Note: This blog post is aimed at moms with young kids and is a throwback to a post I wrote a year ago. Being on vacation this past week, I wasn’t able to write a new post, but I think this one is worth re-sharing.
My alarm was set for seven o’clock.
But it’s my daughter crying in the next room that wakes me. For the third time that night. Only it’s no longer night. A quick check of my phone shows it’s 6:45. My husband has just left for work. It’s only fifteen minutes, but it’s fifteen minutes of sleep I was denied. My sleep is like gold to me; it’s that precious.
I’m being robbed.
As I struggle to sit up in bed, I inwardly curse the sunlight. Sunlight means morning, and I’ve never been a morning person. As I rush and fumble to make her bottle, I wonder if morning people were only created to make the struggle of another new day that much harder.
As I lift her out of her crib and pacify her cries, the squeals of my sons aren’t far behind.
And so it goes nearly every morning – or some variation thereof (pick which kid you think wakes first tomorrow!) – as “Mommy” fights to get dressed without an audience and make her coffee before she needs to be piling the kiddos into the van or standing at the bus stop.
I’m a stay-at-home mom of seven years. It was my choice, and I don’t regret a minute of it.
I’ve heard it said many times that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.
I must have gone insane a LONG time ago.
So, I spend my days carting kids to camp or school. I pay the bills, scrub toilets and wipe all around them as I clean the disgusting leftovers from raising boys who don’t aim well, pick up the groceries, and curse that I’m making a second and unplanned trip to Costco or Aldi that week because A) I either forget something the first time or B) my kids decided they suddenly loved Oreos more than Chips-Ahoy… and yep, we’re out. Somewhere in there, if I can squeeze in a thirty minute workout on the elliptical at the Y and/or my weekly reward of a tall decaf nonfat latte from Starbucks, I find a simple and way-too-happy level of satisfaction. By late afternoon, I’m fretting half of the time that I didn’t think ahead enough to pull something out of the freezer for dinner. And the kids are hungry and cranky. And so I am. And tired.
Then there’s laundry. Endless, forever and ever laundry. Need I say more?
There are the lowest levels of motherhood that involve butt-wiping, changing out socks for ones without holes, and scraping something (I don’t know what) off the wall that’s probably been crusting there since Apollo 11. There are silent tears and woe-is-me moments in the closet.
There is the “I-need-to-take-a-shower-just-to-wash-my-damn-hair” and “I-really-need-to-shave-my-legs-so-can-I-please-take-a-short-bath?”
By the end of the day, my husband and I wonder how we do this. All of this. We hope for a good night’s sleep, for our minds to just shut down, and for more time with each other or just to ourselves tomorrow. Because it didn’t happen today.
“Welcome to motherhood,” older moms (read: empty-nesters) tell me.
Yes, thank you for that, because it wasn’t already clear to me. Unlike the glass doors to my back yard that are covered in tiny handprints.
But then there are those moments when I stop. Just stop and marvel. I watch my oldest son, who has autism, as he engages in a swim lesson and think, “My God, I love you. I’m crazy about you. I just love you.”
Or I am amazed at the stuff my four-year-old boy comes up with. The questions he asks: “Mommy, if the Earth is round, why does the ground look flat?”
And I can never not smile when my baby girl laughs and smiles at me. Even on the worst day, her happiness infects me.
This is motherhood. The thing I signed up for: taking care of little people who drive me crazy but who I’m crazy for.
And yet… sometimes I ask: Who am I?
Sometimes I just feel like a servant who cleans up poop, feeds everyone else before her, worries about her kids endlessly, talks only about her kids with other moms, who… talk about their kids.
I am a mom, first and foremost.
But I am also me, Cynthia “Cyndi” Hilston.
If you’re a mom, I suspect you know what I’m getting at. You probably find yourself identifying with other moms as you all wonder: “Is my kid the worst behaved kid in the world?” “What doctor do you take your kid to?” “Are you happy with such-and-such school? Do you feel like you have no time to yourself anymore?” “When’s the last time you went on a date?”
So I asked other moms: Do you feel like you have an identity apart from being a mother? Do you have something that you do that’s only for yourself? How do others see you?
Because, although we’re moms, we’re more than that.
It reminds me of people, who, when asked their name, also say, “Hi, I’m Tom Smith, and I’m a mechanical engineer.” As if their job title were their identity.
Or when someone has depression and others use that label to basically define them. Or autism. Or ADHD. Take your pick.
People are more than their jobs. People are more than their mental conditions. People are also more than just parents.
I believe we are more than the sum of our parts of our identity, but somewhere along the way of being moms, many of us feel like we’ve lost who we are as a whole person.
Being a mother is very fulfilling, but it’s also the most challenging, most draining “job” you’ll ever have.
We live vicariously through our children. We cheer for them on the sidelines at soccer games. We cry with them when they didn’t get the grade they wanted on the paper they worked extra hard on. We laugh with them when they’re telling silly jokes that don’t really make sense. We hurt for them when we watch, helpless, as they suffer with a lifelong learning disability, or even a short term illness, like a cold.
