Note from R.B. Topping: Please welcome my dear friend, Chantelle Behrens, as guest contributor. She will be writing a couple of posts in the coming weeks as I take time off to adjust to life as a mother of two! Follow her on Twitter: @chantellebehr
When you first become a mother, you have a whole plethora of dreams about what your life will look like and how you will raise this precious little bundle you’ve been given. Inevitably, those ideas encounter a bit of turbulence along the way, and we have to do the best we can to reshape our dreams to mesh with reality. Sometimes it helps to take a step back outside and reassess what your dreams for your children really mean.
A brief note: when my husband posted the above picture of me with my baby girl, I didn’t make it my profile picture. I didn’t like a few things about it:
- My daughter is making a not-very-flattering face as she chews on that jelly hair tie. There are so many cute pictures of her with a giant smile, I usually opt for one of those.
- My hair is kind of weird. I obviously needed my bangs trimmed and had been wearing that hair tie for most of the day.
- The round shape of my upper arms, which I have a stupid hang-up about, is very obvious in this photo.
- My head is tilted down. This means I look like I have a double chin.
Those last two points on my appearance are things I always check for in pictures because I am overwhelmingly self-conscious about them. I have so many pictures from our dream trip in Europe this year that I don’t like because of how I look in them.
I know, I know, I’m a cliche. And it’s my least favourite thing about myself, that I care about this stuff. And I’m working on it.
This post is not about that.
This post is about some realizations I’ve been having recently about motherhood and my dreams.
I won’t be able to give you my entire backstory here; suffice it to say our daughter was a bit of a surprise baby and through a series of events I ended up, six months ago and nine months into my maternity leave, the only gainfully employed person in our household. The original plan was that my husband would continue working at the end of my year of leave, and I would either talk to my boss and work some sort of deal so I could work just enough to earn my next maternity leave and we could finish our family, or I would quit working for a while and go back to school for my masters. We would figure out a bit of childcare here and there either way, while I would be trying to spend as much time with her as possible. This plan was now toast.
This picture was taken the day before I went back to work – my daughter’s first birthday party. It was a very blessed and happy day, so in the picture I am smiling.
That smile looks pretty good, when you consider that shortly before I had been weeping (not for the first time) at the thought of getting up the next morning and spending over 8 hours away from my baby. Despite the emotional challenges of motherhood, it was my fervent wish to continue as my daughter’s primary caregiver. For so many reasons, some admittedly selfish, some thankfully less so, it was incredibly important to me. Flashing that smile was a singularly difficult choice I made in that moment, to stay positive and trust that everything would work out even though it felt like my dreams had been thoroughly crushed.
Fast forward to a few weeks ago, when I put that picture up on my profile because I love it. I love the tiny girl on my hip, all birthday’d out from two parties in a row. I love the evening light that highlights the tan we got on that dream vacation in Europe, when my husband and I just said “well, we’ll never both be unemployed for two months straight again, and what is money anyway” and flew off to Germany and Amsterdam and England and all the bits in between. We bought those pants she’s wearing in Berlin. I love that packing our luggage and walking everywhere and riding trains and carrying the stroller (!!!) took off that last bit of pregnancy pudge and my body looks pretty darn good! Those arms are muscular and strong from hauling the tiny Bear and her gear around Europe. She learned to walk in Hamburg and Berlin, and cut a tooth or two in London. She will have those stories forever.
The picture reminds me that I had just spent the past year as her sole caretaker and what a joy that was. How in that moment, under that smile, all I wanted in the world was to continue to be that and do that for her. I love the feeling I get whenever she does something for the first time. Recently it’s been “oh yeah, she’s been doing that all day” from my husband when I get home. And I’m still proud, but I get a little sad.
It’s not all wistfulness. I do think that today I am a better mother than I was in that picture. Going back to work, establishing the accompanying routine for myself, being forced to look outside of myself and evaluate my life and ask “what do I really want my life to look like” and being able to take some steps to change it to suit has been invaluable and I wouldn’t trade it in a heartbeat.
But I wish I had the chance to be the most mother I can be.
Does that make sense?
I admit it’s a bit selfish of me. I want to spend time with her, I want to see her grow, I want to teach her things, I want to bring her up to be the woman I want her to be.
I think every mother wants that.
But now I know that I can still do a lot with the limited time I do get with her. Even though I’m working full time, I can still do my job as her mother. And that’s been an incredibly helpful realization.
It’s amazing what a little bit of perspective can do.