If someone were to accuse you of being ‘fake’ you’d probably be deeply offended. And yet as a mum, it’s all too easy to lose your authenticity and live a life that isn’t true to you – or the things that motivate you or make you happy.
Over the past few months, we’ve realised how important authenticity is for a fulfilled and contented life – but how common it is for mums to follow an ‘easy’ path, and end up doing something we don’t really enjoy, but ticks enough boxes to be acceptable.
For a short period this is fine. But over time a lack of genuine fulfillment can eat away at you. You’re also much less likely to live up to your full potential. Because not only will you not put 101% into something that doesn’t inspire you and gladly consume many of your thoughts, but you can’t make instinctively right decisions about something that’s not genuinely a fit for the way you think and feel – the kind of decisions that enable you to become a leader in your field, and earn the respect and money you deserve.
In short, being inauthentic is a long term failure. And the frightening thing is that, as a mum, it’s easy to fall into a number of ‘fake traps’ – and find yourself feeling increasingly lost, lonely, bored, lacking in confidence and maybe even depressed.
The fake traps (and how to avoid them)
To help you spot and avoid the fake traps, we look at a few of the most common ones that mums can fall into (and we know because we’ve been there!), and suggest ways you can either avoid them completely, or find a way out if you’re already in there.
The fake friends trap
It’s easy to assume that if we’re surrounded by people (and let’s face it, mums rarely get much time on their own… not even to go to the toilet!), we’re not lonely. But loneliness is not just being alone – it’s also about not being with people who really see and value your true qualities. People who view the world in a similar way to you, and share your passions and interests.
When we have children, we usually see less of our old friends and colleagues and are more anchored to our home. And if we don’t have that important circle of like-minded friends around us, it’s easy to feel lost and down.
So when you have a baby, it’s important to get out and make new friends who you can meet up with regularly, and gradually create a circle of people who ‘get’ you and whose company lifts you up and opens up windows to the world.
That’s not to say you should dump your oldest and dearest friends from way back, but the reality of being a mum is that your life will change, and you need people around you on a daily basis who share the same dreams and problems. Having a child can be an all-consuming experience, and it’s a great sanity-saver to know that someone you like and respect shares the same worries, thoughts and joys as you.
Sharing your new journey as a mum with someone who really gets ‘you’ can help you stop feeling like just a mum, and keep in touch with everything that fills you with joy, curiosity and interest. It helps you to retain your authenticity as a person, and as such you’re much less likely to feel lonely or down.
Genuine, fulfilling friendships can also meet several of your basic emotional needs and help protect you from depression.
The fake career trap
When we set out on our career path all those many years ago, we tried to pursue a career that was true to our passions, skills and natural talents.
And if you found a career you loved, you’ll know how it felt to enjoy what you do, to be fired up with ambition, ideas, creativity, energy and motivation. To trust your instincts to make the right decisions, and enjoy the respect, promotions and pay rises that come with them.
But equally when you don’t work at something you love and are instinctively great at, it’s hard to be brilliant – you don’t have the interest or drive to go that extra mile you need to be the best you possibly can be. The days drag and you end up counting the minutes (and even seconds) until you can escape work and get back to the rest of your life.
Often as mums, we can assume that the career we pursued with passion for so many years is now off limits to us, and instead grudgingly accept that we just have to take what we can get. And usually this means a compromise between a position we’re really qualified for and that will stretch and reward us in equal measure, and one that offers the flexible working terms or location that we need to balance our responsibilities as a mum.
But, as much as we recognise the very real restrictions babies and children place on our careers, beware of the compromise jobs. Taking on a lesser position just because it enables you to earn something in the time you have free may meet your needs for a while, but in the long term you risk losing part of you.
The fact is that when you fell pregnant or gave birth, you didn’t necessarily lose your ambition. You’re still the same person today as you were all those years ago when you first embarked on your career – albeit with more life experience and new priorities and restrictions. And it’s just as important to pursue a career or business that leverages your skills, experiences and passions, even if you can only work a few hours a week. After all, if you’re going to be away from your child you need to make that time worth it.
And if you remain true to your ambitions, you’ll still be ‘you’ – and will feel more content and enjoy better relationships with everyone around you, and not resentful that the rest of the world seems to be living their dreams, while yours somehow got lost along the way.
(We recognise that it’s very easy to simply say ‘follow your career’, but we believe that by taking a different view or approach to your skills and situation, you can find a way to get the best of all worlds – and you’ll find lots of advice to help you find a rewarding flexible job, launch a new freelance career or start your own business on our site, as well as inspiring interviews with other mums who are doing it.)
The fake housework trap
I don’t know about you but when I was at school, working hard towards my future career, I didn’t think, ‘I can’t wait for the time when my day is filled with laundry, washing up and tidying up after kids’. And yet there have been moments over the past few years when that’s just what has happened, and I hated it.
