By Erin Wyble Newcomb
Illustrated by Annie Dwyer Internicola
It was a cool, sunny spring morning. My husband and I dropped our kids off at art class. The farewells were affectionate but brief. We didn’t spend a lot of time looking back. Nobody cried.
If someone had told me five years ago that this scene would even be possible, I might not have believed it. It’s hard to have a broad perspective in the trenches of parenting small children, yet the reality is that we’re not really raising children. We’re raising adults. The idea is to render ourselves unnecessary. We work to put ourselves out of jobs.
What that means is, as our children develop greater individuality, we grown-ups have to figure out who we are. If the kids can make their own breakfasts and, someday, drive their own cars, what should the parents do with these newfound resources of time and freedom?
Their growing independence is our growing independence. I don’t mean to suggest that older children and teenagers don’t need help or support, but that our roles change. It’s a scaffolding process where we start out doing everything and slowly hand over the responsibilities. And it’s a messier process than I thought it would be.
For those two hours when our kids are at art class, my husband and I get to determine what to do with ourselves. We try to avoid spending the whole time reviewing family scheduling issues, conflicts and concerns and try to have fun together as friends and romantic partners—not just as roommates and parents.
To be honest, part of the reason we enrolled them in the class was to get some time to ourselves, to remember that our relationship predates our children—and that we’d like it to last after they leave home. It’s not easy to maintain a romance in the midst of diapers and dishes.
I still remember that panicky feeling of bringing home my firstborn and desperately trying to read while she nursed or napped. I would set up a book on the couch, then hold her and bounce on the exercise ball (that infernal exercise ball—the only way she would nap!). I bounced for hours, turning pages and trying to hold on to something of my former self. Erin the reader, not just Erin the mother.
Motherhood is the most meaningful and the most intense role I’ve ever played. And through its duration, I’ve clung to my other identities. The runner and the swimmer, the teacher and the writer, the friend and the lover. I still believe those supporting roles make me a stronger mother, so my family can see me as a whole person in my own right, just as I see each of them.
We ran together on that spring morning; just me and my husband, my best friend, my life partner. I’m sure we talked about the kids. But we talked about the world, too, and we enjoyed each other’s company. So when we returned to pick up the kids, we felt richer for remembering that it’s OK for our kids to need us less. There’s a whole wide world for them to explore. A world that’s there for us, too. █