Building a happy and healthy family life in Durham took lots of effort and time. Now that I’ve done it, I wouldn’t live anywhere else.
Looking back on my two years of mothering, writing this blog and as an organizer for a local mommy meetup group, my mission has always been to support new moms and build their village when there is none. Creating strong community networks is something I’ve done twice now – once as an immigrant when I first moved to Canada, and again, when I became a mom and moved to Durham when my son was born. It can be done, but for some it takes practice and for others they need a guide.
Let’s face it, mat leave can only be understood if you experience it.
For the two friends that were brave enough to ask, asked me what I did all day with my time. They were lucky in that they asked me on my more patient days, but the words still stung. My answer? Survive. We’d laugh, but they would both be quiet and stare at me as if they expected more. How could I possibly explain that my day would consist of everything and nothing, at once? How there were moments that squeeze tears from my eyes watching my little boy coo and giggle with me when he woke up, to moments where I forgot how to be myself and relax, when I finally got an hour of solitude while he napped?
Looking back, my first year of motherhood was about extremes.
There were a lot of things that I thought I wanted, and always thought that I would do as a mother that never happened. I lived downtown right before I went on mat leave and assumed that because so many families could be found in the suburbs, making new friends with kids would be easy. I also had this idea in my mind, that I wouldn’t surrender who I was pre-baby, because I didn’t want to be that person. You can see where I’m going with this. A lot of the women I’ve met over the past two years have a story that is similar. The build up of our identities as new moms, and then the eventual letting go of the parts that aren’t working.
Letting go was the hardest part.
I can’t even begin to tell you all the ridiculous fantasies I had in my head about what I was going to be like as a mother. I’m even embarassed to list them all here. I will tell you one, so that you can see how I struggled. I got this idea that I would be a stay at home mom. Not just any stay at home mom. The best goddamn stay at home mom my kid had ever seen. So I busted my ass to be what I thought “the best goddamn stay at home mom” should be, and I was miserable. I kept going through the motions, wondering why the hell it wasn’t clicking for me. I hit a wall of frustration and exhaustion. The good thing about hitting this wall was that it forced me to stop and re-evaluate.
I spent some time in denial, but bit by bit I made more honest choices.
Looking back, this was the time when I was accepting my new identity as a mom. I remember a family friend in Australia point-blank telling me that she didn’t believe that I wasn’t returning to the workforce. I was supercharged with emotions as it was for that trip, so I was hurt when she said that to me. Our meeting was the first time I’d seen her in years since my last trip back home, so I felt like she had no idea who I was now. The comment obviously irked me enough to keep thinking about it, only because there was some truth in it. I love the work I get to do in my career, enjoy the types of challenges that come with it, being part of an office environment and dressing up every day. Being a stay at home mom had all the parts that I wanted to have, but during my day I couldn’t stop thinking about going back to work and reading up on the latest trends for my job.
It was at this point when I realised it wasn’t meant to be a battle between pre-baby me vs. the mom version of me.
I was still the same person with the same values, deep down. The difference was that there was still a lot of work to be done to rediscover what was important. What is important. As moms, there is never a moment that we’re not making a decision about where we stand with something, whether it be first foods, day cares to gender-appropriate toys. This pressure will only continue to change and grow as our kids do too.
To stay sane, I’ve realised it’s about making choices that are authentic to me.
My struggle is still the same now and at best, a fairly innocent and misplaced one. I can get caught up in the busy-ness of all the things I think I should be doing (Handmade Pinterest-inspired holiday decorations, anyone?), rather than focusing on the stuff that is truly important to me and my family. I’m working on keeping anchored to who I am and wasting less time getting caught up in the stuff that doesn’t matter. It doesn’t come easy, but it’s worthwhile when I do.
What I’m passionate about is how motherhood can transform YOU.
So much of what gets talked about post-baby are the physical changes we endure, but what needs to happen is more of a focus on the changes we experience to our identity, our self-esteem and our support networks. The stuff that everyone seems to think just naturally catches up, when it’s actually quite the opposite.
Post-partum depression is more common than you may think, affecting 8-12% of mothers [Canadian Mental Health Association].
This number is unacceptable, and there is so much more as a community we can be doing to reduce this. One of the leading risk factors in post-partum depression is a lack of social support. Many new moms in Durham often move to this community in search of more cheaper, family-friendly lifestyle than what they can find in Toronto, but what gets lost in the move are all the support systems that we all need in our first year as mothers.
Too often many moms like us are suffering, alone.
If your mat leave is or was anything like mine, a lot of it felt like it was spent in survival mode with baby and managing life at home. For so many of us struggling to keep on top of day to day life, finding friends and community involvement are way down our list of priorities.
Yet, social support is critical during motherhood more than ever.
Generating support and connecting readers like you to the incredible network of mothers in Durham will continue to be a focus for me this year. First, through this blog and also through the local mommy meetup group I organize. The more we can work together to help each other build our village of support, the healthier we will all be for it.
Sign up for the Motherhood Scene newsletter and start building your village today.
This year you can expect new articles that tell the story of moms like you who live in Durham and read their advice on how they built their village. I’m also planning more of my regular posts that include local business tips, day care reviews and inside information from my team of childcare professionals, the Durham Daycarers, who answer your questions honestly about their profession.
It means the world to me when I know that in some way I helped make another mom’s transition to motherhood that little bit easier.
I want to hear from you. What’s your story? Since jumping in with both feet to what I can only describe as the motherhood scene in my community, I’ve been a better mother, partner and friend for it. Let’s make 2016 the same for you, too.