On Diaper Bags, Care Bears and Justmoms

carebearsAs an almost-mom, I’d have to say that the hardest decision I’ve had to make so far has been choosing a diaper bag. It seemed like it’d be an easy and effortless task, as I love purses and diaper bags are nothing more than big purses, but my diaper bag search has proved to be much harder than I expected.

I don’t consider myself a diva, a fashionista, or any of those other trendy terms people like to throw around, but I do like to look nice and care about the way I present myself. So when I found myself standing in the diaper bag aisle, surrounded by Elmo, Care Bears and that hunny-addicted Pooh, I knew I had a problem. Does becoming a mother mean I all of a sudden have to revert to my childhood preferences? Because if I was still five or six, I would have been all over that pink and purple Care Bears bag with the matching changing pad; but now, twenty years later, I’m not as interested. My likes and interests have matured and evolved to now include looks that don’t scream “I’ve been watching PBS and Noggin all day.”

My issue with the character bags is more than just aesthetic. It also has to do with the fact that I do not want to become a Justmom. A Justmom is a wonderful, multidimensional woman who, after becoming a mother, puts her entire life on the back burner to focus exclusively on being a parent. These are good-intentioned women who end up deserting their friends, families, husbands, interests, hobbies and, themselves for motherhood. They spend all day cutting carrots, cleaning rooms, checking homework, washing clothes, joining mothers’ groups online, buying children’s clothes and items, taking trips to parks and zoos, and many other child-centered activities. There is nothing wrong with doing any of these things. In fact, they’re all signs of good parenting, but what pushes these moms into the ranks of Justmoms is that they do these types of things only, at the exclusion of the many other parts of themselves that also need to be engaged.

stressed momI don’t want to pathologize Justmoms. They’re very caring, nurturing, forgiving, and all around sweet women. My concern is that they don’t put nearly as much energy into their own maintenance as they do into their children’s. They become shells of their former selves as their marriages, social lives, self images, and mental states suffer. Consider the research. According to Ariel Gores’s The Mother Trip, mothers are more likely to be affected by depression that any other demographic group nationwide. I doubt that all of these depressed moms are Justmoms, but I’m sure being a Justmom increases the chances of being included in that group.

Mothers seem to carry the weight of the world on their shoulders, and not having healthy outlets to help shoulder that load is nothing more than a recipe for disaster. We all want to be good moms. We want to give our children the best, protect them from harm, prepare them for the future and reassure them of their value. That’s great and admirable. (No wonder Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) said “paradise lies at the foot of the mother.”) But, in our haste to feed and protect our children, we often forget that one of the best gifts we can give a child is an honest image of a healthy, balanced mother, one that is so much more than a bodyguard/servant. Healthy and whole moms teach their children the benefits of helping self along with those of helping others. They laugh more, handle frustration better, become angered less easily and are pleasant to be around.

For me, the idea of being a Justmom is scary, but I understand that, for some women, the idea of not being one is even scarier. Many of us have a romanticized image of the perfect mom in our heads. We grow up either wanting to be just like our own mothers, who some of us feel were perfect, or the exact opposite of our mothers, who some of us feel were neglectful. The truth is that most moms fall somewhere between perfect and neglectful. Either way, the image of the Justmom becomes glorified and normalized. So once the children start to arrive, your date nights with the husband disappear, your biweekly girls’ nights vanish, the salsa lessons you loved are discontinued, your paint dries up and your brushes harden, the instrument you used to play begins to collect dust, your sense of style somehow gets lost, and your overall personality dulls. Basically, you lose your zest and unique qualities. These are some of the affects of becoming a Justmom.

There was a time in my life when I thought being a Justmom was inevitable. I thought being a good mother meant sacrificing all else. Lucky for me my understanding has changed. I now know that it’s not a bad thing to continue to have a life outside of my child. I know that my husband can continue to be my husband instead of just being my co parent. And if nothing else, I know that it’s ok to hate the Care Bears diaper bag.

Nadirah Angail

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