In which I am not myself

Something that is often noted about motherhood is the loss of selfhood. It’s something that is also often not understood, though. At least going by conversations I seem to keep having. 

“Ha, ha. Your English humour.” (Meaning: you can’t possibly REALLY be at all unhappy with motherhood, ever.)

“But that’s not losing yourself. That’s just life. Nobody gets to do what they want all the time.” (But how about SOME of the time?)

That childfree person has an awesome social life because she actually makes an effort.” (Meaning: you clearly don’t.)

Let’s be clear: motherhood is wonderful. My children are amazing. I am incredibly lucky and I don’t wish them away. I’d do it all over again, even knowing what I know now (and although I totally understand why not everyone would). But it is also amazingly hard, and many of the ways in which it is hard are ways in which my sense of self is being constantly eroded.

These are a few of things that motherhood has (temporarily) taken away from me. I suppose none of these could be considered essential to selfhood, but cumulatively, it feels like layer upon layer of me is stripped away.

1. Music. Because I can’t risk not hearing the baby, or because I can’t risk waking the baby, or – nowadays – because the toddler says “no, no, DONE” and switches it off. Or because, even when toddler allows music to play (say, in the car), I’m not allowed to dance or sing along. 

2. Time with my thoughts. Because obviously.

3. Exploring new things. Like the idea of drawing every day, to see if I finally manage to develop some skill. Or practising photography until I get less bad. Or trying a new exercise class. (Or any exercise class.) Or – dammit – sewing.

4. Going to the movies alone. Or with friends. I’m not fussy. 

5. Wandering around town, popping into museums and galleries, watching the world go by, getting to know my new city

6. Going to work. Talking to grown-ups and using grown-up skills. 

7. Choosing clothes that make me happy, rather than just covering me as inconspicuously as possible.

8. The right to rest when I’m tired or sick. The right to close the bathroom door. The right to not talk to anyone for a while.

Mercifully, though, I still have knitting – at least sometimes, when small person is climbing into my lap and demanding all my cuddles. Which he generally does as soon as I sit down. Which is honestly not terrible. Without the knitting, I really wouldn’t have anything of myself left. Without the knitting, it would all be over. 

It’s not over.

4 thoughts on “In which I am not myself

  1. I was talking to one of my team, who has two kids, this week. She’d had some time off over Easter and I asked if she’d had a nice break. "Yes, but it was good to get back to work and be able to sit at my desk and have a coffee in peace."

    As someone who’s never wanted children, I really appreciate your honesty about the reality of motherhood. It provides a good antidote to society telling me that I’m missing out. I do hope things get easier for you soon, though, it sounds as though life is currently very tough (though maybe that’s partly because I simply can’t imagine finding the joy in motherhood that you obviously do, despite the frustrations).

    (Also, I think it’s quite rude to hijack a thread specifically about the difficulties of motherhood with the difficulties of not being a mother when you want to be, tbh!)

    1. Ha! Yes. A has been known to call his work days "days off". The glory of being left alone cannot be overstated.

      The cultural messages about motherhood are completely weird. And frankly incredibly insulting to all women – this message that nothing else you can possibly do will ever matter as much as this very basic thing of making a baby and raising it. Which is very important to that baby, obviously, and it’s not exactly easy, but… well.

      You’re not missing out. If you were, you’d feel it. It’s that simple: if you don’t want it, you’re not missing anything. Life without kids can be awesome. Life with kids can be awesome (but generally a lot harder, especially at first). My life, specifically, has been tough because of a constellation of factors, but they’re all things that will naturally change (language skills improve, babies grow) and are changing and I feel pretty good about where things are going. Mostly. And yes, I do find joy in motherhood, or rather in my children; finding more love in your life is never a bad thing. And they are rather fine little people. But honestly if I’d never had kids I’m pretty sure I’d be perfectly content also.

      As for that thread, I didn’t feel it was rude. The conversation had wandered off-topic anyway, so it didn’t feel like hijacking! And honestly it doesn’t hurt to get an occasional reminder that the pain of not having kids, for those who really want them, is real and deep and to be respected.

  2. The only thing I can say, is it does get better! Thank heavens for school, or I’d never get anything done.

    From 9.15 to 2.45 I get to be just me again. I can knit, or write patterns, or go to work, or do something else entirely. Without the demands of my child or husband, and with my own dodgy taste in world music (on loud). I didn’t realise until it happened just how good this time on my own was going to make me feel.

    1. Hooray for school, indeed, though here in Die Schweiz kids go home for a 2-hr lunch break – so unless I arrange childcare, having 5 glorious hours all to myself is about 10 years away (when Max hits high school). Mind you… they do walk to kindergarten alone, so 8am–12.30 ain’t so bad. Two years to go!

      You can imagine how I fantasize about having even 3 hours to just do one thing at a time, by myself. To music!

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