Losing One’s Self to Parenting
Before my wife and I had kids we had lives – I had a life. I had friends, attended public events, and even traveled. Our lives have undergone a remarkable change, mine more so than hers. At first I was too lost in the novelty of parenting to care that my everyday activities had been altered. I didn’t notice, and I didn’t care, because all the things I used to enjoy were replaced by the sounds of kids, and that’s distracting. It has been a stealthy replacement in that all the same basic activities remain except that they have become weird, mutated versions of themselves. I still go to the movies, but I watch cartoon movies now. We eat at restaurants, but the kinds where we can scribble on the tablecloth. I go for walks, I just spend the whole walk yelling at the boys to stop punching each other. Now, 6 years down the road, I have realized something. It is so easy to lose one’s self to parenting. It is so easy that, if not caught in time, it makes parents into slobbering idiots. We’ve got to stay sharp, maintain our sanity. Being a stay at home parent shouldn’t mean that we give up and become kids. We want to have a kid-like spirit while keeping our adult brain. It also doesn’t mean that everything we do needs to involve kids or the talk of kids. When I noticed my edge starting to slip, I took action.
My wife didn’t have this problem the same way that I did. She went to work and therefore had more opportunity to keep her mental edge. I handle crisis at home, but the minor emergencies that I deal with do not require much study and growth, they require intuition and decisive action. It was two years ago that I noticed my vocabulary and writing skills were starting to go down the drain. I had started to talk in short, declarative sentences; and not in the good, Ernest Hemingway, sort of way. I had adjusted the way I spoke to be better understood by my kids. It’s great to be understood and all, but it’s better to force the kids to grow by bringing them up rather than lowering myself down. So I started reading more. That’s one way to keep sharp. I also took up learning languages again. Just those two things alone gave me the boost I needed. Now, I’m back to writing, with this blog, and I feel like I’m getting better every day (although still not where I would like to be). It only takes reviving an old skill or passion to awaken our rusty brains. Everybody has some mental pastime they can practice and grow with. Maybe it’s chess, maybe crossword, writing, reading, or building. Anything that wakes up that area of the brain that feels most neglected.
Anybody would think that chasing after kids would keep a person fit. It’s possible, but not a guarantee. My kids wear me out. I run around after them for a while and then I plop down on a park bench and watch them run. They climb through tubes, over logs, up trees, everything. There are a lot of things I cannot do because I’m either too inflexible or I’m simply too big. This is another parenting crossroads. We can shrink away and remain on that park bench because we’re too old and rickety to participate, or we can get up and exercise our way to extreme fitness. I opted for the latter. But, I’ve seen too many parents throw their hands up and surrender to their age. They see the kids doing amazing kid things, and instead of getting off their asses to make themselves younger, they slow down, hang their heads and age like fruit flies. There are still lots of things I can’t do because of my size. I don’t let that get me down. I can accept the things I can’t change. The list of things I can’t change is pretty short. The rest is completely up to me. I don’t ever want to grow old. I want to keep a youthful attitude that all things are possible. The moment I start thinking I’m old is when I actually will be old . Stop moving and you’ll die. Parents owe it to their kids to remain youthful. It’s as simple as that. Go do yoga, or weightlifting, running, swimming, tennis, soccer – blah blah blah. Just get fit and stay young.
The biggest issue I have as a homemaker is becoming socially stale. Even when I talk to adults these days it’s usually in the context of our kids. I want free time to do big-boy sorts of stuff. Thank God I have a wife who let’s me do that. Every day with the kids, without significant rest, is draining and depressing. Stay at home mom’s know it. Now I know it. We feel, as stay at home parents, like shut-ins. There are two worlds out there. There is the kid world, and there is the everything-else world. We live in the kid world where we follow the latest kid trends, completely attuned to our family lives. We miss the other world. That’s the world for people without kids. It isn’t a better world, just a different one. We used to live in it so going back to it occasionally is something of a homecoming. My wife gets to go to that world when she goes to work. But, for a long time, I never saw it. Then, last summer I had the chance to go to Europe. I initially declined the invitation because I had to take care of the kids (what else is new). But, my wife said, “You need it, go.” I went. I spent two weeks gallivanting around Europe and having all sorts of fun. My wife stayed home with the kids, and I called every night to check up. When I came back I was revived and feeling good, not like I never had kids, but like I had kids and was ready to take the reigns again. Every stay at home parent needs adventure. We need to do the things we did before without feeling guilty that we’re abandoning our families.
It’s too easy to rot in our jobs. That could be said for any professional person who doesn’t regularly keep their work fresh. Watching the kids in the park doesn’t have to be a reminder that we have turned into our parents and are three steps from the nursing home. We have the ability to change the things about us that we don’t like. Sometimes we’re fat, lazy, and old. Yeah, we can change that. Could it be that some of us feel trapped, isolated, and depressed? We not only can change that, we must change that. Being with kids all the time can turn us into idiots. I don’t want to be an idiot. Read, study, do something challenging. We don’t abandon our families by undergoing self renovation every now and then. What we’re doing is giving our families what they deserve, which is a fresh, invigorated, attractive husband/wife and parent.