Updated: Mar 24, 2022
Parenting and maintaining your interests and individuality can be like oil and water. Factors at play include mom guilt (or dad guilt), lack of time, lack of energy, lack of alone time, and probably a whole host of other variables that I’m not thinking of at the moment (mom brain).
The first three months of my kids’ lives were hectic, to say the least. (For those who don't know me or my story, my husband Kory and I have 18 month old twins.) But while I found my hands constantly occupied during those early days, my brain wasn’t getting the same kind of stimulation I was accustomed to. Simply put, my mind was… bored. I was not bored - let us not get confused. But my mind was aching for critical thought and creativity among the demands of learning the ropes of mothering babies.
I pounced on the opportunity to express creative energy on the rare occasion that Alder and Winslow napped at the same time. There were a few shiny instances in which they napped for a solid three hours and I was able to fully get into a state of flow - painting, writing, or taking photos. Those times stick out in my mind. I feel like an ungrateful mom saying that my mind needed that reprieve, but early motherhood is such a complicated challenge. It’s beautiful, but also insanely difficult at times.
Now that my kids are toddlers, a lot has changed, but a lot has stayed the same. They're no longer needing to be held all the time, we're no longer prepping bottles multiple times a day and throughout the night, they can communicate their needs to a degree, and my husband and I thoroughly enjoy all the giggles and toddler shenanigans. What's stayed the same is that our sleep is still shit (we've just adjusted to this new normal), we still don't have much free time, and we're still trying to keep two little humans alive and thriving. It's a lot, but we have learned to adjust and adapt in so many ways.
I am someone who needs... needs!... my alone time. I crave it when I'm not getting it. Right now, it's 5 PM and Kory is going to pick up the kids from Montessori school while I'm drinking a glass of wine and writing this blog post. I'm in my element, feeling very mentally stimulated and in a satisfying state of flow. I need this to feel most like myself. I live with anxiety, and when my mind doesn't have space to air itself out, figuratively speaking, I get really anxious, irritated, and unable to be the best version of me.
I mourned the loss of my alone time for at least the first year of my kids' lives. I felt guilty mourning my past self when I had such a beautiful new life in front of me. But, alas, any kind of change is hard. And the transition to parenthood after 28 years of looking after only myself was especially so.
Sometimes I felt resentful towards motherhood. I would daydream about having time to myself, how I used to be able to walk out my front door on a whim and without any preparation, to go on a nice long walk or run, dallying as I damn well pleased. Those days are over for a while. But not forever.
Over the last year and a half, I've learned some ways to more fully enjoy parenthood while also making time for the things that rejuvenate me, like reading, gardening, and writing (yes, I am 85).
Asking for Help
Asking. For. Help. This is by far the hardest yet most important thing I am still (begrudgingly) learning. Moms and dads need help. Periodt. When my kids were infants, I had a few precious gem friends remind me to please ask them for help, because we are not meant to do this alone. Bless them. Just reminding me of that fact made me feel empowered to ask for help. I still rarely did because I suffer from a toxic Midwesterner mindset of some sort, where we apparently value stoicism above all else. But because of their reminders that they were truly willing and able to help, I suffered in silence a bit less than I would have otherwise. (I hope you're better at asking for help than I am. Truly.)
Living in the moment, and taking time when it's available
Early on in my motherhood journey, I was often not living in the moment. It was hard to - I was so tired that my eyes burned and every ounce of my being wanted to climb into bed. But with twin infants to care for, that wasn't a possibility. Instead, I wrote poems in my head and on the Notes app in my phone. My mind wandered a lot, and organizing my thoughts into poetry helped me to feel seen and heard, but it also led me to zone out and be less present with my family.
What I've learned to do more recently, as in the past 9 months or so, is to let go of traditional constraints of time. When I'm feeling alert and awake at 2 AM, I'll pick up and read that book that's been collecting dust on my nightstand. This wouldn't have been possible for me when the babies were younger - I was just too tired and needed every ounce of sleep I can get. But as they've grown, I've become accustomed to operating on fewer hours of sleep, so I take moments of inspiration and motivation whenever I can get it. Even if it comes at 2 AM. It may not sound ideal, but this way, I get the quiet time to myself, and I don't miss out on little moments with my kids during the day. The key is to not push myself - I listen to my body, and go back to bed when my body tells me it's time to sleep.
Letting go of perfection
This might sound silly, but I used to have a real fixation with never sharing any photos on social media that weren't my professional photos - photos taken with intentionality and edited with care. I got - and still get - enjoyment out of sharing my work that way.
However, once I had kids, I really did not have time for all of that anymore. These days, when I'm not doing a photo shoot, my camera sits in its drawer, untouched. My iPhone is my main camera these days, and I'm learning to be OK with that. I'm not a perfectionist, but some perfectionist tendencies show up when it comes to things I take pride in, like photography. At first, I felt that I was letting my standards down, worrying that people would no longer take me seriously as a photographer, or would think I quit photography altogether. I've learned that that's something I've put into my own head, and if I want to share my work - including, and especially lately, my writing - I'd have to settle for less than my best.
I remind myself that photography and writing are about connecting with other people and inspiring people to feel something. I'm not applying for any writing or photography awards, and any competition is largely with myself and within my head. So letting go and just creating whenever and however I can is how I proceed.
Letting things fall by the wayside - like laundry or the dishes
Many times - in fact, most of the time - it's 'this' or 'that'. Either I do this or I do that. One or the other. Not both. Before having kids, I could get it all done, no problem. I could cook a nice dinner for Kory and me, go for a run, get all my work done, clean up the kitchen, do the laundry, read, and have time to spare. If you're a parent, most likely you're smirking at the idea of getting all those things accomplished in a single day.
Having kids around changes everything. You simply cannot do it all. Kory and I both enjoy a clean and tidy house, but if I have a choice between cleaning up or reading my book while the kids nap (if they nap), I'm likely going to choose to read. Sometimes that feels like the lazy choice or a shameful choice, but hunnies, this isn't 1950, and mama needs to put her feet up.
"This too shall pass"
"Not forever". That's been so key to me being able to enjoy this season I am in; Knowing that this too shall pass - the difficult times will pass, but so, too, will the good times, the cherished times. So while hobbies and personal interests are important and valuable, remember that you'll never get this time back with your young family. One day soon, too soon, that toddling child who gets into everything, and I mean everything, will be independent and turning away from your hugs and kisses rather than leaning in. Soak it all in, chaos, mess, unwashed hair, for it's already going too fast, isn't it?