Thursday, April 19, 2018

The mother's dilemma

If you ask any mother what is most important, she can quickly answer with her child’s happiness, health, and family togetherness. At the core, we know what's important. Yet, I've found myself struggling at times, balancing my role as a woman and mother with the daily tasks of running a household.

My identity as a mother and wife is built upon the foundation of love, but it's most visible in my daily giving. Chauffeuring to school and practice, a warm meal on the dinner table, clean laundry, homework help, bedtime conversations about life's big questions, are all acts of giving.

During overwhelming times, (which happens more frequently with three little ones), my sanity depends on eliminating the burden of any additional responsibilities. It shows up in the form of a declined invitation, a conversation cut short, or my general distraction, but at the expense of someone else (and often myself). I can't consider a friend's feelings in that moment because I have nothing left to give. And let me tell you, feeling guilty while you're constantly giving, drained of time and energy, is the worst feeling in the world.

But what can us mothers do? We are building children we hope will become kind, conscientious, responsible adults. We are building marriages we hope span lifetimes. We are building family relationships and making memories. These things take time!

I've discovered my problem lies within the way I've always thought about and structured time. If my children's happiness is the ultimate goal, I thought my time is best dedicated to that purpose first. I've slaved over the never-ending family to-do list and whatever time was left over, would be for myself/fun. And this worked for many years, until recently, when it didn’t. There just wasn't any remaining time to take myself on a walk, read or write, take a bath, or just think (letting your mind wander is the ultimate luxury sometimes, isn't it?).

After a particularly difficult summer (discussed here), I realized to serve others, I must serve myself first. This isn't a new concept. For the same reason you're told to put your own oxygen mask on first in an airplane emergency, you won't survive long without giving to yourself, but as a mother of young children, this is the most difficult task.

Your time is sporadic and can always be filled with more work. I have exhausted myself too many times trying to get through a to-do list thinking I could get ahead only to wake up the next day and realize I have to do it all over again. It's the quickest way to living a resentful life. And the hard answer is, my mom guilt, exhaustion, and resentment wasn't promoting happiness and emotional health for my children either.

I've found it's important to carve out me-time, and I mentioned this briefly here, but I want to expand on the use of boundaries. It has surprised me that there is not always clear "good" and "bad" tasks and circumstances when it comes to the balance of self, motherhood, and responsibility. So my approach begins with what I call the good/better/best theory; meaning uses of time can be classified as one of these. Take inventory of behaviors, people, and activities that leave you happy and fulfilled, and create boundaries to reduce time spent on those that don't. While it’s good to have a clean house, regular girls' nights, volunteer at school and in the community, help a friend, and involve my children in extracurriculars, I have to be mindful it’s not being done at the expense of the best things. I want to have enough energy to allow for self-care, and in doing so, also support my children’s growth and happiness. If I don’t say "no" in some situations, however good they may seem, I’m inadvertently saying “no” to things that actually deserve my best attention.

Good/better/best choices can (and will) change based on the current needs. Some weeks the best thing is choosing a date night with my husband over being home for bedtime, or lunch with a friend over another kindergarten soccer game, or turning down an invitation so I can spend time comforting my daughter after a hard day. The art of balance requires the continuous and delicate ability to pivot and adjust.

These days I’m loosening my grip on the to-do list and reminding myself there is no guilt in declining things that interfere with the time required to be my best self. In doing so, patience, love, and laughter flow from me more freely and my highest purpose is unmistakably visible in my children's smiles.

Post a Comment

© Lake House Effect. Made with love by The Dutch Lady Designs.