The Pressures of Motherhood and Cracking at the Seams

This month the s*&t hit the fan (or floor). If you’re a parent, you’ll know what that means (and if you’re not, I bet you can guess). The “terrible twos” have this way of teasing you into believing that you’ve truly seen the worst of it…until something else happens. It’s totally humorous and utterly frustrating at the same time.

I have often explained to people how relieving it was, in a way, to let my perfectionist tendencies slide with motherhood. I used to take personal pride in staying on top of things, being organized, trying new recipes and putting 150% into my work. Inevitably, motherhood shifted that. My response to losing control was to loosen my grip. I didn’t need to bear the additional load of inflated, self-imposed expectations. I let out a sigh of relief.

Taking in the views on a kid-free trip to Lake O'Hara. Photo by Paul Zizka Photography.
Taking in the views on a kid-free trip to Lake O’Hara. Photo by Paul Zizka Photography.

However, by some standards, I didn’t realize how ‘easy’ I had it when my daughter was a newborn. In the early stages of motherhood, less was expected of me. I took a maternity leave from my self-employed work. Socially, I disappeared from the grid (and the introvert in me rejoiced a tiny bit). Beyond the frustrations of my physical recovery, my job was to care for my little girl. Everything else could wait.

Fast-forward two years, and I live in a different scenario. The realities of life and financial needs call me back into the workforce. My burning desire for adventure calls me out into the mountains. And my toddler’s need for independence and understanding calls me into the most intense throes of parenting to date. Now I am simultaneously a mother, wife, entrepreneur and adventure-seeking individual with a need to make money in this world.

Every once in a while I crack at the seams. I cracked as a new mother, too, but the pressures, and fall-out, were different. I usually deal with these feelings very inwardly. But, yesterday was a goodness, how am I supposed to manage all of this!? and wept while I cooked store-bought perogies (then felt bad that I was cooking store-bought perogies). 

Today I feel compelled to tell you about it and to encourage every mother to be kind to herself. Give yourself the space to crack when the pressure builds within. Do what’s best for you to relieve that pressure, even if it means setting firm boundaries that others don’t understand. As I’ve often been told, you’ll feel better and be better equipped to deal with the tougher aspects of parenting. I bet you’ll enjoy parenting more, too.

Sleepy but happy on an evening hike up to Lake McArthur. Our first backcountry trip just the two of us since pre-parenthood. Photo by Paul Zizka Photography.
Sleepy but happy on an evening hike up to Lake McArthur. Our first backcountry trip just the two of us since pre-parenthood. Photo by Paul Zizka Photography.

That being said, I have a special word for the outdoor adventurers out there, primarily those who are curious about the transition to parenthood (which is what this website is all about). Your relationship with your passions is entirely personal, and the impact of that transition will vary (quite drastically) depending on a number of factors (e.g. how much support you have, the temperament of your particular child(ren), access to childcare, your physical recovery from pregnancy and birth, and your emotional/psychological state as a parent).

I placed a lot of importance on my ability to incorporate my passion for the outdoors and travel as a parent and integrated these into our family as best I could. But in some cases it was at the expense of my own health. And, gradually, other concerns trumped my concern about being able to pursue my passions as a parent. Looking back I almost want to laugh at how caught up I was with this goal.

We need to keep our passions alive as parents; it’s key to our survival and happiness. But the happiness of my child took priority when she was born, and I discovered (to my surprise) that I was more than willing to put my own wants and desires by the wayside when it made things easier. It was a natural transition and quite involuntary (we can probably attribute that to the built-in maternal instinct). This doesn’t mean that we always gave into what’s easy. After travelling to five countries and venturing into the backcountry with our daughter – all before the age of two – I can safely say we were often FAR from doing what was easy.

But, to be honest, I wish that at times I had made things less complicated. I have no regrets – just an understanding of what I’d perhaps do differently. In some cases, like our travels to Belize this past winter, we were able to apply the lessons we’d learned the hard way. Now, when there is so much more to juggle, I am seeking simplicity where I can.

