How to find yourself under the layers of mum

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“What do you do?” How many times have you been asked that question? It’s how we get to know people.

My stock answer is writer, which is true for about 20 hours of the week. But for the other 100+, I’m grocery shopping, tidying, cooking meals, cleaning meals off the floor, running baths, reading stories, changing nappies, going to the doctor’s, picking up prescriptions, pushing a swing, reasoning with a toddler, telling off a toddler, cuddling a toddler… if we’re defined by what we do, there’s worryingly little of me in that list. Which is probably why I’ve started to ask myself: who am I?

Now, if you were to ask me what I like to do then that would be a very different answer. Pre-toddler, my carefree time was spent drinking wine, reading books, chatting with friends, dancing in clubs, sleeping, exploring new restaurants, cooking for the fun of it, sitting in the park, sitting in the hairdressers, reading on the tube… and now I see, this is the stuff that makes me me. It’s no wonder I’ve got a little lost along the way. Somehow, I have to figure out how to fit this stuff back into a life that’s full to bursting.

And it’s not just me that feels this way – talking to friends soon revealed we’re all trying to figure out how to fit ‘me’ back into our lives. Whether it’s exercise, a social life, or just 5 minutes on your own, it’s so important that you do make time for you. So how do we manage to be a parent and ourselves? This is my guide to shrugging off a bit of mum…

1 Book ‘me’ dates

If you’re anything like me, your calendar’s a scrawl of appointments, birthday presents to buy, work… there’s no room for spontaneity, which means you get swept to the side. My friend Alice says, “If I want to get my hair cut, my nails done or see friends then I have to plan it in advance. I put things for me into our Google calendar so my partner knows he’s on duty then.” Add at least one thing to your calendar for you this week.

2 Book friend dates

If anyone’s going to be able to remind you who you once were, it’s the friends who’ve been with you all the way. Whether it’s a chinwag over coffee or a midweek meet at your local, seeing friends is good for the soul. Or follow the example of my friend Gemma who recommends booking a weekend away. “The best way to check in with my ‘old’ self is to spend time with my friends whilst my kids are with family. Kid-free friend time rocks!”

3 Take your kids where you want to go

How often do I choose to do something that appeals to me, instead of going to places I think the kids will like? Er, never. Next time it’s raining and you’re contemplating swimming or soft play, take the advice of my friend Lucy who recommends taking kids to a museum. “We go to the Tate Modern. It’s free, there’s ice cream (bribes) and there’s lots of room for them to run around! And they do actually like looking at the art, for a little while anyway.”

4 Dress like you

Too many times I leave the house in a crumpled T-shirt, hair piled up, no make-up on because I just ran out of time. And even if I’m only popping to do nursery pick-up, it eats away at my vision of me. My friend Caroline says, “Dressing in fashionable clothes, not just functional day wear (let alone stuff covered in other people’s cereal) made me feel a lot like the ‘old’ me. Which may sound vain or frivolous, or even basic, but I just felt more like me when I looked in the mirror.”

5 Look after you

There was a time when I wouldn’t put on a pair of shorts if my legs hadn’t been shaved. Now I take my daughter swimming every week but my razor’s rusting in the back of a cupboard. If this was my choice, it wouldn’t matter. But it’s another thing I used to feel was important that’s been abandoned because of time. Caroline sums it up, “Doing a little bit of something which makes you feel more presentable, and not just a knackered wreck of a person that works on everybody else’s behalf, goes towards making you feel more human and more like yourself.”

Finally, I’m going to stop asking people what they do and instead ask them what they like. It’s a much better way to get to know someone. And we probably all need reminding sometimes.