There’s been a lot of change lately.
Adjusting to being a working parent again. Catching up on work after a year away. Half term holidays. The baby is learning to walk and fast becoming a toddler.
And if I’m really honest with myself, I think I’ve changed somewhat. I think it’s natural for parenthood to change some aspects of one’s self.
Interestingly, many of the parents I’ve spoken with as part of my research have found it easy to answer either the question of how they’ve changed, or how they haven’t changed; most seem to find one easier and more obvious than the other.
How I’ve changed…
For me, how I have changed as a person feels more like rediscovering rather than reinventing.
In many ways, I feel like parenthood has helped me shed some of the artifice I had collected over the years of adult working life. Something about catching vomit in your bare hands strips you of pretence. Or maybe it’s reaching breaking point with an impressionable little person watching you carefully the whole time.
Whilst I don’t think other people would notice a change, I feel differently now than I did before I went on maternity leave with my second.
I appreciate my day job much more and three weeks in am still having fun at work.
I feel more driven, like trying out happiness ideas and blogging about the results here, developing my coaching practice, achieving positive change at work.
I have more confidence. For instance, when I was eight months’ pregnant I took my then-four-year-old to Southend to visit the aquarium, and it felt like this risk or feat of some kind that I did this on my own while my husband was in Dublin. But then when baby was six months old I took him and my older son clear across the Greater London area to Hampton Court Palace, completely on my own, and to me it was just another day of the spring half term. This somewhat superficial example hints at a deeper confidence. It’s kind of a, “If I can birth two babies naturally and do the school run and take care of my sick mother when baby #2 is 4 days old, I can do anything” feeling. (Side note: that’s a whole other story, but basically my mother, who was visiting to help became really sick, so I had to take care of her and do the stuff she was going to help with, like school runs and grocery shops.)
Perhaps most significantly, I have been learning about and developing my compassion and patience. I had learned patience with my first, but having two kids has meant a greater demand on my patience than I had expected. (I seriously underestimated that one.) This has been both my biggest struggle and my biggest achievement in the past year. Not only do I see myself making progress with patience in how I deal with my two boys, I’ve also seen it translate into my wider life, such as when my husband and I have a difference of opinion, or the computer crashes at work, or the trains are delayed. Generally, I’ve become calmer, and I have a different relationship to my own brain and how it evolved.
And how I haven’t changed…
I also think it’s useful to reflect on the ways we have not changed.
Being a parent doesn’t define me entirely, and if you’re reading this blog then I’m guessing your role as a parent doesn’t define you entirely, either. I think part of what I’ve enjoyed about being back at work is having time in my day where I am not so-and-so’s Mum (as I’m known at the school gates). Even during maternity leave, I found reading and writing and coaching to be ways to carve out time every week to be me the person, not me the parent.
I still enjoy taking on projects and ideas. This was something I was like as a kid that’s carried on into my adult life, and funnily enough I can see the same trait in my parents sometimes. I’ll get an idea or a hobby or an interest in my head and become almost obsessive about it. While it can be irritating (my poor husband…) it’s also something that’s truly me and has been a key part of successes in my life.
Never let me go
Years ago, I was seeing a counsellor. It was a dark time for me, when I wasn’t sure if I would be able to have a child, and counselling helped me deal with the not-knowing. One of the most profound experiences I had in counselling was one day, thinking about myself as a child and a tween and dissolving into tears.
“What do you feel?” the counsellor asked as I wiped away tears.
“I realise how much I miss that person,” was the automatic response from my lips.
I missed myself, because somehow in the course of life I had curated my sense of self – to be effective, to be liked, to be successful – to the point where I felt lonely and missed myself.
It’s a unique kind of sadness to feel so distant from one’s true self. Having felt that, I don’t think I’ll ever allow myself to become someone I’m not, even if that means I alienate people or make mistakes. Being me is far more important than being perfect.
Getting to know you
Here are some journal prompts that can help us reconnect with who we are, both after the changes the experience of parenthood can bring and in ways that remain untouched and true to ourselves.
How have you changed since becoming a parent?
In what ways have you changed? Maybe it’s learning a new skill, like patience, or perhaps it’s a new way of looking at priorities. Start writing and try to keep your hand moving, even if you just repeat the same word or rewrite the prompt.
How have you not changed since becoming a parent?
In what ways are you the same person you were before you had kids? Another way of looking at this could be to think about how you bring your unique flair and personality to your role as a parent – how are you the only person who could parent your kids the way you do?
What were you like as a child? What made you tick? How did you play?
How did you spend your time in those innocent days before you became so aware of what other people thought of you?
What would you go back and tell yourself in the weeks before finding out you were going to be a parent?
Think back to that time before you knew you would be a parent. What were you like then? And how are you different now? What have you learned or how have you grown that you would share with that earlier version of yourself?
What would you go back and tell yourself in the weeks before you met your first child?
As above, but thinking about when you knew you were going to be a parent, but it was still a somewhat abstract idea.
What have you learned since becoming a parent?
What have you learned – about life, about yourself, about love – since becoming a parent? Learning and growth can help us appreciate how we’ve evolved whilst remaining the same person at our cores.
If you lost all fear, what would you do differently?
Sometimes our fear of failure or making mistakes keeps us from being our truest selves. If you lost that fear, how might that look?