How to find yourself when you’re focused on raising someone else?

Guest post by Elka
Life Isn’t About Finding Yourself ladies tee from Etsy seller GR8APPAREL
I’m 20 and pregnant. I feel like I was just starting to carve out my adult identity. Now that my daughter is coming, I feel like everything for me was put on hold.

How can you find yourself when you’re focused on raising someone else? How do you teach your child to cultivate a sense of self if you yourself don’t have one? -Blake

Younger mamas, I want you to know that us older mamas are just as befuddled at times as you are. I was in my mid-30s when I had my first child, and I don’t feel as if you ever finish the finding-yourself journey — nor would I want to. It’s part of the joy of being alive.

There are two major goals I have, and they are hard to do with a more-than-full-time job, a baby, and a very full life.

That said, here’s what’s helped for me to reconnect in areas of my life that need it:

1. Make time for date nights

Even when my partner and I have a date night that starts out crappy, it’s always ended well. The last one ended with us writing our goals for the year down and reading them to each other over glasses of wine on the deck. It was such a powerful moment of reconnection for us, and also helped me to define what I want to be and do in the next year. It was great.

2. Make new friends but keep the old

I’ve made new mama friends. But also continued to hang with my non-mama friends as well. And I make an effort to make new non-mama friends, too. I think that having a balance really helps you to remember who you currently are, and where you came from.

3. Get your partner into the mix as much as possible

My son is almost a year old, and still breastfeeding. At first I thought, “I’ll do more [fill in the blank here] when he’s weaned.” And now I’m like, “crap, just do the extra pumping and store that milk so you have no excuse not to [fill in the blank here]. My little dude’s dad is more than happy to hang with him. It’s just a matter of me letting go a little, and allowing myself to go and have fun… or write, or work out, or whatever.

4. Give yourself permission to do things for yourself

This is really hard for me. I feel so connected to my family that it’s hard for me sometimes to let go and make time for myself. But I am learning to do so — slowly but surely — because it makes everyone happier in our family. Plus, doing things like getting your brows threaded, or going horseback riding with your punk rock friend, really do help you to chill out.

Okay, those are a few of my tips that have worked for me. How do YOU find yourself as a parent?

Comments on How to find yourself when you’re focused on raising someone else?

  1. If possible, I suggest you take some sort of class that meets regularly outside of your own home. I know that I’m bad a taking time for myself when I’m home and kiddo is around and there are things to be done. Once I’ve paid for a class, I feel like I have to go, and once I’m out of the house I’m happy to be there. I’ve taken contemporary and hip hop dance, and pottery which has turned out to be something I love. So try some things!

  2. This post is great! Also, if you’re not successful at carving out time for yourself in the first six months or year or however long, don’t let that stop you from changing things up later, or trying something out that may not work.

  3. I feel like all of these things are really great… if you have people who can regularly watch your kids. I’m the mom of a 2 year old and a 6 month old, and my husband (who works very full time) and I live extremely far away from all of our family. We’ve been in this area for a relatively short time and have moved neighborhoods four times since coming here almost four years ago, so we really don’t have many friends either (especially ones without kids who would be able to watch ours). We’ve been able to occasionally do these things, but usually when we have we’ve had to pay for babysitters, which isn’t ideal. One thing that has really helped me is remembering that, even though it seems like there won’t ever be a time when I don’t have two incredibly needy little people relying on me for their every need, there will be a time when I don’t have two incredibly needy little people relying on my for their every need. In just a few years, I won’t be feeding them, entertaining them, cleaning up after them, and wiping their butts all day long! Also, if you’re a stay-at-home mom without a whole lot of childcare options, I highly recommend making sure to implement some seriously intentional self-care. It can be pretty basic. For me, it means making sure that I take at least a super-quick shower every day put on some make-up and blow dry my hair at least three times weekly. You’ll figure out what works for you, and you’ll make it. You got this, mama!

    • Can you tag team watching kids with other parents? My mum used to do it when we were little – we’d spend a Saturday hanging out with friends at their house, then next week they’d hang out with us. I think it probably started post-potty training age, though mum knew the friend in question because they’d been pregnant together, so when we were all much younger both sets of parents stayed and got some grown up time in together while keeping half an eye on the babies crawling around the floor.

    • Agreed. Being far from family is the pits. One of the things you can look into is finding some activity with child-care involved (lots of YMCA’s have free childcare… you know, if you want to hang out in the bathroom to read a book even, no judgement) and I got involved in a babysitting co-op. This is a way to exchange hours/points for babysitting. Maybe start by offering to have a kiddo over for a playdate while the mom “runs to the grocery store) or something. I have a friend who I am now comfortable doing this with. Also, I specifically researched and found a co-op preschool, where I’ve gotten to know a ton of parents with similar ideals and it’s usually cheaper than conventional preschools.

