There was a point in my life when I wasn’t sure if I wanted children. I thought maybe I was too selfish to devote my whole life to another person. I enjoyed my free time and lack of schedule. Then, the baby decision was made and life was never the same. For a while.
For the first few months, breastfeeding (well, pumping) really put my social life on hold. I was pumping every three hours for six months, no exceptions. (Note, Eleanor was a preemie and spent her first five weeks in the hospital, making actual breastfeeding pretty difficult.) It turns out, however, pumping actually made life much easier for me. I did not feel guilty about not actually breastfeeding. It meant that my husband was able to give Eleanor a bottle, and so could her babysitters.
My daughter is by far the most important person in my life and my number one priority. However, my parenting philosophy includes maintaining a life of my own, too. I play on sports teams. I enjoy nights out with my friends, dancing and (gasp) having a beer or two. I also like a kid-free date night with the hubby once in a while. These activities aren’t exactly baby-friendly, but I don’t want to give them up and I don’t feel I should have to.
Eleanor spends time with a sitter about two nights each week (and by sitter, I mean my parents, my in-laws or my sister — not a random 14-year-old neighbour) and has a sleepover at my parents’ house once every few months. I don’t feel guilty about this. She loves spending time with other family members and they feel the same way about her. In fact, if my mother doesn’t get to babysit every few days, she is calling me, asking when I can drop Eleanor off.
A few moms I know of refuse to leave their baby (or even toddler) with a sitter. They feel that being with them 24/7 is the only way to go. On more than one occasion, a fellow mom has told me that she and her husband don’t go out at night and have cut back on their social lives because they would rather be with their child. I’ve also received somewhat judgmental comments implying that I am a selfish person if I don’t want to be with my child every minute of every day. I still don’t feel guilty. My grown-up time makes me a better mom. I am relaxed, refreshed and excited to see Eleanor after time away.
I feel that Eleanor also benefits from time away from me. She is building bonds with her dad and extended family members. She is trying new things and gaining new experiences. She is understanding that she will be fine if mommy has to leave for a few hours. She is becoming independent and outgoing. These are good things, aren’t they?
Some people disagree. On some mommy blogs and Facebook groups, mothers rant about the independence of children, saying we are putting too much emphasis on it. Why would we want our toddlers to be independent, they ask. Isn’t the best place for a child right next to her nuturing mother? Yes, feeling the comfort and safety from mom is top priority, but I also feel proud when I am able to drop my daughter at my mom’s and she says, “Bye Mom! See you later!” Sometimes I don’t even get a goodbye. She is off and playing, without a care. And when I return, she greets me with “Mommy!” and a big hug.
Eleanor also joins in with our grown-up activities. She comes to baseball and dodgeball games, and comes out with the teams afterward. She enjoys spending time with my friends and it’s always nice to see her cheering from the bench.
I like the balance we’ve struck. I don’t feel guilty about wanting a life outside of being a mother. If anything, I sometimes feel a pang of guilt for not feeling guilty, but that feeling passes quickly.