical. But don’t get her wrong. Sarah has no qualms about all the attention and treats she gets on this day.  However, she refuses to be boxed in, to be defined purely by a biological factor — motherhood.

Children or not, motherhood means cherishing every minute of her life, including enjoying all the things she did as a single woman, “with a confident swag and flaunting the beauty given to me by God through my parents”. If only she could wind back the hands of the clock.

“When a woman gives birth, many things change,” Sarah says. “The body and overworked hormones conspire to slow her down. Maternal instincts kick in to take care of the infant. That slim body begins to change and deposits fat in all the wrong places. There are the stretch marks and before she knows it, she can no longer engage in the lifestyle that made her the queen of the night.”

It matters little that a nanny may be looking after the child all day when the mother is out at work. “Even then, the baby is never far away from her mind. That increases her anxiety and the ‘what ifs’, making concentration at work a difficult endeavour.”

Yet, as women the world over celebrate Mother’s Day, many identify with Sarah’s sentiments. Childbearing has come to define not only their family life but their social engagements too. Their identities become convoluted as ‘Mama’ becomes their official title. Yet, given the choice, they would prefer to slip on their favourite pair of jeans and heels, let their hair down, let loose like a young gazelle and be the life of the party. Can’t she be a mother, rock a bikini and head for the beach? Must she pass over an evening out with the girls because “you know I am a mother”? Ann, a media practitioner and a mother of two boys refuses to be convinced that a burgeoning body and nursing duties ought to confine a woman to the dull-filled Siberia, the cold, isolated land of the ascetics where her social life, hobbies, and self-care get buried deeper and deeper in the permafrost.

“Motherhood should not ‘cramp’ a woman’s lifestyle,” Ann says. “While having a baby is life-changing, a happy mother is one who has a wholesome and well-balanced lifestyle. When a child ends up taking up all your time, emotions, energy and money, then you end up detesting motherhood. A child should not lower the quality of your life but should be a blessing in many other ways.”

She adds: “As a woman, you should be conscious that you are whole even without a child and actively seek to enjoy life. There is nothing wrong with treating yourself to good things or going on holiday. Remember, a happy mother equals a happy child and home.”

Family life experts say that while motherhood may take a parent by surprise, especially if the pregnancy was unplanned, there is no reason to let go of all the fun as that would make the mother feel as if bringing up the child is a burden to be tolerated rather a noble assignment to be enjoyed.

BeautyHub, the online platform that challenges outdated notions of beauty advises: “Before children, you were a whole other person with routines that were aligned with your career, mood or whatever floated your boat. While most of that life went out of the window when you became a mom, there’s no reason to let it all go.”

But a mother will let go of the fun to avoid the overly judgmental attitude adopted by our society that has stereotyped a woman who dares go against the ‘norm’. It will use the same mirror it has used for decades against the mother who chooses to work full-time rather than be a stay-at-home mum.

Faith Gichanga, an organisational counsellor says it is all about striking a balance in life, that a mother cannot choose one over the other and that the hallmarks of a good mother go beyond child rearing but investing in self-care.

She says when a mother of boys takes care of herself, she is teaching them that motherhood is worth it. Such boys, in turn, will grow up respecting girls and later on, their wives, should they choose to marry.  

“Society never sets specific expectations for a person who attains a PHD, yet a woman must conform to some unwritten societal expectations because she is a mother,” says Gichanga. “Some mature people, especially older women in rural areas, think their values should be adopted by the younger mothers regardless of changing lifestyles. The young mothers may try to conform just to please their superiors.”

According to Gichanga, a woman may feel that completely giving up her life for the children is what makes her a good mother. “A mother does not need to suffer to fulfil her role as a mother.  Some married women, out of frustration, become angry at the father because he is out there talking to other men while she is ‘imprisoned’ by the child. She feels they must all suffer together.”

But for a mother to invest in any self-care that includes intermittent bouts of fun-filled activities, she needs a strong support system.

Cheryl Mwangi, a counselling psychologist with Kidsalive Kenya says sometimes women never really know what they are signing up to when they start the motherhood journey. She says such ‘luxuries’ only come when the serious support system includes an intentional dad and financial security.

“Honestly it is high time mothers accepted that they cannot have it all,” she says. “Some things have to give. For those enjoying the bikini body and coastal trips, chances are they are co-parenting with a highly functional man, not dead-beat dads and narcissists. Otherwise, a lot of mothers will always put their children first.”

And while a mother’s body may not always feel like skipping about, one thing is sure: take a break before you break.

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