1.Pick one thing a month just for you.
For me this began with my trapeze class. I realized after watching my kids do this amazing activity for two years that I wanted in on the adventure. But for months, I paraded a laundry list of excuses many which included my time involvement as a parent. Would I be able afford a class for myself? Could I reasonably carve out the time? Being mom to five kids, there’s not a lot of resources both financial and time-wise to go around BUT I desperately needed something for me. I can say a year later it was the best thing I did for myself since becoming a parent.
Having something that is yours is about more than just getting away. It’s a way to connect back to your core.
For me, this reminder that I’m more than a parent and that I can accomplish things outside of that role gave me confidence in other areas of my life. It’s easy to forget that I don’t have to “just” be good at being a mother.
And it doesn’t have to revolve around expensive things. There are so many cheap and free classes held through the library or recreation centers. Check out your local bookstore for readings, or see if your local coffee shop has a free music show. Go for a walk. Set aside a little money to get you a book that’s not about parenting that you can read in a little hip café. The point is to pick things that nourish you as a person not you as a parent (and it’s totally cool to nourish your parent self but sometimes it needs to be about other things).
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2. Honor the space you make for yourself.
Once you pick something that you want to do, honor that space. Don’t put it off. Don’t make excuses. Pencil it into your date book (or type it in). This space is just as sacred as the time you spend with your children.
Too often we see the spaces that we create for ourselves as not as valuable as the spaces we create for other people. This happens for parents in general, but I think especially so for women. We deserve to have things that belong to just us and when we give ourselves those things we also deserve to keep that space sacred.
I think of this as holding space for me. There’s been a lot about holding space for others and of course that is an incredibly valuable way of being in the world. But I also think we have to remember that we also need to hold space for ourselves. When I make a commitment to do something for me, I surround that space with a kind of touchable aura. It’s not just about making sure I do the thing but that I see the thing as a place for me to spread and grow. It nourishes me and allows me to work towards other identities beyond “parent.”
3. Hold onto your other identities.
Almost ten years ago I went through a kind of midlife crisis. I had just finished my MA which at the time felt like something I was doing for myself. I suppose it was, but between doing this thing, and being a parent, there was a sense of nothing else left. One morning I looked in the mirror, not recognizing myself. There was this utter sense of panic as I tried to capture someone I knew in the eyes looking back at me. I ran through a montage of my past seeing flashing glimpses of someone I wanted to capture again but who was lost in the fabric of mom and graduate student.
I didn’t handle it well but I did learn that for my own peace of mind I needed to have other identities. It was okay for me to go a show and not feel like a mom. I got to wear my black leggings and my blood red lipstick while I danced the night away. Now I get to be an aerialist flying on ropes and bars. I get to be the writer at the coffee shop with her mug. These are all me. And when I am in these places, I do not always remember that I’m a mother. Sometimes I let go of that identity in the moment. It’s okay. I get to go back to being mom.
I don’t lose that identity in the face of the other people I am. I get to be all those things.
4. Balance, balance, balance.
Connected to all these things is the delicate process of balance. I feel pulled every day. It’s hard to not feel this way when bombarded with article after article about what you’re doing right/wrong with parenting. One night, I discover letting my kids do anything alone will send me straight to parenting purgatory, only to find out the next day that I really should lock them out in the backyard all day. There’s no way to win when it comes to the time one gives to parenting.
I believe it lies in balance. I’m not going to give every second to my child but I’m also not going to begrudge any of that time given to me or them. I love doing things with my children from playing games to walking to watching them do the things they love. And I also love the time I carve out for my own needs and my own things. As my kids get older, it’s been a pleasure to share those things with them explaining why I need them and allowing them to see how vital this balance is in anyone’s life. Just like I encourage them to not be all school, I hope they see that my own need to not be all parent is just as vital.
In the middle, there is a peace. When balanced, it’s easier for me to breathe and not feel so torn between my kids and myself.
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5. Remember that self-care makes you a better parent.
Being a whole person makes you a better person and a better parent. Parenting when you’re half-full is not doing anyone any favors. I’ve been in that place where my entire world revolved around my children and their needs. When we first moved, it was the first time in my life I hadn’t worked outside of the home. Within months, my whole life was all about parenting: cooking, cleaning, homeschooling, run kids to things, doing their things. I didn’t realize how deeply I’d fell until I woke up one morning not even wanting to get out of bed.
By ignoring my needs, I had zero energy to indulge my children’s needs. It was not a wonderful place to find myself and it reminded me of the time I’d looked into the mirror and no longer recognized myself.
This time instead of engaging in self-destructive behaviors, I started to build myself back up. I did self care things like therapy and meds, but I also started to do classes. I began to write again. I read trashy novels. I took walks alone. I went to music shows with my husband. Expanding later, I took classes in creative journaling and trapeze. I’ve added plans for belly dancing and pole dancing this year as well.
These things let me expand myself way beyond my identity as a parent. And in turn, they energize me so that I’m a much more present parent.