Last month, in my post Seasons of Mothering, I wrote about my decisions to willingly give up some things temporarily while my kids are young. Then, last week, thanks to Facebook, I was blessed to read I Became a Mother, and Died to Live, where the author eloquently (and accurately) describes how the process of becoming a mother changes us irrevocably, to the point where our old self is actually gone forever.
It can be particularly difficult to maintain a sense of self through those years of intense mothering, especially if we are also parenting in a way that sees us making considerable sacrifices for our children (as most of us do in one way or another). Yet, it’s important to remember that the seasons are temporary. Certainly, we have been re-born as totally different people than we were before motherhood, but we do still have identities that should be nurtured.
In my post, I said:
“Just as the grasshopper was unwise to play and fritter away the summer without preparing for winter, it would be unwise for me to get caught up entirely in this season with my children and to forget that there will come a time when they will need me less. It is important to nurture myself through these times of caring for my children, to make plans for when I have more time and resources and energy to devote to my dreams and goals.”
Not only is it a blessing, when we feel resentful or overwhelmed, to remember that it won’t be this way forever, it’s also important to not lose sight of the fact that in the future, we will become less central to our children’s daily needs. In my opinion, it would be a shame for that time to come and catch us unawares. That is the stuff that identity crisis is made of.
It is so easy to get caught up in the daily stuff of parenting; just trying to keep the house clean and everybody fed takes up a lot of time. Plus, we’re supposed to nap when the baby naps, and forget the dishes so we can get down on the floor to play with kids. Too often, it’s not the dishes that get forgotten in the endless loop of playing, cleaning, grocery shopping, diaper changing, sleep fighting, and date nighting: it’s ourselves.
Finding a way to fit in meaningful self-expression and self-nurturing while also in the trenches with young kids is no easy task. Our interests might excite us to the point of competing with our children for our focus, and we can begin to resent the sacrifices that we’ve made, or to wait impatiently for our kids to grow up so we can get on with it. It might be tempting to chuck it all and just focus on our kids, “for now.” We might have been lulled into complacency by the early days with an infant when it seemed we barely had time to brush our teeth and shower, so we start living our life in stolen moments between everything else, texting, facebooking, playing Angry Birds (that’s so 2011), or watching mindless television after the kids are finally asleep.
It must be a conscious decision, and a commitment to carrying on even if we don’t always get it right. We CAN make choices to live more authentically even in this time of intense mothering, to let our new self live, rather than submitting willingly to a second death.
At this point, I am loath to invoke the dreaded word ‘balance’ but in humans, it isn’t like balancing stones where a static moment of balance is achieved and only maintained by staying still, which I’m telling you now is the reason why balance feels forever unachievable. Balance for us is more like balancing on a ball or a rail fence, where we can only maintain it through constant readjustments, continuous movement and compensation. This means, that there will be times when we feel that to gain balance we need to drop back on some of our interests and focus mindfully and wholeheartedly on the needs of our children, and other moments when we need to make time for ourselves in the hustle and bustle of family life. It will always be a work in motion, and it will always be worthwhile.
There are plenty of little things we can add to our lives that needn’t be all-encompassing. Check back tomorrow for some ideas on ways to maintain your sense of self, despite the sacrifices inherent in mothering babies and small children.
In the mean time, tell me: what’s your experience of maintaining your own identity while consciously and unapologetically making sacrifices while your children are young?