“The most rewarding aspect of parenting is seeing my children be authentic. The most rewarding thing for me is to see them do anything that they’re proud of.” – Jamie Lee Curtis
From the moment I learned I was pregnant, my kiddo was my number one priority.
I took care of my diet, did prenatal yoga and swimming, didn’t consume caffeine, eschewed sugary treats, and ethereally floated through life knowing I was GROWING A HUMAN BEING. Then she was born and she was utterly perfect, save for a few weeks of colic, a life-altering emergency heart surgery, and a lot of poop. It’s difficult to rate which of those was hardest.
And it wasn’t as if she could control the lactose intolerance, congenital defect and poop (so. much. poop.), so even in the painfully exhausted days of early motherhood, all was forgiven. In fact, her painful tummy and the near-death experience made me want to take care of her even more. Who needs sleep when you have a mission to make! her! life! better!!
When eventually the daily task of keeping her alive grew to a manageable level of “stop putting everything in your mouth,” other priorities were allowed to creep back into my life. I was able to stop being 100% focused on her (plus a team of people including her dad, my parents, siblings, and so many more also being focused on her) and just let her be my top priority, not the only priority.
She was always #1, but sometimes priorities #2 or #3 became so overwhelming, they interfered with my ability to be the mom I wanted to be with daily regularity. Illness, loss, jobs, and stress crept in like looming shadows threatening to usurp her place in the top position.
After a devastating breakup from a person who was a black hole of emotional need, I realized my life with her was easier. I was better able to take care of her in all of the ways I wanted and needed to. I committed myself to making her my clear #1 priority, unclouded by distractions making other demands of me. Whatever I did, it would be for her.
Admittedly, this could have backfired for me. She could have turned into a raging narcissist with a constant need for attention. But showering her with constant attention isn’t what I mean by top priority. For me, every decision in my life centered on her well-being or on my well-being in the pursuit of being the best mother I could be.
Job was too stressful? The question became: how do I fix that so I am more clear-headed for my daughter’s needs.
Dating? No thanks. My track record showed I couldn’t manage a relationship and be the mom I wanted to be.
Volunteer work? Only if it directly benefitted her.
Hobbies? Did it make me happier and healthier so I could be more present for her? Ok. Even better, could my relaxing hobbies be something I did with her?
Taking care of myself? I had to do that so I could be my best self to take care of her.
And so it went. Don’t get this wrong. I wasn’t wrapped up in her life 24/7. She was in middle school by this point, so her independence (present since birth) was growing and something I encouraged. But every decision I made didn’t include the question “what do I want to do?” Rather, I asked myself “will this positively impact my daughter and me?”
I had a social life. I had close friends. I made career moves. I pursued dreams. But I did these things in a manner that always put her first.
This was a transformative move for both of us. While I feel I was always attuned to her needs, this move to make her not just the top priority but the frontrunner by many laps, ensured that I was seeing problems before they happened, predicting needs, and providing her what she needed to be happy and healthy. In turn, it reduced my motherhood stress. In addition, by asking myself the question “will this positively impact my daughter and me,” I became laser-focused on what was missing, what were the problem areas, and how I needed to solve them.
During this time, I advanced my career and began making more money which lessened our stress and improved our daily lives. I became intentional about spending time with my friends, especially seeking “me time” when my daughter was at her dad’s. I can’t say prior to this time that I ever sought out time for myself – ever. But by focusing on what was best for her and for me, I saw that spending as much time as possible with her when she was home, then attending to my own adult friendships and relaxation time when she was not, I was balancing my mental health. That was best for both of us.
It also made it clear that I was not ready for a relationship, not ready to share parenting with anyone other than her dad and stepmom, and not ready to attend to the needs of another person. The five years I opted out of the dating pool for my daughter’s benefit ended up being the smartest thing I ever did for myself. I had plenty of time to consider where I went wrong in the past, what I really wanted in a partner, and what I wanted for my post-child-rearing years.
I started dating when she was about to get her license and spread her wings into the freedom of having her own transportation. Even then, the first two years of my relationship with my now-husband were spent truly dating – seeing each other only once every week or two weeks. I kept my time with my daughter sacred, so I could continue to focus on her needs. I warned him early on she was my only priority and a relationship would be a somewhat distant second place until she was off to college. Despite not being a parent himself, he completely understood and supported this. I also made it clear I wasn’t interested in bringing anyone into her life who wasn’t going to be around forever. So, we took things slow and the two of them (who have much in common) also got to know each other slowly. These days, he’s a doting stepdad whose love language is sending her funny TikToks and asking her if she needs gas money whenever she is home for a visit.
I have zero regrets about this pivot in my life. The 10+ years I made the decision to focus solely on her were the happiest of my life. I feel, too, that I was constantly moving forward, rather than stagnating.
Later this month, I’m going to talk about how I then pivoted from full-focus mom to parenting an adult kid. I should say “am pivoting” because we are still navigating this change as she turns 21 this month and is completing her junior year of college. So far, no signs of raging narcissism or a constant need for attention. In my humble opinion, she’s a happy, well-adjusted, independent kid, navigating the wild world of school in the age of a pandemic. We should all have her resilience and attitude.