I’m not me when I’m not writing.
I am on the face of it, but I know there’s a percentage missing. I can’t quantify it exactly, but the longer the gap between writing stints, the bigger it feels. It’s got too big for comfort recently, so I pencilled the last two Wednesday afternoons in to fix that, and this post was the result.
People talk a lot about losing their identities when they have children. About feeling detached from who they were before. And it certainly is a journey. I remember being on the bus not long after my daughter was born and seeing a young woman walking down the road by herself and thinking: How dare you be so free? Who do you think you are?! (I was very tired).
One woman, many titles
But I guess the real question was: Who did I think I was now? The titles are easy enough to work through. I’m a mother, a wife, a copywriter, a daughter, a sister, a friend, my local confectionery counter’s most loyal customer, and more.
But what am I to me? A woman who loves books. Who’s always on the hunt for a bargain. Who likes to eat a Cadbury’s Boost in peace every now and again thanks very much. Who needs to write to feel sane.
I don’t miss who I was before my children were born because if I’m her, I’m not their mum, and I’m not interested in that. There’s a clear line between who I was before they showed up and who I became that day in the hospital back in November 2017. It is the privilege of my life to have stepped across it.
But yes, of course I miss the freedom sometimes. I miss knowing that the toilet door will stay shut when I’m in the bathroom. I miss watching TV shows on a Saturday afternoon that don’t feature animals turning into superheroes. I miss drinking cocktails without fear of the horrific consequences if I’m pulled out of bed at 5am by a child demanding CBeebies.
But I can (and do) live without such luxuries. That was me several versions ago, before I underwent a full systems update that blew my mind (and left quite the scar too). To go back isn’t what I need, I’d lose all my changes.
Rather than a loss of identity, I try and see it as my next iteration. I’ve been reprogrammed to cope with what it feels like to live in my body now. With a heart that lives outside my chest, in the form of two small children. Sometimes it’s cartwheeling across the landing, sometimes it’s drinking fistfuls of water from the toilet bowl. (I have an almost six year old girl and a two year old son. I’ll let you guess who enjoys which activity).
Still you, just with less free time
It’s not my identity that’s gone, but the time to engage with all parts of it. When parenting is proving tricky, which it often does, days can last years around here. But the rest of the time, they speed by inexplicably quickly. Where exactly has 2023 gone? Why isn’t my son tiny any more? Why do I make that sound when I lift him up? I want more time, but that’s not an option.
Because it’s time that allows us to connect with who we are, and to do the things that give us strength. Moments when I get to do my own things – however simple and trivial – make all the difference.
I’ve had ‘Wash make up brushes!’ on my to-do list for months now, and I have finally done it. It’s a tiny job that took about ten minutes. The effect it had on my wellbeing was unexpectedly huge. I became the kind of woman who has clean brushes. And, more importantly, the kind of woman who has time to have clean brushes. I look forward to being her again some time next year.
The problem is that the hierarchy of items on my to-do list is non-negotiable. I don’t even want to shift it particularly (though if somebody else could figure out what we’re going to serve up/scrape into the bin for dinner that would be great). I just want the day to become 30 hours long so I can fit more in, and rest usefully too.
I can tell when I’m feeling detached from my hobbies and positive habits because my social media scrolling goes through the roof. I’m searching for something I won’t find. Some kind of answer or real connection. Some peace (which will NEVER be found in a phone). I’ll give myself mountains of small-scale admin to justify all the scrolling, but what I’m actually doing is ignoring the problem: I need a break.
Hobbies can feel like a holiday
Creativity gives me that. I consider myself lucky that my chosen form of creativity involves writing down what’s in my head as it’s wonderfully therapeutic. It makes me feel calmer too, which has got to be good for the household.
I keep buying and asking for notebooks, despite having more than enough. I think I believe that the more I own, the more time will magically appear in my diary to sit down and be great on the page. It’s not really worked so far, but if you think that will stop me popping Moleskines on my Christmas list, you’re wrong.
I’m doing my best to grab time to connect with my brain beyond my main, beautiful, exhausting job as MUM. To take an hour or so here and there to put pen to paper for the sake of it. I write a lot for work (which I love), so it’s a treat to get to tell my story just for fun.
Mum guilt is real (and unhelpful)
This topic comes up a lot for me in my free writing and my blogs. And I think it’s because I still need convincing that this use of time really is justified. That I am permitted to do something just for me.
My husband goes to the gym and I never question the value of physical fitness. But the things we do for our brains are just as worthwhile. I don’t owe my family every single moment of my time, I owe it to them to model what it takes to be a fully rounded, happy person.
I’ve written it down and I know it’s true, but really truly believing it without guilt is still a work in progress. Perhaps it always will be.
I think half the battle for parents is figuring out what we need to do to connect with ourselves beyond our children, which will then help us connect better with them.
Everybody’s thing will be different and equally valid, and it can take time to determine what it is. Leon likes working out. I like sitting down to work out what on earth my handwriting is supposed to say and then typing it up here.
Both are solid uses of time. Here’s to squeezing a little more in, when the toilet bowl patrol schedule allows.
What makes you feel more like you? I’d love to know.