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Motherhood is an enriching calling, but it is often misperceived as the loss of individuality. Sure, raising children demands selflessness, but it is not the end of your personal fulfillment—it can be a new adventure as you nurture your children through your passions, talents, knowledge, and love.
Whether a stay-at-home, working, adoptive, foster, or birth mother, every woman can encounter self-discovery through mothering. Here’s how five moms we personally know—Elizabeth, Jenny, Keeley, Meg, and Jennifer—continue to develop their character, professional skills, education, hobbies, social life, and marriage while navigating the challenges and blessings of motherhood.
Continued Personal Growth
Motherhood has helped Jenny become more selfless. “I went from being single to having a husband and two children in three years. It’s amazing how my daily thoughts have changed now that I have three human beings I want and need to plan and care for. I think about them all the time. Everything I do is in context of these three other lives that are intricately intertwined with mine.”
Meg always knew she would “fall madly in love with [my] babies” but was still surprised at how naturally she took to motherhood. “I was surprised by how much easier it was than I expected. It was completely in my hands how easy or stressful I made it. Messes happen, fussy hours happen, puking happens. But it’s OK. It always ends.”
Elizabeth relishes her children’s growing independence. “For so many years, you care for your children as little ones. As time passes, it’s rewarding to see them develop, contribute, and do good in the world. That’s why you raise them. You don’t raise them for yourself. You raise them to be successful and make a difference. When you start to see little glimpses of their independence, that’s rewarding.”
For Jenny, the most rewarding part of motherhood is sharing in her daughters’ moments of success and pride. “From learning their faith to sports, reading, creating artwork, or learning how to be a good friend, I get to be an integral part of this journey they are on. I get to watch them piece it all together, forming them for the next step in their lives.” She has learned how to focus on what really matters. “Playing Go Fish with my daughters is more important than the pile of sewing that has built up over the past six years.”
Keeley believes that the biggest myth about motherhood is that it is “somehow a waste of intellectual capacity.” She shares, “I was in a competitive career environment for eight years before I left to raise my daughter. I think raising her is equally challenging and mentally stimulating. Also, women seem to forget that the Internet offers us so much opportunity to connect with our interests from home. Since leaving my full-time job, I have been writing a book and working on freelance consulting projects when my daughter naps. I think our imaginations are limited by media or other voices telling us we have to be in a nine-to-five job to reach our fulfillment. There are so many other ways to be enriched. Raising a child tops mylist.”
Keeley’s biology consulting career trained her to be productive in high-stress situations. “I learned a lot of self-care behaviors that have proved invaluable in my new role as mother. I got in the habit of prioritizing exercise, sleep, and healthy eating to avoid burnout. I’ve learned to nip negative thinking in the bud and focus on what you can control in the moment. I’m hoping I can pass all this on to my children, too.”
A former second grade teacher, Jenny’s experience “helping children positively interact with one another” enhances her role as a mother today. Recognizing the importance of reading in early education for motivation, curiosity, and memory, Jenny has read to her daughters every day since they were just a few weeks old. “Now they are 4 and 6, and they love books. I’m confident this is a gift that will benefit them for the rest of their lives.”
Elizabeth’s science specialization and educational background trained her to take an always-learning approach to life, and she maintained her continuing education units (CEUs) for her medical dietetics certification. “My CEU courses were mentally stimulating because at the time I wasn’t working in the field. I catered the classes based on what would help my family, such as child, adolescent, and sports nutrition.” Her education also allows her to empathize with the challenges and pressures that her children experience from kindergarten through college.
Jenny learned to crochet in middle school and has taught her daughters the basics. She says, “It’ll be fun to see if they want to learn more.” Yard work is another hobby that she shares with her daughters. “Each year, the girls are a little older and a little more capable, so I can involve them more outside.” Although it takes a little longer to involve her daughters in her hobbies, Jenny states, “If we keep at it, we get it done. We have fun doing it, and [my daughters] learn something new.”
Two of Meg’s favorite hobbies are reading and running. “My husband is a huge support for me. He’s always encouraging me to take ‘me time.’ I love reading, and I just fit it in whenever I can. I enjoy [running] not just for staying healthy and in shape, but also for keeping me mentally engaged and continuously setting goals.”
