For most of the school year, my family’s schedule goes something like this. Monday evenings are for dance class. Tuesday afternoons there’s soccer practice. Wednesday afternoons include piano lessons, then Thursday evenings have soccer practice or games. And Friday evenings don’t exactly have a designated extracurricular, but there is almost always something going on.
Between picking my daughter up from school and getting her to whatever activity that day holds, there are still all the other things that must get done. Eating dinner. Doing homework. Practicing the piano. Learning the week’s spelling words. Various PTO meetings. Making sure she is eating a healthy snack after school. Filling out lunch forms. Signing this and that. Visiting family. And (somewhere in there) breathing.
Don’t even get me started on our weekends.
But, in all honesty, my husband and I do this to ourselves; we know this. When we settle into bed to watch X-Files, realizing that we have barely laid eyes on each other, we know that our busy schedule is something we orchestrated, something we wanted for ourselves, for our daughter, and for her future.
This, however, doesn’t come without a price. Where are we in all this? I sometimes wonder. Or, better yet, who are we in this overwhelming venture that is being a parent?
Making Time for Myself
When I found out that I was pregnant, my mother-in-law reminded me how important it was to make time for myself, to ensure that I still do things that I enjoy, that I still be myself. When you become a new parent, fresh out of the gates, you don’t understand how you could possibly not be anything but yourself. After all, your sense of identity has been instilled in you for years before your child arrived. No small human is going to change that—until they do.
I often find myself submerged in a too-hot bath after I’ve gotten my daughter to bed for alone time.
Her bedtime, like with a lot of children, is a whole process. My husband hangs with her as she brushes her teeth, ensuring those molars are free of whatever Cheez-it or Goldfish or organic cheddar cheese puffs combo. Then the three of us lay in her bed, and we all read our own books. Then I read to her. At some point, she settles into sleep and I sneak out of her bedroom, expecting to hear, “Mama, where are you going?” the moment I step foot into the hallway and out of her room.
For most parents, the time in which our children are asleep is the time we claim for ourselves. It’s when we watch the shows with bad words, the time we watch the news coverage about whatever devastating event occurred in the world outside our homes, the time we discuss the minutiae of our days with each other. However, our time is limited. We have to go to bed. We have to get a decent amount of sleep to be our best selves the next day. And so, really, that’s just a few hours. And, sometimes, it’s not even that.
Somewhere in this routine, I have begun taking a bath in the evenings. I listen to music. I scroll my phone mindlessly. I maybe even do some writing—in fact, some of my best writing has happened after our daughter has gone to bed and while I’m in the bathtub. I like to decompress there, and it’s crucial that all of us—parents and children alike—have these spaces.
But I’ve begun to end each of my days with a question: where else can we find ourselves in our extremely busy lives as parents, partners, friends, and professionals; where can we find ourselves during our day? And not just in the moments before we, too, fall asleep.
The Small Moments
As obvious as it may seem, it’s in the small moments. In the tiny little pockets that exist throughout our days. And we can even find it, believe it or not, in the small humans that make our very lives so extremely busy.
Often we think of ourselves as separate pieces through all the various roles that we play. For me, it is mother, wife, daughter, friend, teacher, poet, writer, photographer.
But, in reality, we cannot exist as just one of these things. I am not a teacher without also being a mother; I am not a mother without also being a poet; I am not a writer without also being a wife.
It’s the world’s largest Venn diagram. I am all of it and each of these personas at once.
In order to maintain my identity, my individuality, to not get lost in the contents of my daughter’s extremely smelly soccer bag, I find myself there—on the sidelines at her practice and on the sidelines during the games.
A Different Lens
A few years ago, my husband got me a Nikon D3400. I started my college career wanting to be an art teacher, and I still have a deep love for visual arts like photography. When he first got me the camera, my daughter was, as expected, my main subject. Not surprisingly, she still is.
I have a different lens now. One that is often used when taking sports photography, and I have my camera with me all the time at games and at a lot of practices. Not just to take pictures of my daughter standing in the goal waiting to stop a kicker, but to see her in action, to catch the way she sticks out her tongue when concentrating, to get a glimpse of her serious and triumphant face as she makes a big stop.
I’ve found it’s not just about her anymore—because it’s also about me. I’m not just taking pictures of my daughter because I’m a mama who wants fifteen billion pictures of her child. I am both an artist and a mother. When I get to pour over photographs, edit them, and find good shots of other kids on her team to send to their parents, I get excited. It’s thrilling.
For me, as a creative person, I often felt as if being an artist was a small part of me, a part that would have to be forgotten and tucked away more often than not. This especially felt true in the early moments of being a mother.
But that’s simply not the case.
It is all about using yourself to your advantage and realizing that you are not a box with fifteen varying compartments to be opened up when necessary. You are a trunk, likely a messy one, with everything thrown together.
Pablo Picasso said, “Every child is an artist, the problem is staying an artist when you grow up.”
And sometimes it does seem impossible to remain true to ourselves as we grow into parents.
It seems impossible to be so many different things all while being a parent, all while scrubbing shin guards in the kitchen sink, all while trying to get to dance on time after a quick visit to grandparents, all while tapping out difficult rhythms on your leg to ensure your child knows how her piano song goes—all while the world passes by at breakneck speeds.
But when we choose to accept ourselves wholly for who we are, to see ourselves fully as parents, to see ourselves as parents who are artists, parents who are athletes, parents who are academics, we become better and strong individuals—ones who can reflect our own passions and personal values back to our children. Through these relationships and roles, we can make the world a little more beautiful.
When you become a parent, whether you realize it or not, your identity is that: a parent. Your core values and beliefs shift around this small human. We think often of being the ones who mold our children, who teach them and encourage them. But, through our children and with our children, we also often reclaim pieces of ourselves in our children, for our children, and for ourselves. It is all of these things at once that constantly call us to connection with the people around us.
God Himself was a parent first, after all. And even He rested.