Maybe it’s an old photo that does it. A picture of yourself in your previous life. You look at the spark you once had and and then you look at your world now – it’s consumed by a child who needs, needs, needs. You suddenly wonder: How did I get here?
Parenthood is a life-altering experience, but it doesn’t have to strip you of your passions, connections and everything that made you you. Here’s how to raise your kids while holding onto your identity. (And if you’ve already lost it, that’s ok, too – we’ll help you get your groove back.)
Make your friends a priority
In college and your early 20s, friendship was easy. You could roll up to your buddies’ front door at midnight, and ask if they want to get tacos. Once you’re a parent, however, maintaining relationships feels more like working on a Rubik’s cube – it takes an exhausting amount of planning for things to line up, even imperfectly. But the effort is almost always worth it.
Start rounding up your village even before your baby is born. One way to do this is by having a “postpartum party” instead of a baby shower.
The event, as coined by Bust writer Marisa Mendez Marthaller, is basically a plan to enlist those closest to you to be your support system when you need it most: during the emotional and physical recovery of the first six weeks after a baby’s arrival.
After you emerge from those early days, you’ll want to keep your pals close, even if those hours-long phone conversations that you used to have are a distant memory. An easy way to sneak in face-to-face time is to do chores with your friends.
My husband and I sometimes go grocery shopping with a couple other families. After having dinner together, we’ll head to the market and cram all the little kids into a couple shopping carts. The kids have fun, giggling and singing throughout the ride, and we get to have sustenance for the week.
Of course, this may fly well with your friends who have kids, but what about the childfree folks in your life? For that, we have a whole guide to friendship between parents and non-parents. There are guidelines for both parties. One of my favourites: Non-parents should get “drop-everything moments,” too, meaning that if they’re in need, you will pay $50 an hour for the emergency sitter to be there.
Connect with your partner
“Grey divorces,” which refers to splits of couples over 50, are on the rise, and according to some psychologists, one reason why may be this: After the kids leave home, many partners realise they’ve become co-parents, and nothing more. It sounds extreme, but kids can overwhelm a relationship.
When you’re a new parent, you’re constantly told you need to prioritise your partner and connect in ways that go beyond soccer practice logistics. But you’re tired, and, once again, you have no time.
A few ideas: Instead of date night, have a “date morning.” As Lifehacker writer Leigh Anderson writes: “Carefully consider what you think would most help you – not what someone else says you need. And if that’s a date morning so you can drink coffee that’s still hot, so be it.”
Another relationship tweak: Start a messaging channel with your partner where you can’t talk about chores or your kids. The channel must be a space where you can only talk to each other as partners and lovers – you can fill it with inside jokes, funny links, selfies, sexy things, or anything else that says I enjoy you, rather than What’s your ETA?
Finally, sneak in microdates with your partner when you can’t get a sitter. Have “second dinner” together. Play Cards Against Humanity post-bedtime. Or do what my friend Jenny and her husband do and hide out in the closet or shower while your kids are playing, and call it a date.
Put your needs before your kid’s wants
A post I wrote last year generated a lot of feelings from mums and dads. The title: “Put your needs before your kid’s wants.” Over the past couple decades, we’ve seen a shift to a kid-centric culture, and in a nutshell, it’s completely unsustainable. There’s a simple ranking of priorities that we have stopped following, and it’s this:
1) Kids’ needs
2) Parents’ needs
3) Parents’ wants
4) Kids’ wants
To reclaim the importance of your own needs and desires, you might need to step back and look at your own ranking. How to hold onto what excites you: Seize your free time with a Sudden Opportunity List (basically, a short menu of enjoyable activities that you wish to do when you’re suddenly granted a stretch of free time—it could happen!).
Let your kids get to know you (not just as Mum or Dad)
A way to remember the things you used to love is to simply share them with your kids. You might give them a playlist of your favourite songs. “You’re not trying to impress a music critic,” writes Lifehacker contributor Geoffrey Redick. “Be honest, even if when honesty is cheesy. You’re telling the story of your life.”
Or you can ask your kids for advice when you have a setback. I like what Offspring reader Christopher Bickerstaff does with his kid: “To encourage my daughter to discuss her friendships and her day, I have taken to talking to her about mine. Workplace relationships have a surprising amount of similarity to elementary school relationships.”
Remember that even if you’ve added “parent” to your many titles, you’re still you. Sometimes, you just need a little refresher.