Like an intense, encompassing first love, motherhood comes with an enveloping heady-ness and focus.
Suddenly, your time, sleep and energy all go towards that one person – your bundle of joy. Even as they grow, your permanent role as mother means they remain a perennial focus.
But wait, besides being a mother, you are still a wife, a daughter, perhaps even a doctor, writer, or teacher. Especially when motherhood seems to override every other role and interest, how do you reclaim your own identity?
Tam Wai Jia, medical doctor, author and mother of two girls likens the phases of motherhood to being like seasons.
“There were seasons when I was not speaking anywhere and seasons when I was getting invites and being visible in the public sphere. We all go through seasons and it’s important to embrace each one or we become very hard on ourselves.”
She shared the following tips on how mothers can keep growing and not be buried by the seasons in motherhood.
We all go through seasons and it’s important to embrace each one or we become very hard on ourselves.
1. Drive your roots down deep
“No one ever scolds a tree for not bearing fruit during the winter season,” said Wai Jia, “We are multifaceted beings and we have to ebb and flow with the different seasons of needs.”
“Winter is when roots go down deep,” she added.
In seasons when you don’t feel like you are going anywhere, learn to embrace what that season can do for you as an individual. Like how roots grow deep to find the water that sustains them, you will have to dig deeper to discover yourself.
This could look like renewing a sense of purpose, better communication with your spouse and family or even re-organising your days to make space for self-care.
“I think we underestimate the whole concept of rest, routine and doing the same things every day that motherhood sometimes is about,” shared Wai Jia.
2. Don’t judge yourself based on a single season/ role
There are times when we won’t do as good a job as we’d like to.
In Wai Jia’s case, her first child had severe eczema. As a first-time mum and also as a medical doctor, this somehow created a sense of failure
. “There were times when I would say, ‘This (motherhood) is my only job and I can’t even do it right.’”
However, she realised she was being hard on herself, something she found many fellow mothers do. She reflected that we have to give grace to ourselves too.
Drawing healthy boundaries and not letting others’ comments affect you emotionally is a key to avoiding emotional overload.
3. Know that your value is not based on what you produce
Our value and identity do not change even when our roles do. Neither are they based on what we can produce.
The emphasis that we are of greater value being if we hold a job of importance is something entrenched in our society.
“Being a stay-at-home-mum can be triggering when you take a step back from your career and you hear questions like, ‘What do you do all day now,’” said Wai Jia who is currently working part-time.
So we should surround ourselves with people who remind us we are valuable as individuals, and not because of what we can do or the titles we hold.
4. Set healthy boundaries
Wai Jia shared that her husband Cliff – a cancer survivor who has even completed an Ironman triathlon – willingly volunteered to be a stay-home-dad when she had to fulfil her work bond after they returned to Singapore.
This gesture helped them navigate through that difficult season and yet there were people who made less-than-kind remarks.
“I felt judged by other people who asked, ‘How come your husband is more present with your kids than you?’ At work, I also hear comments like, ‘Oh, you are married to a house husband, really, is that a real job?’” Wai Jia shared.
Drawing healthy boundaries
and not letting others’ comments affect you emotionally is a key to avoiding emotional overload even as you navigate your journey as a mother. If not, it’s easy to fall into the trap of overthinking what you did based on what other people say.
5. Do what’s best for your family
The support Wai Jia gets from her husband is evident in the way she speaks about him. She also realises that their choice to not take on conventional full-time employment may be seen as unusual. However, they both believe that their choice has allowed them to have more time with their children.
Both Cliff and Wai Jia homeschool their kids. Wai Jia is also the founder of non-profit Kitesong Global, which aims to empower young people to help vulnerable communities worldwide. Cliff is completing his Master’s and involved in coaching young people too.
“As mothers, sometimes we let our in-laws or parents or friends affect how we parent. When we chose not to have confinement, or not to have a helper or do a home birth, people said that I was crazy.” she said.
But being united as a family and daring to forge your own path has its rewards. Notably, your kids see you united as a team and you get to be more present with them.
And while people may look at them now and think how perfect their lives seem, Wai Jia still remembers the winter seasons.
”These seasons help us stay humble. Every time I get an award or something prolific now, I always remember the times I was hidden, when I was going through postpartum depression and wondering if this would end.”
And they do, because seasons always change.
© 2023 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved.
Skye Tan is an ex-journalist, current pastor and perennially, happy mom to two. She loves people and the mad dance of life and growth and tries to help others get their waltz on despite life’s seasons.
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