“Who am I and what am I doing here?” This is a question I asked myself recently. No, I didn’t develop dementia or attend an Existentialist seminar. It’s just a question that my life has forced me to ask; though, frankly, as a 32-year-old mother of a preschooler, I think the question is a bit premature. Still, there I was one warm summer evening (the end of a long work week), newly-divorced, staring at the weekend stretching ahead of me, and all I could see were three long days that promised to be completely devoid of the joy I find in spending quality time with my child (since he was at his dad’s house for the weekend). I pondered a question that most mothers only dream of being able to ask, “What am I supposed to do with all this free time?”
Dream come true? I think not. No, the equitable shared custody arrangement pushed me head-first into an earth-shattering realization: that my entire life revolved around my son. Without him physically with me, I had no one to revolve around and so I drifted aimlessly through time and space until he returned. His absence created a black-hole in my life that left me feeling like all joy and purpose had been sucked out of my life—I felt like I was nothing without him. I spent entire weekends killing time, counting down the minutes until I picked up my son and could feel him in my arms again, until I could feel happiness again, until I could feel meaningful again. The only thing I could manage to do without him was write him a poem I titled “Without You.”
How did this happen?
Though most moms probably don’t feel the reality of this situation until they experience Empty Nest Syndrome once their last child leaves home, I suspect that most of us, without even realizing it, completely lose our identity somewhere in the process of raising our children. I mean, think about it: Once upon a time, we moms were interesting. We participated in a myriad of intellectually stimulating, physically challenging, and just plain enjoyable activities. We could capture the interest of our listeners with tales of our latest adventures. We knew what was going on in the world around us and had strong opinions about these current events. We were fascinating creatures. And then…
And then, we became fascinated by something else, something much greater and more important than everything else; we went on the greatest adventure there is: motherhood. And with the demands of motherhood, everything else sort of falls away. Until one day you wake up to find that you just became that woman who only talks about her kids (and not much else), and you realize that you don’t know what you like anymore because it’s been so long since you’ve thought about yourself. It doesn’t seem like a bad thing until your child isn’t there to be your center of gravity—trust me on this one.
Who Do You Think You Are?
So, after grieving the lost time with my son and accepting my new reality, I realized I had to put myself on my own priority list. I don’t mean that I decided to become some self-centered mother who only cares about doing things for herself; I mean, I decided to take time to actually think of myself for once and try to find meaning and fulfillment in everything I do.
I think Benjamin Hoff captures this concept quite nicely in The Tao of Pooh:
“How can you get very far,
If you don’t know Who You Are?
How can you do what you ought,
If you don’t know What You’ve Got?
And if you don’t know Which to Do
Of all the things in front of you,
Then what you’ll have when you are through
is just a mess without a clue
Of all the best that can come true
If you know What and Which and Who.”
Be Yourself No Matter What
Though I miss my son dearly when he is gone and would happily give up all my free time to have him with me 100%, I’ve realized that my identity is not dependent on someone else (even my son)—it comes from within. All the things I do for others are just a part of who I am—an important part, but not the only part. We moms need to remember this, because it is easy to forget ourselves in doing for others. It’s really just a shift in perspective, a commitment to be who you want to be no matter what your circumstances. I’ve realized that knowing and expressing who I am is the best thing I could possibly do for myself and my son, and I suspect that you would find this to be true for you as well.
And so I embrace each day with the sense hope and discovery that my son has reminded me is vital to learning and thriving in this crazy world. I don’t actually have all the answers, but that’s okay. Mahatma Ghandi once said,
“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”
I, for one, will be following that advice. Join me as I learn from the joys and challenges of motherhood and life!
Naomi, aka, Mom(me)-in-Training