I’ve spoken before about the loss of identity that comes with parenting.
Its a strange phenomenon.
On one hand you become so much more than you were before, you become someone you never imagined you could be.
You do things you didn’t know you were capable of.
You become so strong and so resilient and you love like you could never have believed was possible.
But along the way you lose some of the things that made you, you.
You sacrifice and you grow and you nurture the parts of you that your family needs and that means some of the other parts fall by the wayside but, you’re oblivious to it because so many other things come before you now.
You rarely give yourself a second thought. Your family always comes first.
And when you become a parent, its not just things like going out or late nights and lazy mornings that get left behind- parts of your soul change.
Your wardrobe changes because you have to be practical, you cannot chase a toddler through a supermarket in high heels.
Your music taste changes because Slayer or Dr Dre aren’t suitable for little ears.
You find yourself humming Disney tunes while your scrub mould off of bath toys on a Saturday night instead of downing margaritas with your girlfriends.
You have the realisation that you will never truly be free again and you’re OK with it, but its daunting, isn’t it? You will never be truly free again.
After you have children, sometimes you stay at home and sometimes you work and sometimes you stay at home AND work but whichever way you look at it, you give.
All your time and energy and focus goes into other people and other things and its not just working and nurturing, its all the emotional labour stuff too – all those other things that take up your time but are not actually considered as “Work”
Its the washing.
Its paying the power bill.
Its writing the shopping list, the budget, the meal plan.
Its worrying about finances and being there for assemblies or parent teacher meetings.
Its having the saintly patience required to listen to a very long winded story about something you don’t care about.
Its wiping snotty noses, picking up toys, reading stories, doing the voices, looking for socks, answering questions, calling the gas company, talking about insurances and picking up toys.
Its arranging your kids social life while ignoring your own.
Its cheering on the sideline, wiping away tears and clipping toe nails.
Its worrying if you’re making the right choices and constantly questioning if you’re good enough.
Its wanting a bit more attention, to feel a bit more valued but not knowing how to ask for it. Theres no end of month bonus for doing a good job. There’s no end goal and there’s very little sense of achievement because no matter how many loads of laundry you do, that basket doesn’t stay empty long.
There is very little time and energy left over for you to give to yourself and we think “that’s OK, everyone else has everything they need and that’s my role so i’m satisfied, job well done”
And while that might get you through for now and you might be able to ride that wave of benevolent satisfaction for months on end, eventually its going to crash and you will end up face down, in the sand, pained and bewildered being pummeled by the waves continuing to crash down on you.
Waves of the “should dos” and “must haves”.
Waves of self doubt and comparison and expectations and things that need doing.
Waves that seem 50ft taller than they are through your tired eyes.
Waves that once seemed pretty tame but now look terrifying and overwhelming from where you lay.
You know you have to get out, take a breath and dry off because these waves are fucking relentless and if you don’t get out from under them, you’ll drown.
This is when you have to find your “thing.”
In my 10 years of parenting, there are still many things i’m unsure of but one thing I have learnt is that everyone has a “thing” and its what stops you from breaking. Its the thing you need to give yourself permission to do.
Often your “thing” will have nothing to do with your kids and a lot of parents punish themselves for that or are ashamed of it.
Its the “thing” that connects you to the original version of yourself and reminds you that you are still your own person. You are not a robot designed to serve others and as much as all the other roles you play bring unprecedented amounts of joy and pride and satisfaction there is still a part of you that is just yours, that needs attention.
The thing about the “thing” is, however, that every ones “thing” is different, because everyone is different.
This is where we can get a little bit stuck. And this is where we lose our joy.
This is where things start becoming beige and tasteless and no one seems to smile anymore. We start comparing ourselves again and we are very dissapointed in ourselves for being so fucking weak.
While we are trying to escape those waves we’re thinking “whats wrong with me? Other people don’t need this. Why am I not coping? Why do I feel the need to run far away from my children and responsibilities when other parents can just go do yoga and eat a leaf and feel better? why am I failing?”
Because we are all wired differently.
We don’t all like the same foods or TV shows or people. We don’t all have the same ideas, we don’t all agree on whats best and whats good and whats right so why do we expect that we should all be able cope in the same way?
Some people just seem made to be mothers and some have to work a little harder at it.
Being a Dad comes easily to some and others need a little more guidance. Its not intentional, its just the way it is.
What makes sense to one doesn’t always make sense to another.
Some people can eat pineapple on their pizza.
Some people can drink tequila or use 2 ply toilet paper or remember all the words to the national anthem and some simply cannot.
Some parents can stay at home, fulfilled that that is their lifes purpose and some simply cannot.
As a working mum, I struggled with the guilt and the juggling and the relentlessness of it all.
As a stay at home mum I struggle with the housework and the questions and the expectations and the relentlessness of it all.
Its the relentlessness that grinds me down.
Sometimes I just need to escape that and I used to find that really hard. I used to worry about what other people would think of me and that they would judge me on my inability to manage this life i had built.
But having been “Julia the mum” since I was 20, finding time for me to be just Julia, is really important to my overall well being. I’ve come to realise, that’s my thing. My thing is not being with my kids sometimes and I give myself permission to enjoy that.
So when i’m finding it hard to find joy in things that should be joyful, my husband and I go away. I get to be just Julia, without any other labels attached to me. We have really long conversations that put things into perspective. We enjoy each others company and we don’t play “rock, paper, scissors” on whose going to bath the baby.
We go out with old friends and meet new people and I realise I can still contribute to a world I thought had moved on without me while I was lost in parenthood. Maybe I don’t even talk about my kids at all because there’s this topic i’m fascinated in that is completely outside of my everyday and I want to know more about it.
Or maybe I tell stories of my kids and become proud of them all over again. Sometimes I get to talk to non-parents about parenting and I realise i’m a fucking expert and a wizard and people are genuinely impressed by how well i’m coping considering my child doesn’t sleep.
I know some people think its very selfish and spoilt of me to run away like that a few times a year but I no longer care. because that’s my thing. Because doing that helps me find my joy again and then I feel like I can be more present. I’m back to playing all my roles to the best of my ability and my kids have the best version of me.
We all struggle with different things and every now and then we all need to get off of our hamster wheels.
Some people might go to the gym or cook a gourmet meal or have a bit of a smoke when the kids are sleeping or they might read in the sun or watch make up tutorials on youtube or climb mountains or drink wine or race bikes or whatever.
Just because your thing is different to theirs it doesn’t make you bad or wrong.
Just because they cope with things differently to you, that doesn’t make you weak.
No one knows you better than you know yourself. Find your thing.