A lack of contentment in my 30s
Posted On April 7, 2020
Sometimes I think that when I got pregnant at 17 I pressed pause on my brain. I think that I was on some kind of autopilot through the studying and the parenting and the first years of being married.
I don’t mean that I wasn’t present, not that I didn’t enjoy my life, not that I wasn’t aware of its privilege and of my own good fortune. Just that I had so little time really to think. This is, I know, common to all parents, but in my case I hadn’t had a life to know or miss before my identity as a mother took over.
I went into adulthood blind and when I finally had any time to think about it, I was ten years older than my brain felt I should be.
I qualified as a solicitor at the end of 2007. It had taken me 8 years of full-time and then part-time study alongside working, and the relief and pride I felt was enormous and exhilarating. I suddenly had guilt-free spare time in the evenings and at weekends, to spend with my husband and the children, or to go running, or to go with friends to the cinema or shopping or for nights out dancing.
I still worked my job in part time hours to fit the school day, and there were a few years around my 30th birthday in which I would definitely have said I absolutely had it all. I’d have believed myself, too. I had happy children and a loving husband and a manageable work/life balance with a job I enjoyed. I had enough money to buy clothes and manicures.
The problem was that I couldn’t stop my brain from whirling. I felt like there should be more.
I kept trying on activities and personas for size as the years went by, trying to identify the type of adult I might have been if a different life had given me a clear, uninterrupted run at it.
I felt like I didn’t know my own personality. I knew its bones – I knew I was cynical, sarcastic, insatiably curious and socially awkward. I was aware I was not instantly likeable or interesting. I knew I hated small talk and that I was bad at it. But I felt like I didn’t have a core self.
I tried doing crafts and making cakes. (Everyone else was, after all). These things are tolerable in small doses, but it turned out there’s only so much crochet and icing sugar I can handle. I helped out at the local NCT groups, supporting new mothers and giving advice on breastfeeding. I enjoyed that, but the timings didn’t work well with my day job and I also felt that the whole scene belonged to a part of my life that was ending, if not already over.
I began a part-time master’s degree in English Studies, back at the university I’d attended ten years previously for my law degree – I met some wonderfully interesting people there and I loved the experience, but I got sick of picking the meat off every bone of every book I’d thought I loved, and having them reduced to over-dissected husks that I then couldn’t ever enjoy in the same way again. I had wondered if the academic life was for me, and this at least taught me it was not.
My children grew, and so did my horizons and my world. On our tenth wedding anniversary my husband and I went to Budapest, for the first overseas holiday we had ever taken without the children.
It was a beautiful, romantic, happy break together, and we enjoyed the novelty of each other’s uninterrupted company, but my eyes were opened forcefully on that trip to the fact that within another decade, it would always be just the two of us. The children would be grown and gone, and the life I’d always known as an adult would be a memory. I had no idea how it would feel, and it scared me to my bones.