Small Gift to Mothers of Young Children

If you want to skip to the "gift," scroll to the bottom. If you want to hear me ramble on about my son's first haircut and how it made me an emotional mess, read on...

We cut our son's hair for the first time in his life last week. The weather is heating up and his mullet was out of control. It didn't hit me at first, but I cried my eyes out that night. I kept replaying in my mind the feeling of running my fingers through those soft baby/toddler silly mullety locks...and then getting hit with the realization that I would never get to do that again. It was brutal. 


He is growing up so quickly. Sometimes it feels like the time is slipping away from me, as easily as his soft sweet hair glided through my fingers, and now is gone. His hair will keep growing. He will have hundreds more haircuts in his lifetime, lose teeth, buy clothes, shave, clip his nails, and do all the other things bodies demand as they cycle through cells. He will be continually influenced by me and my partner, our families, his friends, the culture at large, and will undergo a (hopefully not too painful) process of deciding who he is. The haircut felt like the first step towards the inevitable deluge of all of that. Before cutting his hair, he still seemed like a baby, untouched by society's grasp or burdened by corporeal upkeep. Now he is truly a little boy. Or looks like one at least. 

where did i go?

To state the obvious: parenthood is an emotionally vulnerable endeavor. Who could have told me I would care so painfully much about a tiny creature with huge eyes and soft skin?!? Okay, every parent before me ever, sure. Talk about living with doubt and learning to embrace some uncertainty. New parenthood comes with a steep learning curve, a bevy of new responsibilities, a deepening of all emotions, and a renegotiation of old roles while integrating new ones. Most difficult for me to adjust to has been the struggle to maintain my own identity. Every day I am keenly aware of the sacrifices I’ve made (with my time, my body, my career). I wonder if any former identities will ever fully emerge. The artist? The badass world traveler? The devoted yogi? The person who read books and had time to blow out her hair? The friend who could drop everything and go out on a Tuesday night?

These days I feel torn. I often feel such urgency to rush through these years, get back to my life, to pursue my own goals. The days I'm home with my son can sometimes feel exhausting and boring. I sometimes want to just get through them and savor my, what is it?, hour or two I have to myself at the end of the day. I get frustrated that my to-do list feels unconquerable. 

And then I feel guilty about feeling that way. I love my adventures with my son and genuinely cherish getting to spend time with him, show him the world, and watch him learn. And theeeeen I circle back to a fleeting acceptance that, no, it's okay, I don't have to feel guilty about craving my own time or pursuing fulfillment outside of parenthood. And then I feel a little sad and frustrated and start going on a feminist rant in my head about how I do firmly believe that women do not need to get pigeonholed into being the sole caretakers and should have just as much freedom as their male counterparts to maintain their careers after having children if they choose (this, however, can be hard to achieve when there are massively powerful societal forces working against women who want to simultaneously work and parent). 

And beyond career considerations, the role of mother can feel overwhelming, constricting, claustrophobic. It seeps into every little crack of my life and steals my time. Like, why am I browsing Facebook marketplace for potty seats when I could be working on my website? (Glamorous, I know). And why isn't my husband doing this with his time?? How have I somehow silently taken on so many ongoing tasks and new parenting-related projects? Mothers should be negotiating conversations with their partners about the onslaught of this type of invisible labor that becomes apparent after the introduction of a new child. Invisible labor (which should really be its own blog post, or series even) tends to be more prominent in heterosexual relationships, but is not absent from same sex partnerships either. Invisible labor is one of the biggest culprits of time and energy theft that leads to loss of identity for new mothers. It certainly crept up on me. 

making room for imperfect attempts at balance

I also know that, of course, my son will grow up, need me less and less, and I will slowly reclaim my time. At which point, I am certain that I will ache for these days when he is so little and gives the goofiest kisses and tries to blow bubbles and wants to push his own stroller and says "yaaaaaah" when you ask if he wants to listen to music and loves sticks and will eat as many bananas and blackberries as you give him and laughs at the most innocent things. 

These feelings all exist at once. It can be confusing.

So I am actively, and quite imperfectly, working on: Slowing down and being more at peace with the circumstances as they are. Finding some sort of balance that doesn't feel like a sacrifice, but a conscious choice. Working on ruthless prioritization of the people and projects that are most important to me (because I cannot attend to everything I would like to, at least not right now). Sitting with the stew of (often conflicting) emotions surrounding the loss of my former identity, the process of stumbling slowly and sporadically towards my career and personal goals, and the moments of being floored by sheer gratitude--all while recognizing that the circumstances are always changing and shifting beneath me and slipping through my fingers as I try to grasp onto them.

the gift

So I offer mothers, especially new(er) mothers, like me, still awash in the delicate struggle of adapting to various new roles, and sorting through the disruptions to our identities, this small gift of a beautiful song (discovered through Spotify, while trying to calm my son on a car ride). I could have written these lyrics myself--okay, not really, because I’m not an ounce as talented, but the sentiment hit me to my core and made me feel less alone in this beautiful and complicated stage of life. 

"When you go to sleep I go on the computer and just for a moment I am something other than a mom. On the weekends I try to go to a yoga class if by some miracle I'm something other than a mom. It's not to say that I don't like being mom. But before you came, there were things I was working on. So my baby, these days, I wonder where she's gone."


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a note on postpartum depression and anxiety

As described above, adapting to a new baby involves a slew of emotions, many normal and manageable, but sometimes the experience can get to a point of feeling debilitating or overwhelming. If you are feeling intense sadness, are unable to stop worrying, or are having intrusive and upsetting thoughts, don't hesitate to talk to a professional