I remember many major transitions I experienced when I became a mother. They included being completely responsible for another human being’s basic and core needs including 24/7 love and care, developmentally appropriate cognitive stimulation and ongoing social-emotional observation, to name a few.
Motherhood is demanding and a rite of passage that nothing can quite fully prepare you for – even teaching young children and youth doesn’t – as I did for many years! Motherhood isn’t just about the baby or the multiple children that enter your world – it also includes you. Many new mothers overlook additional personal needs and desires when they transition into motherhood. We somehow “forget” or “ignore” our needs for self-care, love and feel good ways of being. In other words, we can easily lose ourselves while meeting the demands of our parenthood duties.
Having felt frustrated myself due to a sense of overwhelm and stress for a short while as a new mom years ago, my heart goes out to mothers experiencing challenges to their self-care. In overcoming my own dilemmas on the motherhood path, I found ways for tremendous stress-relief and even created a free e-course for mothers who are interested in undoing negative stress that tends to get amplified when you become a parent. You can get that free e-course for yourself by clicking here.
One of the first ways I energized my sense of self once becoming a new mother was taking on a fresh and authentic approach to how I presented myself to the world. Because this was such a great leaping off point for me, I decided to ask an expert in image development to share her personal image expertise with the Global Wise Parenting community. Enjoy!
Here’s my Q&A interview with Katherine Lazaruk, an expert image consultant based in Vancouver, Canada.
Q: How can attention to overall image support a mother’s sense of wellbeing?
A: There are several benefits to spending a bit of your very precious time on yourself and your image, not the least of which is imparting a crucial lesson to your children on treating yourself as a person of value. It is important to care for yourself and fill up your cup so you have plenty of energy for taking care of others as needed. Although the idea of ‘look good, feel good’ has been around for a long time, researchers are starting to discover the biological and psychological bases for the axiom. When you choose to care for your image in a way that makes you feel good (whatever that is for you), you think and behave differently. Your routine will likely change significantly when you have children – planning to adjust ahead of time can be a valuable technique for maintaining your sanity when you enter the phase of life where you have only five minutes to put yourself together before the demands of family, work and other commitments take precedence. Spending that five minutes (and it can be done that quickly) putting together a look that makes you feel great frees your mind from worrying about your appearance when more important tasks need to be completed. Finally, feeling better about yourself at a time when your limits are being tested by parenthood can help you navigate the challenges that come with the territory.
Q: What wardrobe tips would you recommend to a new mother as she transitions from working full-time to a lengthy stay-at-home parenthood leave to raise children?
A: First of all, I’d recommend giving some thought to the grieving process that can occur when a significant chunk of your life is replaced by another type of commitment; acknowledging the sadness that may occur over body shifts, putting away ‘work clothes’ and having a lot less time for yourself is an important part of moving through the process of transition. Second, putting together a super easy-care, low maintenance ‘uniform’ that consists of simple mix and match pieces with comfort and movement in mind will help with worry over what to wear day to day and help you avoid slipping into the sweatpants and t-shirt void that sometimes sucks new moms in. Even if you’re choosing to wear what I call ‘knockabout’ clothes (not for public consumption) for most of the time at home, it can really help your state of mind to have a small casual capsule of clothes to wear in the beginning. As you move further into your stay-at-home journey, you can always add bits and pieces to give yourself a bit of variety. Here’s a good set to start with that can give you 40 different combinations – when choosing pieces, keep it simple and pick things that go well together so you can get dressed in the dark and dressed in a hurry!
- 4 layering pieces (cardigans, pullovers, hoodies, vests, denim or cotton casual jackets, etc.) – these are great for taking care of temperature shifts and also awesome for removing when stained or covering up any grubby bits on your tops (spit-up, anyone?)
- 4 bottoms (jeans with stretch, poly blend pull on pants with no zips for quick bathroom entrance/exits – some maternity pants with a belly band are excellent for this – they look like dress pants but are super stretchy and easy to get on and off). Remember, it takes just as long to put on a pair of pants as it does to put on a pair of sweats.
- 4 tops (a variety of colours and styles – wrapped, ruched, V-neck, easy breastfeeding access – puts tunics out of the running for the most part, wash and wear, no ironing, no hang to dry required, poly blends that don’t hold stains and keep their shape over multiple washings work well.)
- 4 pairs of footwear (casual sneakers, but not athletic shoes, flats that stay on the feet well and have a bit of arch support for running after kids and work with swollen feet. If you would like a pair of heels, try a wedge for more stability. A flat boot is a great alternative as well)
- You might also consider a set of cotton dresses – one piece dressing, easy on/off if stained and you get to feel feminine, put together and comfy at the same time.
Accessories are tougher because of the ‘fiddly bits’ and the danger of kids eating them, but a bit of accessorizing can help you feel a bit more put together easily and quickly. At first, you might want to opt for a very simple stud earring or a sleeper you don’t have to change often and other jewellery that isn’t likely to dangle over or scratch kids. Infinity scarves are good for a low ‘fiddly’ factor and also good for removal/stain cleanup/hiding in a pinch. There are lines of accessories that are chew beads too, great for teething babies with style.
