It is Okay to Have a Life Beyond Motherhood
Somewhere in the late eighties or early nineties there was a cultural shift in parenting in America that dictated mothers needed to put their children first. I think that was a mistake. My mother never put me first, and I am better for it.
While she was a full-time homemaker, a term more commonly used in my childhood than it is today, she definitely wasn’t always in the home. She did a lot for herself and was very involved in recreational, volunteer, travel, educational and social activities outside of the home.
While she was the original Super Mom of her day, putting her children in every activity and sport available (piano, tennis, horeseback riding, guitar, gymnastics, art classes, soccer, softball, to name just a few), she never let her kids define who she was. It was always clear to me she had a life beyond being a mother and that while her five children were certainly her priority, we weren’t all she had going on.
My mother had always been athletic, playing softball as a teenager and swimming on the University of Utah swim team and kept up her physical activity after becoming a mother. Some of my earliest memories of my mother are of watching her and my father run laps around whichever base track we happened to live near. She would take the kids with her and we’d play on the grass while our parents ran.
When I was in middle school, she volunteered at the base radio station at Osan Air Force Base in Korea. I remember her coming home telling stories about the radio team and how much fun she was having!
During our years overseas, my mom took advantage of every opportunity to travel, most of the time we traveled as a family, but there were many times she went with just my dad or even with women friends. She was blessed with the ability to leave her kids with live-in maids in some of our military assignments. My dad said when we were living in the Philippines at Clark Air Force Base he was away on a military assignment and my mother and some of the women from the base had an opportunity to take a Space Available flight to Bankok, Thailand. He said he didn’t even know she went until he returned from his travels!
As far as I could tell, she never let her kids slow her down. Of course, I could be wrong about that, but she always seemed to live her life to the fullest. Not once did I feel neglected or pushed aside. But I also knew I wasn’t the center of the universe. And that was a good lesson for me to learn. I think many parents of my generation raised our children to believe they were the center of not just our universe, but THE universe. And as we have seen from rising problems of depression and anxiety among today’s twenty-year olds, our parenting approach may not have been the best for raising resilient children.
When I was in high school, my mother earned her Red Cross Lifesaving and Swimming instructor certifications and taught swimming lessons in the summer. She continued doing that for several years at whichever base we lived on. She inspired me to earn my Red Cross Lifesaving Certification and become a lifeguard. Even as a fit teenager, that course was tough!
When my dad retired from the Air Force, she returned to college at the University of New Mexico. I remember she took art history classes and really enjoyed them. She was a straight-A student! Around that same time she joined a competitive tennis league. She was really good and her team won a lot of medals!
When my own daughter was born and I wanted to return to work part-time, I worried that my mother wouldn’t approve. I will always remember what she told me, “Go for it! You’re not tied a the hip to your children.” That small bit of encouragement was enormously helpful to me. It made me realize, that although she was a full-time mother, she always gave herself freedom to pursue what she liked.
My mother’s approach to life kept my self-centered nature in check and gave me a model for pursuing my own dreams after I become a mother.
I love my mom and am grateful for the great role model she was for me!