Finding a moment of peace and serenity at Lake McArthur this past month. Photo by Paul Zizka Photography.
Finding a moment of peace and serenity at Lake McArthur this past month. Photo by Paul Zizka Photography.

I tell you this because it’s all part of being realistic as parents, and setting our own personal goals and boundaries. Don’t be influenced by what you see others doing or accomplishing, or let comparison drag you down. Pursuing your passions is important, but keep that in balance with the changes that come with parenthood and what’s best for the well-being of your family. Live life in your own way, and let the messes teach you what you need to do next to adjust to whatever your journey is throwing your way.

This might mean a major change, or it might mean dusting yourself off (or, in my case, washing my hands in rubbing alcohol), and then getting back at it.

Finally, take time to learn from some of life’s wisest, and youngest, people. Slowing down and living in the present moment can be the perfect antidote to life’s pressures. And you’re guaranteed to laugh.

Author: Meghan J. Ward

Meghan J. Ward is an outdoor, travel and adventure writer based in Banff, Canada, and a Fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society. Meghan has written several books, as well as produced content for films, anthologies, blogs and some of North America’s top outdoor, fitness and adventure publications. She has a forthcoming travel memoir (Fall 2022), to published by Rocky Mountain Books.

7 thoughts

  1. Your words ring so true! That almost imperceptible shift into sacrificing your own desires to make things a bit easier sometimes was so interesting for me…it happened so gradually, almost as if mother nature was helping me transition my life one step at a time.

    I can also relate to the feeling of almost doggedly trying to prove that having kids wouldn’t stop me from doing anything I wanted. And yes, I’ve met with some success because I wouldn’t take no for an answer, but like you, I’ve also wondered why I had to push so hard, sometimes.

    My favourite saying for these kinds of times is “save your strength to swim with the tide.”

    1. Jessie, thanks as always for commenting. I think some of us think of the ‘horror’ of sacrificing our own desires because it is so out of reach before we become moms. But after, it just makes the most sense for all involved, and even feels good!

      That’s a really good saying – I’ll keep that one in mind.

  2. I hear you 100%. When I was pregnant with our first child, my husband told people how the child was going to adapt to our lives and not the other way around. We did a fair amount of skiing and traveling with baby, but I definitely cracked under the unrealistic expectations a few times, especially after Baby #2 came along. But I wonder if it would have been better to have been resigned about everything changing and taking a reactive, not proactive, approach to life post baby? I can’t see myself content sitting around the house all day making baby food or knitting booties — I had to try to continue to be active, and had to continue working (for both practical and brain-stimulation reasons). And I suspect that for you and readers like you, it’s better to have given it everything and hit the wall than to not have tried in the first place. And, should we burst the bubble for new moms and warn them of these things, or is it a unique journey of discovery all parents must make on their own?

    1. Wow, Cath. You put it better in a few hundred words than I ever could. We were told many times that the child would adapt to our lives, which is only partially true. You bring up a very good point about it perhaps being better to “resign” ourselves to the changes, rather than setting ourselves up with unrealistic expectations. And I can totally relate to your comment about needing to do things for yourself for those very practical and brain-stimulating reasons. I don’t think all mothers have the same needs, but those were certainly some of mine.

      I have no regrets about my choices, but I suppose this post was just that: a somewhat cautionary tale for new mothers. I personally think we need to burst the bubble a bit more often. I’m thankful for some of the wisdom that has been imparted on me from mothers with older children, especially when it’s provided as a “suggestion” or “this was my experience and yours may be different”. The journey will still be full of discovery – it’s only inevitable with parenthood.

      Thanks for stirring the pot!

  3. Hey Meghan, Every now and again I found myself reading some of your posts! You are incredibly talented with your writing and Paul with his imagery. I am sometimes sorry we just missed each other when you were in Wanaka as Im sure it would have been a great pleasure to meet or even plan some projects together both family or work. But maybe that will come with time. Now living in Wanaka I can even more understand your writing and some of Lisa’s challenges. Thanks for the inspiration an d keep them coming! All the best on your journey and see you around one day!


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