Being a mom is one of those things I always knew I’d be. I never really thought about it as a kid, it was just an assumed thing. I didn’t have a number of kids I wanted and I didn’t dream of names, it was just an expected course of action that I knew would happen. What I didn’t know is that I’d have difficulties staying pregnant, and that’s when being a mom became a focus, a thing, a goal that I had to work towards. After we had our third baby, we settled in as a family of five and for a while, that was it. We both wanted more kids, but it became less of a concern. We had three safely here, and oh the stories I had about varied deliveries: premature labor of a breech baby resulting in a c-section, uterine rupture and another c-section, and a VBAC delivery 15-days overdue. By then, being a mom was all I was focused on. When you have three small children, who has time for anything else? It was all good though, it’s what we wanted and while life was chaotic and we had to budget in order to do it on one-income, we wouldn’t have changed anything.
A few years later though, we decided we wanted another baby. The fertility issues resurfaced and were given a new name: secondary infertility. It wasn’t like what happened the first loss (at 18 weeks), and it then became the thing. See a doctor, take a pill, try to get pregnant. Get pregnant, count days, have ultrasounds and hope it stuck. Then we finally got past 14 weeks, the supposed ‘safe’ zone — though I knew it really wasn’t — after more pills, bed rest and a lot more appointments and ultrasounds. At 15 weeks, I went into early labor. I was hospitalized on and off, and ended up spending most of the entire pregnancy on bed rest but despite another very close call at 30 weeks, Little Dude arrived at 36.5 weeks, mostly healthy. He had jaundice, low blood sugar and couldn’t maintain proper body temperature, but the scrawny, nothing but muscle baby was here and safe.
Life with four kids is way different than three, but not as much as expected. Going from two kids to three was the biggest change; we had to get bigger booths at restaurants, someone had to sit alone on amusement park rides and we had to buy a bigger dining table. Going to four only meant a new vehicle. We wanted to continue on to kids five and six, but we were informed by several doctors that it wasn’t going to be possible if I wanted to remain around for the rest of the kids. I know it wouldn’t have been a smart thing to do, but since some people told us to give up before we even got Little Dude here, maybe it would have been worth a shot, crazier things have happened. Who knows — having a large family has always been so much fun but there was no need to push it.
Our oldest is now 27 and I still have a young one in school. That’s a lot of parenting years in there, a lot of years to get into a groove of sorts and a lot of time to fall into the role of “mom” so fully that it’s how I describe myself first. In fact, most moms that I know do the same. When you ask a mom who they are and what they do, almost always, the answer starts with “I’m XX, a mom to xx kids..” Sometimes the husband isn’t even mentioned. We’re so completely immersed in being a mom that the rest of ourselves isn’t even explained. Writer? Crafter? Runner? Oh, yeah, right, those things, too. Finding yourself, then creating your life, is something we have to focus on.
Because… kids grow up. They develop lives of their own, and as they age, they need us in different ways. Someone told me years ago that it gets easier as kids get older. I’d disagree, but I know I wouldn’t have believed that when I had only young ones. I’m not saying it’s necessarily harder either, but it’s definitely not easier. They don’t need us to tie their shoes or read them bedtimes stories, but there are still things they need us for, and the problems are frequently bigger. If one is having issues at school, we’re limited as to what we can do. We can’t force other kids to be nice to them. We can’t go to job interviews for them. As they start facing reality in different levels, they still need support but don’t always want to admit it. They may know we’re right — eventually — but that doesn’t mean they’ll listen, so you have to watch from a distance as they try to resolve issues. That’s tough for any parent and never goes away.
As they continue to grow up, we find gaps in time where we’re not needed. We pack lunches and drop them at school and suddenly there are hours a day where we’re not ‘mom.’ We may be an employee, a wife, a dog sitter, but our mom responsibilities ease in some ways. What exactly do we do then?
This is why finding yourself is so important, to still have a life outside of being a mom. We need to redefine our role in a way that we can live with moving forwards, as time won’t stand still. Eventually, kids graduate school, get jobs, move out, get married, and maybe even move away. We can have goals for them, but that doesn’t mean they will be their goals, and we need to be glad that we’ve raised children who can think for themselves and know what they want, like college, for example. We can want them to go, but if they don’t want to or don’t know what they want to do, is it money and/or time well-spent?
