I was standing in the bathroom one morning, putting wax in my five year old’s hair as he regaled me with a tale about who was fastest in the running race yesterday, whilst the eight year old stood by with her hairbrush, advising me that I was the only thing standing between her and finishing her morning chores. Meanwhile, the baby was clinging to my legs, whinging to be picked up. It was 6.50am, I had literally just got out of the shower, and was attempting to put on some makeup and clothes, when the onslaught of little people’s needs switched me into ‘mum’ mode, abandoning any attempts to focus on myself. This is a pretty standard scene in our household on a school/work day and I’m sure I’m not alone in this scenario. I paused and looked at myself in the mirror wondering, who was this person and where had the bit that made me ‘me’ gone? I realised, I had become the ‘mum’ and in that important transition, I had lost sight of what made me ‘Tash’.
Before I had children, I was so determined to stay conscious of my own identity and not become ‘Olivia’s mum’ or ‘William’s mum’. I would keep my career, continue to play sport, go out and enjoy nights or weekends with friends and the children would naturally fall into my world and everything would balance out. I wasn’t totally naive and realised that I would need to make some adjustments around their schedules, but I had the view that largely they would fit in with me, not the other way around. I had watched other women before me, totally surrender their identity, to a point where all they could tell you about themselves was what they did with and for their children, husbands and family. They sacrificed their careers, social lives, sport and interests in order to fulfil the role of ‘mum’. A role that can be all consuming, requiring 24 hours a day focus with very few windows for involvement in other activities.
After having our first, I returned to sport when she was only a few months old (once I’d had my postnatal physio check up of course!). I was also able to maintain a level of balance between the baby and my ‘old’ life. Plus I now had new friends with babies too, so I had a new social circle to play in! Gradually, I noticed a difference between my friends with children and friends without. Although I was extremely conscious of not boring my childless friends with tales of my baby, in the first 12 months there was so much happening in their life and they were changing so often that I felt like there was always something consuming my brainspace. Teeth, sleep patterns, introducing solids, crawling, cruising, walking… it was all happening. I took a year of leave with each of our children, so I lost some of the work connection in that time too. Sometimes, I felt like I didnt have anything else to talk about except the baby. There were days when I literally just stayed home, fed, changed and settled the baby. It’s not exactly glamorous and it also gives you very little material to share when talking to a friend. A fellow parent will understand this, but someone without children will wonder how an earth you wasted a whole day doing what seems like nothing!
After our second, I found it harder to return to my regular activities. A baby and a toddler make life much busier, and it was harder to get out for evening and weekend activities. I didn’t mind though, my life with two was full and busy and I was constantly surrounded by my little family, which I loved. I went back to work after a year, and life returned to some level of ‘norm’. Things were going along nicely until we decided to have a third. As you would have read in some of my other blogs, we waited a while before deciding to have a third. With a miscarriage between the my two youngest, the age gap between the boys is about 4.5 years.
Before the third baby was born, we had our four year old in kindy three days per week and my eldest in full time school. The big kids had a level of independence, they could get themselves breakfast in the morning, dress themselves and largely take care of their own needs. My hubby and I were finally getting a few sleep-ins on Saturday mornings, something we hadn’t enjoyed in over six years. Upon reflection, I believe that although having the big kids in school bought us some more freedom in some respects, the demands of their school curriculum, extra curricular activities and social lives suddenly started to impact on the adult’s lives.
Some weekends, there would be three birthday parties and the notion of saying no is not something I am great at… so we would spend the whole weekend ferrying from one event to the next. In addition, work and life had to be scheduled around their school week and holidays. It was not so easy to plan life around the adult’s schedules as the children’s schedules had more rigid constraints. I think without realising, this is a time when many parents stop focusing on their needs and throw themselves wholly into ensuring their children have access to all the opportunities and heaven forbid if they might ‘miss out’. The current generation of parents are very conscious and aware of ensuring their child’s lives are enriched through education, travel and experiences which is fantastic. The downside is that many parents are then forgoing their own needs for the sake of their children. My hubby and I are certainly guilty of this.
Once we had our third, I feel like life has been tipped on it’s head and is still upside down! 12 months in, I am back at work part-time and we have the two big kids in full time school and the baby in daycare. With my health taking a dive when the baby was about six months old and although I’m much improved now, I am still not at full capacity and it feels like life and its circumstances are guiding me rather than me focusing on what I want and working towards this outcome. It is also just logistically so much more difficult to have three children minded by people. One chid is easy, anyone will take them, two is a littler harder but usually you can make it work and three is challenging. Only a select few babysitters (including grandma a few aunties and a couple of close friends) will take three at once. Often these people have children of their own which increases the demand on them and makes it hard to ask for help. I believe life will bounce back the other way again, but for now, I have had to concede that to get out of the house alone, my hubby and I often have to tag-team. One stays with the kids, the other goes out. It’s great to have this option, but doesnt leave a lot of opportunity for us to spend quality time together. This is so important when raising little people, but such a challenging thing to achieve. I shared some of the strategies hubby and I have employed in trying to make sure we still have something in common (outside the children) once these early years have passed in my blog ‘Maintaining a relationship with your partner after kids’ (coming soon).
