Last week I had lunch with an old friend. Our dads were childhood friends, so she and I were basically buddies from birth. Although we lived in different states, our families got together every year for the week of Thanksgiving, so she and I grew up, if not together, in somewhat parallel lives. We played together, giggled about boys together, stressed about college options together, and forged into young adulthood with infrequent but meaningful reunions.
Our lives diverged five years ago when I got married and my friend moved back home with her mom. We lost touch, although we still heard news of each other through our parents. I was thrilled when she texted to say she would be in D.C. for a wedding and wanted to meet up, but I wondered if we’d have anything in common.
At this point in my life, my world revolves around my kids, so I have sometimes have trouble relating to friends who are single and childless. What do you mean, you’re exhausted? Who woke you up multiple times last night? Why are you so busy – don’t you only have your own schedule to manage? And I am well aware that the disconnect goes both ways. Before I had kids of my own, I found my friends’ children adorable and amusing, but could not quite grasp the effect they had on my friends’ lives.
Since my friend would only be in town for a couple of days, there wasn’t time for her to meet my family, so we settled on a pre-lunch Skype date. I introduced my kids, who chatted and performed (my son sang the ABCs, my daughter played peekaboo) for a few minutes before returning to their play.
The next day, I met my friend for lunch expecting her to remark on how strange it was for her to see me with kids. Personally, I feel like a completely different human being now than I was five years ago, entirely because of my children. I am less energetic, less ambitious, and less invested in my hobbies and outside interests. At the same time, I am also more present, more generous, and more easy-going.
To my surprise, my friend’s first comment to me was, “It’s like having kids made you who you truly are!” Her point was that I have always needed to be needed, and now that my kids fulfill that requirement, I am much more at peace. I no longer struggle to be all things to all people; as long as I am the best mom I can be, that is enough. My children’s love and happiness provide the validation I previously tried to find by getting good grades, teaching group fitness classes, and working really hard.
The initial premise of this blog was my struggle to figure out who I am as a person with children, to distinguish “me” from the “mom” I had recently become. I was desperately afraid of losing myself in the all-consuming identity that is motherhood. Now, three years in, the blurry line between mom/me no longer exists. Nearly every decision I make begins with a consideration of my children’s needs (Will I be able to nurse my daughter if I wear that dress? What can I make for dinner that will be nutritious and easy for my small kids to eat? If I go to happy hour will I be home for bedtime?). My previous (childless) hobbies have all but been replaced by activities that involve my family – for example, teaching group fitness classes has become evening yoga with the kids; scrapbooking has become arts and crafts; reading great literature has become reading mostly picture books, etc. I mourned the loss of my more self-centered lifestyle when my son was first born, but now I have fully embraced my life as a mom.
Meeting up with my friend last week, someone who knew “me” very well but had not yet met “mom/me” was illuminating. Rather than see me as transformed, she saw me as completed. She helped me see that instead of taking away part of myself, having children has filled a piece of me that I have long been trying to plug with other things.
While it is a scientific fact that my son and daughter would not be who they are without me, I would also not be who I am without them. As I have written before, my children are constantly teaching me how to be a better person – more patient, generous, kind, and less hurried. But even more importantly, becoming a mom has helped me to become, well, more me. Except when my kids wake me for the third time in the middle of the night before a busy day in the office, then I am a less-flattering version of myself …