Before I became a wife and a mom, I was This Girl.
I never thought I wanted to have kids. It was never in the cards for me. I was never around kids growing up, and I was awkward with small children, to say the least. When I took Early Childhood Development in high school, I was the girl who stood in the back while the little guys all filed in and I just waited...until one quiet little girl came and attached herself to me. My heart melted, and I loved her VERY much, but I looked at the other little kids and just didn't feel anything really.
I was also never the girl who got all ooey gooey over babies. I held them like they were footballs, and as soon as they started to cry I handed them over to their parents. And they ALWAYS cried when I held them. It was insufferable. I remember one time when my godson was very small, his mother was upstairs getting dressed and I was holding him. He started to cry, and I didn't know what to do, and his mother wasn't concerned (as most mothers who get a moment to themselves aren't concerned), so I did what I would have done with my cats if they were upset - I put my hands over his eyes. It calmed him, and when his mother came downstairs and burst out laughing, I was totally baffled. I had absolutely no idea that soothing a crying child didn't mean covering their eyes like an alligator.
And then I met Hershey. He was a total game changer. He was nothing like any of the men I had dated, and he wanted to settle down and start a big family. Our relationship moved fast, and before I knew it we were living together and talking "future". When he told me that he wanted four kids, I started to sweat. I didn't want any! As an only child with only one younger cousin, I had no idea how I would ever raise a kid - let alone 4!!! I looked him dead in the eye and said, "I don't know if I want kids at all." I will never forget what happened next.
"Well, I want you more than I want kids, so we can figure it out when we get there, but if you never want kids, as long as I'm with you, we'll be a family."
How do you NOT marry that man?!? And how do you not give that man a family?
So when it came time to start talking about kids, I caved. "Let's try to have one."
One. A baby. One baby.
What I didn't know in this picture was that I would totally lose myself in the process of becoming a mother. The girl in the picture at the top? She was gone. She was replaced by this woman who was terrified, and protective, and exhausted, and cautious, and who's world revolved around these two tiny people. All of the things that I LOVED (cooking, hiking, reading, writing, being with my husband, being alone) were replaced by washing and sterilizing bottles, researching and making baby food, trying to figure out how to raise kids who were compassionate, and wise, and sweet, and brave, and fretting over the overall health and wellness of my children. And alone? I was NEVER alone anymore.
Now, I still, to this day, am not a kid person. I don't use those cute little baby coos to talk to anyone's kids. I talk to them like they are little adults. I don't mince words. Just this morning I told my one 3 year old that she was "antagonizing" the other 3 year old. To which she replied, "I am NOT natagogizing her!!!" Jane also told Emma that she was "being ridiculous" the other day, and Emma told Jane that her hair was "aggressive" when she took her hat off in the car last week. It actually drives me insane when other people baby talk my kids.
And that's about the only thing that's stayed the same.
So, what happened in the process of becoming a mother? It happened overnight. Some women are born to be mothers. Their maternal instinct is strong, and when they become mothers, not much changes. They are still sweet and nurturing. Their worlds still revolve around their families. They balance motherhood and laundry and wifery and grocery shopping with their own interests in a way that is natural.
I am not that woman. I didn't even realize that I had lost myself, until one day I realized that I was angry, and resentful, and my husband no longer looked at me the same way. Instead of books for pleasure, every book that I read was about caring for children. Since I wasn't a natural mother, I was desperate to figure this thing out, but I woke up and didn't know who I was anymore.
And the worst part? It was all gone and I didn't even realize it.
Taking steps to get back to that woman have been difficult. It has been hard to try to overcome the guilt that comes with wanting time to yourself apart from your children as a mother. There are times that I pick up a book for me and see the Raising Lifelong Learners book sitting underneath it and feel like maybe I'm doing the wrong thing.
There are a few things that I have had to really embrace in order to try to get over that.
1. Children learn by example more than anything. Taking time for myself is teaching THEM that it's ok to take time for yourself. It's ok to have alone time. (Emma will go into her room sometimes and say, "I just want some alone time!" and I have to respect that! It's what I've taught her, after all.) It's teaching them that it's perfectly fine to have interests that are their own OUTSIDE of the rest of the people living in the house with them!
2. As I am making MYSELF better, I am becoming a better mama and wife for them. If I have an hour to myself every day, I am less likely to snap, I will be more well-rested MENTALLY, I will feel like what I want is valued, and that, in turn, will make me value my time with them even more.
3. What I make a priority will become their priorities. If I eat healthy, they will eat healthy. If I make family dinners a priority, so will they. If I workout, and they see me working out, they will be more likely to be active. If I sit down and read a book, they will sit down and read a book. If I laugh, they will laugh. And although they are only 3 years old, I already see these habits taking hold. And habits formed at this young age will have a STRONG hold.
4. I am only one person, and I can only do so much. We all have the SAME 24 hours in a day, and I need to figure out how to best spend those hours. Do I want to spend them buried in a book about raising learners, or do I want to RAISE LEARNERS? Do I want to spend 15 minutes EVERY NIGHT figuring out what to make for dinner (2 hours total), finally giving in and just ordering something that I have NO CONTROL OVER, OR do I want to spend an hour on the weekend meal prepping and planning, and then an hour while my kids nap chopping up veggies and getting ready for the week?
5. I was a girlfriend and a wife BEFORE I was a mother, and although we are in the trenches of raising these kids together, he is there, too, and he needs things, too, and it is easy to feel WORLDS apart in those trenches. And the reality is, we are raising these kids to LEAVE US one day, and when they leave, who will be left? If we do a little bit of work NOW to stay the course, a couple of things will happen: first and foremost, we will teach our children what healthy relationships look like, and they will expect nothing less when it's time for THEM to have relationships of their own...they'll know how to treat their significant others, they'll know how to fight fair, they'll know how to apologize...and second, the road to get back to one another won't seem so long and twisty when we get to that point. I don't know about you, but for me, raising kids is freaking EXHAUSTING. I don't know how much energy I will have left 15 years from now, and I would hate to look at my husband and feel like he is a stranger, and have to say to him, "I just don't have the energy to do this" and then we walk away. I don't EVER want to be THERE.
My point is this. As selfish as it feels to want time to yourself, you are really doing yourself and your family a great service by taking a little bit of time. I was mourning my former self, feeling totally lost and stumbling through life until I decided to find myself again. It has been a LONG journey back, and I am still taking small and timid steps, but it's helping, for sure. Just ask the people around me. Sure, there are roadblocks along the way. And when I leave my children I still think about them and worry about them, but that's normal. I just try to tell myself, "What you are doing is the MOST IMPORTANT work that you can do for your children."
What's holding you back? Put those thoughts out of your head TODAY! Have a chat with your spouse and come to an agreement that you will each take some time each day to do something that YOU EACH want to do.
And also, schedule a date night! Start with one GET OUT OF THE HOUSE afternoon or night a month. Maybe schedule one night a week where after the kids go to bed you order takeout and sit in front of the TV TOGETHER. Have a conversation that doesn't involve talking over children screaming.
THEN, schedule a manicure for yourself. Do some yoga. Put on a pair of headphones while you cook and listen to a podcast. Sit down and read a book for 15 minutes. Meditate. Get yourself a cup of coffee and drink it before it gets cold. Go for a hike. Go for a drive (but stay out of the McDonald's Drive Thru!).
What would YOU do if you had 30 minutes to do something for yourself (other than sleep, because we ALL know that sleep would be our first answer, always!)? Do it TODAY. Trust me.
Have a great day!