Being a parent and getting the balance right between that and maintaining your own identity can be tough to navigate. On one hand we want to give our child all of us and everything we can. On the other hand if we do not look after ourselves, we quickly lose our identity and become burned out.
So how can we get the balance right? The answer for most is trial and error. However, if you understand the fundamental idea that we all need to make sure we are fulfilled in more than just being a parent then you are a heck of a lot further own than most.
What I Expected A Parent To Be?
My mum was not the best mum. in fact, for a long time i believed she was the worst mum. A part from the obvious neglect i had growing up , i realised that despite this she did the best she could with the tools she had both physically and emotionally. One thing i do remember though, is she was around a lot, the house was always clean, the washing always put away and she always cooked me a meal each night despite the fact i ate a hot meal at school daily. I was well fed, i had pocket money every week and our diet was very balanced. On the flip side we never had days out, she never went to the park with me or played with me, i had no toys, i was regularly physically punished and shamed and the idea of new clothes was school uniform at the start of each school year.
When i became a parent i had a limited view of what a good one was. So i took everything i felt my mum did wrong and made sure i didn’t do it either or i did better. Then i took it to the extreme. I had this belief i had to be everything to my kids. That i had to give all of myself and i had to be selfless. The problem with this though, is eventually you burnout.
Which is EXACTLY what happened. I wanted to be everything to my child, so i gave everything i had. Pored myself into these tiny humans, and in the process i lost myself. Suddenly i was no longer me. I was so and so’s mum and i became resentful of this fact.
Can We Be Everything?
It’s only when we look back that we can ask our self, can i be everything? By being everything it would suggest that we can be the teacher, the carer, the cook, the cleaner, the confidant, the fun maker, the taxi driver, the organiser, the list goes on. It would suggest that we know everything…except, WE DON’T. We know a lot about the things we know, but nothing about the things we don’t. How can we possibly be everything? Doesn’t it make more sense to be honest and say that we can’t be everything? Then invite in the people who can help you raise that child? By doing this we are making an opening to take the pressure off our self. To make space for time when we can look after our self. Grannies become teachers, and daddies become the fun, aunties become the confidant and then we can focus our attention on the things WE are good at.
If raising a child was a business we wouldn’t expect that one person would do everything. We would outsource! We would find the best accountant and ledger and cleaner or admin. Why is parenting any different?
I think its jointly societal expectations, our own upbringing and the belief systems that has created. We are lead to believe in our increasing secular society that we need to be everything. That help is bad. The village we once had no longer exists. How many parents, when they feel like they are failing at parenting open their phones and tell someone or a group on Facebook? How many of us actually have someone close to us we can ask? Is that because we have no one? Or because we feel we shouldn’t ask, we should just know what to do and just get on with it? Do we have a village?
The Problem With Being Everything
So far we have looked on the effects of trying to be everything on a singular person. We can feel like we loose our identity, we can become burned out or resentful. There is also the question ‘what it does to those in a partnership or marriage’?
When we give a child all of us, we often have satiated our kids, and to a certain extent, our own needs, that we have nothing more left for our partners. Ester Perel is a couples therapist and calls this ‘the eros effect’. Which is where we give all our passion, fun, excitement and freshness to our kids, (which is the things relationships need to survive) and neglect the relationship unintentionally.
Its a very fine line to walk. The brilliance of knowing this is, that you can identify if this is happening to you, address it and resolve it. Gaining back that part of your relationship can really help you to regain part of your identity once again. That you are a sexual being, that you want fun, spontaneity and passion too. That you are desired and seen as an individual as well as a parent.
Getting The Balance Right
How do we get the balance right? The balance between being the best parent and our best self’s. How does the balance present? Is it 50%-50% or 30%-70%? or even 90%-10%.
Getting the balance right will vary between everyone. It will depend on your own belief system, how you were raised and those around you who influence you or who can help. It will also depend on your child, their needs and the availability of people who can meet them. What i am saying is find your village. A group of people to help raise your child, to support you and guide you when you need it. It might be online, it might be in person. It maybe getting the balance right looks like you getting back to work. Or you taking some me time. It could be therapy or taking up a hobby. It could be someone to read with your child or taking them out for the day.
Getting the balance right takes one thing most of all. NO GUILT! Because you can’t be everything. Even if you want to be, you CAN’T. So why feel guilt for not being everything. Why feel guilt for getting that pedicure or for sitting your child in front of the TV?
Let me let you into a little secret. The people that say you shouldn’t do that, or this way of parenting is better are talking CRAP! They are probably trying to sell you something too. A book or a belief system, a parenting course or to justify something they have done or are doing with the belief its ‘better’. They are not you, or your child. They do not walk in your shoes. They are not having your life’s journey, only theirs.
So whatever you choose (and that could very well be that you choose the opposite to what i am suggesting). Feel no guilt. If it’s working for you and your child then that’s balance. I won’t pretend i am right. I may very well be wrong, but after 5 kids and feeling lost at sea with no identity. Balance and a village was how i realised that i fundamentally COULD NOT be everything. I had to relinquish my control and allow others to do the things i couldn’t or didn’t want to. I had to let go of guilt and the idea i could be everything then accept myself as flawed for the feelings i had.
Yes i was shamed by people. I sometimes still feel guilt. However, the people that benefited, were my kids. That is my ultimate goal, that they experience life full of diversity, love and fun. Now they do and not at my own physical, mental and emotional expense. They benefit from the wealth and diversity of those around me and so do i.
Parenting is a contentious subject and i can only write from my own perspective, so i reached out to other parents on their take of how to regain identity and how they achieved balance? This is some of what was said.
Suzy really shines a light on wanting something for herself that’s not all about her son. “I have started going to the gym with some friends. I feel more me again and that I’m doing something for myself for once and not my son. It’s really liberating and I’m loving the time out so to speak. Plus, I might be able to beat him in a running race soon.
Danni and her husband came up with an amazing idea: “I have a 4 year old and almost 2 year old – this is exactly how I felt and it’s actually why I set up my blog! My husband encouraged me to do a ‘year of me’ last year where I set myself different challenges. Some were work-related, some were more personal and some were more bucket list type things, like a skydive! It was a really a transformative year and I am so much happier and accepting of who I am, both as me and as a mum!”
Rachel looked to her past to see who she was before having kids: ” My eldest is 3.5 and it took a good couple of years for me to realise how much losing my identity was affecting me. I decided to look back at what I enjoyed doing before having kids – for me, the main two are reading and writing. I made sure that I was finding time each day to take myself away from it all and focus on these two things. Usually when my son was in bed! Going back and doing what I loved brought back all the memories and feelings from pre-kids. It also reminded me of other things I loved – places to go, things to do etc. By picking this up I was able to feel more like me”.
Josie found a way to be her and be a mum: “I really struggled with the adjustment to motherhood and realised when I was on maternity leave with my second that I needed to do something for myself. I’d always wanted to be run my own business so we worked out a way to cope without my wage and instead of going back to work I took voluntary redundancy and became self employed. I’m now in a situation where having children allowed me to achieve my lifelong dream because if I hadn’t been struggling so much with the loss of identity I would never have been brave enough to take the leap”.
Becci also found her saving grace in balancing her and the kids: “I changed my career and started my own business. As hard as it is to do with 2 kids it is also my saving grace and makes me feel proud for what I am accomplishing. It’s given me the flexibility to work around my kids but most importantly it has given me an outlet from just being ‘mummy’ “. Theunnaturalmother.co.uk
Has this helped you? If it has let me know in the comments, i would love to hear your story.