This post is a response to the great article by Heather Avis, published on the Storyline Blog.
For some people, they loose themselves by having kids. They become consumed by the needs of their little one – and rightly so. When you have young kids, especially when you have several, you are “on” constantly. Either someone needs you, or there’ s something else that needs to be done in the house that would be too easy to forget about and let it become a monster mess.
But, it doesn’t have to be ALL CONSUMING.
When my daughter was born, I wanted to be an active father, and an equal partner in raising my daughter. But I was struggling to feel as close to this little child as my wife could. I watched them bond and I thought it was beautiful, but when I held her, rocked her and helped her settle – I enjoyed it but the burden of it was heavy. I was in a job I hated, and now that my wife was slowing her progress at her Ph. D to do the necessary activities to take care of our daughter, I felt fully trapped. Then when I was up at 3AM because it was “my turn” to put her back to bed (after cleaning up another massive projectile vomit I should add), all I could think of was – “this kid is consuming me and I really resent her because of that”.
For women, they typically become consumed by the role of care-giver. Women choose to give up their careers more often (and it’s arguable how much this is by choice or by historic expectations). Women are naturally more emotionally intelligent, so they can understand a child’s needs quicker than the man.
For men, they become consumed by the role of provider. They believe that they are the one responsible to provide income and a safe home.
Both of these roles aren’t written in stone anywhere. If you don’t mindfully discuss how you want your lives to look, it is so easy to fall into habits and stereotypes.
But, what happens when the kids grow up? As your children grow, their needs change, and what are you left with? I’m sure everyone knows mothers who seem fully lost once their children move out. With men, it isn’t as obvious, but I would suggest that most hold onto the provider role and are afraid of what might happen if they couldn’t provide for their family. I think the best example of that is how many men seem fully lost after retirement. Going back about thirty years, the average age that men collected their pension for was two years after retirement. This statistic is getting better, but it illustrates my point.
It doesn’t have to be this way. You don’t need to loose yourself when you have kids. One way to protect your “self” is to plan a regular “workshop” nights where you each take time after the kids are in bed to do what ever you want. If you’ve planed an easy dinner with minimal mess, and potentially do this on a night where you don’t have to worry about school prep for the next day you could easily put a few good hours into what ever it is you want.
Another option is to plan to alternate one night a week, where the father is responsible to do dinner, and put the kids to bed. And men, don’t assume you can do a half-assed job on this. Real men cook real food, and do the dishes (I feel I have to say this because I have a colleague who told me he intentionally burns food when he cooks so his wife assumes he can’t cook – and things like that make me want to take a rage-dump). Men, offer to give your wife a gift of time to express her creative self. Whether it’s to go do work she want to do, go to a meetup for crafters/writers/what-evers, or to simply go into the basement and make a mess with the power tools. And if your wife wants to just sit and watch a movie by herself because that is what will recharge her soul – support that.
This time is a gift to your wife to ensure that she can continue to feel like a whole person, and not just a cook/launderer/cleaner/taxi-driver/etc.
And men, don’t get hung up on the need to be a provider all the time (and emotionally check out in the evening once all “your duties” are done). I know too many men who are content to watch others do awesome things and say “I wish I could do that”; all the while they are sitting on their backsides. I love watching golf as much as the next guy, but after a while I feel I would rather play than sit to watch someone else play. If you wish you could do it, go start. Get the basic equipment, and give it a go. And if it’s expensive, rent the equipment once and see if you really do love it. If you need people to do it with, find friends and plan an event.
For both parents, it’s so easy to fall into a pattern of exhaustion, and give up on hopes of holding onto your pre-kid self. Yes, I know there are periods of time when you really don’t have time – someone is sick, work is extra busy, in-laws are visiting, or you just got back from vacation and there is no sense of routine for anyone. Treat this time as sacred, as if its a Sabbath. In a sense, it is. By getting up and doing something to feed your body and soul, it will pay back huge dividends in the rest of your life.
There are a million reasons why you don’t have time to do this. There are a million and one reasons why its hard. But, what kind of role model are you for your kids that shows them that life stops once you have kids.
I really appreciate what Avis says in her Storyline Article:
So, yes, I’ve lost a huge piece of myself now that I have kids, but to be honest, I’ve gained a part of myself too—a version of myself I never knew was possible.
I am wiser and stronger and more patient. I am experiencing a kind of love, A fierce, messy, all consuming, beautiful kind of love I would be missing out on if I didn’t give myself to others.
When you have kids, you will be pulled and stretched in ways you didn’t know were possible. You will grow in amazing ways. That is an absolute gift. You will become more patient, kind, loving, compassionate – and to put this in business language, you will develop your emotional intelligence, manage conflict better and become a better leader. But, you don’t have to give everything up. Giving everything up is a choice. If giving up everything you cared about is causing you to suffer, it doesn’t have to stay that way.
Parenting is a team sport. Dad’s are partners in this, and can help ensure that Mom’s get time to do what they want to do. And vice-versa, dad’s don’t have to fall into a pre-defined role of “I work, cut the lawn, fix the plumbing, and drink beer”.
Both my wife and I have grown so much from maintaining our creative spirit (on a limited basis), while parenting a child. We’re forced to focus more, do the work that is most important, and let everything else go. We savor the opportunity to be ourselves, and keep growing in many directions. The beauty of this is that by making this time for each other, we have strengthened our relationship because we can talk about the things we are learning, share what we are excited about making, and just feel more passion for life because we don’t have to just talk about work and poopy diapers.
Do you feel like you’ve lost yourself by having a child? If you could pick up something you love again, how would that make your life better? How can you ensure your partner has that same opportunity?