You’ve spent the better part of the last two to ten years putting your children’s needs far above your own. You’ve spent countless months on a nursing and/or pumping schedule, long nights rocking little ones, and endless days cleaning up after them. Your children have consumed nearly all of your time and energy, and you have possibly even thrived within those dynamics.
Now, your little ones are off to school and you're off to...well, you’re not sure. With some quiet time to yourself and less daily chaos in your home, you’re left wondering what to do next. Maybe you’re even wondering what you enjoy anymore, and possibly even feel guilty for spending time doing anything other that an activity or chore that supports your children.
You are not alone. Many of our female clients come up against this sense of loss and displacement as their children move from toddlers into (somewhat) independent little people who are off to school for longer stretches of time every year. With a quiet home and more space from their children, mothers may not know what to do next.
Here’s what you should know about this period of emerging womanhood and what you can do to find your way.
Let Go of the Guilt
With so much selfless service to your kids for such a long period of time, it’s normal to feel bad about spending time on yourself again. You might find yourself more comfortable volunteering at your kid’s school or running errands for them all day long than investing time in an activity for yourself. It’s natural to want to fill the void now that you have some space in your relationship with them with activities directly related to them. And, you most likely feel a sense of guilt if you don’t.
In our work as relationship therapists, we see that mothers who have their own goals, interests, even jobs, set an important example for their children that working hard and having passions is vital to happiness. We encourage our over-stretched mothers to begin to understand who they are, without tying their personality only to their children, by partaking in clubs, activities, and seeking like-minded peers to socialize with. This might be a photography club, a part-time job doing something you really enjoy, meeting friends for dinner, or picking up a new hobby like biking or painting. Do it without guilt and remember that your children will learn directly from your example of what healthy balance and positive outlets look like–and they’ll be more apt to choose them too.
Anxiety and Depression are Normal
If you have spent the better part of the last decade devoted to potty training, teaching numbers and letters, and running kids around to everything from music class to T-ball games, you’ve had busy, but most likely rewarding, days. Your days were purposeful, and you were in constant connection with your little ones. Now that they are in school, even part time, you may feel a sense of loneliness or a loss of purpose. Being a primary caretaker is a very validating experience and without that role, you may feel less needed. If you are feeling that sense of depression sinking in, or maybe even anxiety about being away from your kids, know that it’s completely normal and something that can be overcome by working with a therapist to talk through coping strategies, as well as finding new outlets for your time and energy.
Welcome the Question “Who Am I”?
This is a time of rediscovery. Instead of being uncomfortable with “finding yourself” after all the time devoted to your children, be willing to sit with the uncertainty of that very question. Get excited about answering it and recognize that you truly can become whoever it is that you imagine, now and always. Don’t feel you must define yourself until you are ready, and let your newfound wisdom gained from all that time devoted to the lives of others inform who it is that you want to show up as in this world. Make peace with the temporary uncertainty as you come into your own again.
A common place to start this journey of self-discovery is through journaling and taking a inventory of your life to understand where you are and who you would like to become. This process helps define specifics and provides actionable steps that facilitate growth and transformation.
In our work as therapists at Center for Shared Insight, our goal is to foster the healthiest relationships possible in this world, including the relationship you have with yourself. It’s through emerging as a renewed woman, mother, partner, and friend that you can learn to love your new self, which will positively impact your life in all roles you play. Our team of talented psychologists can help direct the process of self-discovery following time devoted to raising children. We welcome the opportunity to speak with you about your unique challenges and feelings in a free consultation.