As my husband was leaving for work today, the baby was sleeping, our preschooler was playing, and I was sitting down to write. Jokingly he said, “Alright, enjoy your day of leisure while I’m off slaving.” I looked at him and admitted that I really do have the best life. Then we took a moment to reflect on the past times he told me with defeat that I just couldn’t be pleased. It was true- I was bitter as a stay-at-home mom. I loved my child so intensely, but hated my life. I tried to talk myself into feeling grateful- I knew I should be, but I just wasn’t.

When our first baby was born, I quit my job. Staying home with the kids is not something I ever wanted to do. I enjoyed being a working woman. However, my husband was in medical school, and it was certain we’d be moving around for the next few years. It was simply the practical choice, and one I saw as a sacrifice.

Becoming a mother was shocking. I realized a large part of my identity would be found in someone else indefinitely. Life would never be as breezy again because of the responsibility, worry, and painful love that comes with parenthood. Aside from the identity shift that every new mom faces, the fact I no longer had my own career or life made it even more jarring.

I wanted important emails to check, but my inbox stayed empty. I wanted projects to accomplish, but I couldn’t even keep the sink cleared. I missed the empowering sound my high heels made against the tile, but my slippers were as quiet as my confidence. I missed feeling put together in the mornings, quiet car rides, and eating lunch in peace.

I was lost. Lost in my never-ending duty to nurture, nurse, and tend to. Every fiber of my mind and body was given to my son, and although I thought I was doing what great moms do, I was miserable. I wanted to think my own thoughts and pursue my own passions. (What were they again?) I wanted to move at my own pace and have real conversations. I wanted to know I was still a meaningful person outside of motherhood.

I missed out on so much joy in the first few years of motherhood because I expected it alone to satisfy me. It was hard to let go of this assumption because I didn’t want to admit it. What kind of woman was I to not be happy with my privilege? Wouldn’t others kill to be in my position? For the sake of self-preservation, my ideals changed- the best moms aren’t the most selfless ones, they are the personally-fulfilled ones.

Once my ideals changed, my actions slowly followed. I stopped spending nap times cleaning and meal prepping. Instead I spent them doing things I wanted to do, like reading and writing. I stopped yapping nonstop to my little one, and started valuing his ability to entertain himself, too. I learned the importance of boundaries, and with them, I actually gave to my family from a place of more authentic love, not toxic fumes. These were baby steps that led me to my commitment to writing.

I always wrote, but this past year, I decided to pursue goals with it. I stumbled upon the website Scary Mommy and spent hours laughing out loud as I read post after post. I decided to submit my writing to them, and to my surprise, the first thing I sent was accepted. They even paid me for it! It felt amazing to be recognized and compensated for something I did. I felt valued and proud. I had new priorities, personal goals, and an understanding that pursuing something outside of motherhood wasn’t selfish.

I now make sure to get writing time daily, even if that means turning on TV for my preschooler while the baby sleeps or checking them into childcare at the YMCA while I work on my computer. Now I have those emails to check and people to work with. I am apart of online writing communities. I feel connected and stimulated. My identity has shifted again. I have found myself. Being Mom is a huge and honored part of who I am, but I’m a writer too.

I used to be bored toddling behind my children aimlessly and aggravated by simply being a servant to the needs of other, but now I revel in motherhood, rather than resent it. It’s not all I do, and so I’m able to be more present for it. I’m finally alive again as an individual and it makes me more alive as a mom.

Asking to find fulfillment in pursing my children alone wasn’t only impossible for me, but asking too much of them. Surely, one day they’ll be happy I have a life and identity outside of them. In fact, I think they already are.