I recently met up with a friend who is going through a divorce. When I saw her, the first thing I noticed was how amazing she looked.
As we sat down with our drinks and I started to take in the details – hair recently dyed to cover stray grays, eyebrows thick and neatly waxed, a cool outfit – she said, “That’s something that’s changed now he’s left – I will not sacrifice my self-care.”
I feel it’s worth saying now that my friend was not the initiator of the divorce – not at all. This was not something she wanted and despite her best efforts to save her marriage, the other party wasn’t interested in fighting for anything. He was done.
So this wasn’t flippant ‘single and ready to mingle’ talk, or someone who didn’t suffer deeply over the past few months. During our catch up she described herself as grieving, mourning the death of her marriage. Which is what she’s going through. A death of the life she knew.
But as we talked about things, I realised how easily we can fall into the trap of seeing ourselves as Mums or Dads, not caring anymore if we feel beautiful or attractive. Neglecting the fact that we can’t remember the last time we went out into the world, just as ourselves, without wearing the name badge of Parent or Employee.
Another mother I know also dealt with a sudden and very-much-unwanted divorce while heavily pregnant with their third child. Her husband came home one day, said he was leaving, and that was that. She had to pick up the pieces for her kids’ sakes and even labour to birth their third child without him by her side.
Whilst of course nothing she could have done would have warranted the way he treated her, she told me that in hindsight she had been so busy being Mummy that she had lost sight of the relationship she and her husband had before the kids.
“Remember that you were you and him before you were Mummy and Daddy,” she advised.
These are not two outliers, either. All too often, the incredibly important role of parent can start to overshadow other aspects of the Self.
But it’s also not mandatory.
Retaining your identity doesn’t mean you love your children any less.
I think there is often a dichotomous conversation around identity for parents. New mothers are often encouraged to get a sitter and leave their newborn baby, which for some women is a blessing but for others this advice goes against their instincts and everything they really want. I was one of the latter, and this advice to leave my baby for a date night or a girls’ night out when all I wanted was to be home cuddling my babies felt more like pressure – another ‘should’ I was failing to achieve – than support.
We all need to be able to be ourselves as parents, and ourselves as people. And what we define as self-care will vary from one person to the next, just as our identities differ.
For my friend, rediscovering herself and taking care of herself is looking after her body and her appearance, going on dates again and feeling beautiful and desirable, and keeping time for her friendships. I don’t know what my self-care would look like if I were in her position.
For me, where I am now and being the person I am, my self-care and my steps to retain my identity can look rather different – and that’s okay. For both of us.
Reading a good book, writing this blog, keeping my journal to make sense of all my thoughts and goals and dreams, running – these are all ways that I retain that bit of self that could so easily drown in the sea of house and children and husband and work. In the midst of all that, there sits the thoughtful, quiet introverted girl who wants to understand the world, break its shell and find the words to capture some greater truth I find from a range of inspirations and sources.
So every week, I try to find ways to give that girl a voice.
What part of you feels neglected and is ready to come out? What aspect of yourself do you crave to bring into the light?