69: Reclaiming Myself

69: Reclaiming Myself

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Find Your Happiness

Reclaiming Myself

The value of identity of course is that so often with it comes purpose.

~Richard Grant

Before my two daughters were born, I was a very different person. I worked full-time, had a downtown office with a view, and regularly traveled to New York, Los Angeles, even Guam.

My life was full and exciting, and I didn’t want it to change just because I became a mother. So after my first child came along, I continued to work. I trusted our caregiver, but soon began to realize how close my daughter was becoming with her. Instead of me.

I wanted to have a second child, and I wanted to have time to bond with them both while they were young. So I left my job to become a stay-at-home mom, raising my first daughter and having a second. Financially, it was a stretch, but with some lifestyle changes, my husband and I made it possible.

I envisioned a new life filled with walks to the park, creative activities with my kids, and gab sessions over coffee with fellow at-home moms. Instead, my days quickly began to blend together and my head became foggy from a lack of sleep. I found myself wearing the same baggy sweatpants and T-shirts every day, stopped wearing make-up, and only read books that rhymed. Then along came Take Our Daughters to Work Day. Where could I possibly take mine, I wondered — the laundry room?

Now, I don’t mean to imply that a mother has to work for validation — being a parent is the most rewarding and fulfilling job in the world. But that realization underscored a growing concern I had. By giving up so much of what I had previously enjoyed, what kind of example was I setting?

Even though I had graduated from college, and gone on to earn an MBA, my daughters didn’t know that side of me. To them, I was the one who hosted play dates, baked cookies, and folded endless piles of laundry. Sure, in the life of a preschooler, these are important duties, and I was good at them. But as my girls matured, would cooking, cleaning and carpooling be all I represented to them? Should it be?

After three years of being a full-time at-home mom, I decided the time had come to find the path back to myself.

First, I needed to clear the “brain fog,” so I signed up for a night class in writing for children. Because my husband often didn’t get home until after dinner, I hired a babysitter to watch the girls for the two hours I was in class. Leaving the house once a week with a notebook and sharpened pencils was invigorating, a feeling I’d long forgotten.

A few months later, I joined a health club. While the girls were in preschool, I headed to the gym for my twice-weekly yoga class or a walk on the treadmill. It was just a couple of times a week, but it really made a difference.

Soon after, I joined a book club and dug out my library card. The club’s members were mothers, just like me, but we discussed books, not our children. It felt great to talk about life, literature and writing. For that hour, I was more than “Mom.”

These small changes resulted in some big benefits. I ditched the baggy sweatpants and dug out some of the nicer clothes I hadn’t worn in a long time. To my surprise, they fit. I continued writing stories for children, joined a writers’ group, and started sending out my manuscripts. A little over a year later, I had a contract from a major publisher for my first children’s book!

I realized that although I enjoyed the responsibility (and the gift) of motherhood, I didn’t need to give myself entirely over to the job in order to do it well. In fact, as they grew older, it became increasingly important for my daughters to see me as an individual, taking care of myself and pursuing my own interests. They would always be my first priority, but there was no need to neglect my own needs in the process.

My girls, now in their early teens, are bright, independent and caring young women. They know that I’m always there for them, but they’ve also come to see me as an individual, and I hope I’ve helped them see all the possibilities they have to look forward to in life. Spending more time with myself has allowed me to give more to my children.

~Ruth Spiro

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