The identification with being a mom is a powerful one. Our role is clear: We are caretakers, nurses, counselors, and teachers. We are chefs, home organizers, personal assistants, and coaches. We wear so many hats as a mom that it’s easy to forget we once had a life on our own, before kids. Motherhood is so occupying that it’s challenging to bring it into balance with our other aspects—our sensuality as women, our need to find expression for our intellect and creativity, our careers, and our desire to serve our greater community. Yet these are the yin and yang qualities that paint the portrait of a complete woman—a woman and a mom today.
Contrary to what happens sometimes, being a mom does not mean that sensuality has to get thrown under the bus. Okay, leaking breasts and a newborn clamoring for her next meal won’t exactly nourish that side of you, and the busyness of our complicated lives can leave us just too tired to care about our appearance or our sexual needs. But just as a rose needs water to stay lush, our feminine side needs nourishment to maintain its luster, too. While self-care may seem impossibly time-consuming, there are simple things you can do to just feel good about yourself as a woman each day, cultivating those sensual feelings through small acts. When your hair is cut and your nails are trim, you may feel more womanly. Try lighting candles in the evening after the kids are in bed, taking a long soaking bath, and wearing good lingerie (something that feels beautiful to you), or a soft flowing blouse during the day. The feel of silk, lace, or fine cotton against your skin will remind you that there is a feminine dimension to your life that hasn’t gone totally underground. Treat yourself as you treat others in your life with gentle kindness.
A woman’s joy is also nourished by the life she makes outside her family. Though time is precious, many women are inspired to give back to their communities through some form of philanthropic work. One friend has used her legal skills to help create a foundation for her school district; another friend is on the board of her local library; another has helped create a summer program for children of low-income families. Other women in participate book clubs that allow them to read widely on a range of interesting topics and to discuss them—something they value not only because they are giving expression to their intellectual sides, but also because it connects them with other like-minded women. While some of us have more time than others, may just be better organized, able to compartmentalize, or just feel the call more urgently, when we give of ourselves permission and step outside our lives as moms while the kids are at school, or with the help of babysitters or our partners, or after dinner for the occasional committee or board meeting, we do two things: We maintain an identity outside of our home and work lives, and we set an example for our kids. We are sending them a message that living a full life isn’t only about razing our children, and that when they become adults, there will be expectations about helping others in our extended community, too.
My remarkable friend Laura makes time in her busy life to volunteer at a soup kitchen and organizes in-kind donations from local restaurants; she also serves on various school committees, and is a board member of a crisis intervention center. She added out-of-home activities gradually because, honestly, when we are in the thick of raising very young children, there isn’t a lot of idle time. But she shared with me the Mother’s Day card she received this year from her son. It read: “I’m so proud of you, Mom, for all you do for our family but also, what you do for every- one else.” One might also say that she feels what she does is as much for herself as it is for others. As she is making a difference in their lives, she is also expanding her own.
We are complex individuals with many needs and many aspects to our being. There is one thing I know for certain: While your children love your attention, they don’t want all the focus of your attention on them all the time. It places too much pressure on them to please, and inhibits them from becoming independent from you, if you hover too close.
That said, if someone were to ask you to strip off all of those hats you wear as a mom to show them the ones you wear outside of motherhood, what would those hats look like and how many would there be?
How can you give more complete expression to the fullness of the woman you are?
What nourishes your spirit outside of being a mother?
And, as we strive to balance all the components of ourselves as women, are you replenishing your sensuality in small ways?
How are you taking care of your body, your spirit, and your mind?
As you take inventory of the answers to these questions and fill in the gaps, they will integrate into one, and bring you to the balance in being a woman and also being a mom.