There was a you, before you had children. Maybe she liked posing for racy smartphone photos, or taking cooking classes, or dancing to reggaeton on the bar with her friends at the local watering hole. She probably even liked sex. You know who she was, but if you’re like many mamis, you can’t quite remember where you put her once your first baby was born.
Many women find it difficult, once they become mothers, to justify taking time out to cultivate their own identity separate from being a mom. Some experts say this problem is compounded for Latinas, by cultural pressures.
“Many Latinas are raised in the Catholic tradition where you can either be a mother or you can be a whore,” says Albuquerque-based celebrity author, therapist and relationship expert Dr. Suzanne Lopez. “Those are your only choices. You are looked at as being shameful if you have any kind of personal power or sexuality once you become a mother. You are valuable only if you do what your family wants and needs you to do.”
For many Latinas, Lopez adds, the guilt that comes from wanting me time can be overwhelming. We put ourselves last because that’s where we—and everyone else—seem to believe we belong. This, in part, could be one of the reasons Latina moms are disproportionately prone to depression and suicide.
Lopez is clear: Putting yourself last is the biggest mistake a mami can make. Our kids need us happy and engaged in our own lives. And we need to be fulfilled as people, in order to be the best moms we can be.
So, how do you make sure you’re preserving your own identity? That’s easy, says Lopez.
- Ask for help. Get your partner or family or a babysitter to watch the kids. They’ll survive.
- Put it in writing. Schedule you time into your calendar, and stick to it just as you’d stick to your child’s wellness checkup appointments.
- Do something you love. This is different for all of us. Whether you join a book club or just go for a long walk, make sure it’s something that connects you with your spirit.
- Don’t forget sex. Lopez says all power and life force comes from sexuality for women, and that all too often we put sex on the back burner when we become moms.
Read Related: Self-Acceptance For Latina Moms and Daughters
Interestingly, preserving a sense of self is often easier for divorced or single moms, says Lisa Sena, a writer living in Chicago. Lisa says her entire identity was wrapped up in motherhood until she was forced through shared custody to spend time apart from her kids every week. The surprising result? She rekindled her passion for communication, and reconnected with adult friends after years of spending most of her time with kids. “It did wonders for my self-esteem,” she says.
Rachelle Herrera, mom to two young children, has been successful at preserving her own true self after motherhood, while married. Even though she is a dedicated and very involved mother, Herrera still takes time out to do her two favorite things on her own: modeling for pinup photographs, and performing with an Aztec dance troupe. It’s all about balance, she says. “I spend a lot of time with my kids,” Herrera says. “I make sure not to spread myself too thin, so I don’t feel guilty, but fulfilled.”
Miami mom Maria Elena Barrios-Mendez states that she makes sure to make time for herself a top priority. Rancho mom Virginia Maestas agrees with her, though she admits that it isn’t always easy to follow her own advice. As with everything else, taking care of ourselves takes commitment and work. But it’s worth it. “There is no more attractive person, male or female, than one who cultivates his or her own interests,” says Maestas.
Finally, Lopez wants to remind all mamis that children grow up and move away, eventually. “If you don’t have balance in your life all the way through, what are you going to have left when your children start their own lives? You have to feed those parts of you that make you you.”