Do you miss certain things about your life before kids? Do you miss the freedom you had before kids? Are you ever frustrated with, overwhelmed by or resentful about your new responsibilities and pressures as a mom? If you answered yes to any or all of these questions, I want to give you permission to grieve your former life. I believe it makes us happier and more present in our lives when we can honestly and openly acknowledge how much our lives have changed.
Like any other form of grieving, moms need an opportunity to grieve their lives before kids. We need an opportunity to talk about how our lives have drastically changed. I recently had a lovely conversation with a patient of mine who is a new mom. We had a brief visit where I held her beautiful baby, and we gushed about how amazing it is to become a mom for the first time. As I walked her to her car, I shared with her how hard certain parts of being a mom have been for me. She thanked me for being honest, and was surprised that I had struggled so much. She admitted that she was having similar thoughts and experiences and, at times, feels really alone. As moms, we need to realize that we are all in this together, that we all struggle at times, and that it’s okay to grieve.
Allow me to start the conversation … When I brought my beautiful daughter home from the hospital, freedom as I knew it vanished. As an older mom, I had had forty solid years of only being responsible for myself. Over the course of the first weeks and months, I had the gradual and terrifying realization that I could never again just walk out of my apartment door footloose and carefree. I realized quickly that either arrangements needed to be made as to who would be staying with and caring for my daughter, or I was leaving the house with a car seat, a diaper bag, a change of clothes, a stroller, a baby bjorn, baby toys, binkies, blankets, … and oh yes, lest I forget, my daughter. And if I did arrange for a sitter, I was leaving the house with a breast pump, a cooler, and a lot of first-time mom anxieties.
I know I don’t need to say this. But I will. I love my children more than life itself. Becoming a mom was, and I know this is totally corny, the best thing that has ever happened to me. But I have done a lot of grieving … grieving my freedom, my restful and uninterrupted sleep, my sleeping in on the weekends, and my husband’s full and utter attention. It is hard to believe that I will ever go on anything resembling a vacation again. I can just barely remember what it was like to read a book or relax in a beach chair at the beach. I have grieved quiet-time, me-time, and down-time. My husband and I grieve the energy we once had in our lives, and we grieve the exercise we once did. We grieve our intimacy, the attention we once gave each other, and the ease of spending time in each other’s company.
It’s okay to say these things, right? It’s okay to admit feeling like this, right? The final stage of grieving is acceptance. Accepting that these parts of our lives are gone (for at least the foreseeable future) is part helpful and part infuriating. But it’s probably more helpful to be less infuriated. Humbly, I have two bits of advice that I hope are helpful. First and foremost, is to find other moms that are going through the same stages of child rearing. Find friends, groups and communities that are sharing your same experiences — your same joys and your same struggles. There is nothing more refreshing, more helpful, and more life-saving than knowing you are not alone. And I assure you, you are not alone.
Secondly and I think most importantly, give yourself permission to grieve – give yourself permission to feel frustrated, angry, resentful, overwhelmed, and terrified. If we allow ourselves to feel our honest feelings, without judgement, criticism and “I should not be feeling this,” we will feel free to feel all the wonderful stuff too. That’s the fascinating and funny thing about feelings; if we deny our so-called “negative” emotions and “negative” feelings, we deny our ability to feel the full spectrum of our life. If we close ourselves off to our fear, anger and sadness, we may not be completely open to our joy, love and happiness. Our children and families can bring us so much joy and meaning. If we allow ourselves to grieve with compassion and without judgment … we in turn allow ourselves to embrace, enjoy, and grasp our life!