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After Rita was born we had a couple of minor medical issues and were to and from the hospital for a few weeks. Whenever they called with tests results I would answer the phone and the Doctor would ask ‘is that Rita’s mother?’. Well yes, I am Rita’s mother, and I love being Rita’s mother but I’m lots of other things too and I do have my own name. With a certain amount of indignation I realised that overnight my identity – the one I had worked hard over 35 years to build / understand / enjoy – had seemingly been stolen.
Clinging on to my original self underneath the daily cycle of: vom (Rita), ever darkening roots – hair, and bags – under eyes (me) and endless laundry (everyone)- I kept telling myself that I was still the same person. I am not just Rita’s mother. In those first few weeks of sleep, feed, repeat it felt impossible to even contemplate anything other than survival via a strict routine of cake and carbs. My ‘me-ness’ was hot-footing it down the M62 and I didn’t have a hand free to hold it back. Where was I going? Was I forever lost underneath motherhood? Was there a way to be everything I was pre-Rita AND Rita’s mother? I couldn’t see why not.
Yes life has changed – I’m not completely blind to the fact that a baby changed everything but I still have the same likes and dislikes – the same sense of humour, the same intelligence, the same things that drive me crackers, the same things I love and the same bad habits – all of the things that make me – me.
I still enjoy running, and wine – mainly red, singing (in the shower, in the car and fortunately for me – with Manchester Glee), socialising with friends and family, and really really rubbish rom-coms, eating (not so much cooking #cancookdontcook), and reading, and my job (yes, yes I have always loved my job although if I won the lottery no, I would never go back!), travel – discovery – adventure – challenge and risk, and dancing like no-one is watching – even if lots of people are watching (in fact, especially if lots of people are watching).
It’s all these things – and more – that make me who I am and now being a parent is part of that, but it cannot replace all of those things. To be me, I need to be a parent and still do all of those things – not instead of.
When I first got a full time job, it was hard work! All of a sudden you have to manage bills, rent, tax, pension, social life and above all – WORKING. But no-one suggests that you should stop going to karate, or quit the local bowling club. It’s not even considered that now you are working you should be addressed by your job title ‘hello, is that the sales assistant from Next?’ or ‘hello is that the junior Doctor from the local practice?’. Nobody assumes that now you work you will stop reading as many books or listening to music as much or – dare I say it – going out and having fun.
Yet, when you have a baby (and admittedly, time is of a premium), it is suddenly the case that your identity rapidly vanishes – you have become a PARENT. This is not just what you are predominantly seen as, it’s what sometimes you are solely seen as. But parents need fun too!
What I have found in the few short months that I have been a parent, is that it is an essential part of the role to make time for all of the things I love. Yes the majority of my time I want to spend with my daughter and family but I also make time for the other things that I enjoy, that I love, that keep me sane.
So here is the challenge as I see it – the 4 step parent guide to keeping hold of ‘you’ (it works for non-parents too!)
1 – physical exercise
Find something you enjoy and do it as frequently as time allows. For me, this is running and I have just recently got a running buggy so now Rita can come out too – which is great as it means I can run more often. Find something you enjoy as part of a team, with friends or on your own. Physical activity not only keeps you fit but ALWAYS makes you feel better. There are initiatives across the country to get us into sport – take advantage of them! Take the plunge, try something new or return to something you have loved before. In the words of Nike – Just Do It.
2 – once a week do something you love
For me, this is singing with Manchester Glee. Once a week I go out for a couple of hours, spend time with great people, laugh a lot, have a glass of wine and sing my heart out. Everyone has something they love and all of us – parents or not – should make time for it once a week. It doesn’t matter if it is sitting in the bath with a book or indoor climbing or learning Spanish or making a TARDIS out of Lego. Do something you love – make the time.
3 – treat yourself
Once in a while treat yourself. It might be a cinnamon swirl, it could be a new pair of shoes, you may want a relaxing massage or it might be the entrance fee to a marathon. Whatever it is that you really want, every now and again, allow yourself to have it. For me it’s live music and although I don’t get to as many gigs as I used to, I still go when I can. Yes you need some cash, yes you may have to save up, yes you may need a babysitter, yes it’s not realistic to do it all of the time BUT everyone deserves a treat now and again.
4 – keep in touch with friends and make new ones
Facetime, Skype, what’s app, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, E-mail, Text, Postcards, Phonecalls – use them. Keep in touch. We all need friends. We all have tough times – share them. Friends who are parents and friends who aren’t, new friends, old friends, those round the corner and those miles away. Keep in touch. Even if it’s someone you haven’t spoken to for ages – drop them a line or a pic or even pick up the phone and speak. Get out to baby groups, yes they can be scary, yes other parents can seem intimidating with their togetherness, yes some of the groups are shit BUT I promise you will meet other people in the same boat as you who will happily laugh with you, share cake with you and ultimately – support you, make you feel like you again even after a total of 12 hours sleep from the previous 5 nights.
So I challenge all of you whether you are parents or not, to apply this four step challenge to your life. If you stick to it I reckon you will not only be happier within yourself but you will be a better ‘you’ for it.
If you liked this why not try my reasons for being a Mum on the run….
Follow me at http://www.Facebook.com/notjustritasmother