Thursday, March 29, 2007

In transition

At different times in your life, you go through events that are significant enough to initiate irreversible changes to who you are as a person, both in how you see yourself and how others see you. One of those big times is when you get your driver's license and the first taste of independence that comes with it. Soon after comes another shift when you move away to college and take on that new identity and everything that comes with those new responsibilities. Getting married and shifting from single life to the role of a wife is another time when you experience a considerable change to your identity, whether you realize it at the time or not.

But I think becoming a parent is one of the biggest identity shifts that anyone can experience. If you had any shred of self-centeredness or selfishness before your child arrives, that has to go out the window immediately if you're going to successfully tend to the needs of your little one. Nearly all of the focus, especially early on, has to be on that helpless infant, and you barely have time to do anything for yourself because you're in survival mode at that point.

But as you become more comfortable with that role of caregiver, you're finally able to take a step back, breathe a bit, and evaluate the situation, and you can see that things have changed substantially. You're not just a mother. You're not just a wife. You're not just a career woman. You're not just a friend. You're not just a daughter/sister. You're not just the woman you were before the baby came along. You're all of those things combined, and you have to figure out how to balance all of them without neglecting any of those important roles. It's an identity crisis of epic proportions, and it's quite a challenge to sort it all out so you once again achieve a comfortable balance in your life that's fair to both you and to those in your life. You don't want to neglect any of your roles, yet you have to somehow fit it all into a 24-hour day.

Perhaps the biggest struggle, especially at first, is that of wife versus mother. For the past two months, nearly every single minute of every single day has revolved around Baby B and how to make her happy and comfortable in her new home. The relationship that I previously had with my husband will never be the same again. That much is certain. I can see how a relationship can crumble if you don't make an effort to keep alive the bond you have with your partner because it's so easy to put everything else on the back burner in favor of putting the baby first. All those people who think that having a baby will fix an already-broken relationship? I don't see how that's possible in most cases. We had a strong relationship before, and I think that was necessary in order to make it through the trials of parenthood.

We're trying to make an effort to have alone time with each other on a regular basis--and my best friend has been a big help with that since she's been sitting for us once a week so we can go out for a date night--but some days it's hard for me to find much else to talk about besides what Baby B did that day and how she didn't need a pacifier all day and how much she slept and how much she ate and how we had fun playing on the activity mat and how The Dog gave her puppy kisses and how she smiled at me when I was making faces at her--you get the point.

And there's where the challenge comes in--I spend my entire day taking care of this child, so the fact is I'm just not as likely to talk about the same things I used to talk about before. When talking or e-mailing with friends now, as much as I try to keep the conversation to non-baby things, the topic inevitably comes back up because that is my reality now. I don't want to be the mom who can't talk about anything other than her kid, yet that kid is the center of my universe right now.

As I work to balance my identity, I'm going through a transition period like all new mothers where I try to figure everything out. Once I start working again, that will both add to the confusion yet also give me adult contact outside the home that will be good for both me and The Husband. I'll get back to doing my own thing, at least during business hours, and that will give me back a dimension of my persona that's currently on hiatus.

What all this boils down to is the fact that I will never be the same person again. I realize that some friends who can't relate to this new identity blossoms will, unfortunately, go by the wayside. That makes me sad, but I also understand it's necessary at the same time. I will be better able to reconnect with other friends who have done the parenting thing before me because I now get it, whereas before I didn't quite. And I will make new friends as I build a support system to help me through this phase of my life.

And the relationship I have with my husband will continue to grow new dimensions that we'd previously not experienced--but only because we will make an effort to keep the spark there. We will see and experience the world with the label of not only husband and wife but as mommy and daddy. We will balance those identities as best we can while still holding onto the best qualities of our pre-child lives. The transition to those new identities will not be an easy one--but then again, no one ever said it would be. I feel confident that we're up to the challenge and we'll come out on the other side even better people than we were before.


At March 30, 2007 7:32 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well said.

At March 30, 2007 10:08 AM, Blogger serenity said...

Dammit, Beth beat me to it. I was going to say the same thing. Very well said.

At March 30, 2007 10:34 AM, Blogger LIW (Lady In Waiting) said...

Thanks for that honest and thought-provoking post. The identity change is one of the scariest parts of becoming a mom!!! It scares me to the core when I think about it. In fact, last night, my hair stylist and close friend was talking about this very fear - now that she is pregnant after 3 years of trying, she is terrified of what it will do to her sense of self. I really like the way that you are approaching this subject. Though you don't de-emphasize the significance of the shift, you make it sound manageable. And that was such a great point about making sure your marriage is strong in order to survive being parents. My husband and I have a strong relationship but are in couples therapy to try to learn how to better handle our (significant!) personality differences, in part because I know that children will only challenge our relationship further.


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