On my very first day of graduate school, many years ago, I completed a quick self-assessment tool. The intention of the exercise was to get us thinking about how we see ourselves in relation to others; to evaluate where we fit in and where we hoped to go from there. It was simple. Yet, at the time, it was a bit lost on me.
I was fresh out of college when I entered graduate school. I was young and ready to save the world. I had big dreams. Some of them have been met; others still hang in the balance. But that very first day, I was certain that I would meet them all. I knew who I was and where I was going. Ignorance is bliss.
The professor asked us to make a list of how we would describe ourselves in relation to others (examples included mother, daughter, sister, etc.). I quickly jotted down “daughter, sister, friend, student, and therapist in training”. Some people shared their lists; others just listened. What became very clear to me that day was that I did not have many life experiences under my belt. I was young. My very first instinct was to write “daughter”. How could I save the world if I had yet to experience it?
I remember it clearly. Walking into that room I was a strong woman on a mission to save every child from harm. Walking out, I was a humbled young woman who had some work to do.
I think of that exercise often, especially when I’m feeling lost in the haze of chasing kids, cooking, cleaning, and trying to keep everyone happy. Right now, I have the best job in the world. Right now, I am a mom. But it is hard work, and there are days when I don’t have a single moment of “me” time. Truthfully, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I see how fast my children grow and I want to hold them tight and keep them small forever.
I’ve noticed that a lot of moms seem to be struggling with the balancing act lately. I hear about it on Twitter and Facebook, I hear about it on the playground, and four times in the last week people were directed to my blog by entering the search words “moms feeling lost”. Not long ago, I wrote a piece about “Mom-Esteem”, the term I use to describe how we feel about ourselves as moms.
It’s easy to feel lost in motherhood, particularly with infants or when making the transition from working full time to stay at home mom (or work at home mom). It’s easy to put yourself on the back burner while you tend to babies, keep the house in order, cook something healthy, run errands, keep up with your friendships, and try desperately to have a healthy marriage. It’s exhausting. It can be isolating. It can be a lonely job.
I think that graduate school exercise is a useful tool for moms feeling lost in the early stages of parenting. If you were to sit down and make a list of how you would describe yourself in relation to others, what would that list look like? You might think it would be short. You might have difficulty seeing beyond “mom” and “wife”. I’m here to tell you that that list would actually be very, very long.
Twelve years and many life experiences later, my list is much different:
Part time exerciser
Play date coordinator
Arts and crafts leader
Idea generator (someone has to come up with fun plans)
Provider of endless hugs and kisses
“Feelings helper” (term coined by my daughter)
Giver of baths
Entertainer (not on a professional level)
I could go on…but you get the point.
People often ask me what advice I would give new moms. I always say the same thing: Take a shower every morning, take a walk every day, and ask for help. Taking a shower is the best way to start the day, especially if you’ve been up for most of the day. Taking a walk ensures some exercise and fresh air. Both are important to your emotional well-being. Asking for help means knowing that you can’t always do it all alone. It’s ok to need help. It’s ok to be tired, cranky, and overwhelmed. I focus on these three areas because these are just for you. New moms always feel lost at some point (if they’re being honest). You have to remember to make time for you too.
I laughed as I sat down to make this current list. Some descriptions are clearly more serious than others, but they’re all true. At the end of the day, I am all of these things. I take pride in every single one of them. And when I have a day that seems never-ending and my husband is away and I can’t find a minute to make a phone call…I have that list to remind me that I am important to many people on many different levels every single day. Trust me, it helps.
What does your list look like?
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