After a jam-packed week, I look forward to relaxing. After the jam-packed holidays, I really look forward to relaxing.
That’s usually when I realize how much needs to be done. Our house is trashed, we need groceries (not to mention clean laundry), the puppy taken out, and then of course there’s the endless meals and all that damn cooking, not to mention all the little fires that need to be put out on a daily basis, etc., etc., etc. Of course, it would be nice if Ken and I could both get a bit of alone time in there, and if either one of us needs to catch up on work, well … Before you know it, I’m grumpy as hell, and my mood has run off on everyone around me, making our oh-so-relaxing holiday “break” a royal pain-in-the-ass.
So much of our “free” time gets eaten up by the enormous amount of work it takes to maintain a household of four people. And when you have young kids, the chores never, ever end. No sooner have we cleaned up our breakfast dishes than it’s time to start thinking about snack, laundry, work and what the hell I’m going to feed these kids when there’s nothing in the fridge.
The other day, we ran into some old friends. They were headed out to see some live music, they told us, and after that, were just going to do what they felt like. (Cough. If it’s not already obvious, they don’t have kids.) Meanwhile, we had to corral the kids to a birthday party before preparing for a sleepover, and our free time, I knew, wouldn’t come until the kids were asleep. And while I love my kids beyond belief, for a moment, I was just so … jealous.
To be able to have an entire day to just do as you please … what a foreign concept when you have young kids!
I wouldn’t trade my life for the world–I wouldn’t. I have the best family in the world, I’m blessed beyond belief–I know that. I am so absolutely thankful for that.
But there’s this crazy thing that happens once we have kids: we stop being who we used to be. The baby years take care of that. A newborn needs constant care and attention to survive, and by the time we get our kids into elementary school, most of us are proud as hell that a) they’re still alive and b) we’ve survived!
But there’s another thread woven into that narrative, and it’s the thread from our past lives: the people we used to be, the hobbies we used to enjoy. That thread usually starts to unravel once our kids are in school full-time and we finally get a bit of time and space.
In the midst of the joy and freedom of that time and space comes a tiny little voice. It’s a whisper at first. And if we don’t heed that whisper, it becomes louder and louder until it turns into a shout.
After years of putting ourselves on the back burner, we start to realize that somewhere along the way, we’ve lost ourselves.
For most of us, this is a big and scary realization. Nobody told us this would happen. Nobody mentioned it would be so hard.
And just look at all the other couples out there. They all look like so solid. Like they have it all. Good jobs, vacations, matching china. WTF?! They’re not struggling, like we are. What’s wrong with us?
Or: What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I be like that?
Well, here’s what I’ve noticed: a lot of those perfect-looking couples start to unravel about the time their kids hit elementary or middle school. Others unravel when their youngest leaves for college.
If you don’t believe me, look around you. Count how many of your friends are still married after 10 years.
Just last week, I learned about two more couple friends who are divorcing. (My kids are 8 and 10 now, and in the past few years, we’ve seen a lot of couples split.) Couple A has two kids in elementary school. Couple B has one in middle school and one in elementary.
From what I can tell, resentment played a role in both separations. Grumpiness, bitterness. No time for themselves, no time for joy or laughter (much less old hobbies) and certainly no time for the person they used to be.
And you know what? I’m pretty sure we all hit that same fork in the road. That yucky, take-stock moment when we wake up, look around and wonder who we are and where we’re headed. It can be a good wake-up call or a bad one. But it’s what you decide to do with that wake-up call that determines the state of your marriage (not to mention your sanity and your life).
As far as I can tell, we have a couple of choices here.
A. Ignore that uncomfortable feeling, put your head down, and get back to work. Double-down on your efforts to take care of everyone else. Double-down on trying to keep up with the Joneses, and double-down on your debt. Double-down on your caffeine and alcohol consumption and move faster, damnit, always faster until you get everything done. Faster, faster! One day, you’ll get to the bottom of your to-do list and finally be able to have fun.
Fast forward 5, 10, 15 or 20 years. Your kids are gone, you and your spouse ignore each other and you’re resentful as hell, wondering what the fuck you did with your life.
B. Take a deep breath and figure out where you need to course-correct. Start by giving yourself the gift of time and space. Maybe it’s just 15 minutes to read a book or sit alone in silence. Maybe it’s meeting a friend for a drink. Maybe it’s going out dancing. Doing something fun. Taking 5 minutes to write down what you want for yourself in the New Year.
The only thing that matters is that you start.
Start honoring who you are again. Start honoring the things you love. Like restarting that hobby you once loved, and reigniting some excitement in your life.
Whatever you do, don’t NOT do it and them blame your spouse for it. (That’s a quick recipe for divorce.)
Cause you’re the one we’re talking about here. And you matter, dammit.
So start by giving yourself permission.
This year, let’s ring in the New Year by giving ourselves a break. Instead of a zillion resolutions that we’ll probably break, let’s start by being kind to ourselves. By being compassionate. Considerate and caring. Because it’s not just our kids who matter, and it’s not just our work that matters–or the state of our house. We matter, too.
So tell me: what one thing will you do for yourself in the New Year? How will you honor your spirit?
I’d love to hear from you! Please leave a comment below.