When you throw your whole self into being a mother, it can have massive benefits to your kids. It’s clear to see from the way they respond to you and every day you see the results of your efforts in your bright and smiley kids.
BUT it is so easy, ridiculously easy, to let yourself be lost in that. You start to forget that you exist in a capacity that doesn’t serve your children. You can feel suddenly very down and not realise why until you analyse the situation and try to think about the last time you did something which wasn’t for the children, and you can’t remember.
We have followed many parts of what is widely known as ‘attachment parenting’. Although I don’t identify as an attachment parent, I relate to a lot of it and belong to plenty of groups which have an attachment parenting slant.
My youngest will be 3 in March, and I’m only now seriously thinking about ‘me time’. I’ve had the odd hour here and there previously but usually because I have some errand to run (often child related!). I started Zumba and then yoga classes, which I enjoyed but were a logistical nightmare, it became stressful for the whole family to fit this in so I stopped.
Yesterday, I went in the morning on a train, alone. I travelled an hour to Rhyl, to meet my best friend who is living there temporarily for studies. Despite the fact that he usually lives ten minutes away, we never really meet up. Our lives have taken different courses and no longer over lap. Meeting up doesn’t just happen, it has to be carefully organised and orchestrated and a lot of the time the simple thought of organising a catch up is enough to tire us out.
When I was travelling and on arriving, I had this horrible feeling. A general anxiousness and a feeling of forgetting something. I was meeting my best friend! A guy I’ve shared the most boring and gruesome details of my life with. That I’ve known for years and is the first person I’d turn to in a crisis. Why was I anxious?
As a child growing up I had my little sister. She was my best friend, and it was rare for me to be in any new situation without her. I didn’t need to be anxious. I was shy but she was chatty and confident. She was my social safety net. When I had my eldest son at the age of 17, he became my safety net. If you’re in a situation where you’re scared of speaking to people, it’s no problem- talk to your baby!
The root of my anxiety was clear. The ‘something I’d forgotten’ was my kids. My social safety net. Once I met my friend and we stood by the sea and talked about life and caught up on gossip, I felt great. Then over lunch and a couple of glasses of wine I relaxed more. What surprised me was the feeling of relief. I felt weightless and happy in a way I’d forgotten I could be. Another friend, one of my oldest friends came to join us for a short while too and it just felt so surreal, to sit with these two people who I’ve shared so much with, good times and bad. As though I’d written these times off as a happy past never to be revisited. I realised it didn’t have to be that way, that there could be space for more in my life and that it’s not only about the children. I felt free.
On the train ride home, I struggled with the fact that I’d felt so relieved without my children and the guilt crept in easily enough. As a parent you learn to accept guilt as a daily emotion. How do you ever know if you’re doing the right thing? How do you ever know if you’ve already messed them up or not? But this guilt was different. Why did being without my kids feel so good? I love them, my happiest moments in life are spent with them, they are my world. I certainly don’t feel trapped by them, so why did I feel ‘free’ and relieved without them?
Last night, I tucked my kids into bed and I allowed myself to let go. I let go of the guilt and I saw my joy at a day without them for what it was. Being with my kids is a full time lifestyle. It’s all consuming. They are in most of my thoughts and most of the things I do are with them in mind. I look down. I walk around with my focus downwards because I am looking at them. I am making sure they are safe. Watching their faces as they take the world in. Seeing them learn. I sat on the wall by the sea with my friends and I looked up. I looked out into the world. I closed my eyes and I looked inwards. I was aware of myself. For those few hours, I didn’t have that responsibility. I wasn’t ‘free’ from them. They will always have my heart. I was ‘free’ to take a breath for myself. To look out at the sea and not have to look around and check on my children instead. I felt the relief because I left it too long before taking this time for myself. I realised that this is ok. It doesn’t make me an unattached parent because I took some time for myself. It doesn’t mean that I somehow wasn’t cut out to be a mother and that our parenting choices are wrong. It taught me that I need to make the effort to take pauses for myself. I need them to look forward to and I need to make the effort to do something for me. I need some time to be Just Leah.
Having a tendency to over analyse is definitely a bad trait at times, it can keep me awake at night and make social situations more difficult. However, having that space on the train to analyse my feelings about the day really helped me to archive it as a happy memory, rather than a ‘time I let my kids down’.
I will remember the heart to heart with my best friend, the altercation with Zoltar outside an arcade and the smug man flying along the beach on a giant kite. I will remember laughing so hard my sides hurt. I will smile at how my ‘old self’ came back so easily, how I spoke like an uncensored adult and didn’t have to consider little ears-a-listening.
I now realise it wasn’t my ‘old self’ it’s just a part of me I’d neglected.
So it’s a bit late for New Years resolutions but I’m adding one any way.
Here’s to taking time to breathe. Here’s to nurturing my friendships.
Here’s to me!
photo credits, Gavin Hayes and Shaun Edwards