When I gave birth to my daughter and made the transition to motherhood, I was still trying to grapple with my own concept of what a “good” mother means. What should a mother do and not do to be considered “good”, because I know I wanted to be a good mum for my daughter. I remember feeling guilty and ashamed for leaving my daughter with a nanny to go for my own exercise. Then I asked myself why should I feel bad? I felt bad, because I was having an internal battle with myself.
My internal battle
My love for exercise started when I was in the final year of high school, going through a stressful period of preparing for a university entrance exam in Australia. Truth be told, I started running because I didn’t want to get fat. I was studying and eating all day long and it was starting to show. I quickly realised that not only did exercise help me destress, it gave me more energy, it made me stronger, and I was pleasantly surprised at the distances I was able to cover! I was proud of myself – I never thought I had an athletic streak in me. I kept up with exercise right through to my pregnancy. I remember going to a gym class the day before my daughter was born and feeling great about the session.
After I gave birth to my daughter, I felt disconnected to my postpartum body, I didn’t like what I was seeing in the mirror. My belly was wobbly, I felt weak, I didn’t look right. I wanted to do something about my body, and get back to exercise, but in my mind I had an overwhelming sense of guilt. The voice inside my head kept asking “what kind of a selfish mum are you leaving your baby to go exercise?” I felt so confused and ashamed – where was all this guilt coming from? I felt compelled to be with my daughter and look after her, but I also wanted to go exercise and look after myself. I was torn in two.
Our society praises selflessness and decries selfishness. The message is loud and clear – mum has to be selfless. A good mother cares first for her babies, then her partner, then herself. Therefore, self-care gets equated with selfishness. When a mum takes time off and does something for herself, she’s selfish, she’s not a good mother.
For the longest time, I smothered the side of me that wanted to look after myself, and I stayed back with my daughter to be a good selfless mum that I ought to be. But slowly I grew unhappy, and resentful. Unhappy because I felt drained and exhausted like a cup half-empty. Resentful because even though I wanted to be “selfless”, I still desperately needed a little time out, so I felt “forced” to give from my already half empty cup.
Fear of selfishness syndrome
Selflessness doesn’t come naturally to me, it comes with a level of exhaustion, anxiety and unhappiness. Then it dawned on me that I was suppressing the urge to look after myself simply out of the “fear of selfishness”. I was afraid what other people would think of me. This feels like the exact opposite of giving from the heart which selflessness embodies. The fear of selfishness asserts that I need to do whatever it takes to be there for other people, especially my children, even when I feel overwhelmed and worn out. Because of this, the fear of selfishness carries the energy of shame and guilt. I felt bad leaving my daughter to go exercise, and equally bad not going. I felt trapped without a choice. The realisation that a good mother comes from within NOT from others marked my turning point. It made me want to search for my own definition of what being a good mother means. I truly believe we cannot adequately care for others if we do not care for ourselves first.
Put on your oxygen mask first before helping others
The truth is a mother also needs her downtime, for me there’s a time for self-care and there’s a time for selflessness. The two concepts are not mutually exclusive. By recognising when to be generous and when to be self-attentive, you create boundaries that will help you. Help protect you from over extending yourself and help protect others from the resentment that can form when you overextend for them. You wear yourself thin when you act out of fear of being selfish. Just as the cabin crew say in the flight safety briefing – “Put on your oxygen mask first before helping others”. You are no good to anyone if you run out of oxygen. To me, the distinction between selflessness and self-care is not black and white. We can divide our time to do both. We spend 1 hr on ourselves, the remaining 23 hours we can still be good and devoted mums. We can be a selfless mum and we can also be a mum who takes care of herself. We don’t need to exclusively choose one or the other.
Self-nurturing is an essential prerequisite for good parenting. As your child gets older, you need to set a good example for him or her. Your child needs to see a mum who respects and looks after herself. This is not selfishness; this is self-respect and good role modelling. There’s no need to lose your sense of self in the process of mothering. Don’t let your identity disappear in the guise of motherhood. I strongly believe in practicing self-nurturing daily!
Make sure you have space for your own needs. Nurture yourself by doing something each day that you want – go exercise, get a manicure, read a book, dress up and get out. I promise your baby will be just fine with your husband, your mum, or your nanny. Thailand is a great place to get help, it’s affordable and never too far away.
Sharing my belief – creating My Mummy First
I founded My Mummy First during my maternity leave, because I believe mums deserve to be looked after too. I was inspired to create a company that focuses on the mum, and the mum only. Through exercise and fitness, I found other mums out there that felt the way I did. Through this common connection I realised my superpower, I can make fitness fun. I get to work with the most amazing women who show me how wonderful and powerful motherhood truly is. My Mummy First is a company, but it’s really a community of mums that support, celebrate and lift each other up so we can all become the best version of ourselves.
Be good to yourself – give yourself the love and respect you deserve. You’ll be a better parent, a better partner, and a happier mum. This I truly believe.
Gale Ruttanaphon – Graduate Purdue University, Masters Sydney University, ACE Certified Trainer with Pre/Post Natal Specialisation, Corporate Speaker, Life Coach, Mother of two.