I am writing from a charming apartment in Copenhagen (complete with wood floors, white walls, and minimalist, teak furniture — biked parked outside on the cobblestone walk), where I will spend the next three weeks living, working, traveling, hanging out with friends I met last year when I accomplished more or less the same trip. My kids are with their dad in Greece, visiting family there, and last year I decided that I deserved to go somewhere fabulous, too.
My return was as cliche' as my Danish apartment: I felt energized, grateful for my regular life, thrilled to reconnect with my kids, routine and work. The feeling was familiar. Since I was a teenager I've been in love with travel — the more remote, the better. Before kids, I'd lived in France, Ecuador, Bulgaria. Traveled to Laos, around Europe, Brazil, Cuba. I love that scariness of knowing it is not safe to go where you do not have a hotel booked, but you go anyway. Of the magical way the universe swells up around you to create lifelong friendships and memories that make you who you are. That travel, perhaps rivaling only parenthood, keenly reminds you of your humanity, and possibilities.
I've gotten on planes with my kids. Driven across the country with them a few times. I don't need to tell you it was great, but different. Those trips were cliches about family travel. This one was cliche about travel-travel.
Ladies, cliches are a cliche for a reason: They are true.
These trips to Europe remind me of who I am. My greatest joys, things that have resonated with me since I can remember. Manon DeFelice, the founder of the recruiting agency for women, tells clients searching for what will make them professionally happy: “What did you write your high school senior thesis on? That is what you are most passionate about.” That is true for me: I wrote that paper arguing why prostitution should be legal, and now here I am advocating for sexual and financial freedom for women every day in a career I love. Ta-da!
By prioritizing my most ancient joys means being a fulfilled person, and being that person for myself, for the world, and my children. I have crazy and wonderful travel stories from my younger years I often share with the kids (smuggling cigars out of Havana, getting stuck in mud when biking Costa Rican rain forests, falling in love with an older, English school teacher). But I don't want my kids to ask for stories from when I was person, before I was a mom. No one ever thinks their parents were better as ‘just a mom,' when compared to before you were a mom. Before you-were-a-mom stories are in full technicolor, narrated with raunchy music and laughter and flirting. Those stories are of when you were a woman.
I was recently visiting with an old friend who had been staying home with her three kids fulltime, and is about to return to school to study art. “I know I'm supposed to find my fulfillment in them,” she said, nodding to her kids, who are, I admit, really, really delightful. “But it's not enough,” she whispered, ashamed.
No shit, it's not enough! Motherhood is pretty awesome, but it is just one part of you. There are other, wonderful parts. Parts just as — if not more — important.
You are still a woman. A mom, too. But a woman. Get in touch with that chick. What did you love before you pushed a baby out your vagina? What made you squeal with laughter? Feel ALIVE? Keep you up at night, commiserating, dreaming, hoping, planning?
Maybe it was a career. Or your art, a sport. Maybe it was love affairs, or time laughing with bestest girlfriends you no longer see.
So, see them. Fire up an affair. Jump on the bike, or join a tennis league or drag out the easel and brushes. Do that thing that made you really, really joyful. Be that joyful woman. Show that person to yourself, your kids, the world.
Do you feel pressure to sacrifice yourself for motherhood? Did you rediscover yourself? Share your struggles, and journey, in the comments!
Emma Johnson is a veteran money journalist, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour, Oprah.com, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post's ‘Must Read” list.
Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer.