After I gave birth to Livia and went for my 6 weeks check-up with my OBGYN, she said this to me, “Don’t lose yourself in childcare. Do something for yourself, your future is important too.” I thought it was a pretty remarkable statement a a time when my infant craved my attention 24/7. Through that entire year her words haunted me as I indeed lose myself in motherhood. I thought I must be disappointing feminists everywhere. It was only after the triplets arrived that I got a better sense of separating myself from my mother-self. I realised, albeit a tad slow, that parenting and motherhood was really only a part of my identity. At this point in my life, it was a huge part of me because my children are still small and extremely dependent, but I should not carry my life in a way where parenting is always on the forefront. I should also prepare for life when one day, parenting is going to take a backseat, and then what am I to do then?
I also came to a realisation that my children are not extensions of myself and it was unhealthy to project my hopes and aspirations on them. I don’t even think its healthy to hope for happiness for them because life is not just about pursuing happiness. Whatever they might find meaningful for their own life, is for them to discover and explore. I think the healthy thing to do is to allow them space to come into their own, and to give them as much love and support to be their very own individuals. Human beings are the only mammals where children are dependent on their parents for so long, and in this era of helicopter parenting, so many adults never truly leave the nest. Their parents are still very much heavily involved in the choice of their partners, which college they attend, financing their undergraduate education and for many even their graduate education, what jobs they end up in, financing their wedding, putting downpayment on their flats, helping with the cost of their flat renovations, and then when they have children, take over the burden of their childcare. When will these children ever be free to be on their own, or learn to be on their own? When does adulthood start for these children, and parenthood end for their parents?
I think it starts from toddlerhood when toddlers start exerting self-will and parents do not respect their boundaries and individuality. I think this is why I really like Janet Lansbury, she teaches me to understand that little kids do not intend to misbehave, but they misbehave because their intentions have not been heard and respected. So while I try to respect my daughters’ wishes and listen when they need my attention, I also ignore them for most of the day when they don’t need my attention and want the freedom to do things on their own. When they are babies its not much, they still very much want my attention but sometime after age 2, they can be quite independent for most of the day. And now as Livia is turning 3, I find myself doing less and less things for her. Yesterday my husband announced that maybe its time for Livia to clear her potty on her own. I immediately said, “Really, I don’t think she’s ready. Would she know how to do it cleanly?” The fact is he is right and I should let her try and gain confidence in doing things on her own. Its healthy for her to do things on her own, and for me to step back. I feel like all of this is training for the future when one day she is going to face tough decisions and heart break, and while my instinct would be to make her world better again, the healthy thing is to allow her to get up on her own and fix her own problems (with my love and support). And she won’t know how to unless she has had enough experience at self-recovering after setbacks.
I often encourage my SAHM-friends to be selfish. Its okay to be selfish I say, you cannot keep giving and obsessing about your children and your husband all the time. Think of yourself and let them be and let them become on their own. It sounds like the most anti-parenting kind of advice, but actually its a pro-parenting approach. And I don’t mean to completely neglect your kids. I mean to give attention when its appropriate to and required to, and to let them be all the other times. I found letting them be easier with more children because naturally, I cannot give just one person undivided attention. A lot of parents of multiples feel guilty over this, but I want to tell them, its healthy! Don’t feel guilty!
“Children grow up in spite of us.”