Elizabeth has always enjoyed sewing. “Now that my children are older, it has become more than a hobby. I now manage my own home decor business. What was a fun pastime is now a profitable hobby. It helped develop my children’s creativity and now brings in extra income.”
Keeley’s female friendships have grown through motherhood, especially with other moms. “There is an automatic deep bond that you have with other moms because you are both ‘in the trenches’ together. During the week, I attend mom groups, make playdates with individual families, and talk with friends on the phone. I am involved in a book club that allows me to meet with other women while my husband babysits our daughter. C. S. Lewis says, ‘What draws people to be friends is that they see the same truth.’ When sacrificing time and energy for our little ones, we are united in the same purpose. It is a great environment to make lifelong friendships.”
Naturally social, Jenny used to travel often for work and fun. When she got married, she moved away from her family and friends. “Technology has taken a bigger role in staying in touch with everyone who lives far away. We plan trips to see family twice a year. I’ve managed to squeeze in a couple of trips to see friends along the way, too.” Starting from scratch in a new area, Jenny found that “children can help make connections.” She bonded with several other young mothers at her gym and church where she now runs a mom group.
But socializing and ‘me time’ remain critical to Jennifer for maintaining a balanced life. “My friends and I enjoy paint-and-pour nights, weekend girls’ getaways, cocktails out, shopping, applesauce- and peach-canning days. We even help each other with house projects—anything from painting to sewing to yard work. Your passions shouldn’t die when you have children. You need to make time for those things that are important to you.”
Jennifer has found that “communication is key in any relationship but even more so when you have children. There is nothing sexier than watching your husband transform into an amazing dad!”
Elizabeth believes it is “absolutely essential to nourish your marriage” in the midst of mothering. “The marriage comes first, and then the kids. The child does not displace the spouse, and it’s important for the children to know that. Raising a family requires tremendous flexibility. Your relationship changes and grows with every season, baby, and phase of life. It doesn’t have to be anything big, but find something to do together, even if it’s just fifteen minutes a day to talk one-on-one. It’s difficult because children’s demands and needs are constant, but it’s so important.”
Raising a child together has deepened Keeley’s relationship with her husband because it “fosters a true partnership.” She explains, “I’ve seen his best qualities come out when he was taking care of my daughter and I throughout the pregnancy, birth, and newborn stage. I’ve had to rely on his help more than anyone else in my life. Also, my daughter is a constant, living reminder of our love, toddling around. Without our love, she wouldn’t exist.”
Words of Advice When Thinking About Motherhood
Elizabeth advises women to be confident in their inherent maternal nature. “You should go into motherhood with great confidence. It’s a natural and beautiful thing. Your confidence will inspire other women, too. When I was first expecting, an older friend told me, ‘You’re going to be just fine.’ Her words reassured me and turned out to be true. You need to realize that as a mother, you’re just the instrument in the plan for your child’s life.”
When considering motherhood, Keeley recommends that you first “do your research before you decide if you want to stay home or keep working full time. I think there is a cultural bias toward the latter. But the former choice may be best for you and your family.”
“Second,” Keeley says, “prepare ahead of time if you want to stay home. Save as much money as possible to help make it easier for you and your husband to live off one income. I would even recommend considering this before you are married. You can put your financial life in order and steer your career toward something amenable to part-time or work-from-home situations. I’ve heard from a lot of women that once the baby came, they wanted to stay home. But they were unable to do so because of financial reasons. The more you can prepare for this choice and find a partner who will support it, the less likely you will be to have regrets.”
Keeley’s final point is: “Don’t delay motherhood. Many people delay having children for other life goals such as career, travel, or financial milestones. You name it, and we’ve used it as a reason not to have children. The reality is that nothing ever lines up perfectly in life to allow for children. You just have to dive in. It is always chaotic, and you will always be a bit unprepared. But you learn. Your family adapts.”
As these moms prove, women shouldn’t fear the loss of self in motherhood. Children bring many new (and demanding!) experiences that engage and expand your own skills and talents. Helping shape your child’s individuality can reaffirm your own individuality.
This article was originally published in Verily magazine and is reprinted here with permission.