I didn't meet my husband until age forty, and I am in the unusual position of birthing two children after that age.
I’m an old mom, something I thought was deeply uncool when I was a child. Old moms smelled like hummus. They walked around with NPR tote bags full of overdue library books. In my experience they were weird women with frizzy hair who wore too many scarves. Now there is an old frizzy haired mom who stares back at me from the mirror every morning mocking me. “You don’t donate enough to NPR to earn a tote bag,” she says. Even she is passing judgment.
The secret they don’t tell you is that being an old mom is actually kind of amazing. I got to lead my swinging single life for years. I got to travel the world, I got to work in the field I love, and I still got to have the kids. Of course, it’s a gamble to wait, and fertility is fickle. I was very lucky in that department, and I don’t recommend that women just hang out until age 40 and then give the whole kid thing a whirl. But in truth, now when I see moms who are barely out of high school, I can’t help but feel sorry for them. Having a child opens you up to new worlds, but it also limits you. No longer are you free to take that solo road trip out west. You’ll have to save that for imagination time with the kiddo. Forget about those drunken one nightstands in your twenties. I mean literally, forget about them. You’re a parent now. You need to be home for bedtime. So how do you keep that roaming spirit alive inside of you when you are tied to a nap schedule? How do you balance your own desires with your child’s? How do you live your life while teaching them to live theirs?
There is a selfishness trap here which I think parents are in danger of falling into. Pursuing your own needs isn’t selfish, it’s necessary. You have to practice self-care. What lesson would you be teaching your child by neglecting yourself? That you are unworthy of attention? Our children look to us for every cue. They will spot your sadness from a mile away. You need to live your life too, mom/dad, because if you don’t you will end up living vicariously through your children, which history tells us always works out for the best. No one ever found fulfillment living someone else’s life. I’m pretty sure Buddha said that, or if he didn’t he should have.
And now here comes the guilt! “But my children are everything to me,” you say. Of course they are. And you are everything to them. That’s why it’s so important that you come at them as a wholly developed adult human person. That’s who your children need. A doting mess who obsesses over every failure and lives for every success is helpful to no one, least of all your child. You need to get your own life mom/dad, and keep living it. In between diaper changes and scraped knees, you have to do you. Lest you grow resentful of your children, or drive yourself mad in the process.
Here is where I lay my privilege cards out on the table. I have a lovely supportive partner who often takes the children so that I may have some Frances time. Not mom time, Frances time. This is when I am able to write, something that I have always enjoyed. It’s time when I feed my soul. I may not have showered in 72 hours. But there are words on the page and my heart is full and open. I know without a doubt that this time that I take makes me a better mom. Even if my baby is lying next to me crying, as she is this very moment, still, I am a better mom for it. I know that she is full, and dry, and warm, and that this is just her tired cry which will pass in a second. In the meantime my purpose is better served here. Being Frances instead of mom, even just for a few moments. And just like that, the crying stops, and I can be fully present for myself again. Then I can be there for my daughter more than ever.
Not everyone has this luxury. I know there are countless parents out there doing it on their own, and I salute you every last one. If you have a partner, a grandparent, or a trusted friend who can give you a slice of time carved out just for you I promise that it will make a difference in your well-being and in your parenting. Hire a sitter. Take advantage of it. Give thanks for it. Remember who you were before you were a parent and honor that person’s wishes. Take some time to listen to your soul and live your truth. Do it for your kids.