A couple weeks ago I caught an old episode of ‘Parenthood’ where Crosby (grown son) is accusing his mother of being selfish for wanting to sell the family home he and his siblings grew up in. The mother appears taken aback, and launches into a laundry list of all the “unselfish” things she has done for her family over her life, all the times she had to give up her dreams, put her wants and needs on hold to care for her family.
And I had a surprising reaction when watching it. You would think I would have been like, “Damnit, Crosby, look at all your mom has sacrificed! Let her sell the house without any grief!” I’m pretty sure that was the reaction the show was going for. But instead, my gut reaction was, “mother, why are you surprised?” After a lifetime of showing your family that you come last, why do you suddenly expect they will react with anything other than resistance to you announcing that what you want matter?
Don’t get me wrong, I am a mother and I KNOW. I KNOW, you guys. I know about the thanklessness of the job. I know that many, many times EACH DAY you are asked to put someone else’s wants and needs above your own. Someone who not only cannot appreciate it, but depends on it. I know that parenting and marriage just really aren’t fair. At least not every day. They can’t be. Sometimes I take on more than my husband to make sure things run smoothly. Sometimes he does more than me. Rarely is a day split in complete equality of tasks, equality of “giving up” things, equality of compromise.
When Gia was just a few weeks old, golf league started. Will lives and breathes golf. Golf league is the highlight of his week in the summers, he just lights up in anticipation of a golf day. At this particular time in my life, I was, shall we say, completely and utterly overwhelmed to the very core of my being. My mom came over every single golf league night to help with Gia. However, when you are breastfeeding a baby who refuses a bottle, your options for “away time” are confined within a short, one hour period. Not exactly a night out golfing. I felt a lot little resentful. I was caught in this complex that if he was having a good time, I COULDN’T. I had to be the RESPONSIBLE PARENT WHO DID EVERYTHING. That’s what moms do. Pick up the slack for everyone else. Right?
One Friday early that summer, Will golfed in an all-day tournament that he thought he would be home from by 3 pm. 3pm rolled around, he was not home yet. Any mother out there knows EXACTLY what I was feeling at that moment. After a full day of visualizing the finish line as 3 pm, when you realize its not going to happen, it feels like you’ve just been asked to run another marathon back-to-back. You die a little bit inside. By 4 pm I started getting antsy. He updated me via text on the tournament progress, and I started to get panicky. By the time he walked through the door around 6 pm, I was so filled with rage that I was shaking. He let me vent. He was probably a little afraid for his safety for a few minutes.
But later that night after my rage had mellowed and I had an actual warm meal and some time to breathe and realize we were all still alive, I realized something that was to me, profound. I was feeling a lot of things. Overwhelmed. Resentful. Deeply jealous of the fact that Will had something to do that provided him stress relief, and it was scheduled, every damn week. But I couldn’t ignore that golf made him visibly happy, relaxed, and with energy to spare. So what was the solution? Insist he stay home just because I was jealous he was getting out and I wasn’t?
It’s a fault in logic and sanity to believe that preventing another person from doing something they enjoy will make you happier for not doing something you enjoy. No, it wasn’t my husband’s fault that he was taking advantage of some well-deserved me-time. It was my fault for not taking some of my own.
So often we hear messages that call mothers to be completely self-sacrificing. We are not supposed to have any interests or desires outside of our families. For stay-at-home moms, the pressure to 24/7 be what your family needs, to have it be your ‘job’ to anticipate and take care of their needs, is completely and utterly overwhelming. And for women who work outside the home, the expectation is that whenever you aren’t working, you better be ‘enjoying’ your family. There isn’t a whole lot of cultural acceptance or support for mothers putting themselves first once in a while. If we do take some “me-time”, we are supposed to feel guilty about it. If we don’t, we are doing something wrong. We are missing the martyr gene, I guess, which apparently is a necessary “good mother” gene. Our misery is ok, as long as it is a result of sacrificing on behalf of our family’s happiness. Glennon Doyle Melton writes the following brilliant observation about making mistakes, but I think it ties right in with the guilt I am talking about:
“You guys- here’s my hunch: we think we’re somehow being good parents if we beat ourselves up for every mistake. As if guilt and hemming and hawing and self doubt = LOVE. But one of the many problems with this belief is that this critical voice we use to berate ourselves becomes our kids’ internal voice, too. They learn that the way to love people is: Try to be perfect for them and then when you’re not – Make yourself miserable in their honor. BOOOOOO. Bad plan! Horrible plan! Not love!”
I’ve seen this topic given attention on the internet, and I’ve even posted about this before on my blog’s Facebook page, and the idea that mothers should take time for themselves has never been popular. Maybe its because we had mothers like Crosby’s. Maybe we push back against the ideas of mothers putting themselves first once in a while because our mothers never did. Maybe we need to push back against this so our daughters don’t grow up believing that if you become a mother, you automatically give up any life that you had imagined for yourself.
I decided I would much rather advocate for my own me-time and be labeled selfish than grow more bitter and resentful and exhausted with each day that passed. I decided it would be better for my family. And I knew it would be better for my daughter. I don’t want her growing up believing that a mother’s needs and wants should always come last. Certainly as a mother, there are always going to be times where this will happen and needs to happen. That’s life. But I don’t want to be so vain to believe the world would fall apart if I took a 20 minute bath every night.
Will was more than happy to hear about my me-time plan, and he has actively encouraged it from Day One. He gets it, the idea that I can be a better me when I take care of myself. So now I have carved out time for bubble baths and reading and writing. I have scheduled time to go shopping by myself or out to dinner with friends. Will and I have a weekly date night scheduled every week, almost without exceptions. The change that this has made in my life is incredible.
“In the end, I am the only one who can give my children a happy mother who loves life.” – Janene Wolsey Baadsgaard