Something I’ve begun to learn fairly recently is that opening up, showing vulnerability, admitting my limitations, being authentically me….it helps. It helps to talk about the not-so-shiny feelings I struggle with. But it helps even more when friends, acquaintances, even strangers reach out to me in response to some of the topics I’ve shared about here and elsewhere on social media. Raw stuff. Stuff that I had previously swept under the rug and tried to ignore or deny. But the more I share, the more I realize that I’m not alone. My insecurities, my fears, my anxieties; they’re not unique to me.
About a week ago, I was scrolling Facebook and came across a post from a new podcaster. I’m not familiar with the creator or the podcast so this isn’t a plug, necessarily. But the post I saw resonated with me so I shared it. If you’ve got a minute (literally, one minute) and you’d like to check it out, it’s available here. But if you don’t, here’s a recap: The video shows a man speaking directly to the camera about his experience in therapy. He recounts telling his therapist that he feels he needs help to be great; he’s only good on his own. A good employee, a good father, a good husband, a good friend. His therapist says, “Employee is someone you are for your job. Husband is someone you are for your wife. Father is someone you are for your son. Friend is someone you are for your friends. Who are you for yourself? Who are you outside of those roles?” He then admits to the camera, “I’m not sure there’s much of a person at the end of all that.”
BAM! Mic drop. That one minute anecdote succinctly sums up what I’ve been trying to find the words to say for damn near four years now.
Within the past year, my husband and I concluded a conversation we’d mooted since our daughter was first born. The big “should we have another child?” conversation. We’ve opened the dialog periodically over the years, in good times when parenting feels like a breeze and in bad times when I’m certain we’re failing. The end result has always been a decision to table it for the future. I’ve found various excuses. “When she’s out of diapers. Once she’s out of daycare. When we’re in a bigger house. After I’m settled into a new career.” There’s always been a reason why the time wasn’t right. Until sometime mid-pandemic when I tearfully and honestly admitted to my husband, “I don’t want any more children. I’ve lost too much of myself in motherhood and can’t emotionally do it, starting over from scratch with a new baby.”
I felt like a terrible mom for having even thought it, let alone breathed life into it and actually said it. I felt that it implied my daughter has somehow taken something from me or that I don’t love her or appreciate the family my husband and I have created together. Let me be clear: Motherhood has been the most terrifying endeavor of my life but also my most rewarding. Watching her grow into the 8-year old she is today—from learning the basics like talking and walking to developing her own personality and opinions—I’m incredibly fortunate to have a front row seat for all of it. The prospect of ushering her into adolescence and eventually adulthood looms ahead of me, an insurmountable task. But I have faith that it’ll become slightly more tractable with time and experience.
But it’s true. I’ve lost a piece of myself when I became her mom. Just as I lost a piece of myself when I became his wife. And their friend. We—because I’m confident I’m not alone in the way I was brought up—are taught from a young age that you’re supposed to hop on this sort of life escalator as soon as possible. Finish school. Find a job. Nail down a spouse. Buy a house with a picket fence. Pop out 2.5 children. Work until you die. Anything outside of that isn’t normal. It isn’t right. You’re doing it wrong unless you do it this way. And I’ve bought into every last bit of it, happily cleaving off parts of Sierra and bestowing them upon others.
I’ve recognized for a while now that my identity is too wrapped up in others. That I’m long overdue to disentangle myself, to a degree, from the roles I fill for others. To reclaim some pieces of me, patch them back together and mod podge them into place if I have to. Part of me proffers that these weird existential ramblings going on in my brain are related to the pandemic; surely COVID has caused many of us to take a step back and examine what’s important in life and what we’d like to improve upon. Another part of me wonders if it’s my age; maybe all 30-somethings go through this, no matter what’s going on in the world at large.
Regardless of why I’m feeling the things I’m feeling, I’m feeling them. And I’ve taken some steps towards reclaiming myself. But I realized this weekend that my work is far from over. I was at a party at my cousin’s house, celebrating a couple of birthdays. “You two have met, right?” my cousin asked simultaneously of me and a woman across the campfire from me. We both replied at the same time, but gave different answers. Mine was, “I’m sure we have. I know I’ve seen her at parties here before.” Hers was, “No, I don’t think so.” After a brief explanation from my cousin, the woman remembered me. Turns out, she hadn’t recognized me because I’d walked into the party with two kids (my daughter and my nephew), neither of whom were seated with me at the time, and no partner; hubby wasn’t feeling well so he had opted to stay home. Without being flanked by my daughter and my husband, I was unrecognizable as an individual. Which proves my point.
So. Friends, acquaintances, even strangers, this is a topic I’d love to hear from you about. How have you maintained (or reclaimed) your individual identity while still fulfilling the roles you’ve taken on in life? I’m humbly asking for guidance.