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‘I lost myself to motherhood and trapped myself with traditional stereotypes.’

motherhood traditional stereotypes cherilyn with kids in the park
Family LifePost Category - Family LifeFamily Life

Feeling stuck in a mundane routine of motherhood every day, I forgot who I was apart from being a mother. As a result, I suffered and so did my family. No one was happy, and this was far from what I had dreamed of.

Social media is such a powerful tool, but it is also a double-edged sword. What many people fail to realise is that most of the accounts we follow share highlights of their lives. Whether it’s cooking up a scrumptious feast for the family with restaurant-level presentation or taking the kids out on a vacation (or staycation) with smiles all around, what you see on their page is only a sliver of what really goes on. While it’s nice to catch up on how our friends are doing through their social media posts, this becomes a problem when what is shown becomes the benchmark, the standard and the expectation for what motherhood really looks like.

Read more: Can We Normalise Talking About Maternal Mental Health?

It’s almost impossible not to compare your life with others, especially when their lives are put on display for the world (or ‘exclusive’ followers) to see. But this is precisely what led me to experience some of my deepest struggles. Scrolling through my feed, I saw happy families, smiling kids, and parents making beautiful memories with their little ones. In stark contrast, as a new mum who struggled to take a peaceful shower. I was exhausted and stuck at home with my little one, counting down the time until my husband came home, dealing with toddler tantrums and struggling to keep my cool.

cherilyn's kids - smiling

No one really prepares you for what motherhood will look like. Sure, there are prenatal and postnatal classes, breastfeeding classes, and basic baby care classes, so you know how to keep your newborn alive. But what happens after the newborn phase when the baby becomes a toddler with ear-piercing tantrums, strong willpower and a feisty little personality? I found myself Googling questions at every stage of the journey, struggling to find answers and more importantly, joy in parenthood. This was not at all what I had pictured.

Feeling stuck in a mundane routine of motherhood every day, I forgot who I was apart from being a mother. All of my free time was spent changing diapers, nursing, preparing meals, and doing all of the never-ending day-to-day chores. While I thought I believed that parenthood in the 21st century now meant that there was an ‘equal’ load shared between parents, I actually held onto the traditional stereotype (deep down and wasn’t willing to admit). I believed I was expected to be a stay-at-home mum, cook all of the meals (or arrange for tingkat delivery), clean the house and allow my husband to focus on work. But this left me completely burnt out, resentful and desperate for a change.

cherilyn with kids selfie

Before you start lashing out at my husband, let me just say that he did his best to support me. The transition to parenthood isn’t one-sided. He was learning to adjust to a new routine just as much as I was. Work was draining for him, yet he came home and fed the baby, held the baby, and woke up in the middle of the night with me to rock our sleepless little one back into dreamland. He did the laundry, washed the dishes, and cleaned the house. Yes, he did his part, so why was I still struggling?

Read more: A Letter to Mamas Who Are Struggling

I didn’t make time for myself – my self-care, hobbies and things I loved before becoming a mum. As a result, I lost myself to motherhood. After many counselling sessions, making the difficult decision to hire a helper and almost five years later, here I am finally regaining my footing slowly but surely. I have to actively push away the ‘mum guilt’ that so often creeps back into my thoughts and prioritise time to do my favourite things and take care of myself so that I can be the best mom, wife, sister and friend to everyone else around me.

Cherilyn's Husband with Kids

I’ve realised that being a stay-at-home mum is not for me. Don’t get me wrong – I absolutely LOVE my kids, and I cherish every moment with them. But I also need to do things that give me fulfilment outside of being a mum. This is what empowers me to be the best mum, truly make the most of the time I have with my kids and joyfully embrace all of the ups and downs throughout this journey of motherhood. Though let me just add as a disclaimer that I have not ‘arrived’, and none of us ever truly will because there will be easy days and challenging days. But it’s all about taking it in your stride and doing what you need to take care of yourself.

Read more: Where to Go for Counselling in Singapore

So to all the mamas who are reading this, when was the last time you left the kids with your husband, helper, childcare or relatives to do something just for you? If you’re feeling burnt out and exhausted, you’re way past the due date for some self-care. Granted, not all of us have the privilege of having hired help, that’s why it’s so important to live in a community. Reach out to trusted friends or family members for help to watch the kids so you can take some time off for yourself. Take a few hours off – heck, take the whole day off! – spend the day with your girlfriends, book yourself a spa day, or even hit the gym (the boost of dopamine and serotonin will do your body much good!).

And if that mum guilt comes creeping back into your thoughts, tell yourself, ‘My kids are safe, happy and healthy. I deserve this, and I’ll return empowered to be a better mum to my kids!”

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