When my daughter was born, and I was trying to find a new balance in life with two kids, I found myself strongly questioning my skills as a parent.
One of our biggest combats was getting her to sleep at night. Any parent who has been there knows the struggle. I remember feeling as though my mom friends, all of whom seemed to be able to get their kids to sleep at night, must be better parents than I am.
After all, our children are a reflection of ourselves, right? Does that mean they define us? And if so, what is wrong with me that my child is not able to willingly sleep the 12 magical hours that it seems like everyone else’s baby is?
And then I started to think, this is absurd. How could it be that the actions of another individual define who I am, even if that individual is a little person that I created and committed to raising?
Even though we are now past these sleep struggles (thank God!) I have found myself once again struggling with the concept of being defined by our children. This struck me the other day when I had to put together a bio of myself for an upcoming presentation I am giving.
It is always a little hard for me to write positively about myself, as I think it is for a lot of people. What I was not prepared for was how easy it was to write about my role as a parent, and then how hard it was to keep going. It was so simple to define myself as a mother. To view my worth and value as a direct outcome of who my children were and what they were doing.
But was it possible that I as a person had nothing else to offer? Did this mean that I was only going to be feel successful as a result of my kids’ accomplishments?
And then I started to wonder if others might feel the same way. Viewing themselves positively or negatively based on what their young children are or are not able to do. And then, what about those struggling to become mothers? If we are only defined by our children, how do these women feel about themselves?
The therapist in me had to take a step back and explore this. I had to think if this is something I am doing to myself and therefore need to work on internally, or is this something that society has led me to believe.
After sitting with this for a while, I realized it is a little bit of both.
Since becoming a mother three-and-a-half years ago, I have noticed a major shift in my identity. This may have started as soon as I got pregnant, or perhaps even as early as when we decided to start trying to have a family. Something pretty drastic changes in these initial moments of parenthood, when you start to feel that your success and failure is defined by something (or someone!) out of your control.
In the past, if someone were to ask me about my life, I would share how I was doing and what was going on with me. Now, when asked the same question, my focus is automatically on how things are with the kids. Where I used to talk with others about my own accomplishments, I now share those of my children.
And when it comes to failures, well, those are on me as well.
Now don’t get me wrong, I am not complaining. Becoming a mother has been one of the greatest changes in my life. Something I had thought about and hoped for long before it became a reality. The concern I am having now is how to maintain a positive sense of self while navigating this maze of parenthood. I am trying to understand where my own self ends and where that connected to my children begins.
Which one is greater? Or are they one and the same?
Society has a “typical” (I hate this word!) way in which we are expected to travel through life. Go to college, get a job, get married, move to the suburbs and have 2.5 kids, send those kids to great schools and watch them succeed and repeat the same. It sounds nice. But what if it does not happen this way? Does this make you a bad person? Absolutely not! So why would I be considered a bad parent if my child does not fit similar preconceived expectations. The answer is, I shouldn’t be.
So, while this might be easy for me to type out, and for you to read, it is something that requires effort to put into practice. We need to continue to maintain our own identities and interests. When talking with other parents, we need to provide encouragement that they are doing their best, even if their child might be struggling at the moment.
Most importantly, we need to realize that our worth is defined by so much more than just whether or not our baby is sleeping through the night!
Jmore parenting columnist Talya Knable is a psychotherapist who lives in Lutherville with her husband, Stephen, and their two children, Jack and Leigh.Her website is tkpsych.com/ She is also the assistant clinical director of Shalom Tikvah (shalomtikvah.org/) , a local non-profit organization that supports Jewish families facing mental illness and other challenging life circumstances.
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