“She’s such a great mom – she sacrifices herself for the family.”
“She puts everyone else before herself.”
“She absolutely lives for her family.”
These statements may actually sound good, like something we as moms (or dads) should strive for, but honestly, 13½ years in, I can tell you they are nothing but platitudes. And false. We simply cannot – and should not – sacrifice ourselves completely for the family. We have to keep ourselves filled up.
Imagine a very hot day – not hard at all in our famously hot city in the middle of summer – we basically live on the surface of the sun. You’re outside with the kids and everyone’s thirsty, so you go get a pitcher of lemonade (handmade with love, low organically, sustainably-grown, fair trade sugar, organic lemons grown in your raised beds, squeezed by hand, duh). You pour your littlest loves glasses of refreshing lemonade, but when it comes to pouring yourself a glass, the pitcher is empty. There’s nothing left. It’s useless now. Totally and utterly depleted. And you are still parched.
We are those pitchers – pitchers of love and goodness and light and lessons and laundry and joy and compassion and dinners and cuddles. And if that pitcher is empty, there is nothing left for anyone. We’re of no use to those people we love most in the world.
My love language is “Acts of Service.” I love to serve. I really do. But also? I love getting away from my beloved little people. And sometimes even my husband, the Professor. Sometimes, the role of ‘just Mom’ isn’t that satisfying. And you will never hear me apologize for that.
Do I love my family? Am I grateful beyond words for them? Do I know how lucky I am to have them?
Yes. Yes. Yes. Oh my gosh, YES. More than I can put into words. The Professor takes such good care of me and the girls in his quiet, strong, unflappable, calming, capable way. Not only working his tail off for us every single day, but making sure my tires are full of air and the tread is good and my emissions sticker is taken care of and researching the best ways to help one of them with math and finding books the other one might enjoy.
When the girls show kindness to strangers (or sometimes more impressively with each other) or volunteer to help me out or offer a cuddle to someone who needs it, it takes my breath away. Watching the girls grow and mature and navigate through tween and teendom swells my heart with pride. I have no idea how I’ve been so lucky and blessed and I promise you, I am profoundly, gratefully aware of what blessings they are every single day. Oftentimes, I don’t know how my physical, earthly body can contain my heart and this love for all of them, it is so full to bursting.
I love researching recipes and making food that everyone will eat. I actually love helping my youngest by giving her the gift of loading the dishwasher when it’s her turn because she’s been at track practice and studying for a test and starting to freak out because she still has chores to do. I also love surprising my oldest by doing her laundry, because she was at a volleyball tournament and didn’t get a chance on the weekend and she’s busy studying to keep her straight As.
I don’t love dealing with FSA shenanigans so The Professor can concentrate on other stuff, but I’m happy to do it if it makes his life easier. And more than anything else in the world, I love creating experiences where the four of us are together, laughing, and making memories that will last a lifetime.
I do not love feeling disregarded and unappreciated and taken advantage of. Which, in a family with kids, will happen. I do not love working my hiney off trying to make things easier or better or special and the efforts go completely unnoticed. But, in a family with kids, it will happen. I know how that sounds – like I’m looking for adulation, but really, just anyone even noticing would be amazing. I know that’s not how kids roll, but every once in a while, it really starts to get to me. And I feel like I’m disappointing them, failing at the one job I hold in the highest regard. It can be frustrating and maddening and disheartening and sometimes lonely.
But my friends. Oh, my friends fill me up when the family isn’t doing it. They take me for what I am, where I am, and what I can give at that time. They expect me to love them, support them, and be dependable, but they give me so. much. grace.
If I show up to a porch party with a Sauvignon Blanc and everyone’s in the mood for rosé bubbles, my friends still welcome me to the porch. They don’t stomp off and tell me they wish they had a better friend and wonder why I’m out to ruin their lives. And if I show up empty-handed, because I just could not do one more thing that day, they welcome me up on the porch even then.
They hug me when I need it and when I feel like I’m mucking up everything else in my life. They listen when I’m scared for my girls. They commiserate when I’m frustrated with The Professor. They troubleshoot with me when I’m trying to figure something out. They make me laugh. They cheer the loudest when I accomplish something I’ve been working for.
They remember me before I was a mom, when I was still cool and interesting and wasn’t a nag. They make me laugh. They include me. They listen. They forgive me my many (many) imperfections. They love me anyway.
Be with the friends who help you recharge. Who fill you up. Who get you.
Make the time – schedule it – talk to your partner, a babysitter, a parent, grandparent – someone who will cover the kids so you can take a break. And then take time to be with your friends. Take time to be a friend. Maybe you’re good and feel all full up right now, but you probably have a friend who needs to remember who she used to be. Or needs help redefining who she is now. Or just needs time away from working for everyone else.
Taking time for yourself does not mean you love your family less. Or you’re a bad parent. Or you’re selfish. On the contrary, it means you’re taking care of yourself (which is an important skill to teach your kids) – filling up the proverbial pitcher so you’re full. So you can get back to pouring out your love and goodness and light and lessons and laundry and joy and compassion and dinners and cuddles.