The life within us
When you have kids in elementary school, specifically one that is doing a deep dive on animals for a school project, you find yourself learning all kinds of incredibly random animal things. Recently, one fact in particular struck me.
Did you know…There are four common species of animals who die soon after giving birth? The octopus, the squid, salmon and the common mayfly.
Sigh. Of course they do. We thought our mothering was rough, yeesh!
As my girls get just a little bit older, I realize how much of myself I’ve let die since becoming their mother. Certainly some parts of me needed to die and some parts of me I didn’t know I had needed to be born, it’s a beautiful part of growing up and evolving.
BUT there was also a slow unintentional disappearing over time of a part of me that used to be filled with joy outside of my family. The part of me wasn’t constantly stressed about what my kids are eating, if they are safe, how close it is to bedtime, if I am ever going to catch up at work, if I am being a good enough mom etc. etc.….the part of me that is FUN.
I mean…we’ve all seen the memes. What is a mom’s idea of fun?
Going to the bathroom alone! Walking slowly through target aisles sipping a latte! Shopping on Amazon! Listening to parenting podcasts and books to try to be a better parent and partner! Binging trash tv!
Gosh. How freaking sad. But also….guilty here. I think I spent thousands of precious free hours in my first years of motherhood reading all about secure attachment and sleep training. Exciting!
Do my babies bring me joy? Yes! And being a parent albeit exhausting is also rewarding and worth the work. But there is also a big part of me that exists that does not fit into the role of mom, employee, wife, daughter, sister etc. And it’s been somewhat of a fight to keep that part of me visible. But I’ve fought.
I have continued working out at a gym with a community I love where I can forget about everything for 1 hour a few days a week.
I’ve taken short trips with friends to see music that brings my soul alive.
I’ve taken solo trips overnight to a local airbnb/hotel to refresh.
I’ve tried my darndest to keep writing. To keep doing things for me.
When I DO do those things I always feel so refreshed and reminded of who I am. BUT then immediately upon returning I am faced with an overwhelming amount of emotions from my littles (you know because I left them for 5 minutes -24hours), piles of laundry, and work that always seems to be undone…and then I lose myself again, often right at the front door.
I become weary and bogged down, acting like a robot fulfilling my duties until I get burned out again and I tell my husband (okay fine, I YELL) “Okay I need a break again!”
And then I realized something. Me taking breaks and leaving was great and important, but there was a huge part of this self-preservation/care process I was getting wrong. I was LEAVING in order to belong to myself…instead of also belonging to myself WHILE being a mother. Let me explain.
For so long I was so worried to say yes to myself IN FRONT of them, for fear they would feel unloved or neglected. So I did things for myself, but only when I was away from them. When I was away, I would let the real Jill out in full force, the one that is sassy, the one that is fun-loving and loves adventure and being active or the one that just loves getting lost in a book. But once I was back home, I was 100% attentive, kissing boo-boos, soothing tantrums, keeping the laundry moving and the work flowing. Until the inner Jill had enough and needed to be let out again. So basically I was keeping parts of me stuffed down inside in order to fit into my roles.
That is when I started wrestling with this question…What does it look like to belong to myself AND be a good mother? These are some examples of what it has looked like for me…
It looks like choosing to play MY music in the house sometimes and letting them see me sing and dance to it. I mean the Encanto soundtrack is good and all…but still.
It’s taking my kids out on adventures not that they just would enjoy but that I TOO would enjoy. Letting them see my bliss in catching frogs and breathing in the forest air. I really love catching frogs. Like really.
It looks like coaching my daughters soccer league but also having my own adult league I play in.
It looks like curling up with a book while they are awake (gasp! ) not just when they are asleep. Even if I only get through one chapter.
It looks like bringing them to the gym I workout at every once in a while because there is nothing better than little girls watching their Mama look strong.
It’s being silly with my husband while they are watching.
It’s getting my OWN scooter to ride 😉
And the hardest one? It’s sometimes, saying NO.
Because the tricky thing is that in order to raise girls who know in their BONES that they have their own unique personalities and joy outside of taking care of others (and boys who don’t just watch a woman serve them all the time), we have to role model that.
This often feels so counterintuitive. A crime against parenting! My goodness, it’s not like I am not saying I just ignore my children and do what I want all the time. It just means that insteading of saying yes to them all the time, I say yes to myself like every…third time.
When I leave on Tuesday nights right around bedtime to go play in my women’s soccer league, my 6 year old always gives me the guilt trip: “Lay with me! Don’t leave me!”
And in those moments, it feels like saying yes to myself is abandoning her. It feels gut wrenching like I’m screwing this whole thing up by being selfish. But what it REALLY is doing is etching into her brain that her mom is somebody. So then she has permission to be somebody too.
The world does not revolve around our children, nor should it. Teaching that unintentionally to our children will make them terrible adults (I work in higher education, TRUST ME ON THIS).
I am learning that parenting is not a 100% sacrificial act like I always thought it should be. How sad would it be, if our children never knew who we truly were outside of being their Moms? It is a gift to let them see that part of us. It is a necessity. In turn it teaches them to be aware of who THEY are.
And you know what? When I started to figure all this out, I still needed to get away…but weirdly enough..not as often anymore.
Let’s stop hiding the life within us from our children. Let’s start having fun again.