I distinctly remember the first time after I had a baby, someone asking me to tell them more about myself. "So, what are you all about?" he asked, seeming genuinely interested. He was a professor whose amazing ideas I had been hearing about all semester from my husband. I felt boring, and bored by my concerns in that moment. "What AM I all about now?" I wondered.
Like most parents, I am in love with, fascinated by and driven crazy by my children. But in the moment when this gentleman asked me what I was all about, I was aware of how much I missed being a part of an adult conversation of ideas. Our culture constantly presents this to us as a choice: You either take care of your children and allow their "infantile" world to subsume yours, OR you "abandon" them to caregivers while you pursue your own "selfish" ambitions. I was curious about a third way, a way that would honor the needs of EVERYONE in my family, including the intellectual needs of a stay-at-home mom. And so I began with some babysteps of reclaiming my brain.
One of the first things new parents notice is that their brains simply don't work as well anymore. Dates and words escape you, you find yourself using words like "potty" even with adults. Mary Goulet and Heather Reider, authors of "The Momstown Guide to Getting it All", gives the brilliant suggestion of signing up for a word-of-the-day email from the smarty-pants folks over at Websters.com. Not only is this an easy way of getting your communication past the vocabulary of a toddler, it helps probe parts of your brain that you may have forgotten that you enjoy. Being reminded of the word tangent, for example, may remind you of how much you love Geometry.
Another way that parenthood can leave you feeling isolated is the dawning realization that you no longer have a sense of current events. I often joked to my husband how big an event had to be to penetrate the news blackout that parenthood seemed to inflict on me (it later turned out that even the Pope dying was no match). I missed reading the newspaper over coffee on Sundays, and knew that the return to that life was still a long way off. However, it only took a committment to turn on NPR in the morning while I made breakfast - a passive step, and one lacking some in-depth news analysis if that floats your boat, but perhaps you won't miss a major election. There are also great options for having major headlines delivered to your email inbox, such as the service at AlterNet. And, as you might imagine, there are Apps for that as well.
Other Ideas For Feeding Your Brain
Get creative with what you check out from the library. Documentaries can give you some brain-food in a much shorter time that it takes to study a book on the subject, and has the bonus of being enjoyable over popcorn with your parenting-partner-in-crime.
Hide books throughout your house. Those of you with young children in particular know that one of the great frustrations of parenthood is never having advance notice when you'll unexpectedly get a free moment to yourself while your child is enraptured by dumping leaves into piles, or falls asleep on the way to the YMCA. Keeping books and magazines in different areas of your home or car can be a wonderful surprise when you find yourself in the second hour of watching them enraptured by a ladybug in the garage.
Audiobooks can be a great accompaniment in the car or on a walk.
Make a concerted effort to get to know someone outside your typical circle. Look around at your social circle, and you may notice that you mostly talk with people who make similar choices as your family. You might be inspired by a different perspective.
There's no end to ways you can feed your brain, but it takes a little more creativity for meeting this need over the din of little people whose needs expand to fit all of the time and energy available. The idea isn't too look for every spare moment when you can "escape" being present with your child, but instead to find ways to meet everyone's needs.
Give some thought to what interest, hobby or skill you've neglected since becoming a parent. Before you had children, what activities made you lose track of time, make you feel alive? How can you revisit that relationship? Does it require planning for childcare, or is there a way you can share this with your children?
Written by Shantana Goerge