Be a Better Parent without Forgeting about Yourself

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This is a post for parents. For mothers and fathers whose lives have done an entire 180 and have landed *splat* face down on the sidewalk since they have had children. After five years of parenting, I consider myself entirely too enlightened about one key factor: the you, the “you” you knew before your kids were left in a bundle on your doorstep, will become a scarce, mythical beast, read only about in fairy tales, lest you corner that old “you”, wrastle it to the ground and trap it in a place you can access on a daily basis.

What am I on about? Parents know. Its the days of wearing old t-shirts because your breasts are leaking constantly. Its cutting your hair because you are tired of having it yanked out a strand at a time. Its crushed crackers in a diaper bag, while all the cute bags slowly fade out of style in your closet. Its Friday nights asleep on the couch while a well intentioned DVD plays in the background. Its the groundhog days filled with time outs, thrown applesauce, nails down the chalk board screams, flushed toys and poopy diaper wrestling. It’s considering your annual trip to your OBGYN “a day out”. It’s never having a private moment in the bathroom. Ever.

Please. To all my brothers and sisters in the trenches of parenthood. Take a look around. When was the last time you went on a date with your partner? When was the last time you wore something “dry clean only”? When was the last time you left the house without diapers, snacks, sippy cups, and an outift change? When was the last time you slept somewhere away from your children and then – gasp – allowed yourself to sleep in past 7am?

It is so very important to remember what makes you happy. Yes, yes. Your happy child makes you happy. So does 8pm when they are (God willing) in bed finally. But what makes YOU tick? Before kids. Did you like to read? (And I don’t mean board books.) Did you have a hobby? Did you see friends often? Did you exercise? Did you have actual leisure time?

Did you?

Do you have any of that stuff now? No??? Go find it. Quick. Hire a sitter, even if it costs money. Figure out a girls night out. Have a friend take the kids for an afternoon. Check the guilt at the door and do something for YOURSELF.

Because if you don’t, you will truly lose yourself and your mind. You will forget who you are. You will actually forget what you truly LIKE to do. All of the sudden, ALL that you know about yourself is being… well… a parent. Take away the kids, and suddenly there is nothing left. Your identity is simply… a mom. Or a dad.

And it can happen so quickly. You’re there and then *POOF*, suddenly, you’re gone.

No disrespect of course. Being a parent is an incredible and, yes, noble job. It is an honorable identity to assume, and every parent should claim that title with pride. As my aunt always reminds me, parenting it the hardest job there is. Yeah, you bet your animal crackers it is. And THAT’S exactly why its so easy to loose yourself. There is so much to do while parenting that when you forget about the “you” stuff, the “kid” stuff seeps in and fills in all the cracks. There is always a sippy cup to fill, a puzzle to make, and a nose – or bum – to wipe. Just let someone else do it once in awhile, that’s all. It will still be there when you get back. No one will take the title of “mom” or “dad” away from you. Just be your first name, the name you had before “mom” or “dad”, once and awhile.

Have you still not shaken your parental guilt to consider more time for yourself? Don’t forget that when you are happier, you are a happier – and therefore better – parent. And then theres the whole “absence makes the heart grow fonder” thing. When you take some time away, you do miss your kids. And upon your return, you and your partner will actually fight for the chance to change a poopy diaper. Seriously, it happens.

And I know the tough times of parenting are fleeting. I am betting my wiser readers who have been parents longer than I have are pleading to me “Oh but enjoy these tough days. Enjoy your child before he grows up. They will be gone in an instant!”

Sadly, I know that. And I fear that. Everyday I bring my 5 year old home from school and I hold him tight tight tight because I can literally feel his mind and body growing in my arms. But that is also my point. They DO grow up so damn fast. And then in an instant, they are off to college. Where does that leave you? If your child went to college today (forget that he or she is a 2 year old toddler) – who would you be right now? How would you identify yourself? What kind of fun would you have with your spouse? Do you know? You need to know. Think about it.

Now please do not assume I actually have this figured out. (Snort.) Honestly? I am writing this post while deeply in the trenches of an extraordinarily all consuming phase of parenting. My husband is just about to begin his season and that will require him to work six days a week, working as late as 10pm. But in the midst of this time, while I raise these wonderful but tough kids of mine and my husband works so that I can take care of these wonderful but tough kids of ours, I am trying to keep track of myself. For instance, I write when I have any time, from my home, with the kids here next to me. While multi-tasking this mommy stuff, I am hoping to piece together some clue so I can be a better (potentially paid) writer “when I grow up”. And I have started running. Insane, right? But I’m into it (I’ll even go before my husband leaves for work) and now dream of finding some way to have my kids watched so I can run a 5K.

