Why do I hear so many mommies talk wistfully about loving motherhood yet “mourning” the person they used to be? Why do they have to mourn that person? Why aren’t they that person anymore? Has the simple addition of a child caused them to miraculously change from Chardonnay Swilling Whore to Beatific Saint Mommy?
Modern mommies lament in memoirs that they used to be such Bad Girls, but now the Important and Serious Work of raising a child has begun. Suddenly former bad girls are reinvented in a romantic vision of motherhood, as if having children requires one to not only recycle and drive a Volvo, but sit by the hearth with a needlepoint frame, gently wiping turned-up noses and reading nightly bedtime stories. New parents develop a sudden interest in joining a church. I’ve known perfectly respectable atheist-types who, upon spawning, feel the need to take their children to regular religious services, and enroll them in Sunday school. They suddenly feel they need to “get back” to their religious roots or their childhood religion -- even if they had fled in horror from that same religion years before. As if children won’t learn “values” unless their parents are members of a church or temple. And yet they mourn their former selves.
I’ve been asked in interviews, and by other mommies, what is it I miss about my pre-motherhood days. Gosh, do I miss being able to pop off to the local watering hole at a moment’s notice, snort cocaine off the bathroom tile, or have sex on the kitchen table at two in the morning? Frankly, that was such a lot of work, and I’m so glad that now I can use the kids as an excuse to avoid those skanky crack parties I used to have to attend.
So what is it you are mourning? What is it you really have to live without, now that you have kids? And why not incorporate your old, bad self into your new role as a Mom, giving the kids a really interesting role model? I’m not suggesting you go all Mommies Gone Wild on me, nor do I think you should start carrying a flask to the playground. A Three-Martini Playdate is not necessarily a literal suggestion but a state of mind (although I do hear from many mommies who apparently have taken the titles of my books as an open endorsement to swill vodka at their children’s playdates.) But your pre-mommy self is still inside you. And she helped make you the person you have become.
So celebrate all your selves. There’s not only one type of good mommy. Raising a person who will ultimately be a good adult involves a lot more than becoming a picture of devoted and sacrificing, motherhood. Of course it’s true that we lose a certain amount of spontaneity when we have children. But you should still get to have your grown-up interests. Don’t leave the old exciting part of you behind, now that you have children, and don’t make that weekly “date” you have with your spouse be the only grown-up time you have. Your house should be able to be a house of grown-up pursuits as well as a nurturing place for your kids, and your kids should learn how to go into the other room and play quietly when you want to exercise your grown-up rights. That doesn’t make you a Bad Mommy. Grown-ups are complex people, not all good, and not all bad.
And whether you were really a “bad girl” or just a person figuring out who you were, remember that person and celebrate that person, but don’t “mourn her. She’s still lurking in there, and when your kids get to be teenagers, she might be just the one to understand them.