I recently wrote about transitioning into parenthood where I listed some ways that have helped me transition more into this strange role we call “mother”. Then, a few days ago, I read THIS POST flying around Facebook, where one woman mourns the loss of her former identity:
“Why didn’t I appreciate my life more, when it was mine? What if I want to leave one day?
I’ll never be able to leave one day, ever.
I’ve been the same woman my whole life. What about her? Where is she? Is she just dead?
Yes, she is just dead.
Does that seem harsh? Well, it is. So is motherhood.
Perhaps we can soften this whole thing by saying our identities are ‘transformed,’ or we are ‘forever changed,’ but the fact of the matter is that the woman you once were is gone, and she will never come back.
While I was reading through her post, there were many things that resonated with me, where I felt, YES. THIS IS IT. The feeling of being forever tied to someone else; the process of getting to know this new and emerging self in relation to someone so completely, and utterly dependent on you; the conflict between the desire for closeness with your child, and the fear of feeling trapped. I respect the courage she had to share her feelings and experiences in such a public setting. I especially resonate with her words:
“And you’re falling into a love you’ve never known. It’s like quicksand; the more you struggle the deeper you fall. Only you’re not struggling, because it’s a gorgeous catastrophe, and there’s nowhere else to go.”
But her perception of her former self as dead? That just doesn’t feel right to me. I don’t feel as if a part of me has died. Instead, I feel as if a new part of me was born, and now I must make space for this new part to grow. Yes, sometimes I do mourn my loss of (what now seems like) my ENDLESS free time. But that is a loss of situation, not a loss of myself. My old interests, passions and needs are still there, in addition to new emerging ones.
I suppose if you neglect your “former” self, fail to acknowledge or nourish it, it might die. But it doesn’t have to be that way. It shouldn’t be that way. There are ways to nourish and grow your “pre-mommy” self so that it doesn’t waste away. Because our children deserve more than a one-dimensional mommy. They deserve a mother who values her many parts, who lives to live.
To follow up on my “Transition” post, here are 5 ideas to take care of yourself– your whole self (old + new =?). This is not me trying to preach–this is advice to myself! You might see a common theme running through these ideas: scheduling. Your life is busier than ever now that you have another little one to take care of. So if you don’t have a calendar in the home, consider buying one now and putting it in a prominent place in your living room.
1) Mindfully consider your core values.
Take the time to think: What is my core self? What do I value and need? Write these down in a list and use it as a basis to create and select activities that still fulfill these values and needs. For example, I realize that one of my needs is to be creative and make creative things, because my Core is an Artist (see my post about my Core). I also realized that another need is to socialize and connect with like-minded people–to be intellectually and emotionally stimulated. This brings me to my second suggestion:
2) Look for and create activities and events that meet these core values.
(…and make sure to schedule them into the calendar and review with other adults in the home so everyone is on the same page!)
For me, carving out a time twice a month to create art and invite other artists to come make art with me, was a great way to help fulfill my need for creativity and social connection. Collaborating on this blog was another way.
3) Invest in yourself as much as you invest in your child.
My daughter is getting to the age where she is old enough for all sorts of fun classes and play groups. There seem to be hundreds of activities available for toddlers–some of them free, some of them not. Should I sign her up for swimming or toddler gymnastics? I try to make it to the Peabody Essex song and story-time almost every Wednesday.
Now a lot of this has to do with finances, budgeting, etc. But I am a true believer of equality in the family: If Jenna is going to get swim lessons, Mommy is going to attend her Yoga class/art workshop/ etc. (I go to prenatal yoga at Green Tea Yoga, but I hear their Momaste Yoga for moms is great too!)
4) Kill two birds with one stone/Have your cake and eat it too
Why does your “old” self and new “mommy” self have to be mutually exclusive? Share your talents, joys, passions and routines with your children! Are there activities that you really enjoy where you can include your child? I love to cook and bake, and Jenna loves to “help” by stirring the ingredients around in the bowl while Mommy puts them in. She always love to “taste test” the final product 🙂 Making art is another example of something I really like to do that I can help my daughter explore and enjoy as well. We have dance parties, singing contests, who can yell the loudest (Daddy’s favorite…). Do things with your child that you like to do. Include them in everyday tasks like doing laundry, cleaning the kitchen, picking up toys, etc. Feeling “forced” to play with your child is a fast way to burn out. How can you make it exciting for you???
5) Above all: Balance, Self Compassion and Humor
Nobody is perfect, and you certainly don’t want your child growing up with the illusion that you are. They will be in for a rude awakening later on! What the exact balance is between personal and professional, family and individual needs can be different for everyone, and usually is just out of reach. Just do your best–you know what that is. Whatever plans you make, or dates you write down on the calendar, you might find yourself feeling like you need a little more “me” time, or you might feel that the best “self care” at the moment is to cancel all your plans and play dress-up with your little one. What I am trying to avoid is to live my life “half-there”: When I am playing with my daughter, I don’t want to be thinking about what I could be doing without her, and when I am out with my girl friends, I don’t want to feel guilty that she is home without me. And that takes the right balance of quality time with her, and quality time by myself. It doesn’t always happen but I feel much more centered when it does.
Then there are some weeks when all the best laid plans fly out the window. When you find yourself oscillating between wanting to hurl something against the wall, or curl up under the covers. Sometimes I guilt trip myself for not being that “perfect mother” who never lets her kids watch tv or eat an ounce of processed sugar. But I am not that mother, and never will be. I think we need to realize our limitations, and use our resources in a mindful way. And sometimes, we just need a break. AND THAT’S OK. GIVE YOURSELF A BREAK. GIVE YOUR CHILD A BREAK. If we don’t have compassion for ourselves, how can we have compassion towards our children? If we can’t laugh at ourselves, how can we laugh at our children? (wait, that last sentence came out wrong, hehe…) Seriously though…
We don’t have to die to live. Maybe we have to live twice as hard, but, as mothers, would we really want it any other way?