Granted, I keep reminding myself to keep my expectations reasonable. Diaper changing, referreeing the rules of sharing and helping with homework is just what I do for now. But dreaming, and clinging stubbornly onto what truly makes me tick, does allow me to be more than just “Mom” – but “Caroline” too.

The picture posted above is of me with my boys. It was taken about a year and a half ago and might be titled “Me as Mommy”. It is one of my favorites as I am caught in a very typical, absolutely wonderful, however all consuming parenting moment.

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8 Comments

Filed under Aging, Boys, Children, Deep thoughts, Family, Fathers, Growing up, Guilt and motherhood, Identity crisis, Marriage, Mothers, Parenting, Reality check

8 responses to “Be a Better Parent without Forgeting about Yourself

  1. Bless your heart! This is exactly what I needed to read tonight before heading off to bed. You made me laught, then cry, and then laught again! I spoke on the phone earlier today with a friend – mother of 10 (32 years old!) about this same thing. ZZFunny thing is I only have 4 kids and it was she telling me that I needed to start going out on dates with my husband. I had a tea party tonight and when I invited her she said that she couldn’t come cuz it was date night! I also just emailed another friend – mom of 8= about the same thing earlier. I’ll send her the link!

  2. Actually? I’m rocking at this in the past six months or so.

    Last time FireDad & I went on a date? Let me do you one better. We WENT AWAY FOR THE WEEKEND two weeks ago. We’ve gone on monthly dates since mid-summer and will continue to do so. Until March. When we go away for the weekend again. We like being us. (Of note, it wasn’t until I started to pull out of the PPD that I really started to focus on our relationship again.)

    And? Time for me? I’m getting a sauna treatment and massage tomorrow. Granted, that was a gift from FireDad. But mmmmassage. Also? I joined the local singing group for this season and it has been SO good getting back to what really used to make me tick.

    I like who I have become. My children have shaped who I am in so many ways. But? I was pretty awesome to start with and remembering that in the past year has been such a blessing to so many relationships. Not least of all how I parent my children.

  3. I so get how you feel. As much as my children are my world, I was so consumed by my role as mom, that I didn’t know who I was any more. I spent 4 years having my hubby travel 5 days a week. We lived in a state where we had no family. My kids were 3 mos., 3 yrs, and 7 yrs. old when that began. When my oldest entered middle school, I realized that I needed to figure out who I was. My hubby was very supportive of my quest – that is so helpful. I explored all of the activities I had even considered when the kids were small – beginning with bellydancing lessons (they helped me to realize that even after 3 kids, I could still be sensual), going back to school (still a work in progress), writing, and various hobbies. I realized that I am ever evolving. Even those years are spent being lost in momhood, there is always a little spark of ourselves hidden under all the laundry, poopy diapers, yucky bottles that have rolled under the couch, and the speghettio stained carpets that envelope us. Take in from personal experience (my kids are now 12,14, and 19) loving my children and wanting them to see who I was outside of “mom” was the kindling that helped my little spark become a bright burning flame!

  4. Great post! I am guilty of all the above. It came to a point when I went to find jeans to “dress-up” SOOOOO BAD

  5. Lemme tell you, this is essential! After my divorce, all of the divorced moms at my son’s elementary school often said to each other that we came to enjoy visitation weekends because we got a break from our kids and a chance to be an adult and even date—but we really wish we had made that happen for ourselves before the divorce, with our spouses. (Of course that’s not the only reason, and divorces are sometimes the best thing, but the point is giving up time alone and alone with your spouse doesn’t help your family in the long run.) Heed the advice of the divorced! I am not making that mistake in my current relationship.

  6. I think any of us could insert ourselves in that photo and feel and breathe the moment. I’ve been watching old videos of my sons and am astounded at how they’ve changed in just a year. It is heartwarming and heartwrenching at the same time. But you are so right, we must hang on to wee bit of ourselves because we will need it again. We set a better example for our children this way. I truly believe that, regardless of the guilt that comes with it. So tell me when you want to run that 5K, and I’ll fly down to watch your boys. It’s not like I won’t know what I’m getting into.

    I’m going to tweet this post.

  7. I was going to type something clever here but a 2-year-old sucked out my brain before I could finish my thought.

    Sorry.

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