Cait and I recently listened to a really thought-provoking episode of the She Explores Podcast. They did a two-part series called: Adventuring with Kids and in part two of the podcast they begin with a woman named Dawn discussing her experience of the “lost years of parenting”. The basic idea is that the time following the birth of your children is when most parents become solely focused on raising their child and begin to lose their identities. She describes this as a period when parents stop engaging in hobbies, may give up on career advancement, and often struggle in relationship with their partner.
She talked about her struggle to re-connect with her identity during this period and finding ways to live her own life (follow her passions, hobbies, and interests) while also being a parent. While I agree that being intentional and passionate about raising one’s child (or children) is one of the most important things that we can do, the idea of losing my identity scares and depresses me. Isn’t the term “the lost years of parenting” so grim?
As a caveat, I want to say that this is my own opinion and this is not meant to be an indictment of other people’s parenting or what they believe to be the most important to them. This is merely a reflection on our experience and hopefully I can offer some insight into how we navigate parenting, jobs, and our personal lives.
Before having our daughter we enjoyed our lives, we loved spending time with friends, staying up late and sleeping in, and although some of those things have naturally changed I actively reject the notion that my next 5 years of life should be exclusively be about who I am as a parent. Let me be clear, we love our baby a lot and wouldn’t change anything about having her. She brings us so much joy and we love spending time with her AND we also love being adults, having careers, enjoy hobbies and I think that is totally okay.
We have been so fortunate to have some amazing friends role model for us how to be parents and bring kids into our lives without totally domineering every conversation and everything that we do. This is no easy task as children easily become idols and the focus of every conversation and take over the dynamics in a room. I also think that this hyper-focus on our kids can lead us to have unrealistic expectations for them and our worth to be tied to their success and failures. Of course I catch myself falling into this trap. Not even a month ago I noticed that I was starting to feel pressure, when at just over 12 months, our baby wasn’t walking yet. I questioned whether this had something to do with me and our parenting. Of course, she started walking in her own perfect time, not even a month later. It’s easy to fall into the trap of finding our worth tied into our kid’s successes and failures.
What Works for Us:
For Cait and I, pushing back against “the lost years of parenting” looks like a few different thing: getting baby sitters so we can go out for drinks, dropping Hazel of with grandparents so we can get away, having hobbies and interests (biking, ultimate Frisbee, a book club etc.) sharing meals with friends with and without children, going away on an annual guys canoe trip and supporting one another through our career aspirations and goals. We also try to honour one another as humans in our marriage by giving each other the freedom of guilt-free time away from parenting. When we are both home we take turns doing evening routines of feeding, bathing and bedding Hazel. We take turns on weekends getting up early and allowing the other time to sleep in or linger in bed.
Another way that we practice protecting our identities is to include Hazel in the things that we like doing. We do try to carve out special time to do things that Hazel will enjoy like swimming lessons, taking her to the Early Years Centre, and other activities BUT we also think it’s great to expose her to our hobbies as well. An example of this is bringing her to our local Bike co-op to get some new bike parts for a project I’m working on. She’s also been a sideline cheerleader at our ultimate Frisbee games since she was 6 months old. We want to teach her the value of family and togetherness AND we also want her to know that she’s an important part of our family but not the centre of the universe. It’s important to us that she knows her parents have passions and things that make us feel alive and we want her to discover those things for herself too! Maybe this is easy to say now with a toddler and we expect things will change as she grows and wants to participate in sports teams and lessons and so on. The idea of being a Dad taxi is terrifying, but we’re years away from that and have a lot to learn on the subject before we get on a soap box.
We recognize the incredible privilege that we have regarding our socio-economic status, the health of our child, and the fact that we have plenty of friends and family who are willing to help us at the drop of a hat. I want to reiterate that I think we have aspired to actively fight for our identities as people and not only parents because of the way our friends have role modelled this for us. Recently, one couple had the genius idea of starting a Babysitting Club. Basically each weekend we rotate dropping the kids off at one house with a couple, while the other parents have an opportunity to go out, hangout with friends or go on a date. I love this idea because it saves money of babysitting and it is also an encouragement to one another to take time away from your kids and be adults. It’s not perfect and it doesn’t always work, but its a start.
If you want to read more about the challenges of parenting check out this blog for another take on it: http://austin.citymomsblog.com/2016/04/20/stage-life-hard/
Credit to: She Explores Podcast, Part 2: Adventuring with Kids (check it out wherever you get your podcasts)