As women, we play so many roles in our lives. We start out as daughters, and sisters, and friends, playmates, and students and as we grow and evolve some of these roles stay the same and some change. While we will always be daughters, sisters, and friends we also become girlfriends, fiancés, wives, teachers, doctors, lawyers, etc., and then moms. Juggling all of these roles can be really difficult and at times I have really lost my sense of self. I don’t think I am the only one.
Growing up I was always very close with my mother. She wasn’t just my mom, she was my best friend. I could tell her anything and she was always there for me. I had no idea at the time but looking back she gave up so much personally to be there for my sister and I, and I don’t think we ever really appreciated her or gave her enough credit. In our family I was the compliant child, the one who when asked to jump would ask “how high” and my sister was the more challenging strong willed one. My sister and I were best friends and playmates when we were young but I admit that when my sister was in high school I sometimes resented the fact that she “got away “with more.
As a college student with a sense of newfound freedom and personal responsibility, I often struggled with what I wanted to do versus what I perceived as what I should do – to please my parents. In a sense being away at college really fostered the development of my sense of self and I really came into my own.
A few years later I found myself in the new role of wife – more specifically army wife- a role which had a whole new set of responsibilities and expectations. For a while, I think I lost myself in this role but in a positive way. I devoted 100% of myself to supporting my husband; getting up to make him lunch in the morning and making sure that a nice dinner was on the table when he got home. I managed our household and worked as a substitute teacher while my husband worked during the day. I thrived in the “village” environment of the army wife community. Living on the military base I could walk to my best friend’s house down the street and we all looked out for each other – especially when our husbands were in the field or working long hours.
When my husband was deployed to Korea my sense of self was challenged again. I no longer had a husband to take care of on a daily basis and it forced me to focus more on myself. I threw myself into teaching and started blogging to fill my time. It was a lonely year but it served a purpose and I would like to think I grew as a woman.
Shortly after my husband returned I was faced with my next challenge. My husband decided to leave active duty in favor of the reserves and a full time civilian position. We left all of the friends that we had made in Texas and moved to Massachusetts where my husband found a job. I was no longer a full time “army wife” and to be honest I felt a little lost. I had lost my friends, my support group, and what I perceived as my identity at the time. This might sound silly to you because of course I was still a wife and my husband was still employed but it was a different dynamic and it took some adjustment. We had moved from a house on the military post to a condo and our neighbors were less than friendly. I adjusted but it took time.
Fast forward a few more years and we found ourselves in Connecticut expecting the birth of our first child. It was an exciting time and when my son arrived I launched into full time “mommy mode.” The problem was that I had literally no time or energy left for anything else. My poor husband and the housework got put way back on the furthest burner never mind having time to do anything for myself! To my husband’s credit he stepped up and helped with the house and the meals but I know he probably felt neglected in many ways since he was used to me doing so much more before our son arrived.
The thing was, I wasn’t unhappy being 100% in mommy mode and it wasn’t until someone in a support group meeting asked me what I was doing for myself that I realized what had happened. When challenged about what I was doing for “self-care” meaning – what was I doing to maintain my sense of self or to get a little bit of “me time” I couldn’t come up with a single thing. At the time, I didn’t really think it was a big deal and I did not crave any “me time” until my son was several months old.
Balancing “motherhood” with our other life roles is really difficult while still trying to maintain a sense of self. How do you balance them? For me, I try to plan playdates so that I can get a little bit of adult conversation and I found an amazing mother’s group called “Mastering Motherhood” which consists of an inspirational speaker and a book group and offers childcare! This isn’t to say that I need a break from parenting my child but it gives me a couple of hours to just be myself and not worry so much about the other roles that I have to play during the rest of the day.
I have friends who have struggled with the guilt of going back to work and also those who miss the full time jobs that they gave up to become stay at home moms. The reality is that I don’t think that the grass is really greener on either side of the fence. Both lifestyles have appeals and drawbacks but there really isn’t any “perfect” scenario. Both jobs are equally difficult in different ways and we should strive to be kind to each other. Being a mother is difficult and trying not to lose your identity in the process is a challenge that isn’t for the faint of heart. Don’t forget to make a little bit of time for yourself no matter how hard it may be. Even if it’s just fifteen minutes in the shower or ten scrolling through Facebook while your baby is nursing. It’s OK to do what you want sometimes without feeling guilty or selfish.
This Mother’s Day (which for the record is later this month) I encourage you to set aside a little bit of time for yourself in between taking care of your families and honoring your own mother. Reflect on just how far you have come in your personal journey as a woman and know that you are strong and that you have come far. Give yourself credit because to your children and your spouse, you mean the world.