The truth is that while I like a tidy house, I don’t actually enjoy keeping it clean and tidy. And yet somehow, along the way that’s become my job – or at least one of them.
There was a time a couple of years ago, before we started Talented Ladies Club, that my freelance work went quiet for the summer. And for three months, my daily life revolved completely around my home, my kids and my partner – and it just wasn’t enough for me. I have friends who are content looking after their home, and that’s fantastic for them. But that long, work-free period made me realise how important my own work was to me, and how vital it is to keep me sane and happy.
For me the solution was to hire a cleaner for two hours a week. While by no means does that take care of anywhere near all of the household chores, it does take a chunk of them off my hands – freeing me up to work and meaning that I feel less resentful about the other 101 household jobs that have somehow landed on my plate (and that I often do badly).
So unless keeping your home clean and tidy fills you with satisfaction, don’t pretend it’s enough and allow it to become a millstone around your neck that gradually drags you down. Be honest with yourself about what you do and don’t enjoy about the tasks that fill your day, and find ways to shape your housework around your interests where possible.
If you can, hire a cleaner for a even just a few short hours a week to take the jobs you really hate off your hands, and concentrate on the ones you don’t mind doing. Or sit down with your partner and be honest about how you feel. Ask if they can help out at weekends with some of the jobs you really hate – after all if you’re happier, more inspired and have more energy, they’ll benefit too!
In short, just because you’re a mum, it doesn’t mean you suddenly start loving household chores. So be true to yourself and look honestly at the tasks that now fill your free time, or your day, and ask if there’s a better way to handle them.
The fake relationship trap
When your partner fell in love with you, the chances are it was a pre-child version of you. A vibrant and interesting woman who was successful working at a career she loved. You probably shared a lot of the same interests and hobbies, and a similar perspective on the world. Maybe you even travelled together, or enjoyed museums and concerts, and talked long into the night about your dreams and ambitions.
And then you had a baby.
While in most couples, when a baby comes along the dad’s life continues pretty much the same (though they may well argue otherwise with this point, most dads do go back to work as normal and get to still be themselves), for most mums it’s a life-changer.
And often with that life change comes an entirely new perspective on life and the world. Suddenly securing that next promotion, or getting a table at the new restaurant in town for dinner after work with your friends, isn’t top of your list of priorities any more.
If you’re authentically you, becoming a mother shouldn’t change your relationship too much. You’re still interested in the same things, reaching out to the world in the same way (albeit with rather more restricted time!). Yes, some things about you may be different, but your core is the same, and the connections between you and your partner remain the same.
But if you’re NOT authentic it’s easy to become resentful of your partner, and their apparent freedom to pursue their life pretty much as before. It can feel as if they get to have their cake and eat it, while you’re left at home trying to squeeze the remnants of a career out of what’s left of your energy, time and brain. And that’s never a great recipe for a healthy relationship.
So what’s the solution? On the one hand it’s easy – hang onto ‘you’ after you become a mum! But in reality, keeping touch with what IS ‘you’, especially if you’ve got lost along the way, isn’t always easy. And even when you are aware of how much you’ve changed, getting back to you isn’t always straightforward.
It is inevitable that you will change in many ways when you have a child (as will your partner), but it can help to ensure that you avoid all the fake traps we mention here.
Because if you’re surrounded by like-minded friends who help keep your brain alive and fired up by the the things you love, if you continue to pursue your ambitions while being the mum you want to be, and you don’t unquestioningly burden yourself or fill your days with jobs you hate, you WILL remain true to who you are, the authentic you. And you’ll still be the person your partner fell in love with all those years ago – just better.
Some tips to avoid the fake traps
To help you keep in touch with the authentic you, and avoid all our fake traps, we’ve put together some advice that we’ve found has worked for us over the years. Hopefully it will help you too:
- Listen to your gut, get back in touch with the things you were naturally drawn to as a child and young woman.
- Experiment with new opportunities and activities until you find something that makes you happy.
- Make an effort to find like-minded friends near you – join groups and start chatting to mums you bump into when you’re out (don’t be afraid to approach women you spot in cafes and parks and strike up a conversation… if they are a potential friend they’ll be just as happy as you to connect).
- Try to get out on ‘date nights’ with your partner, or plan romantic evenings in watching a movie you’ll both enjoy. It may sound simple or cliched, but it works!
- Work out which household tasks you like (or hate least!) and outsource as many of the others as you can – even a couple of hours a week of help can make a big difference, trust me!
- Look for work, freelance opportunities or think about starting a business that uses your skills, experience and passions. Avoid dull jobs just because they’re convenient – they’ll just drag you down in the long run.
What’s your advice?
What do you think about our fake traps? Do you agree or disagree? And what advice do you have for mums to stay true to the authentic ‘them’? What’s worked for you, and what do you think we should avoid?Hannah Martin