While in college, Michele Kus walked out of a jazz band audition vowing never to play music publicly again. Burnout had pushed her over the edge. 20 years later, after seven years as a full-time mom and the birth of her third child, she was exhausted from parenting and in need of a territory to call her own. Unexpectedly, she found herself being drawn into playing keyboard at her church. This time, music became a lifeline.
“The music is fully mine. It is me being fully me. It is not something I do for my children or for my husband; in fact, they must make sacrifices for me to do it,” explains Kus.
At the beginning when we are establishing a family, we adopt our new roles wholeheartedly, even calling each other ‘mommy’ and ‘daddy.’ But as the kids grow and we never hear our given name, it can be discouraging. Limiting our identity to one role has the potential to build resentment. And it can diminish our ability to be our best as a parent.
Want to be a better, more fulfilled parent? Try one or more of these seven ideas for reclaiming yourself as a whole person:
1. Establish a ‘no kids zone’in your house. They may follow you everywhere (including the bathroom), but that does not mean you don’t deserve a space of your own. Even a chair or nook designated off-limits to everyone, but you can provide a respite when the troops are restless.
2. Spend time around people who don’t know your children. It’s natural for the majority of our associates during the child-rearing years to be those who play a role in our children’s lives: parents of playmates, fellow parents who help out at your child’s school, neighborhood moms and dads. However, this limits us to being identified as ‘somebody’s mom’ or ‘somebody’s dad.’ When you engage with others minus the kids, you have the chance to express another side of yourself. This can be as simple as going to the gym or a Pilates class once a week.
3. Accomplish a personal goal. We often have the sense that the world drops off at our doorstep; that we have to put everything on hold for the sake of our children. But the truth is, our kids can appreciate us more when they see us making time for ourselves too. And fulfilling one goal can lead to other opportunities.
For Kus, engaging in music again has spawned new aspirations: making an album, learning how to DJ, writing soundtracks. “It has opened a whole new world for me,” she says. “I feel like I have come back to life, and my husband and kids have seen the change in me.”
4. Have a ‘big people dinner’with just your spouse. Feed the kids a child-friendly meal of chicken nuggets or Mac ‘n Cheese. Then focus your energy on creating a more sophisticated meal for the adults in the house. Pull out the china and light some candles. Once the kids are all tucked in bed for the night, enjoy a peaceful, uninterrupted meal. One caveat? Try not to discuss the kids over dinner. Instead, Kus suggests, “Talk about what gives you energy - your dreams, your desires.”
5. Find a job. Consider looking for work as your children reach school-age. Even a few hours each week can make a difference in your attitude toward yourself.
Kathleen Wolf, a mother of two, started as a substitute teacher before going back to teaching full-time. The results for her have been positive. “I feel more confident and that my kids are not my whole world,” she explains. “I have a purpose again.”
6. Make a date - with yourself. Arrange for someone to take child duty (spouse, grandparent, friend), then escape for a day doing what you like best - reading, watching a movie, napping, shopping, shootin’ some hoops. Not sure what to do? Pick a day and jump in the car to see where it takes you. You may be surprised.
7. Get physical. Engage in a sport or activity you enjoyed as a youth. Whether through drawing, playing tennis, playing soccer or playing piano, using your body to do something once very familiar can be emotionally satisfying. Unlike our memory of information, muscle memory (or what scientists call ‘procedural memory’) sticks much longer-term. The result is that we can connect with our identity prior to parenthood through actions we learned long ago.
As many moms and dads have found, parenthood can be an all-consuming profession. But it does not have to claim our personal identity too. Given a bit of attention... and intention, we can be ourselves and mommy or daddy. And we should.
As Kus says, “No one can be you. No one carries the unique gifts, skills, passion and heart that you do.”
Lara is a parenting journalist, mother of three and author of Bucket List Living For Moms: Become a More Adventurous Parent.
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