Breast or bottle. Cry it out. Screen time. Bed time. Birthday parties.
There’s so much we have spent years in parenting Facebook groups clucking about.
But I have found that the two biggest things no one tells you when you become a mom are:
- the pad-freezing trick after birth.
- what happens after you’ve had your last.
Nearly eleven years ago, I remember sitting up in my hospital bed after giving birth to my first, ~48 hours after it all started, looking down at that little clear plastic bassinet. While Oxytocin did its job well, it, along with a billion other factors in becoming a mom, also kicked off the process of keeping myself at an arm’s length from myself.
An age-old tale, and it’s actually so often mom-dad blind. But now that I am nearly four years out from sitting up in a hospital bed with my fourth and final kid, when I look in the rearview mirror I see so many things.
- Using ‘being busy having kids’ as an excuse to ignore my own existence.
- Physical and mental – everything is fair game in neglect.
- The rut over what comes next is real and persistent and lonely – but no one in it is actually alone.
It’s so cliche it’s impossible to put this in written word and not feel lame. But as cliche as it is, why does it creep up on us so? Why are we all wild eyed, looking left and right, and wondering what the hell happened, when this script has been written so many times in parenting lore? The ‘wine guzzling mom’ or the ‘pill popping parent’. Men and women in their 30s and 40s start running or biking… or become observantly religious. The growth of a lucrative market for finding yourself through minimalism or veganism or yoga or ‘becoming your own brand’.
And how do you fix it? What is it that is so disarming about suddenly realizing that my body is back to being 100% mine, that I have years ahead of me to fill with goals, accomplishments, and failures, and that my children are independent beings who won’t be 24/7 demanding forever?
But here it is: There’s a space to fill when your youngest steps steadily out of toddlerhood. And I guess we knew it would come but while we’re in the thick of it we don’t necessarily absorb what it’ll mean to ourselves to get to work on building something new, something solely ours. And then how to fit that into our marriages, our relationships with our kids, our social circles, our jobs.
The space, though. That’s where good, bad, ugly, creative, destructive can take over. And unlike our teen years we don’t necessarily have the safety net to fail and bounce back without collateral damage. In fact, we have so much priceless collateral that taking a step in any direction feels so weighted, so risky, so tense.
It’s paralyzing. And that’s where I’m at. And we’re trying to cure symptoms and fakebook where we can, but we’re not talking about it directly enough. With each other, with our spouses, with therapists, with our mentors, with our proteges.
So if you are in the thick of it, ripping out your hair and wondering when it gets better, I can say: it gets better… in that suddenly, you will have more space to move, to grow, to learn, to do.
But understand it’s a space. It can be filled with anything. And it’s up to you.
I’ll let you know how it goes.