I wrote this post back in 2015 about how our identities change when we become parents and how this can been an unsettling and sometimes shocking experience. I’ll never know how much of the emotional difficulty I faced upon Caterpillar’s arrival was due to PND and how much was just the normal shifts all new parents go through. But I suspect quite a lot was the latter.
For all parents, but in particular the parent who chooses to stay home with their baby, the enormity of your new lifestyle can take a lot of getting used to. Team that with the fact that your baby cycles through some extremely quick development changes during those first few months and many of us feel the whiplash effect.
We often grapple with our own internal struggles; maybe we gave up a job we adored and that formed a big part of our identity or maybe we feel anxious that we don’t have the money we used to have or, vitally, maybe we simply don’t have the time to stay in touch with whatever makes us us. Whether that be hobbies or friends or exercise, if we don’t have the time or don’t value ourselves enough to continue these activities we can feel really lost. And yes at the same time our little ones are constantly moving the goalposts in terms of sleep patterns, eating habits and development stages.
It took me a long time to get used to my new lifestyle. Probably longer than most because I was on a steep learning curve at the same time in terms of learning how to manage Anxiety & Depression and how to generally have a more positive outlook on life. I didn’t have a particularly high profile job – I was (and still am, two days a week) a Personal Assistant. But my job did take me to the hustle and bustle of London every day and I’d been making that commute for over ten years. I didn’t really have any sense of connection to my local community because I’d never needed to before.
I didn’t realise how big a part of my identity my job was until it was suddenly gone. Additionally, I’d been made redundant two months before Caterpillar’s birth so it’s not like I even had a job to go back to.
Once he arrived and once I began to get a grip on my PND recovery I found myself having to sculpt a whole new daily routine. I went to places in my local area I’d never been to before, joined Children’s Centres and local baby groups, and had to get comfortable spending a lot of time at home and not allowing that fact to make me feel worthless. Change isn’t easy for anyone, least of all an Anxiety sufferer.
But change I did and we eventually found our groove. I made more friends locally and got Caterpillar & I into a new routine. I came to terms with the fact that the job of being a mum can’t be monitored and controlled like a regular job. You don’t get an appraisal or a set of objectives. I learnt how to be comfortable in my own skin and confident in my parenting abilities and used to spending all my hours with this adorable, wonderful, energy-draining little person.
We bumped along quite happily for four years and then last month my life was renovated again. Caterpillar started school.
Since I’d struggled so much adapting to life as a time-starved mum the idea of having that identity switched again and suddenly having six hours a day to myself was strangely scary. Not to mention all the usual worries about how much I would miss him and if he’d make friends and be safe and everything else. My stomach had knotted with a combination of excitement and anxiety as the summer drew to a close but, like the other phases of motherhood, time rolled on and before I knew it September had arrived.
And you know what? It’s fantastic. I miss him desperately, of course, but now find I make sure the time we spend together is of a higher quality. Those first few days of school were scary and unsettling but once Caterpillar found his groove, I found mine too, and managed to practice what I always preach here – I took time for myself, for self-care and for the things I enjoy. Between catching up with friends for precious child-free coffee dates and working on my Perinatal Mental Health advocacy I’ve found there is barely time to put the washing on, let alone examine my new existence.
Honestly, I know I should try to enjoy every second because once Caterpillar grows more independent the pressure to return to work more than two days a week will begin to rear up. Or maybe I’ll finally write my book and be a millionaire! Either way life will change again and I’ll need to ride it out, again. Nothing is the same for very long once you’re a parent.
I suppose the point I’m trying to make is that all change is scary and the different facets of personality and identity all mums have to maintain is sometimes exhausting to me, but I realised they are all just me – I’m a PA, a wife, a friend, a cook, a writer and a mental health advocate. Now I’m a school mum too. One thing has no bearing on the others. We are more than just mums and we are more than just employees – in fact, are we beginning to achieve what the last generation of mothers was aiming for; having it all? Maybe. But maybe it’s not about having it all but instead being it all. And surely that’s something to be celebrated rather than feared.