I’ve been in sort of a strange state lately, and I’m having trouble putting my finger on exactly what’s wrong. But I’m spent. I'm dragging. And I need to figure it out so I can fix it.
A few weekends ago as Christina and I drove to a meeting, we were talking about the strange all-encompassing something of being a stay-at-home mother. We were trying to figure out what about it is so… draining. Why, at the end of so many days, we feel sucked dry. Empty.
I think it has something to do with parenting and the fact that there is, quite literally, no end to it. There are so many good things – wonderful things – about being a mother. But it’s also nonstop. And when your kids are also your job, that endlessness is especially apparent. Another Smarty Mommy once described parenthood as “relentless,” and I don’t think there’s a more perfect word to describe it. Even the good parts, the love… it can get overwhelming. There’s just no time to take a break. No time to breathe.
I once likened parenthood to a marathon, and at the end I said that we could never stop running. And that’s the thing. Parenthood is exhausting, not because it’s hard, though it often is, but because it’s constant.
So that was the conclusion Christina and I came to at the end of our discussion. We’ve each been doing this for 6+ years, and we’ve reached our limit for going without a break. We’ve run out of breath, and there’s no time to take another. There’s no time to recharge.
People – especially ever-problematic women’s mags – love to talk about “me time.” There’s the joke that showers or trips to the bathroom are “me time” for a mother, but the fact that that strikes so many people as either funny or true probably says something. Often, the only time I get to myself in a week is when I shower. And I don’t point this out to whine. I point this out because it’s a problem, and it’s a problem millions of parents have. It’s not healthy. And it’s making an already difficult job harder.
I started watching Mad Men finally (I know… I’m WAY behind), and what strikes me about the way stay-at-home motherhood is portrayed is how much help they have. They’re not alone. And I realize this is not reality and isn’t an accurate representation of everyone in the 60s, but I know it’s not wildly off-base for a lot of people then, either. People used to help each other.
When my mother and my friends’ mothers talk about being a stay-at-home mom, they talk about meeting up with other mothers. They talk about letting kids play while they socialized. They talk about leaving their kids with family members or babysitters while they went on dates and vacations with their partners. They talk about watching each others’ kids so they could go out and be grown-ups. Be human.
Motherhood has changed. Parenting has changed. People are much more solitary now, and families are more insular. Parents keep a closer eye on their children. We can’t send our kids off to the park down the street anymore. Families often don’t live in the same towns together anymore. We’re doing a lot of this by ourselves, and we’re spending more time doing it than many of our parents did. Our solitary tendencies mean that we end up doing much of our parenting alone. We are inside this relentless march alone. Parenthood is complex, and brings with it complex emotions. I’ve been trying to write around and through these emotions for years now, and I expect I’ll do the same for years to come. There’s so much here. There’s so much to figure out. And if we're figuring these things out by ourselves? Well... it takes longer.
The one thing I’ve learned as I’ve struggled and grown and struggled again through 6+ years of parenting is this: Parents still have needs, and it’s okay to need things of your own. It’s okay to need space. To need time. It’s okay to need at all. We are mothers, yes, but we are people, too. “Mother” does not negate the rest. We are still here. And we deserve to nourish ourselves, too. Even as we nourish our children. We can’t continue this relentless march without refueling at some point. There are ups and there are downs and there are hard parts and easy parts and fun parts and infuriating parts, but it continues to go on and we need to be ready to keep going. So we need to take the time. Fulfill our needs. Cry when we need to cry (and find the space to do that). Be alone when we need to be alone. Be with our people when we need to be with our people. Do what we want to do sometimes. It’s not selfish. It’s vital. We have to get through motherhood in one piece, and that means taking care of ourselves.
Because if we don’t think we’re important enough, consider this: Our kids are watching us. These little sponges of people are watching how we live and learning what parenthood looks like from us. If we don’t show them that we matter, they’ll grow up believing it. And then they’ll start living it. Our kids will overlook their own needs one day, too. And none of us wants that.
We need to value ourselves and our needs so that our kids learn to value themselves and their needs. It matters. We can do this. Self-care time, Smarties. Let’s go.