PART 2 — Returning to ourselves: how I’m making peace with “me” in motherhood
Becoming a mother is beautiful, thrilling, and deeply fulfilling. It’s also all-consuming, and can bring us to a place where we have trouble remembering who we are. In Part 1, we discussed that two things can be true: becoming a mother forever changes us, AND, at our core, our unique wiring and the passions and dreams inside of us haven’t disappeared. We talked about how changing our definition of “productive” can help us regain a sense of accomplishment, and how expressing our passions and interests in the act of parenting can help us still feel like ourselves.
Today, I’ll touch on three more identity struggles we face as moms, and how I’m pursuing peace in the midst of them.
The identity struggle: We lose touch with ourselves as we spend our days immersed in the big, unruly emotions of another person.
Healthy adults have boundaries. When we’re at our best, we avoid projecting our feelings onto others. (*ahem* When We’re At Our Best, lol.) We set aside time to intentionally discuss difficult topics. If we sense some tension in our friend or partner, we back off and give them some space.
Young kids do none of these things. There they are, with their hearts on their sleeve at all times, pulling us immediately into their emotional reality. My pleas of, “mommy just needs a little space/silence right now” get only quizzical looks in response, and no matter how many times we hear that bringing us their unruly emotions means we’re their safe space, that doesn’t feel like a beautiful truth in the moment.
For those of us who are deeply empathetic or highly sensitive (*raises hand*), this can be especially overwhelming. But the truth is, each of us has a profound connection to our children that’s unique to parenthood, making us impacted by their every high and low in a way that’s not quite like any other relationship we’ve experienced.
To pursue peace: “Zoom out” to see the grander narrative, accessing your faith and sense of purpose.
So how do we untangle our emotions from theirs?
I’ve observed lately that how consumed I am by my children’s moods is often related to the vantage point I’ve embraced that day: how “zoomed in” or “zoomed out” my perspective is. What I mean is, if I’ve taken a moment to bring big-picture concepts — like purpose and calling — to the front of my mind in the morning, I’m more likely to be clear-headed through the ups and downs of my day.
For me, this can be as simple as just thinking about God — reading my devotional or a quick passage of scripture, or even just playing a song. These can all serve as simple reminders that the world actually doesn’t revolve around me (surprise, surprise, I know!) I’m reminded that I’m rooted in a much grander narrative, and that there’s a reason I woke up this morning. With that renewed sense of purpose, it’s like I’m operating on offense, rather than defense. I’m front-footed, not surprised by challenging moments. Instead, I’m ready to tune into what’s going on in my body and mind, take stock of what my kid’s emotions may have triggered within me, and pause before responding. Now I’ll be the first to admit that I’m probably getting a barely-passing grade in this area, at best. But recognizing this reality is a crucial first step! As we increase our awareness, we begin to give ourselves space to give calm, measured responses to our children when we need a moment to process. (On that note, I saw these wonderful suggestions on Facebook recently for helpful vocabulary to use with our kids).
What helps your mind “zoom out” and recall the big-picture motivations that guide you? Maybe glancing at a vision board on your wall in the morning? Having meaningful scriptures or quotes on display around your home? Repeating an affirmation in the morning? Find what works for you to get a breath of fresh air and a bird’s eye view. Just a few minutes at the start of the day can turn a hard moment around later on.
Motherhood — especially in a pandemic — can feel all-consuming. As we resist the urge to auto-pilot our way through and stay tuned-in to purpose instead, we’ll be better equipped to respond rather than react when we’re confronted with the complex, emotionally-loaded world of our kids’ hearts and minds.
The identity struggle: Distanced relationships and FOMO
In Part 1, we discussed how what we do and who we are feel deeply intertwined. This makes our transition into motherhood, which changes up pretty much every aspect of our days, especially jarring for our sense of identity. Suddenly, we can’t spontaneously meet up with a friend or attend that event or wander into our favorite museum/mall/coffee shop “just for fun” like we used to. And that creates some serious fear of missing out. Our schedules look different, so we have to say no more often, so people invite us less often, and soon enough we don’t even feel plugged into what’s going on anymore. (Granted, I’m definitely having to rewind my brain to pre-’Rona to remember this feeling, but you get the point.) The worst part is, when we do get invited somewhere and the logistics work out, we’re still likely to have less energy (physically and emotionally) to enjoy it fully.
To pursue peace: Cultivate the relationships that feed your soul.
