Apologies for seeming self-obsessed these days, lurching from talking about radical self-care to self-identity. I could argue that it’s because western society is relentlessly individualistic, or that as a single parent there’s a whole lot of me-myself-and-I about my decision making. There are arguments within the FIRE community that pursuing this goal gives a whole load of freedom to redefine yourself: that we are more than our jobs, and can therefore move out of the social expectations which bind us to a particular path.
The question I have been asking myself this week, then, is who is the ‘you’ which is in charge of that decision making?
Partly this has come up because I realised that my decision making is not consisent but is always based (well, almost) on mindful decision making and therefore being satisfied with the verdict. It’s one of the reasons it’s useful to look back on budgets and approaches to spending with the mindset of who was I being at this moment – what was I prioritising? I can see days where I would buy take-out food, then months where I wouldn’t; months where my charitable giving changed; months where I just seem exhausted and anything went. I’ve been searching for ways to be consistent but I realised I was already being congruent. It’s just that my true north is more like a spin of the globe.
This week I read an article about how to reclaim your children which spoke to a common issue for parents as their kids get older and they start to feel disconnected. I think most parents – indeed most people – notice that sometimes time surges forward in huge chunks and either our kids or ourselves suddenly seem to be in a new and unexpected phase. But this piece articulated for me a more focused consideration about how to show up in each of those moments, and what the benefits or risks might be. The part that stuck with me said:
“This is what I wish I’d understood as a parent; consciously understood,” Maté, 75, says. “Take a 10-year-old child. How many years have you got left with them? When they are still under your roof, under your direction? Well, what is your goal for those years?” Looking back on his life “from above”, he says, he can see that his own goal “was to be a successful and busy and high-accomplishing physician. And that’s how I lived my life.”Gabor Maté
This resonated with me so strongly. Finding ways to align my goals, or to navigate them in a way which leads to choices which work across the major priorities, is a constant battle. Add on to this public opinion (or just my mum’s opinion which can feel just as loud and is irritatingly better informed) and I’m sometimes amazed I don’t just lie in bed with the covers over my head.
I have written before about recognising the short space of time we have as parents of young children – as well as the fact that those years, as full of love as they are, can feel absolutely interminable at the time. What the quote from Maté also reminded me is that during those years, the me who has been in charge has come from different places of identity. Some core basics have remained the same, though how I feel about them and the extent to which they drive my daily living changes: I am a daughter, a sister, friend, mother. I am also a single mother, a mother whose children have a father with a very different identity, a Jew from a complex and mixed family, a humanitarian, an activist, a senior woman working in a difficult and critical field. During the time my children have been in the picture I have also been a doctoral student (and then able to answer the infuriating question ‘is it Miss or Mrs’ with – ‘oh, it’s Dr’) – a woman struggling with depression, a writer, and an ambitious leader.
On some days though I look at my identity-list and think that actually I’m just an asshole. Those are the days where the other things recede into the middle distance and it takes effort to bring myself back.
These days I wonder what it would mean to add lover, girlfriend, partner to this list. Could all the other things survive? How, in a world of having to constantly reshuffle priorities and feeling like I am always at least 25% failing, could I head out on these new adventures whilst keeping the responsibilities, joy and care I get from the other aspects? And the reason this matters is not whether this particular fabulous but nascent thing works out but whether I can see another shift in my identity which doesn’t shift the foundation of integrity.
And when I look at my decision making whilst it’s good to be conscious of those issues, that’s not how I should – or do – make choices. I make them with heart, and hope that the congruence across my ‘whole being’ will point me in the right direction.