Last night, amidst the chaos of cooking dinner, I received a text message: “Hey girl, wanna come over for wine after the kids are in bed??” The text came from a good friend who lives nearby, one with whom I don’t often get to spend time, but wish to. Considering the idea momentarily, my thumbs began hammering out my usual, practiced response – that I’d need to confer with my husband, another way of saying, “I probably won’t make it tonight.”
But partway through my reply, I stopped. Why did I need permission? The kids were asleep, we had a working television, and dinner already prepared. Everything would be absolutely fine without me there to fret about it. Feeling a thrill of adventure, my pulse quickening, I typed out, “Sounds great, count me in!”
To anyone else, it’s a no-brainer: your friend invites you out, you want to go, so you go. End of story. This used to be my modus operandi as well. But since having children, I’ve felt beholden to my family, tied to their needs, incapable of summoning the mental fortitude to convince myself that I deserve to exist without them on occasion. And this isn’t something I blame on my husband. He’s done a wonderful job of encouraging my need for social connection, and coaxing me to enjoy myself every once in awhile. He knows, as I do, the importance of recharging in this never-ending marathon of parenting.
Still, it’s easier said than done. I am here, day in and day out, caring for my kids. What will they do without me? More importantly, who am I without them? My identity and self-worth are so inextricably intertwined with their well-being, sometimes I have to remind myself that I had a life once, before them. I was my own person. I wasn’t just mom.
It is a mental exercise, separating yourself from your children. It takes practice, perseverance, and intentionality. This is particularly true when they are small, when they are more reliant on you for everything, and constantly prone to inflicting injury on themselves, others, or innocent, inanimate objects (the couch, for example). The first year of my kids’ lives stifled me. I felt isolated, chained to their needs, confined to our house, to their schedules. Every single activity, every event conflicted with naptime, or bedtime, and it slowly chipped away at my youthful joie de vivre.
The good news is that children grow. Every day, almost imperceptibly, they become more independent, more capable of existing without you. Last night, for the first time in three years, I realized that my kids managed adequately without me. As I walked out the door, carrying nothing but my purse – no diaper bag, sippy cups, or snacks in tow – I felt a tad sick to my stomach. The all-too-familiar guilt started to rise up inside of me, and everything within me wanted to turn back and remain at home, where I belong, where I’m needed, and where my sweatpants are.
But this time, I felt something new, something I hadn’t experienced for such a long time, and that I didn’t even realize I’d missed: FREEDOM. I experienced a taste of the old life, pre-kids, when nothing held me back from visiting friends, hanging out, and having fun. Others told me this day would come, but as I furiously doggy paddled in the raging waters of raising babies, I didn’t believe them. Mostly, I couldn’t imagine it, regaining my independence, emancipating myself from the needs of my offspring. I can say now, with confidence, it does happen. There is a bright and beautiful light at the end of the tunnel. A bold new beginning. Wait for it… wait for it…