Does that seem like a strange question?
This month we’re talking about unschooling kids and I’ve been remembering life around our house back when it included three children ten and under, with their beautiful yet seemingly endless energy bouncing through the day. I thought about the advice I often hear given to moms of younger children like, “remember to take time for yourself,” and I began to ponder the motivation behind those phrases because they never really felt good to me. And it struck me. Phrases like that imply that there are two versions of the one person: the “real” person, “you”; and the “mother”.
A quick aside: If you’re a dad, I don’t mean to specifically exclude you, but these conventional phrases are typically addressed to the mom, so I’m going to take that tack this week. Feel free to substitute parent and see if you too find yourself wrapped up in a role.
Those meanderings led me to contemplate these questions: Are you not honouring and celebrating yourself as you interact with your children? Do you not feel genuinely you when you’re with them? That you’re playing the role of “mother,” not being yourself? Do you think of your time as divided into two distinct slices: “there’s time with the kids when I meet their needs and ignore mine” and “time without the kids when I meet my needs and ignore theirs”?
Of course it’s not likely quite that black and white, but the questions get our brain juices flowing. 🙂
On one hand, putting on that mothering role can feel protective for the mom, like a favourite sweater. It can tell her what to do: “you should play with them,” “you should read to them,” or “they should take a bath.” Yet it can also become judgmental, swirling with echoes of the voices in her head. See what that word “should” does? That level of meta-thinking—thinking about what a “good mother should do”, while actively mothering—can add a layer between you and your child that gets in the way of deeply connecting with them in the moment. It’s like 75% of your brain is with them, and the other 25% is analyzing and judging every action you take. Instead, try to get fully in the moment with them. There is so much joy there.
Of course, that doesn’t mean don’t think about it ever—analyzing our ideas surrounding the parent we want to be and brainstorming ways to get there from where we are now is how we grow as a parent, as a person. But that analysis can get in the way when you’re in the moment. Another interesting question: are you doing something with your children because you think you should be doing it or because you know you want to do it? I think pondering that question can help you see the difference between playing a role and being that person.
If you are choosing to be a mother, move beyond playing at it, and *be* it.
For me, this was part of learning to value my work as a mother. Instead of buying into the conventional idea that parenting is second-class work, that I’d be bored with my kids all day if I didn’t turn off half my brain and look forward to my time away from my kids to replenish the real me, I decided to bring my full self to each day. I found the many reasons I choose to get on the floor and play face-to-face with my children. To take them to the park. To make messes with them.
That was a big shift for me, realizing I didn’t need to be away from my children to be a whole person, to fully be myself. I started looking for things that brought that person out and nurtured her, while being with my children. For me, sometimes it was puzzle games with the kids. Or reading a magazine nearby as they played or watched TV. Or reaching for an almost meditative state during repetitive activities like pushing a swing, or separating Lego pieces. A candle lit in the kitchen while I tidied or prepared some food. A light nap as they were engrossed in a movie. A walk around the block giving us all new things to look at, including me checking out the neighbours’ front gardens for ideas. A quiet coffee and a book for a half-hour before the kids woke up. The whole me is always there.
What do you like to do? What refreshes you?
Let’s brainstorm some things you might do for a few minutes here and there throughout the day that will help you feel whole and present, not stuck in a role waiting for your moment to step outside it and be yourself:
- dig into what you love: like a few minutes sitting outside with a coffee/tea and a magazine or book—fiction worlds you enjoy or nonfiction about your own interests and passions (while the kids sleep, nap, or run through the sprinkler);
- refresh: like a short mid-day soak in a bubble bath (while the kids nap or watch TV or join you in the tub);
- get the creative juices flowing: grab a sketchbook or some craft stuff you love and play (with supplies for everyone so kids are welcome to join you, or after they’ve fallen asleep for the night for more concentrated work);
- change of scenery: a walk or bike ride around the block (alone after dinner while your spouse plays with the kids, or with them during the day, or the whole family);
- get the blood pumping: do some yoga or hooping or trampoline bouncing (again, alone or with the kids—just start and they’ll often join in)
Asking yourself these kinds of questions helps bring your focus to you. Brainstorm some ideas for yourself and try them out, see how they feel. Obviously, you don’t have the same time to dedicate to your interests as you did before having children, but that’s understandable, right? Children are now one of your passionate interests! And as you do some of these things, even if only for a few minutes here and there, be mindful to give the moment your full attention, truly revel and refresh. Don’t have your mind racing about other household stresses while you expertly navigate the stroller around the block. Where’s the fun in that?! And don’t stress if things don’t go as planned. Things may not always work out smoothly, but they won’t always go awry either. And your children get to see you doing things you enjoy: they see you as a whole person, not only as a caregiver.
None of this is to say that you won’t find times when the thing you really want to do is to be alone for a while. Or to meet up with a friend. So arrange a trip to the coffee shop or the library while your spouse hangs out with the kids. Seek out an older child as a mother’s helper for a while. But from this new perspective, one where you’re not looking for an escape but to live fully, you will understand why it’s what you need so you’re much less likely to feel like you need to justify yourself with phrases like “I’m taking time to honour and celebrate me.” Instead, you can just say, “I’m going to the coffee shop for some quiet time to write in my journal.” You don’t need to wait for permission or a special occasion to be yourself. Just do it. (Did anyone else just hear a swoosh?)
Drop the role and be yourself—be the mom, and the person, you want to be. At the same time. And bring that whole being into each moment with your children, with your spouse, and with your friends.
Being yourself: it’s a refreshing and inspiring place to be. 🙂