I can’t tell you how many friends and acquaintances have said to me this week (on Facebook and in real life):
“I read your blog post, you know the one where you talked about how tired you are and how it feels like there’s no rest. Yeah, me too. I feel the exact same way.”
For one tiny moment, that felt comforting to me. I am not alone. Yay! I’m not totally insane. Perhaps my children aren’t purposely trying to kill me- maybe (it’s a big maybe) that’s just how kids are.
And then that moment passed, and I became very concerned. Really, you guys? Most of the moms that you see on the playground, in the classroom, shuffling kids in carpool, even playing on the beach and at the pool- they are all utterly exhausted?
This is a problem, my friends.
I’ve spent the better part of two weeks searching for answers. What am I doing wrong? What can I do or should I be doing to find this elusive rest I’m looking for? Who can help me? Who has figured this out and can tell me all the secrets?
I can’t say that I cracked the code to all things mothering. But, I do think I happened upon a couple of things that have been helpful to me, and perhaps will be helpful to you.
Two words: help me!
Last week I reached a place of utter desperation. I started envisioning my 4-year-old as the warden of the prison I call home, and I knew things were not good. I know myself well enough to know that when things get bad, what sends me over the edge is feeling like there’s no one around to help me, that I’m all alone. So I started talking about it. The real stuff. The real, ugly feelings of frustration and exhaustion and loneliness.
You know, the ones moms pretend they don’t have.
I shared those feelings with my husband. I shared them with a few friends. My friend at work looked at me as I talked and said immediately, “We need to call my mom.” So we went and had lunch with her mom who was kind enough to listen and offer advice. None of those people had a magical cure for what I was going through, but each and every time I talked about it, I felt my burden lightening a little.
We resist admitting that we need help, because we feel like we can’t be helped. But when we reach out and open ourselves up to others, we realize that we aren’t alone. And that all by itself is help.
Here’s the other “Aha!” moment that I had:
It has to be somebody’s job to take care of me, and I have to let them do their job.
You hear a lot of moms on television and in women’s magazines talk about taking care of themselves. They want us to go out and have a few glasses of wine with our friends, take a night away from the kids, let loose and do something just for ourselves. That’s a great thought. I completely agree with the sentiment behind it. But, guess what? With all of the things weighing on me, I rarely take the time to do that.
The most important things on my to-do list are the things my kids need. The things my husband needs. My job needs. My church needs. My kids’ school needs. The list is endless.
I almost never make it down to the optional things, the sure-would-be-nice things like going out with friends or taking a weekend away. I know there are a lot of moms out there who are better at prioritizing things like that than I am. But, I’ve always been the serious, responsible, take-care-of-everyone-else one. It’s very difficult to give myself permission to take it easy.
And then I realized, no wonder I’m having problems. I am cracking under this heavy burden I feel to take care of everyone, and then on top of that I feel the burden (and my failure) of taking care of myself, too. And then I understood why it’s so hard. These needs are competing- the need to care for everyone and the need to care for me. I don’t think the same person can be good at both. It’s not about balance, it’s about priorities.
It’s my priority to make sure my family’s taken care of. It’s gotta be someone else’s priority to make sure I’m taken care of.
That’s where my husband comes in. He has made it his priority to make sure that I’m well taken care of. Although, we haven’t found the magic formula yet- often he struggles to know what I need and I struggle to let go enough to let him care for me- we are working on it.
I’m convinced that every husband needs to look at his family and say this:
“It is one of my greatest priorities to make sure that my wife is well cared for- physically, spiritually, mentally, emotionally.”
And they need to do more than say it, they need to live it.
What better way for a father to take care of his children than to make sure they are being taken care of by someone who is healthy and happy? Listen, I’m all for shared parenting responsibilities, and my husband does at least 50% of the work when he’s home. But let’s be honest, at the end of the day, mothers are the primary caregivers in most homes, even if they work full-time jobs. We are created to take on that responsibility, and sometimes the most important thing a father can do for his children is take good care of their mother. It’s the trickle-down effect. If Dad takes better care of Mom, Mom takes better care of the kids. I swear it works, people.
What does it mean exactly for dads to take good care of moms? I think it probably looks different in each family. But, I think it starts with three things.
First, you and your spouse have to have a conversation about it. And then repeat about 10,000 times. It takes time and work to figure out what you need from your spouse and what they need from you.
Second, I think it takes a husband who has divorced himself from the idea that kids are ultimately and primarily the mother’s responsibility. We may each have different roles in the family, but parenting is shared.
Third, I think it takes a deep and honest respect on the part of a father for the work that a mother does. If he doesn’t know how mentally, emotionally and physically draining it is to be the primary caregiver (or respect the reality that he can’t ever really know), then he’ll never be committed to caring for her the way she needs. If he can wrap his mind around the fact that taking better care of his children’s mother is making her a better mother for his kids and a better spouse for him, it’s a win for everyone.
I’m very fortunate that my husband does these things. He really desires to help me be the best version of myself. He wants my kids to have a mother who is healthy and fulfilled, and he’s willing to sacrifice to give me that. We certainly haven’t figured it all out yet, but we’re working on it.
While I’m on my soapbox, there’s something else. Does it feel like every single thing in the world- churches, schools, charities, sports- all exist simply just to suck the ever-loving life out of you?
I might just be in a raw place, but when I look around I see exhausted, worn-out mothers serving, serving, serving everyone else. Every. Single. Day. Need snacks for this activity? Need volunteers for this event? Need help for this project? So many needs all the dang time. It seems like every area of life where my child participates in something, I’m also expected to contribute something. I feel like a rag doll being pulled in every direction.
So let me ask you, who is serving these mothers?
No one. At least that’s the way it feels to me. We are serving, serving, serving. Fulfilling needs and providing help all over the place. Except what I see is a lot of mothers who need help themselves. And I don’t see anyone standing in line to fill that job description.
So perhaps churches need to focus more on becoming a sanctuary instead of solely a place to serve.
Maybe we need to learn to do less in order to be more.
Maybe our kids need to do less so we have more of ourselves to give to them.
Churches, school, community groups- if you want to help families, help mothers. Fill us up, honor us, give us rest. Don’t use us until we have nothing left to give, because you aren’t getting the best of us and neither are our families.
We deserve better and so do our kids.