Is it possible to return to the pre-children you?
I was asked the other day about who I am without my children. The idea is that there is an essential you before children that is somehow the true you that you need to reconnect with. The one who had dreams and plans and time to indulge in those dreams and plans before her whole life was a series of to-do lists and sleep deprivation.
The thing is that I’m not sure if there has ever been an essential fully formed me. My childhood was somewhat chaotic. This is not a sob story. The chaos made for instability, but it also made for resilience. The coping mechanisms forged in the early years are probably the ones I still resort to. What I am asking myself now is do they actually work? The other question I am asking is how would I know? What criteria do you judge coping by? Getting to the next week, the next hour, the next minute?
Moreover, growing up in chaos forces you sometimes to interrogate yourself pretty thoroughly to try to make sense of it all. However, there are an awful lot of people out there trying to tell you what to think and do.
One of the main things that connects me to my childhood is a resistance to people telling me what to do or be. I prefer to have the head space to be able to work things out for myself. When I was younger I didn’t have much outward confidence in myself, despite resisting, even if resisting is perhaps a sign of some kind of deep-rooted self-confidence.
I often wonder where self esteem comes from, particularly for girls. I see the multiple pressures on my daughters and how it affects how they view themselves. What makes me proud is when we talk about the things that have happened to them, what they think about them and how they too are resisting the pressure to be told how to be. Independent thinking is a vital life skill.
I have got all the way to middle age now and I know more about myself. I question what other people tell me, even in grief. Who gets to decide how you should grieve? I trust myself more. Is that the basis of self esteem, not in a self-promotional, out there kind of way, but in a quiet feeling of self awareness?
But to return to the issue of who I am without my children, I don’t honestly know. Because I will never be without my children. Even if they are not physically here in this world. Even if I lose my mind, they will still be etched on my body, in the aches in my back caused by having spent too many nights with a small person under my arm, in the shifting of internal organs during pregnancy, in the imprint of their bodies on my skin.