  4. I have a cousin who is a new stay-at-home-dad and I feel like he is really rocking the “finding my identity while raising a child” thing. He takes his little one to the beach, uses her nap time to build surf boards, bakes sour dough bread, and is generally awesome at being a human while being a parent. As I watch him, I recognize that he’s free from some of the gender roles (cleaning, cooking, OMG must send that birthday card to grandma) that sometimes make self-actualization harder for mothers (like me), but I try and watch and take notes anyhow. He prioritizes doing stuff he likes doing, and he includes his little girl in those things as much as possible. He engages with online and real-life communities for his cool hobbies (it helps that he has cool hobbies) so he has people to talk about non-parenting topics with. And, he’s also made parent friends to hang with and go to the zoo or whatever.

  5. A few things I wanted to add. I’m a stay at home mum and in the years before my daughter was born I decided to quit my teaching career and had no idea what I was supposed to be doing. I also felt really unhealthy – I had been eating the same amount as my husband and rarely moving – some days i would do 2000 steps.

    Anyway, after the bubba came along I found it really hard to do self care stuff. In the first few months I had lots of bubble baths and colouring in. My husband and I are quite isolated and don’t even have a network of other parents to tap in to, or grandparents who can offer frequent sitting. We have made date nights when we can, and to be honest, I didn’t enjoy the first few nights we went out without the bubba. Instead I found it was better if one of us stayed home with her and the other did something with their friends. We take our daughter for a walk each night and that’s a good time for us to reconnect daily without date night pressure.

    I decided to finish my uni degree online, which has given me a lot of encouragement and self worth. I just do one subject a semester which is doable. I am a creative writing student so this has helped me get my head into my imaginary world!

    The second best thing I have done for myself is sign up at a gym with a child minding facility. I take my daughter four days a week and do a morning small group training class which alternates between kickboxing and strength training. My husband had offered to look after my daughter while I went to a gym (without creche) but he couldn’t always commit to it and this caused some issues. If you want to do something for yourself, often it will need to be in your own strength.

  6. This post has been on my mind for a few days, but I couldn’t find the words to express my unease. I’ll give it a try anyway.

    My identity is not stagnant, I don’t think it will ever be “done”. My goals, my values, my self-expression all change over time. Part of being an adult for me is being a Mom. I did not “lose” myself eight years ago. Sure, my priorities changed for a while, especially at first when I was stay-at-home. But my child did not rob me of myself or something like that. I chose to give myself 100% to this new role.

    And then I returned to work and my identity changed again. I was a working mom now. Daycare and commute and all that became my world. Then school started, and lunches and honework replaced tantrums and teething. I guess what I mean is that it’s okay to feel lost in the big Mom shoes. But being a mommy shouldn’t steal your identity, it should become a part of it or you will resent your kiddo and boyfriend.

    • Agreed. I was 20 when my first child was born, married at 22, and had two more kids before I turned 25. Now I am 43, been married 21 years and my youngest is 17. I would not change anything. I think young moms have certain benefits in parenting that older moms don’t, and having the opportunity to mature with our children is among them. We are always changing!

    • Perfectly said, particularly that a child doesn’t rob you of your sense of self. I think “finding yourself” is an unattainable myth. Decide who you want to be right now and prioritize what’s important. Give yourself permission to say no to obligations, especially if it’s the difference between carving out you time (painting, journaling, or just vegging out and completely ignoring what you *should* be doing for 20 minutes). Assuming you have people you trust, let them watch the kid regularly while you do whatever brings you joy. If you don’t, find your nearest babywearing group or lending library, because that’s the easiest way to carve time for you AND keep baby happy. I think even if you felt more confident in your identity, becoming a parent turns everything on it’s head and will change you in ways you can’t predict (not that it will consume your identity, just that it will greatly impact it). Set priorities, check in with yourself ( and SO if you have any), adjust accordingly and do what works for you and your family.

  7. I had my son when I was 22, just our of college, not been in my first grown up job long, still very immature, my relationship with my significant other was not good and didn’t last. So I understand where this mom is coming from. In a lot of ways, my son helped me find myself and become a much better person. I couldn’t go party with friends or go on a road trip at the drop of a hat, like I used to. I had or be responsible and sometimes that was very hard, but it made me reevaluate my life and make some positive choices for both my son and myself. Sometimes, OK a lot of times, I got lost and misdirected, but in the end I became someone I like and respect. He will be 11 this spring, I am now married to a man who treats him as his own and we added baby sister just over a year ago. I am still finding out more about myself all the time.
    The things that helped me included, learning it’s OK to be a mom and have a social life, and sometimes the two things work together. Find things outside your mom’Ness or associated with it, that you are passionate about and spend at least a little time on it, even if you read one article a week on it, you will still be doing something for you, for me it’s agriculture outreach, I do some through social media, 4h, everyday interactions, etc. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, being mom is hard, but there are people who want to help, hopefully your family and partner are there for you but it’s OK to need somebody from outside that, think friends, religious leaders, support groups, healthcare professionals, etc.
    Mostly, good luck, your not alone and it’s OK to work on you and baby.

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