When you hear the word “woman,” what do you picture?
How about if I tell you this woman is a mom? In your mind, does she suddenly transform into a frazzled mess, talking about nothing but diaper genies and hockey practice? Wearing a shapeless pastel sweater and balloony, high-waisted jeans? Or are you not even really picturing anything because you entirely glazed over as soon as you read the word “mom”?
Given how our society views moms, and how pop culture often portrays them, it’s not surprising that many moms feel stereotyped as boring and homely. Or that if you’re a mom, you might have internalized the idea that the instant you take on the title of mother, you have no choice but to forfeit all of the qualities that make you *you* — as if anything that previously made you interesting or desirable has evaporated, leaving you a shell of a person. A caregiver with a capital C.
Well, it doesn’t have to be that way. (And, yes, I know that mom jeans made a comeback in 2018.)
In the eight years since I started interviewing parents for my podcast, “The Longest Shortest Time,” I have learned that many people have developed simple strategies for keeping at least a shred of your you-ness intact after kids. Here are some of them.
Break the rules just for the fun of it. So much of parenting is setting boundaries. But enforcing rules is exhausting and it’s easy to fall into the trap of feeling like a nag. Being a rule-breaker can be exhilarating. And doing it every once in awhile with your kids can bring you closer. When I was in fifth grade, my parents pulled me out of school for a day to go see a motorcycle blessing ceremony. My dad’s a photographer and he wanted to get some pictures of tough guys, Harleys, and holy water — not for an assignment; just for fun. It’s one of my fondest memories from middle school. Or, honestly, maybe my only fond one. And it was exciting to see my dad revel in his love of absurdity — a trait he definitely passed down to me.
Refocus how you talk about your kids. Children are more than pooping, whining, demanding jerks who need to be driven to doctors’ appointments, playdates, and rehearsals. They’re also more than their academic, athletic, and artistic achievements. Griping and bragging have their place — but if you really want to engage someone in a compelling conversation about your kid, talk about that crazy thing they said to you at bedtime or on the way to school. Talk about their theory on where babies come from. Their obsession with death. Their nonstop drawings of dogs in sweaters. Their talent for coming up with mind-blowing would-you-rathers (Would you rather jump in a pool of slugs or boogers?). Kids have a different perspective on the world than grownups and most grownups find those perspectives compelling. Or at least cute.
Thrive on the weirdness of the weirdos you live with. Were you a little weirder before you became a parent? Good news: kids are total weirdos! They want to turn everything into a game. Next time you need a break, try giving them permission to toilet-paper your room. Then make them clean up the mess. You get to rest, your kid gets to play, and you have a fun story to tell your childfree coworker tomorrow.
Get frisky. As a parent — especially a new one — it can be tricky to find time to get it on. And a lack of getting it on can really contribute to not feeling like oneself. First, if you have given birth and find sex painful, look for a pelvic floor physical therapist. Once you feel ready, many parents say they enjoy feeling like teenagers again — sneaking makeout sessions whenever possible. In the garage while you’re looking for that dang hammer, while going through the car wash on date night. Need some help getting started? How about emailing a formal meeting invite for next Wednesday at 9:00?
Do things that make you feel like your old self… by yourself. Go get a milkshake. Drink it in peace without anyone asking you for sips or needing to be walked to the bathroom. Go see that movie your partner would hate. Pick up an Us Weekly and sit on a park bench for an hour. Walk around your neighborhood until you get bored. Remember boredom? Trade me-time with a friend, your partner, or another parent from school. And then swap stories about what you did with your glorious time to yourself.
Here’s an example:
A few weeks ago, I was out at a restaurant by myself on a Thursday night. I sat at the bar, eating dollar oysters and sipping happy-hour rosé. I overheard a server ask the bartender if he’d rather swim a mile or walk ten. They bickered for a few minutes over the right answer.
“My daughter’s got great would-you-rathers,” I told them. “But they’re not as tame as yours.”
They kinda chuckled.
Later, as I paid my check, I told the bartender my kid’s best would-you-rather: Would you rather eat a skunk or poop in front of a thousand people?
“Wow,” the guy said, clearly enjoying the grossness of this dilemma. “Skunk, I think.”
On my way out, the bartender’s pal — the walk-or-swim guy — tracked me down. “Wait, is the skunk cooked?” he asked.
“That’s not part of the game,” I said. “You just have to choose.”
“Okay… I guess poop,” he said. “Gimme another.”
I told him I couldn’t remember any others on the spot.
“How old’s your daughter?” he asked.
“Almost nine,” I said, pulling the door open.
“Bring her next time!” he said.
I told him I would.