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Is Your Role As Parent Taking Over Your Identity?

Aug 17, 2007
Did you long to be a mom or dad? Did you wait and
wait for the time you could parent?

Or were you someone who loved your life, and was
ambivalent to give up that freedom to become a parent?

Either way, you could find yourself in a position
of resenting your baby as you give up more and
more of what you love to do, and more and more
of your time with your spouse and your friends,
to be the parent you want to be.

How do you learn to balance your needs with your
baby's needs?

A good question. And a big one.

I was someone who started dreaming of being a
mother when I was still in high school. Birth
control for me was spending as much time as I
could with other peoples' kids, to ease the longing.

I was also good with kids, and enjoyed it, so
when I did become a mother, I fell into it willingly
and naturally.

And it was all too easy to give up whatever life
I had outside of my role as a parent. I hardly even
noticed until my daughter was four years old, and I
split up with my husband. Suddenly, I was not able
to be the parent I had been for so long. I had to get
a job, find a preschool for Sidra, and I noticed I
didn't have much identity outside of being a mother.

To me, a good mom was always being there for my
daughter. Taking her with me wherever I went, rarely
needing a babysitter, and responding immediately to
her every need.

Now I was finding that putting everything I was into
motherhood set up two things: 1) a feeling of guilt
that if I wasn't able to continue, I was being a
"bad mom." And 2) it put Sidra in charge.

I began running my decisions about parenting from
that place of guilt, and to avoid feeling it, Sidra
- unbeknownst to me - was "in charge." Her every
need took precedence over anything I needed and it
cost us.

How could putting your child first be "wrong?"

It isn't wrong, but it can have consequences in the
long term that are difficult to see when your baby
is still young. It's true that as a parent of an
infant, we do need to prioritize differently than
if our child is older. But it's possible to take
it too far, and set up a long-term problem of the
child running the show.

It is possible to have such high standards, that
you give the message to your child that they are
more important than you are. This could be setting up a culture in your family that the parents' aren't important or deserving of respect, and that the children's needs and wants always take priority.

So how do you recognize and shift a pattern like
this?

First of all, ask yourself, "Do I have enough time
with my partner or friends?" And, "Do I spend any
time nurturing myself, my spirituality, my hobbies?"
If the answer is no, you might be allowing your baby
to "take over" your identity.

Secondly, understand that by taking time for yourself
and your relationships, you model self-worth for your
child. Your baby will absorb the value that it's
important to treat herself well, as well as plant the
seeds for respecting you when she's older.

But where's the line? How do you know when to put
yourself first, and when to put your baby first?

To answer that, you need to first separate NEEDS
from WANTS for both you and your baby, and then
prioritize them. Roughly, it goes:

1) baby's needs
2) your needs
3) YOUR wants
4) Your baby's wants

Okay, I know this might be difficult to take in.
But it's true. Your wants can come before your
baby's wants, or at the very least, have as much
importance. Choosing what goes in each of the
above categories is not always black and white.
It will be individual for everyone, but there are
some guidelines to help you.

Things to Remember when prioritizing NEEDS and WANTS:

- Ask yourself what kind of a parent will you be if you DON'T take time for yourself. What do YOU need to be the parent you want to be? Do you need to be nurturing your career? Do you need to quit your job and be at home? Do you need an hour each night for a long, relaxing bath? Do you need to join a gym and have your baby in group care for a few hours a day? It really depends on what is going to help you feel more like yourself as you parent.

- Decide what you're doing daily that other's can help with. Can someone else watch your baby and play with her at a park or go for a walk while you do something for yourself?

This can be a difficult option if you don't feel you
can trust anyone else to take care of your baby the way you can. Acknowledge that NO ONE can take care of your baby the way you can and you need to take time for yourself. It is okay to find someone who can care for your baby and keep them safe and well while you are away. Your baby probably will have a reaction to being with someone new. This is an opportunity. By
allowing them to have an experience with another adult
who is different from you, you are helping them to build inner strengths of coping, and understanding that there are different people in the world.

- Understand that your adult relationships including the basic parent relationship is of HUGE importance. If you are a couple your relationship together is a major source of strength and stability to you and your child. It is vital that you spend time nurturing your adult relationships.

- If you don't feel okay about leaving your child, (provided you have met their needs, and they are safe) your child will sense that, and it may affect his ability to feel okay about it. It's important, if you are feeling guilty for nurturing yourself, in whatever form that takes, to look more deeply at what that might be about for you. Bottom line, if you are okay about taking time for you, you give yourself the space to empathize with your baby without guilt, and teach him valuable lessons about who he is in relationship to the world.

Allow the process of integrating who you were before the birth of your baby with your new parental role. It may take a while, but it's important to give yourself permission to sink deeply into who you were before your baby came once in a while. Over time, the balance will be more natural, and easier to find.
About the Author
Dylan Emrys, M.A. is a psychotherapist/counselor that help parents go from overwhelmed to overjoyed. Visit her website at http://www.whatyourbabyknows.com for more information.
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