motherI wrote a blog last week about how to date your husband, post-baby.  The number one thing I talked about was keeping the expectations low, not feeling like you need to be particularly fascinating, being okay with the fact that you might spend a lot of time talking about the kids.

That got me wondering about the self I used to be, before my daughter (she’s 18 months old.)  I recall myself being quicker, quippier, flirtier, and also more capable of deep conversation and intellectual rigor.

But are we really who we recall ourselves being, or is it just an idealized self?

The answer to this question has a lot of bearing on how we see ourselves in the present, and on our current self-esteem.

Having a child is obviously very consuming.  It’s demanding.  We don’t have the time  we used to for jaunts into the life of the mind.  There are tasks to be completed, and needs to be met, and worries we never used to have.

Sometimes that doesn’t leave a lot of room for other pursuits.  We don’t have the energy to read the way we used to, or to follow politics, or maybe even to think too deeply about what we do read.  We don’t get to take classes or go to parties or even make it through a whole movie.

But if we really think about it, there was probably a fair amount of downtime in our old lives, too.  We weren’t always engaged in the world in a deep and meaningful way.  Likely, we were searching for a greater meaning and purpose, and that’s part of where the very desire to have a child came in.  We wanted to love bigger; we wanted to have an impact on another person and be impacted by him or her; we wanted that to be part of our contribution to the world.

The paradox of raising a child is that while you’re trying to do something big and important, you’re subject to the small and mundane things much more than ever before.  The care and feeding of a little one takes up great stores of time and energy and patience.  And while hugely important, it often doesn’t feel all that interesting or worth talking about.  So we don’t feel all that interesting.

Maybe it’s that our lives don’t feel unique; we’re engaged in the same struggles of every other parent.  We’ve become universal, rather than our particular self.  That self has been subsumed by the desire to create a new self, in the form of our child.

Connecting to the larger meaning, to that community of people trying to do something hard and worthwhile and mundane, to the universal rather than the particular, can help.  There are times in life that aren’t about the self, and there’s a certain freedom in that.

Mother and baby image available from Shutterstock.