But, as I found myself watching Justin Bieber’s “Never Say Never” in the theater with my then five-year-old son, I had a Talking Heads moment: “You may ask yourself, how did I get here?” and “My God, what have I done?” (Props to my son, who thought the movie was boring and wanted to leave early).
We spend our youth and most of our lives discovering who we are, our interests, our passions, and what makes us tick. Those aspects of our lives evolve and are redefined over time, but I believe, at the core, you ideally remain true to who you are.
For parents, it can be so easy to lose yourself in the diapers, the bills, the soccer games, and ballet recitals. If you don’t make an effort to maintain your identity as an individual, it can be easy to forget who you once were, and to define yourself by the roles you play – in my case, wife, mother, daughter, sister and professional writer (of sorts).
I recently stumbled upon STFU Parents , a blog dedicated to the hilarious atrocities of sharing too much about your kids on Facebook. Laughing through the posts, I started thinking about what it means when parents talk about nothing but their kids on social media and in person.
As I wrote in a recent parenting confession, I think it’s important to maintain my own personal interests beyond parenthood. The person I was before I had children is still here, and she has plenty to talk about other than children.
STFU Parents’ tagline: “You used to be fun, now you have a baby,” is pretty harsh, but often true. When I asked the blog’s creator, who goes by “B,” whether it was possible to be fun even when you have a child, her answer could give hope to all of us hopelessly uncool parents.
“I’m happy to say I know plenty of cool, fun parents,” B said. “In order to be a fun person after having kids, you need to retain that sense of self. Even if you’re inclined to lean into those obsessive parenting traps, you have to force yourself to remember who you were before you had kids, for your sanity and for the sanity of others. It’ll probably result in a happier kid, too!”
The struggle to maintain your personal identity exists for parents whether you are working outside the home or stay at home with your children, and it’s one that Houston psychotherapist Tobie J. Oidtmann sees frequently in her practice.
Oidtmann, who has two adult children, was a stay-at-home-mother when her children were young, and went back to graduate school to become a psychotherapist once her children were in high school and college.
“Years ago, women were socialized to be ‘wife-mothers,’ that was it,” she said. “Today, they’ve been educated, many with graduate degrees, and they have professions. Many of them enjoy being a parent, but I have a lot of clients who say, ‘What’s wrong with me? I have everything I might ever imagine, but I am miserable.’ That misery is traced back to somehow losing who they are in the roles of being a wife and mother. It’s a very common issue for women today.”
Oidtmann stresses the importance of making time for yourself, even 15-30 minutes a day, and your partner as well as maintaining and exploring new interests. The “loss of self” can be detrimental to your own mental health and it can adversely affect your marriage and your relationship with your children, Oidtmann said.
“As mothers, it’s important that we model to our children we are a wife and a mother, but there are also other parts of ourselves that make us who we are,” Oidtmann said. “If women only define themselves through their children, they are going to be lost when those children leave the nest, or they’re going to be these mothers-in-law that everybody tells jokes about.”
Oidtmann illustrated a common scenario for couples whose children are grown: A couple is eating in a restaurant eating a wonderful meal with eyes downcast and mouths downturned, not saying a word to each other. If you spend your marriage completely focused on your children, what else is there to talk about once the kids are gone?
“As a couple, take time with one another at least once a week,” Oidtmann said. “You and your partner came together for a reason, not just to raise children and pay bills. If Mom and Dad are having fun and happy together, the children know it. If Mom and Dad are bored and going through the motions, the kids can become sober-sighted later in life as well.”
Date night once a week? Doesn’t that only happen in the movies? It sounds nearly impossible when you have young kids. It might be doable with older kids, if you have an army of dependable babysitters on retainer.
Emily Tower was a newspaper journalist in Texas and a public affairs specialist for West Point Academy among other jobs before her daughter, Allison, now 14-months, was born. Tower’s husband, Dan, is an Army officer who was deployed in Iraq for most of her pregnancy and the first months after her daughter’s birth.
Now as a stay-at-home-mom, Tower has experienced more than her share of challenges in the first year of parenthood, but she is grateful for the support she receives from her husband, family and network of Army wives and friends.
“If we can figure out how to roll with what life hands us and adapt to situations while also reminding ourselves of who we have always been, I think we can be ‘lost’ to certain situations in life without losing ourselves completely,” Tower said. “Parts of me might have to lay quieter as the mother part of me has to come to the forefront, but that doesn’t mean they are lost.”
As she is adjusting to the changes that parenthood brings, she has re-evaluated what is truly important and seen many positive changes in herself.
“I feel stronger and more confident,” Tower said. “I’ve always been independent, but having a baby by myself for five months while Dan was deployed and still having all of the responsibilities that come with being an officer’s spouse and handling it all without losing my mind, really helped me prove to myself that I can handle a lot more than I think. I do feel like I’m the same person I have been, but I stop to appreciate the little things more. Having a child also helped me relax in general and just laugh at myself more.”
I’m still me, I just know the words to Justin Bieber songs now.
-Elise Rambaud Marrion @emarrion_cmn