But we all know that we can’t really live our lives through others. Yes, even our children.
Because they are their own people. One day, they will grow up and move on, although hopefully not out of our lives! We want them to grow up to be independent, happy, healthy, successful – any number of good things.
But some of us are also fearful of feeling left behind. Empty. Forgotten.
Because… without our kids, what are we?
When I posed my identity questions to other moms, the responses were overwhelming. Mothers obviously had a lot to say on the subject. Although not everyone felt like they had trouble with the “Who am I?” question, many moms admitted to feeling like they have no idea who they are without their kids. It downright scares some. Many stated that they feel awkward talking with other adults about anything other than their kids.
Although it’s impossible to put people into perfectly separate groups, trends became apparent once moms started answering my questions. Mothers who continued working, whether full time or part time, admitted to feeling like they still have an identity apart from being only a mom. Having a place they go to daily for a few hours gives them adult interaction and fulfills something that many stay-at-home moms feel they lack. Many moms who work full time, however, admitted to feeling guilty that they don’t get to spend enough time with their kids. So, even though a mother works, she still seems to identify first at a mom.
Those who work part time feel it gives them the time with their kids and the time they need to feel like they are doing something for themselves and getting to talk with other adults. Many of the stay-at-home moms who feel they’ve lost their identity beyond “mom” thought working part time might help them regain some of what they’ve lost.
To further complicate matters, some moms feel judged because they work or stay home with their kids. It seems like an already frazzled, stressed mom just can’t win! This topic is enough to generate into whole other blog, so I won’t further ponder this. I will say this, however: It’s unfair to judge a mom for working and say that she’s selfish for not spending more time with her kids; it’s just as unfair to judge a mom for staying at home and say that she’s lazy, as if being a stay-at-home mom isn’t a job! Um, excuse me?
But I digress — sorry.
Working part time isn’t the only option for helping a mom keep her whole person. Some moms take classes, volunteer in the PTA or in other school programs, go running, do independent sales jobs, and make sure to schedule time to spend with their friends and husbands/partners.
In the struggle to keep up with friends, many moms also stated that they don’t know what they would do if they didn’t have their fellow mom friends and neighbors. Despite questioning their sanity, like I have on numerous occasions, most moms believe that having kids has given them purpose in life and that they like who they are more as a person now that they are mothers.
So, where do we find our balance? Because that’s what it all seems to be about. Balance.
We juggle schedules daily, trying to remember if it’s Meet the Teacher on Monday or Tuesday evening for William and if Wednesday was supposed to be Lexi’s ballet practice. We drive from one event to another, driving ourselves slowly crazy, until it all boils over like a pot of over-cooked spaghetti noodles.
My suggestion would be to start simple. If you really feel like you have absolutely no “you” time, take five or ten minutes a day. It can be whenever, whether scheduled or not. I sometimes like to do this right before bed, even though I’m tired. I can just lie there and think about my day and where I can be thankful. Read for ten minutes. Write a simple journal entry. It doesn’t have to be much, but it’s something that’s just for YOU.
As impossible as this may sound, try to schedule date nights (whether once a month, every other month, or every season), but try not to go more than three months without going out with your husband/partner on a date. The biggest strain on a marriage is children. It’s even more important to keep in touch with your significant other now that you’re parents. If money is an issue, just go somewhere for an hour and take a walk. Walk the mall if it’s winter. Tell yourself that it’s just as important that you have that date night as it is taking your kid to the doctor.
Also make time (again, once a month to every three months) to hang out with your friends. Even if it’s just movie night at one of your houses after the kids are in bed. It’s something!
Dates and getting together with friends don’t have to cost a ton of time and money. We can always come up with a zillion excuses about why we can’t find the time or money, but the truth is, if something matters and is important, then you can make time for it. Re-evaluate your weekly schedule. If you’re constantly driving around, ask if your kids are too involved or if you’re too stressed out because you’re spreading yourself too thin. It’s okay to say “no!” Really, it is! Sometimes I think a mom just needs to hear someone else tell her that it’s okay to actually say it. So, I’m giving you permission to say “no.” (Not that you needed my permission!)
Finally, if you’re not doing something for just you, find something. Maybe you had a hobby that you let fall to the wayside after having kids? Try it again. Or discover something new. Mine is writing.
I’m going to be trying a yoga class next month. I also make sure to get a massage once per month. There’s nothing selfish about taking care of yourself, because remember, if you don’t take care of you, you aren’t much help to anyone else, including your kids.
So, it’s hard. There’s no denying that. But the moms that said they feel like they still have an identity apart from being a mom have managed the balancing act in their lives.
However you manage to find that balance, keep it in mind, and when it starts to feel unbalanced, go back and rethink things. You matter. You are a mom, so you’re already amazing. But you’re also you. And that’s pretty amazing, too.
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