I see you because that was me two years ago. I was three kids in, deep in the waters of parenting during the phase where you don’t know what day it is. Knee-deep in diapers and toddler fights and never. putting. the. baby. down. I had left a job I loved to focus on my family—my decision, my choice. So why did I feel so confused? That’s when I realized I didn’t know who I was.
But it could be different for you. It might be during the 56th hour of your work week, away from your children, nipping away at the tasks at the office. The work on your desk is piling up, but so is the laundry pile at home. Your commute is the quiet time of your day, which you easily fill with worries and planning and phone calls. There is no quiet. Where did you go?
Maybe it’s the moment you realize you have been working so hard to maintain a shell of a marriage that you’ve become part of that empty shell. Every day you wake up worried about the mood of your spouse and the temperature of your relationship: walking on eggshells, hoping the kids don’t make the tension between the two of you explode. You are exhausted and feel like you’ve been running a marathon, when in fact you haven’t gone for a run in years. When did you disappear?
It doesn’t mean you aren’t happy. It doesn’t mean you are depressed. You might even think this stage is a phase.
But it’s not a phase. It’s the way life happens if we aren’t paying attention. Your kids’ behavior might be a stage, but not knowing who are you happens over time. It feels deep and unfamiliar and gray and…forever.
In the distance, you can remember what it felt like to be you. You can remember how it felt to get dressed up and dance with your girlfriends. You can remember the passion and date nights of a long-ago friendship that sparked a forever love. Your joy of music, quiet nights spent reading by the fire, and a morning workout and brunch date.
Ahhh, there you are.
You never left. You just lost focus. You left yourself there to care for others. And it’s a beautiful gift to give someone: a piece of yourself. Do you know what’s not so beautiful? Giving someone else ALL of you. Don’t do it. Save some for you.
Give your family the best version of you. For me, that includes my morning coffee, good music, and a hot shower, preferably in that order. I have to work hard to drink a full cup of coffee in the mornings, and reheating is a must. But, I do it because I enjoy it. Whether that means I get up before them to drink in peace (not probable) or carry it from room to room while I pick up the house, I make it happen. Also, music is on at all times. Music flows throughout our house. During the day, it’s my music. My happiness, my joy. My family knows the artists I love. They sing along or just complain—either way, I don’t care. It fills my soul and then I can fill theirs.
I figured all that out on a weekday, two years ago. I was crying a lot, but I would tell you I was happy. And I believed that. I was done having kids. I have three healthy, beautiful children and a husband with whom I woke up in love every single day.
But, somewhere along the line, I realized that I had left some of my identity at the door to make sure all their needs were met. I was physically exhausted due to my third little love. I didn’t realize how drained I was just from all the touching. All. The. Touching. I never worked out because I was too tired. I never wanted to cook because I was usually breaking up fights between my two older kids from the moment they walked in the door after school.
I was spent, and I noticed when someone asked me if I was OK. I was clearly and most definitely not OK. The dam broke and couldn’t be rebuilt. I knew I had to divert the waters elsewhere or I would drown.
So, I did. With the help of my family and my partner, I diverted those waters back into familiar ground. I spent more time with my friends. No excuses. No “catch ya later.” I went out. I laughed. I dated my husband. I put my baby down and slowly started to fall back in love with myself.
I highly recommend dating yourself again. Find out what you like, what you don’t. What turns you on and off? When do you feel safest, happiest, most excited, and most at peace? What are your favorite smells? When is your favorite time of day? If you have a quiet house, what’s the first thing you want to do? Table for one at what restaurant? Let your partner know these things, too. Share who are you are now. Maybe it’s the same, maybe it’s different. Either way, you deserve to know.
Perhaps you don’t get to enjoy these things all the time. But at least know them. Know you. And know that there is a difference between joy and happiness. Joy fills your soul. It’s deep and hard to extinguish. Our kids bring us joy, but they don’t always bring us happiness. (And that’s OK.) Happiness is the small stuff: day-to-day tiny lights that make you smile. Coffee, music on your commute home, lunch with friends. Find your happy to light your joy on fire.
Because, I see you. You are quiet and tired. You fill up your schedule with PTA, awful conference calls, and bedtime stories. Your kids are OK, mama. Put the baby down, and you’ll be surprised how quickly he stops crying. He’ll learn that you’ll always be there. But now you won’t just be there; you’ll be there happily. Your family wants to see you smile. They need to see the real YOU.
She’s there, and she’s fabulous. Find her again and show her off.