My dear friend reminded me that, as mothers, we’re all just comparing ourselves to one another. It's how we gauge our own performances. Dependent upon how we use this, our parenting can improve, or our self assuredness can plummet. I recently shared my personal take away from this process, after experiencing some parental enlightenment, while witnessing the beloved Emily with her children. But, since then, an unexpected lesson also arose.
For two days, we did art, we had picnics, we baked, we played games, we crafted. I was in it, non stop. When the baby napped, I didn't check out. I instead spent that time giving the boys my complete attention. I was really, truly enjoying myself. It felt fulfilling, not forced or laborious. Then day three arrived. I woke up exhausted and empty, a carcass with nothing left to give, and a worse parent than I'd been before I resolved to improve. We don't do much TV, but Samsung babysat that day.
The school year resumed the following week. For the first time in five years, I had alone time, because my younger son started full day kindergarten. While Indigo napped, I received two hours of glorious, unadulterated me time. After the first day, I felt like a completely different person. Energy was coursing through my veins, my patience was limitless, I was glowing. Now, a week in, workouts and showering have happened every day (I won't express the significance of this, so as to not disgust readers). My legs are shaved. Above the knee. My hair smells pleasant and is brushed and styled. I'm reading and writing. I'm dressed in clothes that don't stretch. It’s a whole new fucking world over here.
I still needed Emily’s example to act as a barometer for my own parenting. It forced me to go all in and then realize the extent to which I'd neglected myself. The desire to give of yourself to your children is fruitless, if you're an empty vessel. The last several years have consisted of nonstop giving, through pregnancy, breastfeeding, cosleeping, caretaking, remodeling, moving, and working outside and inside of the home. God bless my husband, but he’s an empty vessel, too. We’ve been alone together, out of the house, less than five times in almost three years, and before that, only a few times per year. We both are aware of this flawed system but have struggled with how to create that personal time for ourselves and one another. If either of us leaves, it's at the expense of the other, and when you're running on fumes, it's almost impossible to be generous.
I hope for you that there is a support system in place to call upon, besides your husband. If you've got the extra money, put it to work for you, get your kids out of the house for a few hours per week. Use the childcare at your gym, trade with friends, get creative. This is the pot calling the kettle black, because I didn't make any of these things happen. “Do as I say, not as I do.” I absolutely should've tried harder.
If you have the desire to be more present with your children, but the energy isn't there, you've got to create it for yourself. I was fully aware that I wanted to engage more, and in years past, when my cup runneth over, I did. It's been a slow but steady depletion, subtle enough to go unnoticed. I felt lazy, but the truth is that I'm not.
A martyr and a mother can't exist simultaneously, without acting as a detriment to your parenting skills. Not only do you suffer, but your children receive the short end of the stick. Every area of your life stands to improve. It's an investment in yourself and your family, with pretty hefty returns. Now, when my daughter is awake, I'm 100 percent with her. When my sons come home from school, I'm there. When my husband talks to me, I listen. I'm me again.
*And, please, when you see a friend making time for herself, don't throw a “must be nice” her way. She's listening to her inner guidance and taking note of her own unique threshold. If that makes you feel a sense of judgment, then you too are lacking in the same department. Recognize what it's really about, and fix it.