I've gone through a number of identity shifts in my lifetime. In elementary school, I wanted to be an NBA star (despite my obvious height deficiency and a serious lack of any basketball skills). I donned the baggy basketball gym shorts, collected every Muggsy Bogues card (short folks, unite!), watched Space Jam on Saturdays, and played knockout with the boys every recess (and lost...every recess). In high school I shifted from a punk rocker to a hippy intellectual wearing Goodwill jeans from the 70s, old wool cardigans, hair wraps, Birkenstocks, and skipped classes to read some book written by a beatnik or a transcendentalist. Soon after starting college, I married a clean-cut, slacks-clad young man just starting his career as a music teacher. I was suddenly a wife--a newly-minted 20-year-old wife still working on her college degree. Self-conscious and unsure of this new identity, I replaced the silver hoop in my nose piercing with a tiny stud and tried to be a grown up while still taking college classes and working a part-time job at the mall. I paid bills, made meals, cleaned our apartment, and studied while most of my college friends were still living in the dorms, partying. Two years into my new marriage, I scored my first grown-up job as a teacher, and I soon realized that I loved it. Comfortable with my marriage and role as a wife, my I allowed my job to become my identity.
Then...on the verge of starting my sixth year in the classroom...I became a mom, and everything I thought I knew about myself went out the window.
Suddenly I spent my days teaching and worrying about my children. My evenings were devoted to family, and my nights were spent grading. My weekends were filled with cleaning, grocery shopping, and more family time. I rarely had time for me. Sure, I'd sneak out for an occasional run, but I didn't engage in the hobbies I once loved. Teaching gave me much-needed confidence, but when I became a mother--that confidence went down the toilet. Any free time I came across I used to read about how to be a better mom--because I didn't know what in the hell I was doing (still don't!). Gone were my hobbies, my confidence, and eventually---my job when I couldn't handle the complicated dance of being a wife, a mom, and a teacher. I discovered that a person can only devote herself to caring for others and neglecting herself for so long before reaching a breaking point when something has to give.
It's been three years since I became a mother, and I'm just now taking time to figure out who I am in this new season of life. It's hard to let go of the things I once loved and embrace new, budding passions, but I recognize the need for this reinventing, and I realize growth can come of it.
Moms--if your family has become your identity, save yourself from reaching an ugly breaking point by engaging in activities now that fill you up. Take time for you each day. If you don't know where to start--do something you once loved, or modify something you once enjoyed to fit more with your current season of life. We can't take care of our husbands and children and coworkers and parents and friends until we are in a regular routine of practicing good self-care. Put down the laundry, walk away from the toddler, pick up a bottle of your favorite beer to enjoy with dinner, and let your school-aged kid do some of the housework so you can have time for you.