I’m sure you’ve heard of the term “midlife crisis.” You could also call it an identity crisis.
As I reflect on my life, especially during my parenting years, I think I suffered from a chronic state of some form of an identity crisis. I had an ever present nagging subconscious question percolating in the background of my life. That questions was “who am I REALLY?” I tried to answer that question through the various roles I played – being a wife, mother, friend, volunteer, sister, writer, entrepreneur. But as you can imagine, each one of those roles required a different part of me to show up. I changed hats multiple times a day, each hat requiring a different voice, expectations and skill sets to match. No wondered I questioned who I was and looking in the mirror didn’t help any.
But seriously, can you relate? I’ll bet there are a lot of people out there whose life has become so hurried and overwhelming that they hardly recognize their own reflection. It’s rush, rush, change hats. Rush, rush, change hats. Many of you are in careers that leave you unfulfilled.
To top it all off, when you’re a stay/work-at-home parent your world can feel very small and at the same time your life is fast paced. You feel like you’re going in circles as it’s back and forth to school, activities, the store, appointments, errands and you do it all over and over again. At the end of the day you get to answer the never ending $64,000 question that every parent dreads, “what’s for dinner?” Life begins to feel like Groundhog Week.
You don’t get any “atta girl” (or atta boy for you stay-at-home dads) in your role as a parent. There’s no paycheck at the end of the week for parenting. No vacation time building up. No promotion to work towards. You have to have faith that somehow what you’re doing is important. It’s super easy to feel insignificant especially compared to all the great things people are doing/accomplishing according to their posts on Facebook and Instagram or out there in the land of careerville.
I get it. I was there. Feeling at times unimportant, invisible and not living up to my fullest potential in the world at large I was prime for experiencing an identity crisis. I vacillated back and forth between being happy and fulfilled as a mother to feeling depressed with a lack of self worth.
Our society seems to program us from an early age that value and worth are somehow equated to how much money you can earn. I felt the tug in my heart between wanting to be there 100% for my husband and three children AND at the same time I felt inner urges to pursue my gifts and talents as a writer and/or pursue income related activities. I confess. Even though I LOVED being a mother, my ego wouldn’t allow motherhood to fill me up completely. I wanted a bigger arena to play in but who was I when I went out into the world? Who was I aside from being “mom”? Just where did I fit in?
My experience, however, was that when family life started to bore me and I took my focus off being my version of the perfect mom (another confession of mine – I have some perfectionistic tendencies) to pursue more worldly activities to establish an identity outside the home and find a place I fitted in, my head and my heart would spin in a circle and I’d lose my emotional compass as to which way pointed to fulfillment. Eventually, real life and my parenting responsibilities would kick in. The needs of the family would catch up with me and I’d settle back in to my mothering role, only to feel the itch and restlessness in my spirit rise up again when daily life was too small. This conflict, this vacillating back and forth between feeling loved, needed and fulfilled to feeling inadequate, insignificant, and under achieving plagued me for most of motherhood.
Now that my children are adults in their 20’s and on their own and I can let go of the 24/7 role of being a work/stay-at-home mom, I have time to reflect on those 25+ years of raising my family. Here are my observations and you could call advice for all you work/stay-at-home parents with the hope that I can help a handful of you avoid an identity crisis of your own.
First, decide right here and now you’re going to enjoy motherhood/fatherhood no matter what. Parenting is a gift and an opportunity like no other experience or job. (My children were the result of modern fertility treatments so I realized first hand not everyone is blessed with children.) Being a parent is tough and it’s even tougher these days.
Showing up every day for mother/fatherhood 24/7/365 is a lot to ask of our emotions. It’s physically, mentally and emotionally draining. So you have to make a point of remembering the joy, the fun, the special moments, and everything that is going right. Focus more on the big picture and not on the nit picky details. It’s going to all be a blur someday anyway except for the over arching feelings. Eventually they do grow up and leave home. There will be a time when you miss the noise and hecticness. Decide ahead of time that when you reflect back on your experience as a parent you are going to make a point of remembering all that was good. For you moms especially, just like we forget the pain of childbirth we can forget all the tearful moments of motherhood. It really is all worth it.
Second, be more conscious about your emotional state. It’s super easy to let your hormones rule the roost or to allow some other “out of your control” event determine how you feel. Catch a sour feeling early. Don’t allow it to take root and develop into a full blown pissy fit. If you’re struggling emotionally all the more reason to engage in some serious self care. Research ways to treat and balance out your hormones. Life is too short to be pissed off, worried, upset or not able to find enjoyment in the little things. Don’t wait until you’re older to realize just how short it is.
Third, for you stay-at-home parents (dads included) if you feel the need to engage in income producing activities then be very clear about your “why.” Too many people get lured into business ventures that if they looked back on their decision they would have realized it might have been best to have said “thanks, but no thanks.” I got talked into (and sometimes I talked myself into it) pursuing extra income through money making opportunities that were probably great opportunities for others but maybe they weren’t great opportunities for me. Hindsight is 20/20. I see now that my heart wasn’t in it for the long haul. What invariably would happen is I’d start off with a lot of enthusiasm, lose momentum, stumble and stall out and then beat myself up for not being more “successful.” The error I made was that I didn’t tell the truth about “why” I was interested in that opportunity in the first place. Balancing work and family roles is hard enough, and it’s even harder when our head and our heart are not aligned. Check out my blog on aligning your head and your heart here.
Fourth, truly believe deep down that everything has it’s own timing. There really is a season for everything. Put more emphasis on being patient with yourself and allow timing to work things out. I had this sense of being in a hurry all the time. But in a hurry to go where. I heard a saying once and it’s so true. “Women can have it all, but just not at the same time.” When you spread yourself too thin and not allow things to fall into place in their proper timing, which you could call God’s timing, you divide your energy. This can lead to feeling stressed out and overwhelmed. It’s hard to give 100% of yourself 100% of the time in one role, let alone two or more.
Fifth, I wish I had followed the KISS principle more often. You know, Keep It Simple Stupid! My advice is to get clarity on what your priorities really are and what is really just getting in the weeds. Be vigilant about not letting irrelevant things distract you. It never amazes me how we can get so distracted with the stupidest, most irrelevant stuff. (Check out Catie’s Corner cartoon here.)
Know how to answer the question “what is a successful day for me?” Then pat yourself on the back for all your little mini daily successes. This means that you need to become an intentional person (parent). Come up with your own KISS Principle rules to live by that fit you and your family and stick to them.
Sixth, run your own race. Stop comparing yourself to every other Tom, Dick & Jane. Limit your time on social media sites, ESPECIALLY if you feel your energy depleted or any negative emotion after you sign off. Social media sites breed comparison. You have to really embrace the fact that no two families are alike. No two marriages. People’s financial needs. What floats people’s boats. Instead of spending time on seeing what other people are doing spend that time listening to your own heart. The most important thing for you to be is to be true to yourself and true to your family. They want, need and deserve you being 100% authentically you.
Midlife (identity) crisis happen to those who ignore their inner work and don’t ever bother to open up the lines of communication with their heart and soul. Eventually, who you are becoming has to be listened to and reckoned with.
Here are a few basic questions to ask yourself every day that will give you some idea of who you are.
“What makes my heart sing today?”
“Who needs my love today?”
“How can I be of service to others today?”
“Where am I using my gifts and talents?”
There are undoubtedly many other questions you could ask. I encourage you to come up with your own. When you make these kinds of questions the cornerstone of your life there will be little doubt in your heart as to who you are and more importantly who you are becoming.