Life will be forever changed

Throughout life, we’re constantly told by our role models to “be who you are” and “stay true to yourself.” However, as we age, the various roles we play in life and the identities we hold are constantly in flux. Therefore, how do we “stay true to ourselves” especially when the definition of ourselves is fluid? Some identities, we are born into and may remain constant such as family order, race, religion, or gender (for some). Exhibit A: I am a female, Caucasian, Jewish, a daughter, and a sister. Other identities are ones we choose or hope to pursue in life such as a career, hobbies, or parenthood (a choice for some; for others not so much). Exhibit B: I am a therapist, a gardener, a friend, and a mother. In a dreamland, we would be able to devote 100% of our time to each individual role we possess. Yet snapping back to reality, this is evidently far from realistic. The titles we keep for ourselves may hold equity to one another. Although in some cases one may choose to prioritize certain roles over others. Due to the way in which we prioritize our identities, it may feel as if we’re giving up or sacrificing a different part of ourselves. This poses the paradox of parenthood.

Work vs. Childcare

One question that all working parents eventually have to face is “will I return to work after taking leave”? This is a prime example of two intersecting identities at war with one another: that of employee and parent. For some, the answer to this question is fairly simple since the weight of one identity is heavier than the other. For others, this question could send some into a tailspin. As parents, you may decide to enroll your baby in some form of childcare services in order to return to work. Whether it be daycare, nannying, or family supervision, does this then mean that you’re placing greater value on your role as an employee rather than your role as a parent? FYI, the answer is “no”.

Financially speaking, it may make more sense for a parent to discontinue working in order to care for their children. For some, alternatively, the opposite could be true for the same reason. If one chooses to send their child to daycare in order to pursue their career, then this ultimately means that there will be parts of your role as a parent that you inherently miss out on.  To enroll your child in daycare means that daycare providers may witness your child’s milestones instead of you. Otherwise, the choice to withdraw from the workforce in order to care for your own children innately means giving up your identity within your career.

Friend Vs. Parent

Alternatively, pieces of your social identity will change to make room for the new title of “mom” or “dad”. If you wish to, you can still hold the role and identity of a friend, but at what cost? Your social interactions will look different; you will less frequently be able to spend nights out or stay out late. As a nursing mother, you might second guess that third drink of the evening in order to safely feed your baby when they inevitably wake up for their 3:00 a.m. feeding. If your child accompanies you to hangouts with your friends, the content of your conversation or the language you use might have to change so that the topic is appropriate for the entire audience. The attention that you have to give to your friend, over your ever-present child, is ultimately minimized. Having to split your attention between your friend and your child may make the interaction less enjoyable. Additionally, the quality and quantity of time spent with friends might decline due to the exhaustion of being a parent. 

How to Preserve and Prioritize

For those who chose parenthood, most were aware of the vast change in lifestyle that was to come. Nonetheless, until you are immersed within this new identity it’s challenging to understand the sacrifices needed to maintain certain roles. It is clear that balance is needed to preserve each part of ourselves. Yet here we return to the question of “how do I stay true to myself with this new additional role?”. The answer is through Values Identification, Committed Action, Mindfulness, and Acceptance.

Values

In order to live a more fulfilling life it is important to deeply examine your values and identify which are the most important to you. Because you think a value should be important or because society tells you that it is doesn’t mean that you actually value it. For example, if Sid from Toy Story followed society’s values of kindness and compassion he would not feel as fulfilled as he does when he acts in accordance with his own values of destruction and chaos by ripping heads off of dolls and adhering them to robot bodies.

Once you complete an inventory of your values it is equally as important to rank those values in order of significance. Ranking your values may feel like a challenging feat, but it aids in how you allocate your time and efforts. Remember that your values are not static and throughout life they’re everchanging. If you rank one value over another this ranking can vary over time.

Committed Action

Just because you want to value something doesn’t necessarily mean that you do. It is important to assess your actions in life. If you think that you value family but you consistently skip out on family events and avoid phone calls from your parents, then this might help you determine that you may value family less than you believe. Alternatively, if you want to value family and you notice that the previously stated behaviors are occurring, it will be important to decide how you plan on changing your behaviors to align with that value. This may look like planning on calling your parents once a week or paying visits to your grandparents once a month. When you act in ways that align with your values you’re likely to feel more fulfilled and satisfied in your life.

Mindfulness

When you commit to plans with friends, choose to work, or engage in a hobby, it is important to be present with that activity to fully enjoy and be successful with what you’re doing. As a parent, you will learn or have learned that multitasking can feel like a life hack. While in some instances it truly can be, in other circumstances multitasking and splitting your attention can take away from an experience.

Making a choice to engage in a hobby, do what you can commit your time, mental frame, and energy to that choice. You can do this by perhaps putting your phone on Do Not Disturb or participating in a hobby after your kids have gone to bed to limit distractions. When out to dinner with friends, take your time reading through the menu, attempt to taste the components of a certain dish just by the description on the menu, and when your food arrives smell the various aromas that waft their way into your nostrils. If you decide to exercise, choose a playlist you find motivating and engaging. Then focus on how your muscles feel while lifting or running. Utilizing our five senses makes our experience more immersive and increases our ability to be mindful.

Acceptance

Acceptance might genuinely be the hardest aspect though it is one of the most significant. It is important to accept that you are no longer the person you used to be. This means that you can no longer hold the same expectations of yourself. To expect that you will be able to commit as much time to your hobbies, to your friends, or to your job as you used to would be setting yourself up for an upset. Just because you accept that your life is forever changed doesn’t mean that you have to enjoy or agree with every sacrifice you make for your children.

When you accept, you’re acknowledging reality for what it really is. You are taking action on what you can control. And not trying to change the circumstances or wish it were different. When you create space for acceptance it will result in an improved ability to move forward with the situation at hand, increased tolerance of difficult situations, and increased flexibility.

Article written by Jillian Ross, LCSW

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