Last week, I asked for more blog topic suggestions. Thanks to everyone who responded with such great ideas. I will get to each one eventually. One mom asked me to write about how to keep your own life and sense of self-worth while "drowning" in parenthood. I responded that it is such a huge topic to cover, it could be a book rather than a mere blog post. But, I will do my best.
As some of you know, I had my first child two days after my 22nd birthday. I had my next one 3 1/2 years later and a third 11 1/2 years after that. That's a long time to be actively parenting but not crazy. I still had plenty of time left for me. Then, I ended up raising my granddaughter for 9 years when my youngest was 13. I was 50 when she came to me. I had always planned on pursuing my music career once my children were older, but that time frame kept getting pushed further and further away from me. So, when my youngest was around 5, I decided not to wait any longer, quit my job and started looking for consistent music jobs which included going to schools and teaching private lessons. It was a hard road but worthwhile. But, I digress.
Music had always been the most important thing to me until my children came along. Even though they were important, I couldn't give up music completely and while they were young, I gave lessons out of my home, worked part-time in a music store and an electronics repair shop and did gigs with their father. Our gigging was limited because of childcare, but we managed anyway and always played at home, inviting others over to jam with us on a regular basis. My children were surrounded with the thing we loved and learned to accept that their dad and I were musicians. They even accompanied us to many events and parties.
If you have something you love, please continue to do it, and let your children experience your love for it. I've had lots of musician friends who never played when their children were around. They devoted all of their attention to the kids. That's great, up to a point, but shouldn't our children learn to respect our need to live our own lives in addition to being their parents? At parties, those same friends couldn't jam with us, because their children were jealous and demanding. I wanted my children to know that it was okay for me to love other things in addition to caring for them. They did learn that and respected that necessary space. The flip side of this is the musicians who ignored their children when they played, leaving them on their own and feeling abandoned. Our children still need to know that they are a priority, but need to have respect for your needs as well.
Before I turned 40, I was a vocalist and didn't really play instruments, though I did play classical piano. Being a vocalist enabled me to hold my babies while I sang. Later, when I played guitar, I wore my granddaughter on my back while I played. My second child learned to find a table to climb under and would fall asleep on our jackets or blankets I had brought for that purpose. He was out of harms way at gigs and parties and slept well, lulled to sleep by the music. When they were young, they always had an adult available at gigs who could step in if needed. At parties, or at home, they knew they could come to me between songs for whatever they needed, and I took regular breaks to check in with them. They always came first but were also included in whatever the activity was that I was engaged in. In the same way that we teach our children to say "please" and "thank-you," we need to teach them that we are important, that we had a life before them and will have one after they move on. If you didn't start out doing this, it may take a little while for them to accept it, but it's worth every tear.
Like so many things, it is always a fine balance and goes for anything you love. Do you love to read? Do your children see you reading your own books, or do you only read to them? Why not read a story to them then get them to look at their own books while you squeeze in a chapter or two? Do you love making art? You can make your own art while your children are making theirs. Gardening? What child doesn't love to dig in the dirt? As they get a little older, teach them to recognize a weed or two and make a game of pulling weeds. Music? Give them some instruments, sing a few songs they love, then tell them gently that it's your turn. If we never pursue our hobbies in front of our children, they will not learn that those hobbies are important to us and help make us whole. It's not necessary to lose ourselves in order to be good parents. Rather, it's necessary to not lose ourselves but to continue to grow and thrive. My children and grandchildren are all comfortable making music and still engage in other things that were important to me and their father. I think (I hope) we did a good job modeling a good and full life for them. Please feel free to submit questions either publicly or privately. There's so much more I could say.