I always hated the inevitable new-baby question from well meaning friends and strangers alike: “Is she a good baby?”
It infers that some babies are inherently good and others are inherently bad.
“Well, she’s not a bad baby,” I’d respond. “But she is difficult.”
I’ve learned there are two basic categories of babies: easy and difficult. For some reason, the good Lord gave Josh and I two of the latter. Likely, to keep us humble. Very humble.
Nobody can really prepare you for the chaos, unpredictability, and self-imposed guilt that accompany becoming a parent. Well-intentioned people try to prepare you for the sleepless nights, colic, and grocery store tantrums, but let’s be honest; you can’t really be prepared until you encounter them.
And yet, once we got through the “survival years,” I still found motherhood nothing as I expected it to be.
That’s when I began to discover something that nearly took me out as a momma. I didn’t see it coming. Nobody warned me. I lost my identity.
This loss brought on depression. After that, I felt guilty for feeling depressed. That’s when the shame set in. My self-talk went something like this:
I haven’t talked to anyone who could even tie a shoe in days. I spend all of my time with these babies. What about the goals I had for my life? Will I ever be able to accomplish them? These four walls feel like a prison. [Insert depressed feelings]. Ugh, I just want to sleep. I’m so tired. Wait, I shouldn’t feel this way [Insert guilt]. These kids are a gift, a blessing from God. I should be doing a better job caring for them. I’m going to mess them up if I keep worrying like this. And who am I to be feeling this way? [Insert shame]. My husband has a job where I get to stay home with them. Shouldn’t I feel happy to be at home with my kids? I can’t believe I’m so ungrateful. I’m a terrible mother.
If you’re a momma, you likely experienced some variation of this dialogue over a few weeks, months, or likely years. I have working mom friends whose guilt comes from feeling like they don’t get enough time with their kids. Either way, these feelings that accompany losing your identity are real.
How do we embrace the gift of motherhood without losing ourselves?
Here are 11 suggestions that have helped me rediscover myself along the way.
- Slight changes make a BIG difference.
One of our favorite family principles comes from a book called The Slight Edge, by Jeff Olsen. The main idea is that it only takes slight changes in daily routines to make a big difference. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Keep this in mind as you read each of the following ways to reclaim yourself in the midst of parenthood.
- Celebrate what’s going right.
So many moms today feel this burden: “If I focus on myself,” the thought goes, “then I’m not being a good mom.” Yet, no matter how much time or energy we put into our kids, we still lay in bed at night wondering deeply—with self-imposed guilt—how badly we messed them up. And the cycle of guilt continues.
Instead, focus on what’s going right (kids sharing toys, kids being kind, husband affirming me, etc.), not what’s going wrong (kids acting out, husband not pulling his weight, etc.).
- Watch what you put in your body.
This is difficult, especially if you’re like me and food is your go-to when you’re feeling stressed and overwhelmed (for me, the culprit is sugar). What I’m learning is that what I put in my body impacts how I feel. And how I feel about myself influences greatly how I act toward Josh and the kids. Again, focus only on today. Making one change for the better today matters.
- Find a way to move your body a little more.
I personally dislike the term “working out.” It seems punishing. But “moving more”? I can do that. Walk, play with the kids at the playground, or chase them around the backyard. Or if you can find time during the kids’ nap to do a 10-minute workout from YouTube, do it. Just trying to intentionally move a little more each day changes your perspective on yourself.
- Read more books.
Whether you get up 15 minutes earlier than the kids, or choose the book over Netflix after the kids are down, carve out a few minutes each day to feed yourself from a book. Other people’s perspectives help drag you out of what feels like your own four-walled cave.
If you don’t know what book to read, ask your friends and find out what has breathed life into their souls.
- Date again.
Date nights are great nights. Planning and scheduling date nights is the highlight of my week. If you have trouble with babysitting ideas, find another couple you trust and swap nights. One night they watch all the kids, the next weekend you watch all the kids. Or date at home. Either way, date. The more you water your marriage, the more it grows. And you grow with it.
We know how hard it is to think of date night ideas. Fortunately, we got you covered. Just click here for hundreds of creative date ideas and conversation starters.
- Find time to pray.
This should be #1. Truly, it’s only in Him that “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28, CSB). Developing a life of prayer is what turned my life upside down. Instead of looking to your phone in a moment of solitude or boredom, turn your face to the Lord. We can convince ourselves our days are too busy, but develop a conversational approach to prayer—meeting God while folding laundry and making lunches is where I found Him waiting. Cover your marriage and your kids in the blood of Jesus. Pray with your spouse and kids. And voice to God what’s really going on inside of you. Not only does He already know, but walking in step with the Holy Spirit is where life begins (Eph. 6:18).
- Put your phone away.
The cell phone—I consider it the modern day Ba’al. I know only a handful of women who honestly believe their cell phone has little control over them. The rest of us know we are wasting too much time on our phones. About every 2-3 months I take a month off from social media and delete my apps. This is critical for my spiritual and emotional health as a woman.
I also downloaded an app to track my cell phone usage to prove to myself that I had a problem, and then started slowly decreasing the amount of time I spend on social media or browsing my phone. Take a 24-hour fast per week from social media. Replace it with the book, prayer, or spending time outside.
- Treat yourself.
What energizes you? A pedicure? Hiking? Sitting at a coffee shop with a book? Ask your husband to give you two hours this weekend. We sometimes swap time with the kids on the weekend and give each other time to rejuvenate. Find what brings you life and make this a family routine.
- Surround yourself with trusted family and friends.
Parenting really does take a village. Press into your church family, especially if you don’t have family living near you. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from people you trust and who love your kids. And make sure you have a group of trusted friends and fellow parents you can call when you need them most.
- That thing about friends. I’m really serious about this one.
Find friends who can be perfectly imperfect with you. These friends love you for being you, but they also challenge you. These friends won’t husband bash, gossip, or seem to have easy answers. Find friends who are OK with the wonder and the chaos of raising kids in a transparent way.
What else can you add to the list? Do any of these ideas resonate with you? Connect with me on Instagram (@drjoshandchristi) and let me know, or tell me about them in the comments below!
Are you looking for a community of moms to study God’s Word with? Click here to learn more about the Mom Set Free online Bible study that starts Thursday, May 17!
Christi Straub, M.A., M.B.A. is a native Canadian, wife to an American, and momma to two feisty preschoolers. She and her husband Josh lead The Straub Co., a company designed to empower marriages and families. Passionate about families in her generation, Christi writes and speaks on helping moms discover their identity and have marriages they’d wish on their children. Her honesty, wittiness and transparency are contagious. She is co-host of the In This Together podcast and a weekly Facebook Live broadcast with Josh that reaches tens of thousands of families. She is also the producer and co-author of The Screen-Balanced Family.
Christi and Josh also serve on the Board of Directors for Exile International, a nonprofit that restores child soldiers and children orphaned by war to become leaders for peace. When she and Josh aren’t working together, they play trains or have tea parties. (And try really hard to put the phones away).