The simplest adjustment I’ve made in this area: initiate, initiate, initiate. I’m a sensitive soul, so it’s easy to take things personally that are simply NOT personal. We all make plans all the time, with large groups and small, and all different combinations of friends (again, pre-Rona, lol). I’ve had to tell myself many times, “no one is trying to exclude you, Ellie!” Initiating moves me away from believing things that aren’t true, and helps me focus on doing what’s in my power. I’ll find an event that look fun and invite someone along, or even just initiate an intentional, distraction-free conversation. (I’m still easing back into doing this more, now that my energy supply is slowly returning after this crazy year.) Intentionality is key, because our time is limited. One example: “let’s schedule a call to talk about this book!” It may sound super nerdy, but it’s one way for me to feel more like my true, full self, and I’m grateful for a few bookworm friends who feel the same.
It’s also been crucial for me to stay in touch with people who remind me of who I am: who make me feel fully known simply by referencing old memories or asking questions others wouldn’t think to ask. My sister is a perfect example. Even if we’re not discussing anything profound, I feel lighter when I speak to her because of our unspoken understanding of one another. I don’t have to word things in a certain way or feel limited to specific topics; I’m simply free.
Here’s another example. I was visiting my alma mater for an event a few years ago, and I stayed with one of my dearest college friends. Now, returning to a prestigious university with super-accomplished alumni when your resume doesn’t boast the same types of traditional successes as those of your peers can be a recipe for feeling small. But at the event, some younger alumni were genuinely excited to meet me and hear my story. To be honest, I was really surprised, humbled, and moved. Teary-eyed, I tried to explain to my friend that it felt so good to feel “seen” and valued for who I am, despite taking a different, less outwardly “important” path than many of our peers. But I didn’t even have to finish my sentence. With a knowing look and some beautifully affirming words, she wrapped me in love and reminded me that I never have to doubt my life’s impact or importance. I will never forget that moment.
Who in your life just gets you, and brings you back to your true self? When I keep those people close, I don’t get as caught up in FOMO. Yes, life does look different, and the time I spend doing things “just for me” is way too infrequent. But centering these key relationships rejuvenates me in a way that, in this season, is enough. Of course, this doesn’t stop FOMO when we miss our favorite artist’s concert when they come into town, or have to leave an event early that we’d been looking forward to. But cultivating a few close, grounding relationships can give us a solid foundation to keep our souls healthy and thriving in this season of life.
The identity struggle: Mental fog
We’ve all heard of “mom brain” — the very real neurological changes we experience in the early years of motherhood that make us more forgetful, emotional, and absent-minded (to name a few). These changes, paired with the general overwhelm of having a whole new category of responsibilities on top of our old ones, can make us feel like we’re navigating our way through thick haze.
Who am I?
What do I even care about?
I feel like I don’t have anything to talk about.
What day is it, even?
When days start blending into one another and I can’t remember the last time I had a truly meaningful adult conversation, it’s easy to lose touch with my own thoughts, feelings, and interests. Without the mental sharpness and clarity I used to experience, I can feel like I’m losing my grip on who I actually am.
To pursue peace: Choose to join your kids in the present whenever you can.
This may not seem like the most natural cause-and-effect, but it’s been working wonders for me these past few months, after a very mentally foggy year.
Children naturally occupy the present. They dive into play with their full body and soul, and when they’re talking about an interest of theirs, you can see in their eyes that it’s lighting up their whole world. They live in this beautiful space that I wish I could get back to more regularly, where productivity and multitasking don’t even cross their minds, and there’s no phone to unlock every 3 minutes to be sure they didn’t miss anything.
So, whenever I can, I try to enter that world — even if it’s just for 5 or 10 minutes at a time. By the end of it, my head is clearer. My shoulders have relaxed. My to-do list feels just a teeny bit more do-able.
How does this work? Being present and choosing to focus our whole self on one thing — whatever that thing is — parts the clouds in our minds. This act of “single-tasking” and practicing mindfulness stops me from letting future concerns affect my present, giving me clarity to see what’s right in front of me. And that flows into whatever tasks I’m doing that day, child-related or not. I’ve gotten way too used to doing so many things half-way that I’m actually not getting anything meaningful done. And as a mom, nothing fills me with more regret than using the hours I’m not with my children inefficiently. Being present for a few minutes with my kids is like a reset button that reminds my brain what it feels like to actually make a choice to direct my energies toward one thing. That clarity and purpose then spills over into other areas, and helps to clear my mental fog.
I read here that “people spend almost 47% of their waking hours thinking about something other than what they’re currently doing.” What a waste, right? There is so much our children can teach us in this area. Sprinkle a few short, truly intentional moments into your day and let me know what changes you see.
I hope these words encourage you to take one small step toward returning to yourself today — whether that’s “zooming out” to gain some perspective, reaching out to a friend who feels like “home,” or immersing yourself in the simple joy of play for a few minutes. Each season of motherhood is temporary, but you will always be you. Let’s grow together in understanding our needs and learning how to meet them. Your kids deserve to experience their whole mommy, in all of your beautiful complexity.