Earlier this year, I did some amazing personal development work that helped me to get back in touch with my needs and uncovered some of the unhealthy habits I have been living by my whole life! By tapping into my intuition, and trusting my inner voice, I am less reliant on seeking external validation and opinion before I take action. This has been such a steep learning curve for me, but I am rising to the challenge and loving every moment.
Through the personal development process, I discovered that I have a deep desire to empower and connect with other people, mums in particular, with a view that we can all help each other to live our best and most conscious lives. By writing this blog, I am sharing my story with vulnerability, and by doing so, I am hoping to empower others to do the same. This has been such an important step for me in regaining my identity and sense of self. Every time I write, I feel such a connection with what’s really going on for me and this fills me with joy.
I also identified some other activities that I’d like to pursue as an individual, some of which I’d never even considered. I attended my first evening art class with a company called ‘Cabernet and Canvas’. It was a wonderful experience and I came home with my first piece of official artwork, at the ripe old age of 38! I have also commenced a pilates class with a friend on Thursday evenings, this has been an amazing way of re-building some of strength and body confidence whilst providing me with a social outlet that is not in any way connected to my kids.
I also realised that some of the activities I connected and identified with before having children, no longer serve me, so it is ok to let these go. In being a mum and providing an enriching and fulfilling life for my children, I must also lead by example in having my own interests, time to myself and things that are just for ‘Tash’. I want my daughter to grow up and enjoy the amazing experience that it is to be a mum, but I also want her to be herself too. I want my boys to grow up and support their partners or wives to be dedicated parents, but with individual interests. I also want them to be dads who focus on their children, but role model that dads do their own stuff too! I think if we can teach them this lesson early, it will be one of the most powerful things we can do for our children and sending them out into the world.
I’d love to hear about your experiences in transitioning from individual to ‘mum’. Please share your thoughts and lessons on how you were able to re-connect with your individual needs after having kids.
Love Tash xx
Sometimes it is challenging as a grandmother, too, to attend to her own individual needs; especially so if she has not reconnected with her individual needs after having her own children. I relate to those who identify with people pleasing, seeking self worth and not being strong enough to say “no” very often. However I do have a self help programme which encourages one not to enlarge on the sentence, “No”: which I have found invaluable.
I am so proud of you doing this growth work for yourself; but more than that, I think it is ideal that you are being a positive role model for your daughter and sons. Perhaps those of us in a previous generation failed our daughters and grand children when we subsumed our own needs to those of others. Of course, there is a balance which must be strived for, but I totally agree that it is wonderful when us “Mums” actually pursue a long wished for creative streak, or go to exercise classes because we want to and feel healthier for doing so, or find some other interest “just for us”. I believe it makes our relationships (marriages) stronger too. Thanks for the sharing, Tash.
Thanks Ruth, again your comments are so insightful. I believe you are right, that there is also a long ingrained societal expectation of women and mums to hold that space for their families and children, and if this means at the cost of their own identity, I feel like that has been acceptable for too long. In our current modern world, women as seen as ‘having it all’ because they can have children, a career and a life. But I think there is an opportunity cost because I have seen too many women try to do it all, at the expense of their own health and well being. The balance is no longer there. Just because we can have it all, does this mean we need to?
You are one step ahead of me Tash! I am stuck in the world of trying to identify what it is that I did or do want to do outside of being a mum. I also didn’t think this would happen to me! Turns out I’m not great at doing more than one thing at a time and being a mum to three with work on the side continually has me juggling a lot more. Keeps me in constant ‘GO’ mode and overrides all my attempts to switch to ‘THINK’ mode. This is such a good topic to keep open and I would love to hear what activities or practices others have returned to or started up since becoming Mum! Maybe I can get some good ideas and then there is the next hurdle of making them happen!!
I fall off the wagon plenty Bianca so I need your help and others around to support one another to keep finding ourselves! There is always a competing demand that needs our attention right now. For the past six days, I have had a sick 17 month old, so this has consumed my whole world. Forget being creative or exercising or even sleeping. But I suppose having the intention to get back into it as soon as this latest glitch passes is important, pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and try again!