During the highs and lows of parenting, we are expected to ask ourselves ‘Who am I?’
Throughout the course of our lives we are titled and tagged with various identifiers. From being someone’s daughter, grand-daughter, sister, cousin or friend, these labels act as puzzle pieces identifying who we are as we develop and age. As we mature, define our values and find our purpose, we add and remove labels that no longer serve us.
By the time we are thinking of embarking on the journey of parenthood, we have a fair idea and are more confident of who we are and how we choose to live our lives. At this stage we are again molding our identity to now fit the tags associated with our expectations of parenting.
It is not uncommon for parenting to be a world away from your expectations in both beautiful and difficult ways. This can lead to you being a different parent to how you envisioned yourself at the beginning of your journey, occurring at any time, from the newborn stage through to grand-parenting.
Is this common?
Does this identity crisis have an impact on your emotional and mental health?
Is there help out there to bridge the gap?
For some, the change can be a welcome blessing, creating freedoms and taking away those aspects of their lives that no longer served them. For others, it is tricky, creating the sense of feeling lost in your own world.
One of my favourite analogies to help understand identity as a parent stems from the old adage – We are all in the same boat. Unfortunately, this saying is a disservice to all. However, it births a grander idea to imagine parents are the captain of their own vessel, say for example on the Pacific Ocean. Some may be captaining ships in the safe Sydney harbour. Others may be on a tug boat, navigating the icy coast of Alaska, and some may be on rafts in Vanuatu or dinghies battling tropical rain in Far North Queensland.
All of these captains need sets of tools and resources that are unique to their vessel and crew. So do parents. As they nurture the emotional and mental needs of their children, it is often the case that they treat themselves as less of a priority. So, how as parents can change the tide? It is a common thought in mental health circles that one can not help others until they help themselves. There are many measures to achieve this, that once implemented can help parents on their way to much needed self-care and self-love to nurture their way back to or toward who they want to be.
Black out time on your calendar
When planning your week or month, black out periods of time for yourself. This may be an hour here or there or a half day if time permits. Plan an activity that lights your soul from within and fills your cup. This maybe joining a class or community group, reading a book, baking, meditating or any other activity that brings you joy.
Exercise has been proven to help boost our mental health and clarity. Often in moments of overwhelm we can feel lost or be experiencing a ‘brain fog’. If this is happening, take your dog around the block or go for a swim – even if it is a few laps in your backyard pool. When we are confident in our physical health, we are confident in our mental and emotional health.
Journaling is a great tool for self-expression. There are no hard or fast rules and the opportunity to explore your thoughts and feelings in a creative manner can provide cathartic release and clarity. Journaling can range from trigger writing, automatic writing, drawing, collages or poetry. When it is hard to articulate with your voice, allow your creativity to help shine a light on what is making you feel uncertain about who you are.
Quite often we feel pulled from pillar to post as parents. Answering to someone here, picking up after someone there. When our boundaries become blurred and we are rushing from one commitment to the next, it becomes hard for us to give 100% to ourselves. In fact, in these moments, we aren’t able to give 100% of ourselves to anything as our mind is on the next task. Through creating healthy work and personal boundaries, we give ourselves the time and priority to focus on where we are at during any given moment. Allow your commute to be just that a commute – pick up your kindle instead of your laptop. Don’t squeeze commitments in a busy day, not everything is urgent. Work out your priority (not priorities!) and plan your day/ week or month to that.
Quit People Pleasing
It is easy to lose our sense of self when we are stuck in a cycle of pleasing others. By pleasing others, we find ourselves molding ourselves to others needs, but to our detriment. Before saying yes, ask yourself ‘If I do this, am I serving myself authentically?’ If the answer is no, or vague. Your answer should be no. It takes time and practice, however you are still able to help and serve others, living to your core values and beliefs without twisting yourself into an unrecognisable pretzel to do so.
It is in our nature to grow and develop. This does not mean it will happen in a clear straight line. Quite often it is fraught with challenge and fear, causing us to question ourselves. Hindsight is an essential learning tool. It shows us how we succeeded and what tools we had to do so. Sometimes though, these tools are not enough for the next phase or the following. If you find some of the above ideas aren’t quite enough, seeking support from a mental health professional is a sound and safe bet. You might not have a mental health concern, however a qualified counsellor is able to help you identify the areas you lack confidence in or are unsure about and provide you with the tools and resources you have available to you, to help you navigate your own journey.