Inspired by Dr. Lanham’s post last week about preparing for a child to leave the nest, I got thinking about what my own identities are beyond just being a mom. Aware that we all go through metamorphoses, we grow, evolve and change identities many times in life, I wanted to make sure I was in touch with who I am because I know it’s more than “MOM!”
Before having kids, I spent most of my life trying to grow up. In my twenties, I got bitten by the bug and started traveling internationally, specifically, backpacking. One of the things I found most thrilling about traveling was the ability to “reinvent myself” at every new destination. I keenly remember trying hard to avoid labels; especially the label of being American. I even went so far, while traveling in the Middle East, as to sew a patch of the Canadian flag on my pack. I discovered a lot about myself that decade.
For one, I discovered that I really LIKED being an American. That the country I was born in is a terrific place, full of errors, idiosyncrasies, diversity and opportunities. I also discovered that there’s empowerment in being alone, that I don’t always need to be around people to feel good (though I often prefer it). I honed my survival skills, learned a lot about other countries and cultures over meals at bars and in transit. I also learned, when enough was enough, to come home.
My next identity was as a professional. I picked a city that felt like home (Boston) and tried on a few vocations that seemed to fit (mostly ones focused on connecting people to places and working within a team). I discovered that I liked working with people, being part of a team and having financial independence but also recognized that I hadn’t yet found my life-long ambition. When the time came, I opted out of (the traditional) work force.
For the past five years I’ve been a mom. It’s an identity I’ve struggled a lot with.
Though I love my own mother a great deal, she wasn’t around much when I was young. My parents divorced when I was seven, and my mom moved from the East Coast to California. My mother-in-law, though a dynamic and loving person, is a life-long career woman and entrepreneur. So, when I became a mother myself, I had lots of questions but few resources for the answers.
I loved the novelty of the first two years of motherhood, the developmental milestones and accomplishments of a first child. But some of that had worn off by the time our second child arrived. Let’s face it, motherhood can be a lonely ride. Without work colleagues or family nearby, I’ve been left to rely on my work-drained husband and vapid encounters with other parents—in playgroups, parenting circles, toddler classes and at the playground—for adult interaction. I am often left wanting.
For the last two years, now that my kids are 5 and 2, I’ve focused on getting back in touch with my own identity. With what I like to do, who I want to become, not just who I hope my kids might some day become.
I’ve discovered that I really, genuinely and passionately LOVE writing, even though it’s not a vocation particularly suited to extroverts. I love recognizing grammatical errors, trying to avoid passive voice (a constant struggle) trimming down flowery language. Deadlines! It helps me keep my vocabulary honed at a level above Kindergarten. It gives me an ambition and it connects me (often silently) to a whole other world. Like this world of mom bloggers for example. It also gives me a modicum of financial independence. Getting paid for freelance work helps me justify some minor frivolities (mainly for my kids) and to feel good about contributing something to our bottom-line.
So, if you like to write, get yourself out there! Try maintaining a company blog or submitting an article for print. Try combing LinkedIn or Face Book for contacts that might benefit from your writing services. Try doing it for pay!
I’ve also discovered that if I’m going to generate ideas, I better be prepared to help implement them. I’ve gotten involved on many pro bono levels with hiring committees, governing boards, activity coordinating and networking. I am at peace knowing that, when that day on the near horizon arrives, I’ll be ready to get back into the work force (beyond the freelance world) with a long and relevant list of experiences and activities to fill the gaps in my Curriculum Vitae.
If you want to stay current, to keep yourself marketable in the workforce, volunteer! Get involved with school boards, local organizations that you and your kids frequent. Apply your talents free of charge and build up experiences that you can apply in the professional world.
One thing I’ve been slow to discover is that having active kids isn’t enough to get me back in shape. It’s hard–between writing deadlines, kid activities, a business traveling spouse–to carve out time for myself but with a little creativity (and discipline) it IS possible. Next year, I turn 40. If I want to slow the clock, I better take action and fine tune my human machine. So I’ve started training for a sprint triathlon (800M swim, 15K bike ride and 5K run). It may not be remarkable but it’s a goal, it’s my goal and it’s obtainable.
In otherwords: Get back out there and get (back) in shape! Find time in the morning, before the kid(s) wake up, to take a jog or a swift walk. Swim. Go for a bike ride. Do sit ups before you get into bed at night. Your biggest foe is motivation, once you conquer that, you’ll find a new (or maybe the old) you.
And finally, I’m learning, as my kids get older and increasingly more fun and interactive, that it’s really easy to turn our children into our personal entertainment outlets. We conjure up fun outings and rely on our kids as companions. I revel in this fleeting time with my kids, but I also can see the downside of living life through them.
It’s important to hold on to our adult friends too; especially friends without kids or whose kids are older or younger than our own. Friends, like the relationships we have with our spouses, are life lines. Someday (soon) our kids will be grown and out of the nest, and we need to remember who and what we love beyond our children.
Are you still in touch with the person you were before you became a mom? Do you still have non-mom hobbies and passions? What self-preservation tools are you discovering along the way?
This is an original post for World Moms Blog by mom of two, Kyla P’an. You can find more of Kyla’s (infrequent) musings about motherhood and life in general on her personal blog, Growing Muses. Or via past posts for World Moms Blog concerning circumcision, life’s balancing act, traveling with kids and being in transit.
Photo credit to Kilarin. This photo has a creative commons attribution license.