Don't Lose Yourself When You Become a Mom

by Melissa Stanton

As we all know, a baby changes everything.

Those changes are wonderful (you have a new little person to love) and terrifying (you have a new little person to care for 24/7). Sometimes, in the excitement of the moment, women and their partners lose sight of how a baby can redefine a woman's priorities, relationships and sense of self. The transitions that come with motherhood involve going from no children to having a child (or multiple children), and they typically require that a woman either balance work and family or switch gears from pursuing a career to staying home full-time with kids. Each scenario is a major life change that can be both energizing and overwhelming.

The First-Time Mom

While you're thrilled to have a baby of your own, you'll be shocked by how this tiny being will consume every moment of your life. The realization will make you kick yourself for never having fully appreciated the freedom you once had. Other changes: Your childless friends won't understand why you don't return their calls and emails. Your home will become less tidy. You'll neglect the beloved pet you once doted upon. You'll continue to wear maternity clothes for a while -- since your real clothes don't fit and, besides, you're getting spit-up on so often.

Some advice: Try, as best you can, to live in and enjoy the moment. Your first child's first year is a fascinating journey. Take pictures on his or her monthly birthdays and you'll be awed by the changes occurring so quickly before your eyes. Try not to agonize too much about your career, your body, your social life, your "To Do List." At least once in a while, nap when the baby naps, and enjoy cuddling your sleeping son or daughter in your quiet home.

Becoming a Mom, Again

When your kid count increases, you'll likely look back on your days as a mother of one and wonder, "What was I complaining about? Why couldn't I get anything done? One was so easy." The challenge of having more than one child is that there's still only one you. Two or more kids are a job unto themselves.

Some advice: Do your best to not disappear beneath the demands made by your growing family. As a mother of three, including twins, I often feel that all I do is respond to the needs of my offspring and attempt to contain the chaos left in their wake. The Three Kids vs. One Mom dynamic is often very tough. When possible, I try to disappear (into my home office or by leaving the house alone or with my husband). I also try to spend one-on-one time with each child. That way we can be together without me shouting things like, "Hold on," "Just wait," "I'm one person, you guys are three.")

Surviving Stay-at-Home Motherhood

When two incomes aren't absolutely essential to a family's economic well-being, having a mother leave the workforce to care for kids is often looked at as the solution to all work-family problems. But for a woman who had a career and active life before becoming an at-home parent, the transition to stay-at-home motherhood can be filled with a host of mixed emotions.

Some advice: I believe that a key to "surviving" —- and enjoying -- stay-at-home motherhood is to look at stay-at-home motherhood as a job. Not everyone loves his or her job every minute of the day. So when you have rotten days during which you want nothing more than to get away from your kids, that's okay. It doesn't mean you're a bad mom. It doesn't mean you regret your decision to be at home. It means you're having a really bad day at work and you need a break.

Because stay-at-home motherhood is a job, it's not fair for a man to come home from his job and put his feet up while his wife's workday goes on and on. After all, no one in the paid workforce is expected to work around the clock. As I've said to my husband and other men: "Imagine if you lived and worked in your office. Imagine if you were on active duty for an 18-hour-plus shift every day and then you were on-call. Image if anytime you left the office your boss, colleagues and direct reports came with you!" Enough said.

Juggling Work and Family

One of the biggest parenthood challenges is finding quality child care so a parent (or two) can continue to earn an income. Each option -- hiring a nanny or au pair, using a day care center or provider, rearranging a work schedule -- has its pros and cons. Even families with the most perfect child care arrangements can be plagued with dread that someday, something will go wrong.

Some advice: If you or your partner can work a flexible, family-friendly schedule, go for it. When looking for hired child care help focus as best you can on the here and now. For instance, if you've found a child care provider you think will be great for your baby or toddler, don't agonize that she might not be as super with school-age kids. While planning ahead is important, even the best laid plans go awry. Live in the present. You can't control the future.

So whatever your motherhood scenario, remember that you are more than a mother, and that you're the only person who can take care of -- and best advocate for -- you.

Melissa Stanton is the author of The Stay-at-Home Survival Guide: Field-tested strategies for staying smart, sane, and connected while caring for your kids (Seal Press/Perseus Books). Prior to becoming a stay-at-home mother of three (including twins), she was a senior editor at LIFE and People magazines. Visit with Melissa, and learn more about her book, at Real Life: Support for Moms. Become her Facebook friend via The Stay-at-Home Survival Guide fan page.

Copyright © Melissa Stanton. Permission to republish granted to Pregnancy.org.