This one is for the mamas of littles.
We who are in the thick of it, neck-deep in diapers and finger rhymes, early readers and mad monkey bar skills.
There is something incredible about this early stage of motherhood. It brings you to the edge of yourself and then gives you a little tap, sending you flying over into the arms of Jesus. It strengthens you in areas you didn’t know you were weak, it smooths the edges you didn’t know were so sharp, it softens your hard heart and brings stunning moments of beauty out of what otherwise feels mostly like chaos.
And all of that takes an amazing amount of time and brain space. It’s really easy to lose yourself in it as the days of “eat, play, poop, sleep, repeat” turn into weeks and months. Sleep deprivation takes its toll. There’s only so much time, and slowly, things you once loved start falling to the side. Besides, you’ll pick them back up in a few years when the kids don’t need you anymore.
Enter the mom-guilt.
Some of us feel guilty for popping out to grab a coffee with a friend. Some of us feel guilty for going back to work. Some of us feel guilty for not planning out an entire day’s worth of brain-enriching activities, with a hundred healthy snacks and meals and endless time for reading with our kids.
Some of us simply struggle with doing anything that remotely resembles something just for us. We are waiting until the right time, for things to be perfect, so we can relax and do our thing without interruption or distraction.
After just seven years of parenting, here’s what I’m coming to realize. Although the way my kids need me will change, they will never really stop needing their mom.
I know because I have never stopped needing mine.
We will always be in each other’s lives, affecting each other’s lives.
Our kids will always need us, just in different ways, and in different seasons.
We know it won’t always be like it is now. One day our littles will not need us to help them go potty or learn to use a spoon. There will be more space for our careers, our interests and our passions to take flight into incredible achievements. There will be time for all the things we once dreamed of doing.
One gorgeous autumn afternoon, we’ll see the sun shining through the window into our clean living rooms and envision the exact toys that were once scattered there. We’ll see our counters free of crumbs and remember days like today, when all manner of Cheerios and cheese bits are waiting to be wiped up. We’ll have a moment of wishing for just one more snuggle and one more tickle fight and one more belly laugh and one more game of chase-the-toddler down the hall for a bath.
And then we’ll remember that they are soaring into their own adventures with all the spit and vinegar of youth! And we’ll cheer them on as they learn and grow.
And that means we’ll always be learning how to strike the balance between pouring ourselves out for our families and taking the time and space we need to tend to our own hearts.
Once I was talking to a woman with a large family who was going through a divorce after two decades of marriage. My heart broke as she shared her story. While she spoke, she said something that struck me: “You know when the flight attendant says in the event of an emergency to put your own oxygen mask on before you help someone else with theirs? That’s really important. Take care of yourself so you can take care of your family. I didn’t do that. I should have done that.”
Sometimes the daily grind feels, well, very grind-y, pushing us beyond our limits and making us feel drained.
There is wisdom in recognizing when we really do need take a break for our own sake and the sake of our family.
Around Mother’s Day this year, my eldest daughter asked me what I was into. I think she was making a list of ideas for gifts or something.
“Daddo loves Star Trek and sharks. What do you love, Mama?”
“Hmm,” I said. I searched my very tired brain for a moment, but it was blank. Pregnancy exhaustion was filling every inch of my mind and heart. “Well, I like cool mugs. And fun journals.”
She bounced away, happy with the reply, but the question stuck with me. What do I love? What were my interests and the things that made me feel happy?
I was too tired to remember, and for very good reason. My life is very full! Truth be told, I wouldn’t have it any other way. But I can very easily become overwhelmed and depleted if I don’t stay on top of the basics.
A hot shower.
Getting outside in the sunshine.
Connecting with the Lord in prayer, worship and Bible reading.
A date with my hubby.
Talking with friends.
Space to do something I love.
Time actually playing with the kids.
In my first years of parenting, it took alot for me to ask for help — even from my husband! I thought, “I chose this, no one is going to do it for me.” And we all suffered for it. With my third daughter, everything changed. About two weeks after she was born, we discovered she had a rare condition that required close monitoring with many tests, appointments and medication – and I simply could not do it all on my own. My mom came to help, not to mention the amazing church friends and other family that stood by us and helped us through a time when we really needed them.
Here’s the thing – when I’m feeling like I need a break, I have learned to tell someone. Even if I feel silly, or like I don’t matter anyway, or like I’m being a burden — I tell my brain to be quiet, and then I tell someone how I’m feeling.
It’s my first step in finding a bit of balance.
Your family loves you and needs you.
A refreshed mama is an amazing mama. There will be time for big things later if we make time for the little things now.