For grooming, switching your skin care to a three in one (cleanse, tone, exfoliate) and hair care to a two in one product can cut your shower time down radically; if you’d still like to wear a bit of makeup during this time, a bit of tinted lip balm and mascara or eyebrow pencil and powder can go a long way to making you feel a bit more put together in the least amount of time possible. Finally, give yourself the gift of a good low maintenance haircut – either something you can whip into an elastic quickly, or short enough that you don’t have to fuss. Dry shampoo is a godsend when you don’t have time for a shower, so feel free to stock up.
Q: What are some ways a busy working mother can feel more energized through what she wears?
A: When you’re choosing clothing to wear for the day, what you put on definitely affects your state of mind and you can use your clothing as a tool to help you create or maintain a feeling state. For example, you might feel like pulling on yesterday’s sweats from the floor because heading to the drawers feels too overwhelming; if you make a conscious choice to pull on the sweats because you’re out of time, that’s one thing. However, if you want to feel more in control, more organized or feel like you’ve got at least a small grasp on your sanity, grabbing some clean clothes can shift your sense of overwhelm a little bit and help you move forward more confidently in your day. More structured clothing will give you a hit of ‘organized’ energy; clean sweats or clean knockabout clothes will give you a hit of ‘comfy’ which can also soothe you when things get too overwhelming. You can also use colour to give yourself an energetic boost. For example, instead of choosing basic black daily, try a colour that suits your colouring. Need a bit of power? Try red. Need a bit of cheer? Yellow is a good bet. Want some fun instead? Orange is a good bet. Try experimenting with some different colours and see how you feel.
Q: The “parent-teacher conference” is a key partnership and communication meeting between home and school. What tips do you have for parents wanting to convey an image of openness, approachability and professionalism when they meet their child’s teacher?
A: More relaxed clothing will always convey openness – instead of a blazer or suited separates, try a more casual jacket with jeans or cotton pants. Instead of a tie, try an open neck instead. You can use colour in this situation as well. Bolder colours convey power, where softer colours convey a more laid back feeling. You may also want to pay a bit of attention to your body language while sitting with the teacher – leaning forward, arms and legs uncrossed and a small smile will go a long way to creating comfort and a sense of alliance. For professionalism, make sure that all your bits are in order – clean, neat, pressed and put together helps convey a sense of organization/professionality.
Q: What would you suggest to parents of young school-aged children when it comes to dressing their kids for an optimal image at school?
A: The guidelines that apply to parents regarding a relaxed image as opposed to a more structured image apply to kids as well, but I’d actually discourage parents from setting too strong parameters on their kid’s image. The school years are great for kids to try different things to refine their personal style. Some guidelines such as ‘it must be clean and in good repair’ or ‘it must be appropriate for the weather’ or ‘shirts for school need to have sleeves’ can be helpful, but for the most part, letting kids be responsible for choosing their own outfits and for dressing themselves is a place where parents can learn to let go a little.
Q: Many parents struggle with tweens and teenagers who have difficulty meeting their desire to “fit in” and to be fashionable but also meeting the standards of acceptable appearance from their parents’ perspectives. What resources, strategies and tips do you suggest for parents in this situation?
A: Starting open discussions around personal style and clothing values early can be immensely helpful for kids in this stage. Using pop culture icons and school situations as a jumping off point for discussions around fashion, economics, social values and morality can be helpful – you can explore both their views and yours and talk in depth about the need to ‘fit in’ as well as meet the family requirements. There are always two aspects to image – the internal self-expression and the external perception or social context in which we find ourselves and both need to be satisfied. There are several good parenting sites that have articles on this topic, including familyeducation.com, todaysparent.com and parentmap.com. As with any parenting dilemma, look for the teachable moments where kids can extend their individuality and where they can use their clothing as a tool to fit in and feel like they belong.
Q: What final hints can you share with mothers interested in positively developing their own authentic personal image?
A: A great place to start is with simply paying attention to the things you’re wearing and how they make you feel. Notice the colours, textures, structure and any other design details. Often the things that make us feel great are good for us and clothing is no different. Also, pay attention to how people respond to you when you’re wearing certain things and what they say. For example, if someone says “You look great in that colour”, that’s a good indication that they’re seeing you and not just what you’re wearing. If they say things like “That’s a great ____________ (fill in the blank with a colour, piece of clothing or accessory)”, then the focus may not be on you, but on your clothes instead. Ideally, you want people to see you, not just your clothes. Once you pinpoint the specific details of the things that make you feel great and get a good response, you can look for more of those things. For example, if you always feel great in a structured, softly textured jacket and you get a good response from people around you, you might look for more things that have those details. If you’re aiming for authenticity in your style, then the best thing you can do is increase your level of personal awareness; paying attention is the first step.
Katherine Lazaruk is the owner of ICU Image Consulting and a longtime resident of Vancouver, Canada. She specializes in holistic image education and brings 15 years of instructional development and corporate training experience to bear when teaching individuals how to use their image to express who they really are and creating engaging and effective training for groups. With an additional 35 years of performance experience, she can help clients with everything from how they look to how they deliver great presentations. She is passionate about personal development and loves to help her clients grow. Katherine is sessional instructor for the Image Consulting Programs at Langara University College, volunteers for Dress for Success Vancouver and is the Secretary of the Canada Chapter Board for the Association of Image Consultants International.