The mom’s tears at the end of the session spent counseling this soon-to-be separating couple were not surprising. Divorce is never easy. We had begun to discuss custody schedules, always a prickly topic. That’s when the dam broke. My empathetic comments about how painful these things are bounced right back. “That’s not it!” the mother unequivocally declared. “What will I do?” she cried, emphasizing the word “do.”
There were so many divorce related changes-to-come that had to be flooding this mom’s mind. But for her the tsunami was the revelation that she was about to be out of a job, at least a few days a week. She had devoted her entire mom life to her kids—carpools and taxi service, homework and school projects, play dates and extra-curricular activities, house care and meal prep. The kids’ lives and needs were her job 24/7. That was about to change. And Mom didn’t have anything else to do, or so she felt. She could not even imagine being without her children, and she was terrified. Who would she be? Her identity was MOM, period. At that moment the stark realization was about her, not her kids.
This plaintive comment, “What will I do?” reminded me of a blog by Leslie Irish Evans recently posted on The Huffington Post, “5 Reasons ‘My Kids Are My Whole Life’ is a Stupid Thing to Say” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/leslie-irish-evans/parenting-advice_b_1563444.html?ref=parents&utm_source=made+with+love+and+kisses+&utm_campaign=love+and+kisses&utm_medium=email. The author put forth many sound reasons for a woman not to make her child her whole life. But the last reason, “It sets you up for a big fall,” herein relates. Evans is referring to the time when the children go off to college, and mom no longer needs to be mom 24/7. But what if it happens sooner, like in divorce?
I would like to add three more reasons to Evan’s 5 for cultivating a life now that includes more than all things mom-related. These additional reasons deal not only with the messages we give our children through our life choices, but also with how we position ourselves to live.
6. Children need to know that moms (and dads) wear many different hats. Today’s kids need to see that there are lots of things that mommy does in addition to being a mom, many by choice and some by default. Just like the child is a son, a brother, a cousin, a student, a karate guy, and a baseball player, Mommy does lots of things too. She is a mommy, a wife, a daughter, a lawyer, an artist, and bike rider, and a gardener. Mommy is just one of the many things you do.
7. Mommy likes all the things that she does. So often a parent answers the child’s complaint about Mommy going to work by saying, “I have to work” or “I wish I didn’t have to work.” While that may be the case for some, many moms actually like their work. Working in addition to her work as a mom is a choice, and the child needs to know that reality. What a good idea it is to raise children to look forward to their grown-up work, seeing it modeled as a get to and not a have to. The same goes for making the choice to go work-out or take a knitting class and leave the kids at home. Mom has lots of things that she likes and chooses to do in addition to being a mom.
8. Cultivate the YOU who isn’t a mom. While it is easy to mold your life around your kids and their friends’ families, take pains to have a non-mom social life and do non-mom things. Maintain your BC (before children) and non-mom related friends—from work, from your past, from your own interests. Take that class, cultivate that hobby that always interested you. These people and interests will remind you of your identity separate from mom and will remain long after your 24/7 mommy hat gets put higher on the shelf.
My client could not answer my question, “What do you do for yourself?” Don’t let that be you.