“You’re a different person now,” my husband said. “But you’re a great mom.”
My partner was being honest, but even with the compliment, his statement hurt. We were having yet another conversation about how motherhood had “changed” me and my husband was frustrated by the distance between us. For me, though, it was always a surprise to hear that my good parenting came at a price — and that cost was our connection. Like many times before, I geared up to launch into a million different reasons as to why he was wrong, but this time I stopped. What if he was right?
I didn’t feel all that different since I gave birth to our only child eight years ago. When I searched deep down, I found the same fun, clever woman my husband was drawn to when we married 15 years ago. My pre-mommy side still came out to play when we had a date night or I’d gotten some sleep. The problem was, her presence was never, ever consistent. Most days — okay, all of the days and all of the times — I had motherhood on my mind. My serious “mom attitude” had become a source of uneasiness between us and my husband made it clear that he missed the carefree outlook I used to wear before baby wearing became my thing.
Motherhood hadn’t forced me to abandon all of my personality, but other facets had popped up. When the hospital nurse handed me my little guy, I held him close and listened to the steadiness of his breathing. Every other noise in the room faded with the rhythmic movement of his chest. But it was only a few days into motherhood, and I could feel my nerves rise and fall in a way I’d not anticipated — because they mostly rose. It didn’t take a motherly instinct to tell me my newborn depended on me for everything, and there was no way I was going to let him down.
This fear kept me focused and my stress level was as constant as my lack of sleep while I worried about taking the best care of my son. Heavy emotions crushed my easygoing self as I considered matters like do babies really need tiny shoes to survive? Diaper changes also threw me into an existential crisis. I must have checked the tightness of my son’s diapers as often as my husband avoided changing them. My husband countered my protectiveness with a more laid-back attitude, and while I observed some smaller personality switches within him (his normal playfulness increased tenfold and he became easily exasperated when dealing with a parenting problem), he somehow remained pretty much the same. This only magnified my own shift.
As my son grew, so did my protective focus, cutting grapes down to the size of peas and avoiding touching everyone’s unwashed hands. I found motherhood riddled with scary and unfunny things that required all of my serious attention. Truly, I had every intention of blending my humorous and breezy side with my role as mom. More importantly, my relationship with my husband was built on a foundation of laughter along with a belief that the original Star Wars trilogy was the best. In my pre-parenthood days, my husband’s eyes sparkled when I told stories. Sitting at dinner, our giggling grew so loud it startled our dogs and they stared at us, hoping we’d drop food instead of bad puns. It was this type of lighthearted, spontaneous fun that bolstered our bond — and exactly what my husband was missing.
Nowadays, our dogs no longer linger at the table waiting for scraps because dinner is a quick and necessary stop on the way to bedtime. Our conversations center around why (and how many) vegetables my son needs to eat or listing the reasons why crackers aren’t a healthy dinner option. Don’t misunderstand, I’m not all business all the time. I’m playful and make the appropriate number of bad jokes to embarrass my kid, but it doesn’t come as naturally as it once did. My mindset is to “protect” and that’s a ‘round-the-clock serious business. Is there a way to balance keeping my son safe and healthy with being a fun person? I’m totally serious.
My husband’s comment and all the feelings it triggered rolled around in my chest for days until finally, I sought him out, “Honey, you’re right. I have changed,” and with that, I had his attention.
We sat down and had a long and overdue conversation about how jumping into parenthood had changed our lives for the better — and for the different. We agreed that parenting has been more fulfilling than we ever expected, and we adore this part of our lives. What we didn’t expect, however, was how hard it was to keep our connection strong in the wake of sleep deprivation, work schedules, and everything else. I wanted to find the fun that kept us grounded as a couple.
“So, maybe you could give me a gentle reminder now and then to help me out?” I asked, making him promise to speak up before he entered a place of annoyance, because at that point it was too late for either of us to bring the fun. The small reminder would also remind me that his feelings came from a helpful place, not a frustrated one, which allowed for change to happen.
My husband’s eyes sparkled again and he agreed.
After eight years of parenting, being a serious mom is my default setting, and while I’m proud of the protective parent I’ve become, it might be wise to incorporate more fun into my relationship — especially the one I have with myself. Finding a balance may not be all that easy, but motherhood has expanded my heart in so many ways. I know there’s a new, larger sense of playfulness inside waiting to be unleashed. I do have one question though: I can still cut my son’s grapes in half, right? I’m totally serious.
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