By Audrey Cade
Moms fill many roles, and we tend to become defined by the many parts we play in taking care of and raising our children. Maid, chauffeur, coach, counselor, chef, referee, tutor, nurse…the list goes on and on.
Because child-rearing is so time-intensive and encompasses every aspect of our emotional and physical being, it’s easy for many moms to lose themselves in the day-to-day operations of motherhood. After years of being everything to everyone, we may find ourselves wondering who we are as our nest begins to empty. There may not have been time during years of soccer games, reading stories, and cooking spaghetti to maintain a sense of personal identity; so, a big event, like our child’s graduation, may leave us feeling a little lost and confused.
How does a mom find balance- and herself- at the end of parenting?
Parenting never really ends, but the bulk of the job takes place when our children are young and still living at home. During this phase, mothering is a 24/7 undertaking. A mom’s time for peace, quiet, and “me time” may only exist after her kids go to bed; but, by then, she may be too exhausted to stay up to do something she chooses.
Many other moms are lacking in family supports who could offer an occasional break, or the cost of childcare makes getting a babysitter for anything other than work seem like too much of a luxury to consider. Other moms may feel guilty or as though they’re being selfish if they invest time and money into doing something for themselves.
Sometimes it seems like everything is working in favor of us not thinking about or doing anything unless it’s kid-related!
Start early, if possible
If your children are still young, now is the time to hold your ground on your identity and maintain a regular dose of personal activities! Of course, there is a spectrum, and I’m not talking about riding the end of the line to the point of neglecting your family or being completely selfish. This is about carving out a niche for yourself in the midst of parenting.
Do as I do
Doing things for yourself (self-care, personal time, hobbies, continuing to learn and grow over one’s lifetime) is not selfish, it is necessary! Don’t be guilty of a “do as I say, not as I do” mentality when it comes to your kids. If you want them to grow up with the ability to balance their needs with other responsibilities and to enjoy personal pursuits as well as the necessary ones, then the cycle starts with how mom models this skill.
A mom who gives her all to her kids is appreciated, but she need not lose herself in the process. Use this as an opportunity to model time management and the value of having personal time and favorite activities.
Make it a family affair
Allow your kids to really know who mom is by continuing to enjoy favorite hobbies, include them in the things you love, and even teach them your passion! Continue to expand your interests by trying new things with your kids or things you’ve always wanted to try. Our identity is not set in stone before having kids, and we should expect some of our original interests to continue to flourish while discovering new things about ourselves along the way.
Nourish your needs
If you’re feeling especially burned out, find ways to feed your spirit, even if for only five minutes. Sure, you could throw in another load of laundry or pay a couple of bills while the kids are busy playing, but you could also take that time to write a journal entry, listen to your favorite music, work on a pet project, or read a book. The chores will still get done and you won’t feel like the things that make you tick are fading away.
Re-discovering yourself when the kids grow up
Some of us will be late to the game of seeking direction for ourselves and may not realize that we feel adrift until we’re faced with the absence of kids in the home. We may realize that we’re unsure of what life will be like for ourselves as high school graduation or another milestone approaches, or it may not hit us until after they have left home. The good news is that it’s never too late to get on the right track!
Without the continuous needs of kids claiming our time, most of us will find an abundance of time that we didn’t have before. Initially, this excess time may be enjoyed simply for resting and catching up; but, eventually, most of us will crave more.
What were your passions before kids?
Some of us left hobbies, careers, traveling, and other interests on the back burner when family life became too involved for us to keep up with them. These are natural options to consider picking up where we left off. Plan a trip, reconnect with old contacts and pastimes, and jump back in!
What are your secret or undiscovered interests?
Has there always been something that has caught your attention but you’ve never had the time to check out? Now is the perfect time to sign up for that pottery class, finish your degree, apply for that job, and go for it! Not sure what to do with yourself or what you’re into anymore? Find out what’s going on in your community and try your hand at volunteering, join a club, learn something new, and develop some new friendships and interests.
Be forward thinking
Moms with kids on the way to adulthood are a step closer to mid-life and retirement. There’s still plenty of life to live, but the quality of it can be optimized by focusing more attention on our physical health and that of our finances and stability of our living situation. Consider starting (or expanding) a fitness routine, evaluate your diet, and take a good hard look at your retirement plans, will, and other important details. By making your future and personal needs a priority, it can help you prioritize what matters in your life and what you hope to achieve.
Moms can expect many changes as our kids grow up, including more time to focus on our own needs and what defines us as people and brings us joy. This development may leave us feeling disoriented and out of touch with ourselves initially, but it’s actually an opportunity to explore forgotten and undiscovered parts of ourselves and what can bring meaning to our lives.
If possible, we should build time in our schedules to continue to stay in tune with our personal needs and identity; but, if time has washed away a sense of ourselves, there’s no time like the present to start experiencing life again and making a regular point of becoming reacquainted with the woman inside of the mother!
About the Author
Audrey Cade is the author of Divorce Matters: help for hurting hearts and why divorce is sometimes the best decision (on Amazon) and the matriarch of a blended family of eight. She is an experienced “divorce warrior” in the areas of co-parenting, step parenting, parental alienation, and re-marriage, and enjoys sharing these experiences with others who are also committed to raising happy and healthy kids. Audrey’s professional experience is as a case manager social worker with the developmentally disabled, families with young children, and homeless populations. She holds degrees in Early Childhood Education, Human Service & Management, and a Master’s in Psychology. She enjoys family outings, a variety of arts and crafts, cooking, gardening, and writing. She is a featured blogger for Divorced Moms, has worked regularly appearing on Divorce Force, and articles appearing in Step Mom Magazine, The Good Men Project, and others.