A while back a lovely reader left me this comment on my parenting hacks post:
"With posts like yours, I think that when the time comes for me to be a mum it will be much easier. I need your optimism because in Poland we have an ugly stereotype or martyrdom of parenthood, especially motherhood. You have to be tired all the time, upset, you have to dedicate all your time to the kid, you have to lack money all the time because a kid needs so much and it's all so expensive... If a mother goes to a salon to have her hair dyed and cut, it's sure that if she shares this on her blog, she will get at least one very nasty comment saying that she is a bad mother because she prefers to take care of herself instead of give the time, money and attention to the kid.
This is why I like your optimism here even more."
It made me warm inside to read it, and at the same time reminded me of the inner struggles I went through before I found my childrearing-fashionista balance.
When you are pregnant, you are exempt from beauty rules. People will probably surround you with positivity and will be more focused on how your well being than on your looks. Once you give birth, the pressure rises. Depending on where you live, you will be expected to either lose weight and look always impeccably styled, or you will be told that to pay attention to your shoes and hair means that you neglect your kids. I don't know which of these is worse. Oh wait, the worst is when you get both kinds of pressure at the same time.
Add this to the fact that most women have to reestablish their identity and reacquaint themselves with their own body. It can be disorienting to have the body change so much in a few months, and to continue changing even up to two years postpartum. Not al changes are negative or permanent, but even temporary ones like weakened thigh muscles can be disconcertning. Then there is the loss of old habits, the old lifestyle, the old freedom, the mourning for which is usually repressed and leads to postpartum depression.
Fashion and makeup plays a role here: many a young mom has wondered: can I still wear this or that now that I have a kid, will the perfume irritate the baby, or however am I supposed to find the time to even shower when he wants to be carried 24/7?
I want to talk anbout how to find your comfort zone when it comes to beauty, and also about beauty as self- carte and self-expression.
First of all, how well groomed the mother is has nothing to do with how good a mother she is. A sloppy appearance is not a sure sign of a selfless all-sacrificing parent, nor of a flake. A perfectly dressed look doesn't mean that the woman is the perfect mom, neither does it mean that she neglects her kid to do her nails. A woman's grooming or lack of it is related with how she prefers to spend her free time, how much help she gets around the house, how important fashion is to her, and much more. And let me tell you, there are a lot of women out there living a happy and fulfilling life in badly fitting jeans and sneakers, with bad hair and an unwaxed upper lip.
These women are probably busy doing amazing things and aren't reading this blog. If you are already reading this blog, chances are that external beauty is in some way important to you, or you would like to pay more attention to it. So lets talk about why that is ok even if you have kids.
Beauty and style as self-care:Taking a few moments to decorate the body and face is a way of turning attention to ourselves in a positive way. In the life of a giver of love and care it can be good to spend a little time on something egoistic (in a good way). There are of course other ways like sports, a religious or spiritual practice, hobbies; and some less positive ones like overeating, shopping, addiction to TV or the internet.
If you dress and make-up were important to you before you had kids but you don't pay attention to them any more, you should take a moment to reflect on the reasons. Some women experience a shift in priorities and are happy to focus their attention somewhere else, and that's great. However, others have negative reasons for neglecting their looks: lack of time and energy, but also psychological like disconnection from their old self or from their changed body. If that is the case, I'd really like you to try and add back a little bit of beauty care into your day.
Beauty and those around you:There are of course other arguments in support of taking a little bit of time every day for your looks: you get treated differentially by people based on your appearance. Sad, but true. And vice versa: we behave differently according to how we are dressed. Last year I had five different roles in a play, and the director told me that in spite of all my efforts I was playing the same persona all the time. For the next rehearsal I brought some improvisatory costumes and props: a suit, heels and updo for one character, a flowy dress and sun umbrella for another, and so on. And this made a huge difference on the way I was acting. Seriously, it is easier to act pulled-together if you look pulled-together.
Also, don't forget the romantic partner. Now, I don't believe that women should run around with a rose between their teeth every second of the day; but then we also expect a minimum of grooming from our men so it's only fair to do our bit.
And finally: your wardrobe probably is full of pretty stuff. You totally deserve to enjoy all that pretty stuff.
Practical tips and suggestions:
The first six weeks are your special time with your new baby. Don't bother too much about anything else. Cherish these moments.
Carve out just a couple of minutes in the morning for a short beauty routine. It is best to do it right when you go to the bathroom in the morning, as chances are the kids are still sleeping and you have an extra minute. And you're already there anyway.
Simplify your routine. For me doing my nails takes up too much time and is impractical, but mascara or oil masks on my hair take very little effort and give great results.
Pick one thing that has the most impact on how you look (for example concealer), and one thing that makes you happy (for example lipstick or earrings). Use these every day.
This tip comes from a neighbour who was a nurse and had to go to work at insane hours: keep a couple of morning beauty essentials on a tray in a convenient place (hers was on the living-room table), like hairbrush, mirror, mascara, earrings.
A tip from another neighbour: keep night-time creams squished between the mattress and the headboard (or on your night stand), and chances are you'll actually use them.
Get a wash-and-wear haircut that doesn't require styling. And no, that doesn't necessarily mean short hair. Also, learn a few simple updos for hair emergencies.
If your kid starts bothering you when you try to put on your makeup, try keeping a toy in that area that is only played with during your beauty time. A small sturdy mirror is often a good idea, it can keep a kid occupied for a surprisingly long time. You can also explain to them what you are doing, smaller kids usually love to watch and imitate. You can help them imitate you, for example let them clean their face with a pretty washcloth or rub a drop of oil on their faces or brush their hair. With older kids you can give them something similar to what you are using (my kids love organic lip balm, rose water sprayed on the hair to make it smell nice, and their collection of hair clips and pins). Try to emphasize the self-care aspect of the whole ritual rather than the beauty aspect of it.
Throw out your rattiest clothes and underwear. This will force you to wear your nicer stuff. Exactly.
If you are worried about snide remarks, you can use responses like "it actually takes me just 10 minutes every morning"; or "thanks, it makes me happy" or troll them with "ever since I stopped watching TV I have way more time for me any the kids" (most people will feel a bit guilty when they hear this) or even "my husband likes it". Or just ignore it, like all the unsolicited parental advice that you are probably getting as well. No matter what you do, there will always be someone who doesn't approve of it.
Exercise. It's one of the best ways to feel good, look good, and like your body more.
And if you are feeling jealous of women who have kids and are perfectly groomed: nobody can do it all. If she is taking the time for her appearance, it's because she is choosing not to do something else. (Or, she has domestic help.) You can also choose to make space for beauty-time, and al lot less time to some other activity. What activity that is, and whether it is worth it is obviously another matter. Again, this is a matter of personal priorities. And sometimes also of a slightly better time management. Be honest with yourself, and do what makes you happy.
If you have kids, I'm curious about your personal approach to finding the time and space for style and beauty; and society's pressure. If you don't have kids, I'd love to hear your thoughts as well!