Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Losing Your Self in Parenting

I read a lot of blogs and articles about parenting in my free time (you know, that 5 minutes you have between their bedtime and your bedtime). I was reading an article today about single parenting and 10 women weighed in on the difficult parts of being a single parent. One said it was hard not to lose your "self" in parenting and I thought, "Isn't that hard for everyone?" I mean it may be especially hard when you're the only parent, but I see it in parents who are still with their partner as well.

The "self" can be seen as the part of you that distinguishes you from others. As an adolescent, as a young adult, someone without kids, we are free to define that self as we please. Before I married Mike, before I had kids, I would have defined my self as a psychologist, as a therapist, as a professor, as a crafter (I have always loved to knit and create things from other things, like making a collage), as an academic (I always had my face buried in a book or an article), as a friend, and as a daughter. When I married Mike, I added "wife" to that list, and it changed how I thought about myself and how I thought about what I did. For example, when you go to the grocery store as a single person, you get whatever the hell you want, because why not right? It's you eating it. I used to eat Ramen Noodles and Black Bean Burgers with pepperjack cheese on a bun probably 3 nights a week. I'd buy wine and cosmopolitan mix (and good vodka) and have hair dying parties with lots of alcohol and a good friend as often as possible. Then I got married and even grocery shopping changed - now if I saw something new I wanted to try, I'd grab one, put it in my cart, then a thought would come up, "Maybe Mike might like that too?" so I'd try to find something he would like. It was an adjustment even in just that small area of my life. I read less and spent more time hanging out with my husband. I still used to bring work home with me in the form of papers to grade, and many nights I'd sit alone as he watched TV or while he was working, grading papers. But I'd feel guilty because I wasn't spending all my time with him. So I developed a way to not bring as much work home.

Then we had kids. Well we had Silas. I stayed home with Silas for the first 4 months or so because I had him during summer break. Mike still worked, so I spent a lot more time with Si than he did. I ended up being the one that got up and fed him and changed him. I investigated cloth diapers and started using them. I took him to all his appointments. I washed his diapers. I cooked. I cleaned. I was tired a lot (especially because newborns don't sleep long stretches like us adults need). Rather than going to the store and thinking about what do Mike and I want to eat, I ended up spending some time in the baby section now too. Clothes, formula, gear (swing? bouncer? toddler bed when?) then food (stage 1? stage 2? WTF? Where's my phone, I need to Google that stuff), cups (is he old enough for this one?), silverware, self-feeding, do we need different plates for this little dude? Becoming a parent, having "parent" become part of my self, how I saw myself, was very quick for me. And maybe it is more so for women than it is for men because they carry the baby, they nurse the baby (maybe, if they can), things like that.

But even now, three years after having our first child in April 2010, I'm still the one who does a bulk of what I think of as "parenting prep." I buy Silas' clothes and shoes. I look at Sage and figure out if he's ready to size up (and find the buckets of those clothes and wash them to get them ready for when he does size up). That reminds me, Silas needs 5T pants - it's gotten chilly here and I have 2 pairs of pants for him only. 5T is a B to find! I get home from work and start putting together dinners for everyone - the boys usually eat the same thing and Mike and I eat the same thing. I get pajamas ready so that when baths are done PJs and diapers are ready to go. I make sure post-bath milk cups are ready. I do the laundry so everyone has clean clothes. I clean up after dinner (sometimes with Mike, sometimes without). I wash diapers. I wash the boys' wool PJs. Mike does baths. We wrangle wet boys. They drink milk, watch a show, then we brush teeth and read a book. Then the bedtime struggle ensues (for Silas). Now it's, "But I have to poop!" He's gotten up to use the potty twice since I sat down to write this. Mike thinks it's a stall tactic but most nights he does actually poop.

That's me (not really)
So where is the "self" in all of this? I mean sure you can see how I define my self in relation to my children. I'm their Mommy, Momma, Mamama (Sage). I spend most of my time doing for others, and most days I'm fine with that. Every once in a while I wish I could go back to that time where I sat on my couch in my attic apartment in Providence, RI and knitted until I was tired and went to bed when I wanted to (rather than going to bed because everyone else is finally in bed and I'm quite literally brain exhausted). I go running some days. I exercise at least 30 minutes a day (but usually there's at least one child attempting to "help" or copy me). I blog (at 10 p.m. under a camouflage blanket where nobody can see me). I've been reading the same "for fun" book since June. And no it's not 1,000 pages long.

My kids aren't old enough yet for sports and we don't know enough kids for play dates, so I'm betting that the time I spend with them watching movies or playing dinosaurs (today it was rockets) will change and I'll spend my time driving them to and fro. I don't see the amount of time I have to spend on "me" or even with my husband changing any time soon. I wish I could change it just a little bit, but if I did I think I'd feel guilty. I work 40+ hours per week. Mike worked 55 hours last week. The boys hang with their nanny more than they do with us. We see them for an hour in the morning (and that's "get dressed and get your butts in the car") and three and a half hours at night, and that's it on the week days. Weekends we spend more time together, but I feel as if that's "make up" for all the time we didn't spend Monday - Friday.

In the end, as a parent, any parent, single or not, it's hard not to lose your self in parenting. It's hard to not focus on "being someone's Mom" and to instead focus on what you as a human, as an adult, want. I bet that's why people have trouble with "empty nest syndrome" or whatever you want to call it - once you don't have your kids to define you anymore, what do you do? Who are you? It's like you need to rebuild that self from the ground up.

What do you think that you can do to maintain some sense of "self" as a parent? Do you think it's possible?