Freedom. It’s not only one of my deepest personal values, it’s also one of my Core Desired Feelings (CDFs).
As someone who finds it deeply, deeply important to walk her talk, the question of how I would live out my truest values and deepest desires as I walked through parenthood was on my mind even before I was pregnant.
Freedom. I desire to feel a sense of freedom in every domain of my life–in my relationships, with my money, in how I schedule my time, with creativity and career.
But having a kid? Every parent I ever heard talking about parenthood described things that felt anything but “free.” They described lack of sleep and barely having time to eat; epic crying sessions and every single shirt covered in spit-up.
Every person I knew who consciously chose not to have kids cited “lack of freedom” as their reason why. They wanted to pick up and travel at a moment’s notice. They wanted to pursue career ambitions. They wanted to spend money on decor, not daycare.
They knew that having children, much as they supported others doing so if that called to them, would scale those things back.
So how would I reconcile having a child with my deepest CDFs? How would I create “freedom” in that experience?
Honey, It’s Time to Walk That Talk
Before I was pregnant and when I was still contemplating children, the answer to that question was this: the idea of never having a child felt completely wrong.
While having a child might mean releasing some freedom, not having one felt like straight-jacketing my future to something that wasn’t really, truly “me.” That certainly didn’t feel like “freedom.”
Furthermore, having a child resonated with most of my other CDFs: sacred connection, sensuous delight, powerful.
So, step one: I felt grounded in knowing that of the two options, kid or no kid, I did want to have a child and start a family.
Then, as pregnancy slowly began to limit my options–drastically reduced caffeine, no more triathlon training, my entire wardrobe relegated to the back of my closet as my stomach expanded ever-bigger–I kept returning to this question of how I would integrate “freedom” into my life. Being pregnant, I was already feeling “less than free.”
On Facebook, in grocery stores, at restaurants, people followed their congratulations with a litany of all the things I’d “never” be able to do, again. I’d never sleep well, again. I’d never be able to go out for an evening without hiring a babysitter, again. I’d never get my body back. I’d never know ease.
They made having children sound like nothing but chaos and worry.
And then the baby arrived. In the first few weeks, I really never expected that I would feel a sense of “freedom,” anyway. Most of the time, I felt blissed out, excited to hold her, craving the smell of her and the feeling of her small body in my arms.
After about a month, it began to creep in: a longing for long afternoons spent writing, a leisurely evening at a restaurant, eight hours straight of sleep.
Following the longing, the flashes of resentment. Another bottle? Another diaper change? She’s up, already? But she just went down for a nap!
Focus on the Freedom
You might have found yourself in this sort of situation, before: you tell yourself, “Here’s how I want to live. I’m going to [be more patient; be more compassionate; focus on gratitude; etc.].”
Then a frustrating day happens, or a series of them. You’re feeling pushed to your absolute limits. You’re exhausted with the very process. You’re asking yourself, “When is this going to get easier?” and sensing that the answer to this question is, “It won’t. This is what it is.”
In those spaces, it feels as if there really are no options. You want to reach for something different, but everything that seems to be available is something really, really challenging.
That’s the point I hit, when my focus became noticing the freedom inherent in what I already had.
In my pre-baby days, I could “create freedom.” I could look at my multitude of options, and choose the one that felt most aligned with my CDF of freedom.
Having a baby, I find, requires a slightly different strategy. I have lots of options, sure, but most of them are not really compatible with where my daughter is at, right now. Ditching diaper duty to dine at a Zagat-rated restaurant, for instance, is a wholly incompatible choice with the love that I have for my daughter and my commitment to demonstrate that love through giving her truly impeccable care.
But I can focus on freedom, to amplify the freedom that already exists.
In other words, it’s all there. Instead of waiting for “freedom to happen to me” so that I could appreciate it, or instead of trying to “create” freedom out of thin air, there’s this twist: freedom is here, it’s just about whether or not I’ll notice it.
For example: Every time I do feel well-rested (and there are days where that happens), I can celebrate that. I can notice how freeing it is on that particular day to feel “well-rested” in my bones, as opposed to going to the future and wondering how I can jerry-rig the situation to see if I can make that kind of night happen, a second time.
In other words: when life is tough, and you’re going, “Whatever it is that I want to cultivate just isn’t something I can orchestrate, right now,” chances are good that if you get creative, you’ll find some little sliver of what you desire that’s already here.
Once you discover that sliver of delicious desire, you focus on it. By focusing on it, you amplify the good feelings associated with it.
Then you feel more of what you desire to feel.
The Most Powerful Choice
Really, this is the most powerful choice that we can make. It’s more powerful to look at what’s already showing up and make something beautiful out of those circumstances, than it is to tell ourselves the old story of happiness arising when all of the planets align.
The reason this is such a powerful choice isn’t just that we get to live beautifully, which is your birthright. The reason it’s powerful is because the locus of your power is centered solely within yourself when you make that kind of a choice, not something external.
In The End
I dislike “happily ever after” stories told by self-help types (and I’m an admitted self-help type). This is not a “happily ever after.” This is a day-to-day-to-day. Sometimes, it’s really hard.
But other times? Many times? More and more and more often? It’s getting easier. When you look for what you want to find, you often find it.
Stop hoping that what you desire is looking for you. Get crackin’ on looking around and opening your eyes a little wider. You might be stunned into ecstasy by what you discover.