As the kids grow older, we get the opportunity to find out more about who we are. We can spend more time focused on our spouse. We can see what it is we really like, and then we get to find ways to do it. One day, all the kids will be moved out of the house and we want to be happy. We want to have interests, hobbies and a life all our own. We need to have interests, hobbies and a life all our own. But how do we do that? How do you balance finding yourself with where you are now in life? How do we put our goals out there as a priority so when it comes time that we are empty nesters, we’re ready?
I’m not an empty nester but it’s something that’s been on my mind. I waffle between reminiscing about fun memories of cute babies and cuddles and enjoying things as they are now. I don’t want to find myself an empty nester at any point without a life of my own. I want to be the grandma that babysits and is there to help, but I also want to be a lady who is a grandma AND a runner, a writer, a traveler…the list goes on. I want to still have time to be a wife and go out on adult dates without kids, to be a friend who isn’t babysitting every time my friends want to get together, to have to bring grandkids on every adult outing, to have things to talk about besides my kids. I’m not saying that I won’t be a very involved grandma, or that I won’t be so proud that I want to talk about them 24/7, but I want to have other things in my life that I can control, things that are mine. I won’t live through them. I want to have that couple time we didn’t get for many years. I want to be able to talk about my own interests — a movie I just saw, a book I just read, date night, the latest craft I’m working on — but to do all this, I have to start now. I have to make sure I’ve got a foundation built so I’m ready.
How exactly do you go about finding yourself while still being a full-time mom?
Think about things you like to do and make a list. What hobbies did you give up when you had kids? What dreams did you have before you started a family? What things have you always wanted to do? It’s like a bucket list, but ongoing. I definitely have things I want to experience that one time, but there are things I want to continue to do: I want to craft more, to spend more time messing with my organic garden, to travel internationally, etc. Now is the time to plan on how you can make those things happen!
If your list includes a skill, like photography, start now. Buy a camera, sign up for a class, take pictures. Even if you have to do it in little chunks of time, it will help you see if it’s still something you want to try. Even if it just means saving money towards your goal, make that first deposit today. Baby steps!
Make new friends or get to know your existing ones better. Make it a point to hang out with them and not talk about your kids/grandkids. Be just yourself. Be proud of your family, but take the time to get to know yourself and get giggly with the girls. Set up a girls’ night out or a trip to a winery. So many options!
Say no. Start small, but say no at least once a week so you can do something on your list. Speak up — you matter. Steal some time for yourself and reaffirm that you are a person, not ‘just’ a mom. And really, it’s not stealing. You’ve earned your time. It’s not selfish to take it. If you never say no, it will hit the fan the first time you have to. Build that foundation now, so shake off that guilt and value yourself so others will, too.
Get out and try new things. Over 11 years ago, I went to a Nascar race. I was not sure I was into it, but the husband had been given free suite tickets to a race at what’s now the Auto Club Speedway. I knew nothing about stock car racing and wasn’t even sure I wanted to, but I also wanted a break from the house. And, free. Raising a small child with autism, on top of having three other kids, was exhausting and I had little couple time. It ended up being one of the best decisions I ever made. We are now diehard fans, and it has inspired travel as far away as Delaware to visit new tracks. Say what you will about the sport, but we have a great time, it’s something my husband and I truly both enjoy together, and we have friends and kids who enjoy it, too. (Nascar is oh so much more than ignorant cliches.) I really believe that one reason our marriage has been successful so long is the importance we’ve placed on spending time together. Even if you try something you don’t like, don’t view it as a failure; you learned something and you won’t like everything. In fact, you don’t need to like everything; good life lesson to teach kids is putting a smile on your face and realizing that this moment in time, like every other, will soon be over.
And get a little crazy. Live life on your terms. This may be my most important tip ever. Age is just a number. Age isn’t the decision-maker about what clothes to wear, what interests to have, or how active you can be. In fact, stretch yourself a little and you may be able to be more active. I refuse to ‘get old’ at any point, and even when my numbers say I should be ‘old,’ I won’t go quietly. I’ll still be rocking purple hair, shopping in the Juniors’ section and dancing near the front of a concert stage to whatever music I like. Don’t let others tell you how you should act. Who cares? Be kind to others, be there for others, but be who you want to be.
Whatever you want your life to be, you’re not ‘just’ a mom, or ‘just’ anything. Start filling the gaps and find what makes you happy. Then go out and do it. As George Bernard Shaw once said..
“Life is not about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.”