Chaos is how I choose to describe my life with three kids, two careers and one marriage. Life is loud and messy. I’ve given up on having people over for fun because it would require work to make my home presentable, then more work cleaning up after everyone is gone. Life is unpredictable at our home. There is usually someone crying or screaming or slamming a door because “life isn’t fair.” Even with the amount of disarray that seems to be my life, I’ve always welcomed opportunities to relieve myself of the pressures and stress of motherhood, marriage or career. And I’ve done so mostly unapologetically.
Maybe it’s the extrovert in me: the part of me that enjoys being social and connected to other people. What can start as a friendly gathering to grab coffee can quickly turn into 4 hours of talking and before I know it, it’s 10 p.m. and I missed putting the boys down to bed. Sorry, not sorry?!
Maybe it’s the part of me that knows everyone has a limit: the part of me that senses an intrapersonal code red on the horizon. It’s the same part of me that, for the slightest second, can empathize for the mothers who throw their hand up in the air and just run away. I get it, life is hard sometimes.
Stress. Pressure. Responsibilities. Children. Marriage; they don’t allow us the privilege of putting ourselves first. In fact, in many cases the litmus test for “great parenting” is the frequency at which mothers put themselves last. Deciding what to cook for dinner is usually decided by what I think the children will eat. Deciding where to go out to eat is also decided based on where we think young kids will be welcome. As I peruse the aisles of Target, I’m naturally drawn to the kids section where I have no hesitation on purchasing $60 on clothing, but the $30 dress in my size will usually be put back after some contemplation. Vacation plans. Weekend plans. All of the plans are usually made with the children in mind; with the children as the priority.
A couple of years ago, our oldest daughter and I joined a couple of other mom-daughter duo’s and spent a weekend in Austin. The next weekend, I would be back in Hill Country but sans-children for a girls weekend. “Wow, you get two weekends off. You’re lucky,” said a friend. It had never occurred to me that traveling two weekends back-to-back would make me lucky. Fast-forward to life with three kids. I met up with some friends for brunch and a newly-formed friend makes a comment about the amount of “freedom” I have in my marriage. Freedom? It was 2018. Of course I have freedom, as does he. What was she talking about?
As much as I questioned the comments made by others — I understood. When women become mothers, they lose a part of themselves. While part of this is a natural progression, it becomes concerning when I look at the frazzled women barely able to operate. It becomes worrisome because as these moms wear themselves out as the expense of everyone else’s happiness, what exactly are we modeling for our daughters? What are we teaching our sons about the expectations of marriage and motherhood for their future spouses?
At what point do women and mothers take back parts of themselves, in order to be their best self for those they love the most? Feelings of resentment, unhappiness, uneasiness and exhaustion would probably be signals that momma needs a break. If you can’t remember the last time you nurtured the friendships in your life, it’s time to call those girlfriends and plan dinner. Despite what you might think, the kids and husband will survive without you for a couple of hours.
Whether people consider it lucky or inappropriate amounts of freedom, I know it as self care. I’ve been practicing self care before the term became popular, because the idea of taking care of myself never seemed ridiculous or trite. My idea of self care includes connecting with friends, weekend girls trips, dinner and cocktails, dancing, grabbing coffee and catching up. Other days, it’s taking a nap, reading a book, watching one of my favorite shows, or organizing a space that’s been neglected in my home.
Self care is not selfish. Contrary to what others might make you feel, taking care of yourself is important because you are important. As I sit with teenagers who are experiencing true conflict, one of my favorite questions to ask my students is: “I’m curious, what would you tell a friend if they were in your position?” The answers just come, with very little hesitation, because most of us know exactly what advice we would share with our friends. But for a million different reasons, we are unable or unwilling to extend the same amount of grace and care to ourselves.
Self-care isn’t always practiced alone, some days there is a kid or two right behind me. I will happily haul two kids to the Starbucks drive thru if I feel like I need my favorite hot tea. I’ll also set time limits on what they’re watching so I can also watch my favorite TV shows too. They may groan and complain, but I’ll also drag them along to a store if I feel like going. I love my kids, but they don’t make the rules. They are not the boss of me. If they learn anything in their 18 years living under my roof, it’s that they are not the center of anyone’s universe; the world doesn’t revolve around them.
Self care isn’t just for moms. It’s for everyone, including the kids. Modeling the importance of taking care of yourself: body, mind and spirit is important, but so is the ability to practice it. My husband’s idea of self care involves playing games on his Play Station or cell phone. Our daughter’s idea of self care involves connecting with friends and seeing her therapist. As our boys get older, I hope to help foster conversations that allow them to explore self-care as they wish.
My biggest hope is that if you feel drained, you figure out a healthy way to replenish your soul. Self care is not about hurting others, including yourself. Excess of anything is usually a bad idea, so keep that in mind. Travel with friends. Pick up a hobby. Start reading the book. Call up a friend. Schedule in nap time on weekends. Whatever it is, do it. And do it without being sorry. Self care is a way for us to love on ourselves, because we matter too.
Signed with love, Kat.