I remember sitting in my recliner, watching my stomach jump every couple of seconds as the baby growing inside me hiccuped. Beside me was a pile of parenting books that I poured over in the months before her arrival. “I’m going to do this right,” I swore to myself, and to her. “I’m going to be a great mom.”
Like many women, I was caught off-guard by my pregnancy. I hadn’t been trying to get pregnant, and it wasn’t exactly the best time for us to have a baby. My ex-husband was starting medical school, and I was a month away from beginning a PhD program when I saw those two pink lines on the pregnancy test. I quickly moved from a state of disbelief and fear, to a state of excited anticipation and resolve to be a fantastic mother. And that is exactly what I became: a mother.
I know I am not the only woman to struggle with a sense of identity after having children, and as I contemplated getting divorced, the struggle intensified. Since my children had been born, I had been fixated on their physical and emotional health. I made all of my decisions with their interests in mind, not because I’d forgotten who I was, but because I was focused on molding who they would turn out to be. There was so much love inside my heart for my two little girls, that my priorities quietly and powerfully shifted towards them.
Making the decision to ask for a divorce was perceived by many people as a selfish decision. It looked that way to others, and it felt that way to me. Knowingly choosing something that would deeply hurt my children was at odds with the core of my being. But, at the same time, I knew that if I did not make that decision – that gut-wrenchingly hard decision – my own needs and desires would forever take a backseat to the needs of others.
Women face scrutiny day-in and day-out when making decisions for themselves that don’t appear to be based on their children. People I knew (well, and not-so-well) questioned my sanity, my dedication to my children, and even my love for them.
“Since Kim needs to find self and put self first hopefully her husband can spend LOTS of time with their girls. I am certain she has validated her reasons which is fine. I was in the CHURCH when they married in front of GOD, friends, and family. Not ‘the universe’. I always cry for the children in these situations, they don’t deserve this and becoming a parent is ALL about putting them before yourself. I pray for her husband, their girls and Kim too.”
“Please somehow put the children first.”
For a woman who had been a stay-at-home mom for the last five years, and homeschooled her children, it was inconceivable to me.
“…becoming a parent is ALL about putting them before yourself.”
But… is it?
In my counseling practice, I see numerous teenage and adult women who don’t recognize, don’t trust, and don’t listen to their inner voice. They are out of touch with their own desires and sources of happiness because for most of their lives, their source of happiness has been the happiness of those around them. And when children come along, it takes things up a notch.
One of my friends wrote a controversial blog post about her children needing her love more than her marriage, more friends got all up-in-arms over an article criticizing American parenting, and the back-and-forth argument over what constitutes “good” parenting vs. “bad” parenting has been going on for ages. The only thing I can gleam from the bickering and criticism is that, somehow, every human being has to find a balance between their needs and the needs of others.
I want my children to learn that mom is a person too. I have a job that I enjoy. I like having my own money. I like it when bedtime rolls around and I can spend some quiet time with my husband (lord knows I don’t want another divorce, so quality time with my husband is important!). I enjoy talking to my friends just as much as they enjoy talking to theirs. And I love carving out kid-free time that involves zazen, writing, or reading – the things that nourish my soul.
When it comes down to it, I want my children to learn that their needs are no more or less important than mine, their dad’s, their step-father’s, step-sisters’ or anyone else’s for that matter.
What do you think? Does becoming a parent mean that the kids always come before you?