When I was single I used to see those moms with their young children in the grocery store. You know the ones I’m talking about – they’re wearing an oversized T shirt and sweats with tennis shoes, flip-flops or clogs. They have little or no make-up on and their hair is often in a ponytail, probably because it hasn’t been washed for too long. I used to think (quite self-righteously, I might add) that if and when I had kids I would never let myself go like that. I mean how hard is it to take just a few moments in the morning to make yourself presentable to the world?
That was before a baby actually came out of my body.
Now that I’m on the other side, I get it. It’s a gradual, subtle demise. A slow but very sure path from putting time and energy into your appearance to not necessarily not caring about it anymore, but to seriously lowering it in your list of priorities. It happens within a veil of denial, like the food addict who tells herself she’s buying the doughnuts “for her husband and son”, until one day you look in the mirror at Walmart and think, why is that matronly woman staring at me? The one with the goose nest hair and gray roots halfway down her head, wearing what looks just like my pajamas-only sweatshirt in public? (Oh wait, that IS me!)
For all you not-moms-yet, here’s how it happens: Before baby, there were clothes you only wore in the house. Perhaps it was an old T-shirt from college held together by a few determined threads, ratty old sandals, or a grungy pair of sweats you’ve had for seven years but can’t let go of because they’re so damn comfortable. Clothes that are the equivalent of comfort food. You know which clothes they are. And once upon a time, before you became a mom, onlyyou (and possibly your closest friend or significant other) knew what they were. Since they’re only supposed to be worn in the house, we’ll call these your Inside Clothes.
So one fine day, a few weeks after baby’s born (after having woken up five times in the middle of the night, before you finally taste the first spoonful from that container of yogurt you at least had the foresight to take out of the refrigerator 45 minutes earlier, and after you’ve finally taken that trip to the bathroom you’d put off for over an hour, you decide it’s finally time to get the newspapers (yes, plural) on your curb while your baby is calm in the Ergo. You dare to venture outside (very self-consciously, so you go quickly) in your Inside Clothes to retrieve what you need. With baby as accessory, it’s easier to downplay the importance of your clothing. Which is totally understandable and completely fine. I mean who’s going to dress up for that?
But once you’ve broken the barrier, like anything else (littering, lying, stealing, murdering your next door neighbor), it’s easier to do it again. So another day not long after, you walk out to the street in your Inside Clothes to get something you need from the car. A week later you go to the grocery store and, once in the car, you realize you forgot to change out of your grungy Inside sweats. There’s no way you’re taking the baby out of the car seat and into the house with you (not to mention back into the car seat again) just so you can change into some cargo pants (mom-with-small-child uniform), so you let it go.
And nothing bad happened. No one at the store pointed and laughed at you (at least not that you witnessed.) You did run into an old friend – one who doesn’t have a baby – and you’d really been hoping not to see anyone you knew, but she probably understood that things are different now that you’re a mom so you’re going to dress differently too, right? You know this isn’t true (you remember how you were before baby), but you tell yourself that people are forgiving.
So the next time you go to Babies R Us on a weekday afternoon, or even to a mom’s group with the baby, you think, who do I have to impress? A bunch of moms? I’ll just get spit up on my clothes anyway. And you commit to wearing an entire Inside clothes outfit as your real outfit. It’s what’s inside that really matters, not how you look, you remind yourself. And isn’t this an important value to teach your child? You are their model, after all.
Now I do want to add here that there is a percentage of moms – usually the same ones who stayed nice and slender during pregnancy, had virtually no nausea, and returned to their original weight in a mere 6 to 12 weeks postpartum – who appear as if the arrival of the baby has not made a dent in their appearance. They looked fantastic before baby and they look fantastic now, even sleep-deprived. For those of you ladies I’d like to simultaneously say to you, “You’re an inspiration. More power to you,” and “Please stop making the rest of us feel so inadequate.” But all the other moms who stay at home and don’t have jobs they need to dress nicely for? We’ve started the slow descent into Frumpy Momville.
And there you have it. You stop prioritizing your appearance when you are with the baby. And that’s not a bad thing. Parenting is a messy job, who can blame you? Unless you have somewhere special to go with or without (ha!) your infant, which is not often, who has time to put on eyeliner and lipstick in the morning when you finally have a second, at 1:54pm, to change out of your pajamas into some (so-called) day clothes? Being a mom of an infant is life in its realest form. It’s gritty. It’s dirty. It’s hard work. Innundated with all things parent day and night, you to start to think, why hide it? Why try to pretend that having an infant hasn’t changed things that much – after all, it’s changed EVERYTHING, like the cliché goes. You start embracing the harried, less stylish you. This is who you really were underneath all those stylish outfits and shoes anyway, right? You just didn’t know it until the baby came. (Um, right. I’ll go with that.)
Then a year goes by and before you know it, vuallah! You are a full-fledged Frumpy Mom. The baby’s sleeping more and not nursing or having bottles all the time, but your wardrobe still hasn’t changed much, if at all, from the early infant era. Gone are the days of great outfits that reflected your individuality. Of feeling very excited about that new dress you just bought (unless it makes you feel thinner and it’s great mom gear). You’re a regular at Old Navy online, clogs and flip flops are your new best friends, and what were those things you used to be so into before you had a diaper bag? Handbags? (Sounds vaguely familiar.) It’s all history. At least for a few years (or so I hear, I’m not there yet.)
But maybe – well, probably – the fact that you appear to others as if you no longer care much about your appearance when you’re with your child (at least in those first few years postpartum) is massively outweighed by the joy this new little human is adding to your life. And you wouldn’t even trade it in for $10,000 worth of gift certificates at your favorite clothing and shoe stores on an all-expenses paid trip to Manhattan by yourself. (At least you don’t think you would, but who knows if it was actually offered to you?) You are thrilled to be a mommy. And although parenthood may not be as pretty as it was before kids, it certainly is beautiful.