SINGAPORE: Come Sunday, mothers everywhere in Singapore will be feted and lavished with expensive dinners, flowers, and probably spanking new household cleaning gadgets.
Since May, we have been repeatedly told via print and online media that mothers are to be affirmed, celebrated and thanked. Brands everywhere – from retail and dining outlets to tourist attractions and food delivery apps – are cashing in on this nationwide fever to hail the modern mother.
It feels gratifying to be the centre of attention and to have someone else make dinner reservations for a change. (Even better if there is a pedicure or massage treatment thrown in.)
But what do mothers really want and need? Surely there has to be more than an annual token celebration before heading back to reality (which includes changing soiled diapers and slaving away in the kitchen)?
THE MANY EVOLVING NEEDS OF A MUM
Every mother has diverse needs and desires.
When we have a newborn, the bar is set low. A warm 10-minute shower before collapsing in bed would be nice; so would a decent stretch of sleep after.
When the kids become toddlers, we start to crave real company. (You know, another human being who doesn’t burp and fart at the most inconvenient of times, and shout “no” in our faces whenever we try to strike up a conversation.)
When we pack them off to school, we hug them tight with tears trickling down our cheeks. If we are honest, these are both tears of sorrow and of joy, made up in equal parts of “Where did my baby go?” and “Hurray, I officially have a life!”
During the first 12 years of parenthood, a mother’s identity is very much embroiled with their child’s; you can’t tell where one ends and the other begins. (Just look at the Instagram feed of any mum.) Each day feels like a chipping away at an unending to-do list.
Granted, the first few years of your child getting used to the world can be tumultuous and therefore deserving of your fullest attention.
But it’s easy to get swept away by the whirlwind of motherhood, and forget that we exist as separate beings from our children.
As we marvel at our children growing and developing, we forget to marvel at, and applaud, our own growth. And ironically, when our children require less and less of us, the space gets too big for us to bear, and we are unsure of what to do with ourselves.
FIND A SELF THAT GOES BEYOND 'MOTHER'
At the start of the year, a good friend presented me with a book that had “Fall in love with your life” emblazoned in gold across the cover. In it are pages of inspiring quotes about life and love, and prompts to help you pen your thoughts about what you appreciate most about life.
For all the mothers among us, when was the last time you had fun doing something you love?
When was the last time you read a book and felt utterly at one with the protagonist?
When was the last time you had a good laugh with friends who understand you, and appreciate your unique personhood and points of view?
Motherhood is not martyrhood – that tragic situation where you allow your dreams and self-identity to pass away, buried under a mountain of dirty laundry.
But I have no time and energy left for this, you say? Such a reaction is commonplace.
Finding yourself amidst the parenting hustle is no easy call. How can we create breathing space in a way that does not collide with our responsibilities as mothers?
How can we come up for air every now and then?
BREAKING FREE FROM THE MARTYR MENTALITY
Like every other mother out there, I want the best for my children.
But what many of us don’t realise is that we first need to reconnect with our lost selves – our dreams and ambitions, and discover our post-motherhood selves, before we can give our family our best.
This is not a form of hedonism but an expression of healthy self-love.
Madeleine L’Engle, in trying to answer some of life’s existential questions, wrote:
Every so often I need OUT – away from all these people I love most in the world – in order to regain a sense of proportion.
We need to peel ourselves away from home to reclaim our identities.
There are simple steps we can take, and we would be wise to start small. It could be cultivating a weekly ritual of me-time. A brunch date with different friends each week perhaps, or a quiet cafe spot just to journal and collect yourself from a busy week.
Replace old unhealthy habits with new fitter ones. (Some friends of mine recently started skipping, and they keep score, which is a great way to keep each other motivated.)
Find meaningful pursuits outside the home. Maybe join a soup kitchen or pick up a hobby you’ve always enjoyed. Do volunteer or part-time work, or take up an interesting course.
Dig deep within your soul. Gather some old magazines and cut out pictures and words that speak to you, then do up a vision board. Focus on creating a visual space that expresses who you are and what you really want in life.
REGAIN A SENSE OF PROPORTION THIS MOTHER'S DAY
In the words of Eleanor Roosevelt:
Remember always that you not only have the right to be an individual, you have an obligation to be one.
Mothers, you are definitely worth celebrating. For all those times you’ve loved enduringly and nourished your family’s bodies, minds and spirits, do the same for yourself.
By all means, relish that dinner treat and sweet handwritten card by your little ones. Bask in the hugs and kisses.
But after that, go ahead and schedule some time-off for yourself. Book a retreat and take a day to re-discover your true self – not the one who’s constantly feeding mouths, and chauffeuring little people from place to place.
When your first child begins to leave the nest 10, 15 years down the road, your future self will be your own rock to lean on.
She will thank you for doing this, and so will your family.
June Yong is a mother of three, an educational therapist and owner of Mama Wear Papa Shirt, a blog that discusses parenting and education in Singapore.