By Christi Straub
Nobody can really prepare us for the chaos, unpredictability, and self-imposed guilt that accompanies becoming a parent. Well-intentioned people may try to prepare you for the sleepless nights, colic, and grocery store tantrums, but let’s be honest, you can’t really be prepared until you encounter them.
Instead, it was something more subtle, yet much deeper, that nearly took me out as a momma. Something nobody else warned me about–I lost my identity. Then, I grew depressed. After that, I felt guilty for feeling for depressed. That’s when the shame set in. My self-talk went something like this:
“I haven’t talked to anyone who could even tie a shoe in days. I spend all of my time with these babies. What about the goals I had for my life? Will I ever be able to accomplish them? These four walls feel like a prison. [Insert depressed feelings]. Ugh, I just want to sleep. I’m so tired. Wait, I shouldn’t feel this way [Insert guilt]. These kids are a gift. A blessing from God. I should be doing a better job caring for them. I’m going to mess them up if I keep worrying like this. And who am I to be feeling this way? [Insert shame]. My husband has a job where I get to stay home with them. Shouldn’t I feel happy to be at home with my kids? I can’t believe I’m so ungrateful. I’m an awful person.”
If you’re a momma, you likely experienced some variation of this dialogue over a few weeks, months, or likely years. If you work, your guilt may come from feeling like you don’t get enough time with your kids. Either way, these feelings that accompany losing your identity are real. How do we embrace the gift it is to be a mom without losing ourselves?
Here are 11 suggestions–most that have helped me rediscover myself along the way.
- It only takes slight changes.
One of our favorite family principles comes from a book called The Slight Edge, by Jeff Olsen. The main idea is that it only takes slight changes in daily routines to make a big difference. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Keep this in mind for each of the following ways to reclaim yourself in the midst of parenthood.
- Celebrate what’s going right.
So many families today feel the burden. “If I focus on myself,” the thought goes, “then I’m not being a good mom (or dad).” Yet, no matter how much time or energy we put into our kids, we still lay in bed at night wondering deeply, in our self-imposed guilt, how badly we messed them up. And the cycle of guilt continues.
That’s because we tend to focus on what’s going wrong (kids acting out, spouse not doing dishes, etc.), not what’s going right (kids sharing toys, kids being kind, spouse affirming me, etc.).
- Watch what you eat.
This is difficult, especially if you’re like me and food is your go-to when you’re feeling stressed and overwhelmed. But what I’m learning is that when I’m eating better, especially by cutting out sugar, I feel so much better about myself. And how I feel about myself influences greatly how I act toward Josh—and the kids. Again, focus only on today. Saying no to that little treat today is a big win. Celebrate it.
- Find a way to work out again.
I know, I know. It seems impossible. Yet, even if you can find time during the kids’ nap to do a 10-minute workout from Youtube, do it. If you get two workouts in a week, you’re probably ahead of where you are now. Again, you’re making small changes and celebrating them.
- Read more books.
Whether you get up 15 minutes earlier than the kids, or choose the book over Netflix after the kids are down, carve out a few minutes each day to feed yourself from a book. Other people’s perspectives help drag you out of what feels like your own dungeon of four walls.
If you don’t know what book to read, just poll your friends on social media and find out what they’re reading.
- Date again.
We recommend this big time. If you have trouble with babysitting ideas, find another couple you trust and swap nights. One night they watch all the kids, the next weekend you watch all the kids. Or date at home. Either way, date. If your marriage isn’t watered, it won’t grow. And neither will you.
- Find time to pray.
This really should be #1. Lord knows without Him, we’re doomed. Even if it’s while you’re lying in bed trying to fall asleep, pray. Besides, it beats worrying. Pray for your family—your marriage and your kids. Pray with your spouse and kids. And pray for yourself. Don’t be afraid to voice to God what’s really going on inside of you. Not only does He already know, it’s really therapeutic.
- Put your phone away.
If you feel like you’re wasting time on your phone, you are. Start by decreasing the amount of time you spend on social media or browsing your phone. Take a 24-hour fast per week from social media. Replace it with the book, prayer, or exercise. Again, just 10 minutes less of the phone a day is a win!
- Treat yourself.
What energizes you? A pedicure? Working out? Sitting at a coffee shop with a book? Ask your spouse to give you two hours this weekend. We sometimes swap time with the kids on the weekend and give each other time to rejuvenate. Find what brings you life and make this a family routine.
- Surround yourself with trusted family and friends.
Parenting really does take a village. Press into your church family, especially if you don’t have family living near you. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from people you trust and who love your kids. And make sure you have a group of really trusted friends and fellow parents you can call when you need them most.
11. That thing about friends. I’m really serious about this one.
Find friends who love you for being you, but who love you enough to not leave you that way. Friends who won’t husband bash, gossip, or seem to have easy answers. Instead, find friends who are just okay to walk through the chaos of being a parent in a transparent way. Friends who can be perfectly imperfect with you.
What else can you add to the list?