I’ve been in a state of a stay-at-home Momhood for almost 8 years now – 2 more than I expected to be working only at home. I say working because make no mistake, I am working, there’s just no paycheck involved. I’m not suggesting that it’s particularly hard work or that I don’t benefit from this arrangement. My basic needs, and even some wants, are more than adequately met in return for my contribution. And I like to think that my staying atop the persistent pile of mundane tasks related to keeping children healthy and ensuring the house doesn’t end up as a candidate for “Hoarders” makes it easier for my hubby to go to work and continue to pay for all of this. For the record, I’m married to one of the best guys around. He gets how taxing dealing with children full time can be, and he certainly gets that taking breaks are necessary for good parenting to continue to be possible.
There are circumstances in life though when, if you aren’t careful, what was your assuredly solid sense of self can slip unnoticed through your fingers until you hardly recognize what remains in your grasp. Unguarded parenthood – constantly attending to everyone else’s needs before your own – is a good example. When the kids are very young, that high level of sacrifice is an essential part of the job. You start out taking care of babies whose needs unquestionably must be met by you if they are to thrive. You gladly put your own desires aside because it is vital that you do so, and because it is absolutely worth the sacrifice, and because it takes almost no time to discover that you love them with a primal fierceness that you had no idea existed before they came along and you want to do whatever it takes to get them off to a good start in life. But as they get older, what was once a necessity can become a crushing habit of ignoring your own need to grow and develop in service to the family. It can be insidious if you’ve left a career that you don’t intend to reenter (and you haven’t settled on what you will do professionally in the future), and with each passing day a little of the known quantity of who you were in that role slips away until you realize that you aren’t quite sure who you are anymore. The role of being Mom can grow so large that you forget what rounds out the rest of you. At least this is what happened with me.
Parenting is basically a delayed-gratification marathon. Let me be clear, I love my children and being their mother, and I don’t regret my decision to be at home with them, but being a mother doesn’t complete me. It is simply one dimension of who I am, and I want to continue to hone my other facets. I didn’t long for motherhood as my ultimate life’s goal, though I am so happy that I opted to take the plunge. Motherhood has been the most rewarding, and the most difficult thing I’ve done so far. I am not striving for perfection as a parent, but I make a serious effort to do right by my girls, and when I fall short, which happens more than I care to admit, I feel terrible about it and I try to reset myself so I will do better the next time. For me, what that often means is carving out some “me” time and finding some things to do that have absolutely nothing to do with my children.
I’m in the very fortunate position of not having finances require me to work, and about the last thing I want to sound like here is some privileged asshole whining about a life that many women would trade places for in a heartbeat. While I am grateful that I can be so present in my daughters’ lives, feeding my own soul and guarding some piece of my independent self is what keeps me tethered to my sanity. So I’ve been making an effort to figure out what rounds me out in this phase of my life. Not me in relation to my children. Not me in relation to my husband. Not me in a role that is tangential to the family. Just me.
I’ve started claiming some time for myself, and when I’m not taking care of the kids I volunteer my time and effort for causes that resonate with me. It feeds my soul and my intellectual curiosity at the same time, and I feel like I’m leaving my corner of the world just a little better off than I found it. I am also starting to write – this blog, some essays, letters to my daughters for when they are older. A couple of years ago I started taking guitar lessons, which has been a fun challenge, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised to discover that I could learn to play music at my relatively advanced age, and that I do have some creative yearnings that want to see the light of day. When I can get away with it, I travel. I know, in the grand scheme these seem like small things, and they are, but every time I do something for me to define a new part of myself and recharge my batteries, I’m a much better Mom. It’s also really important to me that my girls understand that I’m not just their Mom, I’m my own person too with hopes, dreams and desires, some of which include them and some of which don’t. When I make me one of the priorities in my life, I come away having gained as much as I gave, and then I have something to draw on so I can keep giving to the family.
At the end of any given day, especially the tough ones, my sweet husband reminds me that I’m doing a good job and that when they are 30 and have their own children they are likely to appreciate us. As parents, we are middle-of-the packers, neither incredibly good, but far from neglectful. And as children go, ours are not statistical outliers – they could certainly be better behaved and more well-mannered than they are, but they could also be a hell of a lot worse too. And maybe that’s one more good thing to remember about finding balance, that it’s okay to be right in the middle of the bell curve where ordinary is just fine.