Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
Updated March 2016
Lisa Hassan Scott, South Wales, UK
Photo: Jen Pan Photography
When I first had children I found I had much less time to do the things I had always enjoyed. Reading, hill walking, gardening, having long hot baths, and a whole afternoon to read the Sunday paper: these were the ways I spent my free time before having a family. When my first baby came along, all of this ceased and I wondered when I would have a chance to take up my old pursuits. People asked me whether I had “got my life back” yet.
I suppose I looked forward to a time when I could leave my baby and get on with the things I enjoyed doing before she came along. Three children and nearly a decade later, and I don’t seem to have “got my life back”; at least not in the sense that some people mean. I no longer sit on the floor in a block of sunlight streaming through the window and read the Sunday paper. I never go off into the hills and walk several miles uphill at a brisk pace. When I do have a bath, the water can’t be that hot because I am usually accompanied by a small child. What I used to consider as “me time” no longer exists.
Before she was born, I hadn’t appreciated how much my baby would need me. I didn’t realize that she would consider it a life-threatening wrench to be put down while I had a five-minute douse under the shower. She would scream and howl as though she had been abandoned, and I guess to her it felt as though she had. If she couldn’t be put down even for a five-minute shower how would I leave her to go off and do something on my own that I enjoyed? I wondered when I would ever be alone again.
Having my first baby seemed like saying goodbye forever to my carefree youth. Never again would I be totally free of responsibility. Even when my children were grown I would still feel responsible for them. No longer a unitary actor in this world, I was now responsible for other young lives. How could I square that with a need to do some things for myself and by myself?
I began to see “getting my life back” as a pretty tricky proposal: trying to express milk or feed my baby enough to get out seemed stressful, and then when I did go out for a quick walk round the block or to a shop I found myself thinking about my baby, tied to her by invisible threads that followed me wherever I went. It was impossible to behave as though I was baby-less. Trying to do so seemed absurd, and I found myself doing silly things like going to the supermarket alone, only to leave with all the wrong items. While waiting in the queue at the tills I rocked my trolley back and forth as though there were a baby in it. If I heard a baby cry my body responded and suddenly I was glad I was wearing breast pads! My mind was on her, even when she wasn’t with me, and I couldn’t enjoy myself or concentrate when we were apart.
I came to realize that my baby was my life: my new life. There was no other life to get back. By bringing a new life into the world I too received a new life. I began to look for ways to do the things I loved with my baby present. I started to question why I actually needed to leave her to carry on with the pastimes I enjoyed. Rather, I wanted to share those things with her. The key for me has been to modify what I do or find new things to enjoy with my children present.
Little by little I began to introduce my interests to my children. Okay, so we’re not going to go walk a snowy Munro with our two-year-old, but we can do a two or three-mile walk with him in a sling. I can’t sit and read the paper all day, but I now make the paper last all week and when I’m finished we have a good time scrunching up the pages to light the log burner. I don’t have hours to sit and read, but I can read them a story and catch a few paragraphs of my own book while they go off to choose another one of theirs. I don’t get a long hot bath, but sometimes I can convince a child to scrub my back for me, and when that happens it feels like a spa treatment.
We have found a fresh joy in doing things together as a family. Whether it’s a cycle ride to the local swimming pool and some fun on the slides and water features or a walk in the Brecon Beacons, we relish our time together. Fresh air, exercise, possibly a picnic: it makes us feel like we’re on holiday because we can forget our other responsibilities and concentrate only on each other. I love these outings, and yet I sometimes yearn for a little time just to do something for myself. As they get older, I find that with my husband’s help I can get out for a quick run or I can read my book on a Saturday morning while the children play. These little things are just enough to keep me going. I no longer need a whole afternoon; 15 minutes will do.
I know that time passes all too quickly. Those threads that bind me to my children are still there even as they grow. Although they are no longer babies that I can cradle in my arms I still look at them sometimes and think, “I gave birth to you.” Choosing to be a mother was a choice to say goodbye to the old me and to welcome with open arms the new person I have become. When my children are busy teenagers or young adults they will have their own pursuits to follow, and I may have more time for what I want to do. Until then, I look back on my old life and am truly glad that I never got it back because this new one is infinitely better.
Lisa Hassan Scott is an LLL Leader living in South Wales, UK, with husband Keith and their three children. Lisa writes a parenting blog.