On Motherhood, Cultivating Our Own Interests, And Accepting Ourselves

 I read a blog post from  Christy at Fountains of Home awhile back that resonated with me.  She was giving tips on how to survive the long winter in Canada and one thing she wrote had me shaking my head in agreement.   She says:

"Maybe I should just read a little more, maybe an episode of Parenthood isn't the end of the world, or chatting with a friend is more important folding another basket of laundry. I just find that when I think those things aren't important I get much more irritable and angry and frustrated and that's what begins the downward cycle of winter-hating-stay-at-home-mom-depression."

Yes!  Yes!  Yes!

I know what it's like to live enslaved to high standards without a good dose of self-care, so I'm probably overly sensitive to this cause.  I've grown a lot since my first days of marriage and motherhood when I didn't know if it was OK if my baby fussed for a minute or two while I took a shower.

But I like to think I've mellowed a little bit, partly because I've matured and partly out of sheer desperation.  Over the years, I've realized if I don't take care of myself, no one will.

I have to make the effort to get enough sleep.

I have to make the effort to exercise.

I have to make the effort to engage in renewing activities.

When I need help with my house or with educating my kids, I get it. (Over the years that's taken the form of a maid, childcare, and/or a two day a week homeschool academy.) 

I needed to quit waiting for someone to give me permission to be a human being and I needed to start acting like one.

It's been a long, hard road and I haven't perfected the art but I am much more savvy at doing what I need to do so I can function.

I think it's OK to do any of the following if I'm feeling so overburdened by life, I'm are not quite sure how to get out of bed:

  • put the television on for the kids so I can drink a cup of coffee or run on the treadmill in peace,
  • let the house get messy so I can read a book or engage in another pleasant activity,
  • or scrap all the houseworkand put the kids in the car so I can go visit with a friend!

Sometimes I think we moms don't know ourselves well enough.  We don't know, for instance, that the cup of coffee with a girlfriend will actually motivate us to go home to our families and be a better mother than we would have been if we had dutifully stayed home and folded the laundry and completed all our chores.

Motherhood Is Not Indentured Servitude and we moms need to figure out a way to live out our humanity without putting our own personal growth on hold for 18-22 years. 

 Let me illustrate with a story:

Years ago, a friend of mine came to visit for the afternoon.  We were drinking coffee at my kitchen table when I confessed to her I used the television to survive sometimes.

"I mean, sometimes allowing them to watch television in the only way I know how to take a nap or fold the laundry or even read a book!" I said.

My friend's face shadowed and she said, "You've got to be careful about that, Colleen.  There's bad stuff on TV."

At the time, I didn't know how to respond.  I know my friend was coming from a good place.  She held herself to high standards and worried about her own family's use of media.

I get that.  The media and overexposing our children to it is a valid concern.

But the problem with never allowing our kids to watch the television or use the computer, especially when we have larger than average families and we may not be getting enough sleep at night,  is that we are required to be on top of our parenting game at all times, which eventually leads to burn out.   We walk around grumpy without ever bathing or taking a nap or having a nice conversation with a friend, but yay!

The television hasn't been turned on and the kids aren't playing those nasty video games!

It's kind of ridiculous.

And meanwhile, we feel stretched too thin and we are inadvertently communicating to our children that we must be slaves to our High Standards rather than adjusting them during certain seasons or times of stress. 

Sorry, but I would rather my kids watch to much television and remember me as a happy mom whose face lit up when she saw them then to experience the opposite:  a mom with high standards who, as a result, was grumpy all the time and didn't take the time care for herself.

But first we have to know ourselves so that we know the best way to take care of ourselves.  

Are I an introvert or an extrovert?

What is it I like to do?  Pray?  Read?  Exercise?  Make art?  What?

A few months ago, Jennifer Fulwiler gave a talk about the importance of knowing ourselves and accepting ourselves as we are. After her conversion to Catholicism, Fulwiler tried to join a women's prayer group that met in the early morning where the women drank Chamomile tea.  It took her lots of prayer and many meetings with a Spiritual Director to figure out that she didn't like chamomile tea or 8 am prayer time.

Fulwiler enjoyed meeting her friends at night for margaritas.  It took her even longer to accept that the way God created her was different than the way he created those other women and that was OK.It was hard for Fulwiler to accept this difference, though. It was tempting to think something was wrong with her.

I could identify with her struggle.

One of the biggest challenges I've experienced is feeling like something is wrong with me because I have interests outside my children.

Honestly, being at home is a often a type of death to myself.  The transition from working full time to being home full time was not easy for me.  I was good at work, it came naturally to me and I struggled (and am still struggling) to be a good parent and fully embrace my vocation to motherhood.

Quite frankly, (and I know the grass is always greener), but some of my gifts would make me a better employee than an at-home mom.  Yet, I'm putting my desire to work in the outside world on hold while I raise these kids, and I do this freely and willingly.

I know one day I will return to full time employment but until then,  I must find ways to use the gifts God gave me now, to cultivate my own interests. 

If this means I let the kids turn on the TV sometimes or play on the computer, I do it because I know I'll be a better mom because of it.

What I'm trying to say, I guess, is if you are a mother who relaxes her standards in order to nurture your own gifts and talents, don't feel guilty. 

It's good for you!

It's also good for your family (and the world!) because we need what you've got.