This weekend I traveled to New Orleans to catch a flight to Pennsylvania for a work conference. Fortunately for me, my in-laws live there and not only did they let me crash the night before my early morning flight, but my mother-in-law drove me to the airport at 6am. (Praise hands!) As soon as I made it through security, I grabbed a chai tea latte and made myself comfortable while I waited until it was late enough to FaceTime my husband and son. By 6:50am I was making silly faces as I was talking to Chris and Blake, and when I hung up the phone I laughed and thought to myself: “Wow… times have changed!”
With that reality setting in, I started thinking about the last 19 months. I thought about how different my relationships are, how differently I prioritize my time/energy/resources, what values lead my life, and how my identity as a woman has evolved. I’m sure a lot of moms can relate to this, so I’d like to share some of the obvious and not so obvious impacts that these changes can have with your partner and your family dynamics and what you can do to manage that.
First, your identity (or the role you’ve played) changes, thus your identity/role in your closest relationships changes. Sure, I’m still Amanda and you’re still you, but also… not really. How you see yourself changes, and I’m not just talking about the reflection in the mirror. Being a mother means your priorities shift, your responsibilities grow, and your values evolve as you begin to settle into life as a parent. When your primary identity changes from wife or daughter to MOTHER the ripple effect can seem like a tidal wave to the people who knew you before.
Emotions, oh, the emotions. Being a mother certainly can introduce new emotions and even significant shifts in your mood and behavior. You may find yourself on the verge of tears as you look at your kids’ baby photos from last month (seriously?). You may also find yourself operating in extremes- becoming completely enmeshed with you child’s emotions or completely intolerant of your spouse’s. The emotional rollercoaster you didn’t sign up to ride has you barreling down a cliff and as you look behind, you see your very confused husband and family screaming behind you. Whoops! Who knew these emotional changes were so powerful.
Another change that is both obvious and expected is that your spending habits change. And I’m talking more than just money (hello, new roommate!). You’re also spending more time getting out of the door every morning, you’re spending less time sleeping, you’re spending more brain power trying to manage multiple workloads and sets of expectations, and you’re spending more physical energy making sure your new roommate is housed, clothed, and fed on a daily basis. Your regular date night is forgotten about, running that errand for your sister is impossible, and that birthday reminder you wrote on your calendar gets overlooked. And all these changes mean you’re spending less time/energy/attention focusing on your romantic and family relationships. So, you guessed it- these changes in your spending have consequences!
It’s ok… I repeat- IT IS OK. You are human, and you are constantly in transition. And I promise you that if your support system is made up of a least a couple of decent individuals they will forgive you. However, in an effort to not completely bankrupt your support system’s forgiveness bank I’d like to share some communication strategies and other tactics that I use, and that you can try to bring some balance back to your partner and family dynamics.
Ask for what you need.
This is probably the most important one! I swear, there is no greater spiritual practice than being aware of what you need and asking for it. Tell your partner and your family what’s going on, tell them what you need, ask for their help- and accept it. Despite these people loving you and knowing you does NOT mean they can interpret or even anticipate your needs. They are very used to you being just their wife, just their daughter, just their sister and will likely continue to treat you that way unless you inform them that you need something more/less or different.
I can tell you from experience, this one can be hard at times; however, when I’ve done it right it strengthens my relationships. Tell your spouse you’re sorry if you forget something important; don’t let the guilt make you avoid them or the topic. If you snapped at your mom- make amends. Acknowledge your newfound limits and make a game plan for how you want to manage your multiple roles.
Be open and honest.
Say “no” when you really can’t make something happen- I promise you, people handle an initial rejection better than a delayed one. If you’re feeling burned out, let your partner or family know. They may be willing to take over if it means you’ll be recharged the next day.
This one can be difficult pending your pre-baby dynamic. If things were tense before you started a family, you can probably anticipate that setting boundaries will continue to be difficult. However, decide what boundaries you need for yourself and your new life and communicate those to your family and partner. If someone in your family repeatedly crosses boundaries, make a game plan for what consequences will be upheld and how you want to address it with them.
Be gentle with yourself
Give yourself permission to feel a wide range of emotions in general and towards others. Don’t judge these emotions as they come up. Be realistic about what you can handle any given week and don’t put unnecessary things on your plate. It may sound silly but if you make it a point to talk kindly to yourself you will feel better as you figure all this transition stuff out.
To all my fellow roller coaster riders out there, I hope you’re enjoying your ride!