Finding myself again after baby

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It took me a while after my son was born to find myself again. The me before I was a mom. The Sara who had hobbies and interests and thoughts that didn’t revolve around feedings times, sleep and poop.

I’m still working on it. And of course, I’ll never be the person I was before baby, nor do I want to be. But slowly, I’ve tried to get my head out of babyland. And as I regained my sense of self, I found myself becoming a far happier and more relaxed mother. (Nom the irony is not lost on me that I write a baby blog in my free time. I assure you, I have other interests.)

It’s tempting, and in some circles expected, that a new mom completely give herself into her new role. Especially in the first weeks and months, motherhood is all-consuming. Just as the days and nights blur together in sleeplessness, so does that former pre-mother woman fade away into a distant memory. Perhaps it’s by design and perhaps it’s necessary, but there comes a time to reclaim that identity separate from baby.

I remember one night when my son was just a few months old, when sitting on the couch watching TV, my husband accused me of not really listening to him. He said it was impossible to have a conversation with me. (For the record, I hear that accusation from time to time, and more often than not it’s patently false. At least a strong majority of the time. Definitely more than half the time.)

“It’s like you can’t think or talk about anything but the baby,” he said.

Ouch. His words still sting a little bit. Was there also a tinge of jealousy I heard there? Frustration that he was so far from his wife’s mind now?

He was right. I was completely uninterested in anything outside of my new baby son. And that made me terrible company.

There’s also the case to be made that a parent with his or her own interests and happiness will raise a more autonomous and grounded child. In a recent New York Times column, author Madeline Levine argues the point in the context of avoiding becoming a helicopter parent:

“Parents also have to make sure their own lives are fulfilling. There is no parent more vulnerable to the excesses of overparenting than an unhappy parent. One of the most important things we do for our children is to present them with a version of adult life that is appealing and worth striving for.”

Pamela Druckerman draws a similar conclusion in one of the final chapters of Bringing Up Bebé. Children should be left alone to explore the world and make mistakes, she explains, one of several fundamental French parenting trademarks. French parents are slower to intervene in disputes among young friends, and you likely won’t see a French mother running around the playground with her toddler, praising and following her kid’s every hop, slide and climb.

Druckerman’s point is, I gather, that both parent and child need the autonomy. A kid can’t possibly thrive with a parent who meddles with every move, cheers every tiny victory, pushes and pals around and smothers with attention. Just as a parent unable to separate from that role and foster their independent adult side can’t possibly be as happy and thriving.

Let them be. Get your own life. At least that’s how I read it, and I had to kind of agree.

It wasn’t that my one-track-mindedness was making me unhappy (or stifling my kid – yet). But I was certainly not thriving, and like I said, I was probably really lame to hang out with.

So with my husband’s subtle encouragement, I tried to reclaim some of who I was before I got pregnant. At first I felt really guilty (surprise) for putting myself first or doing things that weren’t for my son. I felt selfish and self-absorbed. Still do on some days. And I know it will come and go. I’ll lose myself in motherhood, then re-emerge seeking balance.

Time for a list. Here’s what the Internet, my husband and my own common sense advised me for finding that balance post-baby:

1. Exercise. Really, it makes you feel good. Endorphins, fresh air, movement, time away with your thoughts or good music – it all does a body good. I had the added bonus that I really enjoy it, particularly running. I used to run a lot and love it (OK, some days I hate it, but isn’t that true for all runners? No?). I didn’t run much during pregnancy and it took several months for me to get back into it. But I started small, and a few months ago I ran a 10K. Which brings me to the next item.

2. Set a goal. Just pick something and work towards it. Again, nothing baby related. Sign up for a race, make a pact to learn something new – whatever makes sense for you. The idea, I think, is to have something to work toward that makes you feel good.

3. Get out of the house. And not just to Target to get diapers and baby clothes. Have a cocktail with friends. Start a book club. Just get out and do something without your kid, and maybe try to keep the baby talk to a minimum.

4. Indulge yourself a bit. If you’re into pedicures or massages, make time to do it and don’t feel guilty about it. Even if it’s just finding time to read a good book or watch a movie all the way through, do it and enjoy it.

What do you do to find balance and feel like yourself?