When Being A Good Mom Means Being A Little Selfish
by Cara Joyner
Before we had kids, my husband and I talked at great length about how we would handle parenting. We would make space for our marriage, exercise regularly and teach our kids to sleep through the night (for reference, there was a moment last night when all three of my children were in my bed…and it wasn’t because I invited them). It sounded easy before. Now it sounds like lunacy.
What does it mean to create space when someone is crawling on me, crying for me, talking to me or confronting me around the clock?
At 5:20 this morning, my youngest was nursing at my side and my oldest was lying on my shoulder, a mere two inches from my face, with rapid-fire questions, “Can I watch a movie? Can we get up now? Can I have some water? Will you cuddle with me? Can I sleep on your pillow? Where are we going today? Who will see?” There’s no waking up before this kid. He does shockingly well on relatively little sleep; and the younger two are still so little – an infant and a toddler. I can think of only one night in the last five months when everyone slept from midnight to 6AM. Where is this ‘space’ I’m supposed to be creating?!
Our children are remarkable gifts, priceless blessings from a most gracious God. The truth is though, they will always want (or need) more from us than we can give. We are finite, made with a beginning and an end, only able to fill up so far and pour out but so much. Our bodies and minds demand rest and nourishment and support just as much as our babies; but while we would never deny them the loving care they need and deserve, we can be quick to withhold it from ourselves.
I’ve always believed that I should take care of myself in order to better take care of my children; but my ideal has had trouble reconciling with the reality that my kids need me constantly and being a mom isn’t something I can turn off or quit or take a sabbatical from. It’s a job I’m honored to have for the rest of my life. So where’s the space I planned on? How can I step into that when I’m waist-deep in all of this?
Maybe you’re asking the same questions. Let’s start here…
Our kids need us to be healthy. They need us to love and care for ourselves the way we love and care for them. Jesus called us to love each other as we love ourselves. Would we tell our neighbors, or our kids, that they couldn’t sit down for breakfast because there was too much to do? Would we take away their chance to rest because the house wasn’t clean? Would we tell our kids that their passions only mattered until they became parents, at which point they would need to abandon the dreams and gifts they once thrived on? Of course not. We devote great effort to making sure our children are nourished, social, and healthy. They need us to do the same for ourselves. They need us to care for our bodies and our minds and our spirits. They need us to fill up so that we can pour out. Not only are we better able to serve our kids when we allow ourselves to be served, but we also teach them that they are not the center of the universe; and as much as we believe they are the most brilliant beings on the planet, their incredible lives are actually only a part of a much bigger story. Sometimes it’s their turn to watch and to wait, and that’s a good thing.
Look for space within your reality, not someone else’s reality. We don’t have a babysitting line in our budget. We can’t afford gym memberships right now and while I would love to join a class of some sort, the numbers don’t add up. I have to start with our reality of time, money, and resources, and carve out room within those boundaries. Recently, I asked my husband to please take our boys in the morning so that I can have some time alone in our room before he leaves for work. When I can manage a morning nap for the youngest, I let the older two watch TV so I can read. It’s brief and hard to protect, but it’s wholly worth it. Those things are possible for us right now, but maybe not for you. Where does your reality intersect with your needs? What space can you create there?
Making space is always going to mean choosing to not do something else. I cannot be every woman. I cannot give my children everything they need (that’s where our community comes in). When I have to look my four-year-old in the eyes and tell him to go back to his bed so that my husband and I can have some time alone, even if all we are doing is sleeping, a part of me is crushed. My love for that kid is beyond excessive and when he wants to share a pillow with me – which is a frequent request of his – I hate saying no because I am all too aware of how fleeting these moments are. Soon he won’t want to share a pillow with me. One day, without warning, he’ll stop coming in our room and I won’t know it’s over until it’s gone. It will just be done. So I let him in that bed a lot, probably more than I should. But sometimes, I turn him around and send him back because as much as my heart wants to savor the moment, I know my body needs the break. I want to be alone and I need to be alone and I adore that boy, but I need him in the other room. I can’t be everything and if I always override my needs, I won’t have much left to give them or anyone else. Saying yes to taking care of ourselves will always means saying no to something else. Where can you say no, so that you can say yes elsewhere?
To love yourself with the same measure of patience and compassion that you have for your children is a gift for both you and them. Motherhood is hard work ladies! Rest is holy. Embrace it.
Cara Joyner is a writer, Childbirth Educator and Professional Doula living on the East Coast with her husband and three boys. Most days are filled with reheated cups of coffee, rescuing her children from themselves, and pretending that she is going to put away laundry. On her blog, Cara writes about faith, life and motherhood the way she experiences it – without makeup and usually un-showered. In another time, she worked in student ministry; but she traded middle schoolers for toddlers, which sometimes feels like the same thing. For more of Cara’s featured work, look for at RELEVANT, iBelieve, Today’s Christian Woman & Lamaze International. Join her on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter!