I'm just going to come right out and say it: becoming a mom was a much bigger shock to my world than I had expected it to be. I certainly knew that life was about to change, but I underestimated a lot of things. Certain aspects of new motherhood were manageable and welcome, such as the overwhelmingly enormous love I felt for my baby. The wild protectiveness I immediately had over my child could be enough to get a person thrown in jail some days. Despite that amazing bond, however, I was completely thrown by how much I felt like I was losing myself, my identity.
Let me back up for a moment to provide a brief history. Prior to starting a family, I was a successful corporate product designer with big dreams and goals. I was also an athlete, whose happy place was getting sweaty in a gym or lost on some trail in the woods (literally lost--I have a horrible sense of direction). Suddenly I was a mom, period. At least that was how I felt. Those feelings then spiraled into guilt as I wondered why that role couldn’t be more than enough. After all, it’s the most important job on the planet.
In case you were wondering, being "Mom" was the plan for our family all along. As a designer, I could leave the corporate world for freelance and work "on my own schedule”. (Anyone who freelances knows why that phrase is in quotes.) My husband’s career would take the lead and mine would be supplemental while I stayed home with the kids and took care of the household. Well, you know what they say about best-laid plans….
I quickly found myself all out of balance. My schedule was not my own, my body was not my own, and my future plans seemed lost. Not only that, but I soon came to the realization that stepping back from my successful corporate job to freelance was not as fulfilling as I had thought it would be. Successful, yes, but not fulfilling. I felt like I was losing my identity, and I was.
Here is what I’ve learned thus far:
1. You have to shed who you were yesterday to become who you are today.
There's no doubt that I was losing my identity. However, looking back I can now see that losing my "former" identity was a necessary step in the process of becoming who I am today. Going forward, I will try not to cling so tightly to the person I am today. I don't want to let that person prevent me from discovering who I am meant to become going forward.
2. It doesn’t matter how big the steps are as long as they move you forward.
Throughout my first year as a mom, my steps were small. I would steal a few hours here and there to get to the gym, have coffee with a friend, or even get a massage if I was really lucky.
Then one day I took a bigger step by embarking on the 200-hour yoga certification that would take me away from my family every weekend for four months. At that point my life began to shift in a whole new direction.
That was 5 years ago now. Since then I’ve taken a mix of small and large steps, and even a few leaps. I’m learning to be comfortable with the general goal of moving forward, rather than getting hung up on the pace and timing of everything. That's not an easy thing to do, and it's definitely a work in progress each and every day.
3. You don’t truly know what you are made of until you are tested.
Before having kids, I thought of myself as a pretty solid individual. I grew up a lot throughout my twenties and, believe me, I had a lot of growing up to do. I was fortunate enough to encounter a number of mentors along the way who helped shape the person I am today.
At the young age of 26, I lost my mom to cancer. The wind was blown out of my sails, and it was difficult to move forward. By the time I met my (now) husband two years later, I felt like I was in a pretty solid place again. Truth be told, I was in a really good place, but I mistakenly thought I had reached my destination. I had yet to learn that life is not stagnant, or about reaching a single goal or purpose.
Life went on, we got married, and by the time we had our first baby I was 32 and well-established in my career and lifestyle. Then it all changed. I have never in my life been tested as much as being a mom has tested me. No line-review meeting in front of senior executives even comes close.
4. Adversity will make you more aware and, in turn, stronger.
There have been times when I think my little girls are going to break me and, depending on your definition of that, they have succeeded on more than one occasion. My cool has been blown time and again by little dawdlers who refuse to put on their coats and shoes so we can get to drop-off on time. These moments are each followed by reflection, which leads to the discovery of tools I have within myself to better react the next time (and there will be a next time, I have learned that much). This leads right into my next lesson:
5. My children are as much my teachers as I am theirs.
My girls teach me every day to practice patience, to stop and enjoy the sights, to slow down and play and giggle, to connect with everything around me. They are a never-ending resource for me, and I only hope I can be the same for them in return.
6. If you are truly living life, you are in a constant state of re-discovery.
I turned forty this year. When I was younger, for some reason I thought by the time I turned forty I would have everything figured out. There is one thing I have figured out, and that is that you never have anything figured out. This is actually a really good realization. It means I can stop searching for the answers and just live my life. I have to say, that feels really good.
Peace & Play