When I was pregnant, my biggest fear about having a child was, without a doubt, a selfish one. How am I going to survive the dependency of a child? When will I have time for myself? And, most existentially, am I going to lose myself and my identity when I have a child that demands so much of me?
Well, I learned from experience that these are not the easiest feelings to discuss and decipher. There are a lot of differing opinions out there about how much self-sacrifice is either expected or acceptable of mothers and mothers-to-be. There’s the, Your child is most important; your life becomes secondary, camp. (My actual conversation with this way of thinking was followed up with, “I hope you think this much about what your child needs instead of thinking so much about yourself!” Ooooof, nothing like guilt to help you navigate the overwhelming emotions of bringing a human into this world.) Then there’s the, You need to listen to your needs; your family’s health depends on it, camp. I’m sure there can be a detrimental extreme to this way of thinking, but when I was pregnant, I was certainly throwing my full support behind this belief system. Because after living 30+ years as my own independent person, it seems absurd that I could ever be expected to easily and instantaneously fall into a self-sacrificing, mommy-martyr way of thinking and being.
But then I had actually had a baby, and honestly, I didn’t give any of this very much thought. Your world changes instantly, and you’re running on adrenaline and survival-mode. Maybe you’re overwhelmed, and you’re undoubtedly emotional, but it’s all new and exciting, and…what was I saying again, before kids? But then all that energy started to wear off. It probably coincided with the school year starting again – and I’m confident it was exacerbated by this being a really. freaking. unpleasant. school. year. But by our daughter’s eighth or ninth month, all these questions started popping up again.
There are facets to all of our lives that bring us satisfaction, that create our identities. Lives are always a balance of your pieces, with different parts outweighing others at particular moments. For me, having a child has thrown that balance completely out of whack. I can’t tell you how many times in the past ten months I have called myself “failure.” Name it, and I feel like I’ve failed at it: Teacher. Colleague. Wife. Daughter. Friend. Reader. Writer. Creator. Netflix-binger. This label of Mother, though, has seemed to outweigh everything else, and I’ve had trouble re-calibrating. Those other ways I have always defined myself, or filled my time, have been overshadowed, and I can’t seem to get back to where they are satisfying pieces of my puzzle.
I’ve mused on this for months. I had the flu for a week in December and was essentially quarantined, alone with my bed and my soup and my identity crisis. As Spring has sprung, and the chaos of moving is behind us, and the end of school approaches, I’ve come to realize that maybe I’ve felt stuck because it’s not the balance that needs to change – it’s my mindset. You take for granted, when you’re unattached to a responsibility as great as a child, that you have time that can be filled with whatever you choose. You may busy yourself with outings, social gatherings, or hobbies, making your life feel so busy that it seems you don’t have any free time, but that time is filled with choice.
These days, my “free time” is rare. Maybe I get 30 minutes alone to get ready for work on the mornings I don’t have daycare drop-off. Or I get an hour after work twice a week when I don’t have pick-up duty. And yes, you could count the hours after the baby goes to bed… but to be honest, I don’t follow far behind her these days. My point is that my free time – my independent, no responsibility, no obligation time – is no longer guaranteed, and if I want to maintain all these facets of myself, I have to make time for them. That’s the mindset shift – making time, when time used to be a given.
I have to take the time to go for a run, instead of going for one because I have no excuse not to. I sign up for an art class, because I’d never find the time to paint at home. I spend an extra half hour in my car, reading, on the days I don’t have daycare pick-up. And I take a day off work, like today, for myself, so I can sit quietly in the places I love, collecting my thoughts, catching up on some reading, and writing down ideas that have been churning for weeks.
So yes, I guess now I do fully fall into that, Take care of yourself, too, camp. What I didn’t expect is how much work even taking care of yourself takes. I think it’s necessary, though. Mother is an identity, but it’s not your only one.
*Please note that my last blog post was February 1st. See what I mean about making time for free time!!!