Guest Post: Conscious Uncoupling - Life after motherhood.
We love the space we have created, we are honoured to be in the position to share authentic narratives of Black British Motherhood that reflect our broad and nuanced experiences. Something that we have noticed within the sphere of parenting and motherhood in particular is that there tends to be a heavy emphasis on pregnancy or being a mother of babies and preschoolers. After that it’s all about teenagers, raging hormones and university fees... the end. But what about being the mother of adult children? The reality is that our children will be adults for a lot longer than they were children! Where are the discussions about mothering adults taking place? Where are the narratives about how your role changes as your child becomes a fully fledged adult? We are starting with this beautifully written piece by Marianne Miles.
Motherhood is a constant evolution, just as you think you have mastered something, poof! things change. Marianne talks about what happens when your nest becomes empty and you have to redefine yourself as you realise that being defined by motherhood overshadowed you.
When you become a mother at 20 (and again at 27) and spend 20 years with your sole focus being the health and wellbeing of your kids, it’s hard to just stop and see life through a different lens.
Empty nest syndrome is common for all parents, adjusting to life after the kids have left home. For most it’s just loneliness and having to fill a void, being married is helpful in that situation. But I’m single and I had an extreme reaction when my oldest son left home for University. General low mood and irrational mood swings were common along with a profound sense of loss and grief. Even though I spoke to him every week and saw him once a month I still felt lost without having an input into his daily life.
My situation is exacerbated with being deliberately single. I allowed my dedication to motherhood to affect my romantic relationships. I didn't want to be ‘that’ single mother who introduced her children to multiple boyfriends so I eliminated that from my life completely.
My only other focus was work, and I became obsessed with both. As long as things were going well I didn't realise the hole I was digging for myself and the long term affects of living in a cocoon consisting of just myself, my children & my clients.
I watched an episode of Oprah’s Lifeclass with Iyanla Vanzant where she challenged the audience to describe who they were without mentioning what they did. Almost everyone mentioned being a parent or a son/daughter. Iyanla explained that raising or being children is what you do, like an occupation, not who you are. I, like many other parents, allowed motherhood to completely take over my sense of self. Who am I without my children? In that episode Iyanla explains that we all need to be selfish in order to be effective to those we love. ‘My cup runneth over, what’s in my cup is for me, what runs over is for everyone else’.
I approached the subject of letting go of motherhood recently via an Instagram post and the replies were ‘You will always be a mother’. Well yes, obviously! I didn't want anyone to think I was trying to get rid of my children or relinquish all parental responsibility, but it’s hard to convey in words how overwhelmed I had become because I had no alternative life outside of my home. All my friends were mothers, clients or business associates. My cup was filled with motherhood, even what runneth over was distributed via work and family, I literally left nothing for myself.
My first quest was to find a safe space where I could talk about anything and everything except being a mother. I had been a spokesperson for single parents charities for the past 5 years, but for my own sanity I had to leave those positions behind and find a new area of expertise that I could lend my voice to. I have one school friend who has no children and has lived a full life travelling the world and being her best self. I immediately spent time with her and recaptured my old fun sense of self.
My second mission was to ensure that I didn't fall into the same trap with my youngest son. He is 16 now and already has plans to leave home and start adult life. We agreed that I would officially stop parenting him. He gets to make his own decisions, he’s responsible for keeping a track of his own bills and expenses and I'm here for advice and guidance when needed. We have effectively become room mates with house rules and it’s working really well. It has also given me a chance to notice that I’ve raised a very well rounded kid. Where I normally would tell him about news stories or life lessons I now ask questions, we have daily conversations about life and current affairs, I am often surprised when he already has all the right answers. Not being responsible for his day to day activities lifted a weight off my shoulders that I didn't realise existed. Worry is a big stress trigger and that’s what I had been doing all this time, worrying instead of parenting.
Lastly I had to set personal, social goals. I have no ambitions which are not linked to money or work. I thought I only read books which were about business or entrepreneurship, but I read ‘The Year of Yes’ by Shonda Rhimes which was about letting go of her fears, unfortunately I read it from an entrepreneurial perspective and linked her lessons in the book to my business goals. I need to go back and read it again with fresh eyes.
I have no friends who don't have children living at home or grandchildren to take their place so I have made it a mission to find my tribe of ‘old enough to know better but young enough to do it anyway’ people. Those who live a full life and are too busy for worry or doubt. The only holidays I’ve had have been with family or work related, so a solo journey abroad is next on my list.
I’m still figuring out how to live a motherhood free life, but the best part has been letting go of the guilt. Saying No to certain things, especially requests from family, has been hard, but it has led to me being more genuine with my decisions. I only say yes to things I really want to do and I only do the things I'm excited about. I have no sense of ‘duty’ anymore which had been weighing me own all these years. I had to be a good mother, I had to set a good example, I had to be a role model for my nieces and nephews etc... That cocoon is stifling.
We often ridicule people who have multiple occupations in their social profiles as jack of all trades. But who says we only have to master one thing at a time? I’m not even sure if it’s possible to be a master at motherhood. But I got through it relatively unscathed and now I'm free to master being me.
The lesson I learned is that society places rules and regulations on our lives which can act as an anchor to our existence. The only rule any of us should have for our own lives is to be eternally happy.