Several times lately I’ve heard mothers lament their own selfishness for craving some time alone. “Why does this feel so much more important to me than other things?” one might say, or, “Why do I rush through mothering tasks without joy, itching to find any time alone?”
I have a theory.
This one is for the ladies and those who love them-- the mothers, in particular. Sorry guys, it’s nothing personal. But in my experience, generally speaking, I find that men are often better at taking care of themselves than we are. They know what they need and know that stating their needs does not make them selfish or needy. We don’t always know that. So, this one is for us.
There is conventional wisdom that says when we are craving something, it may be because it contains something our bodies need. This craving for time alone, it’s like that. So while I agree that mothers are regular people like anyone else, capable of selfishness, I don’t think that’s actually the root cause. Motherhood is, by its very nature, a selfless and sacrificial job. I think my friends in the trenches are suffering because that time they crave is actually necessary, and I think beating themselves up about it is only making it worse.
If I crave a piece of chocolate, eating an apple isn’t going to get the job done. Neither is telling myself I shouldn’t be craving the chocolate, or that chocolate is totally off limits. You know what will help? Having the occasional piece of chocolate.
I don’t profess to know a lot about raising children, and I don’t think there’s one right way to do it. But I’d argue that taking care of their mother is always a pretty good place to start. I’ve had women argue with me about why they don’t need “me time” or why it isn’t possible in their situation. To that I say—with all love and admiration—bull.
Before we were mothers, we were people with interests, hobbies maybe, and friends. Our need for those things hasn’t changed. Expecting them to cease to be or expecting our husbands and/or children to fill them just because our station in life has changed isn’t fair.
I’ve had this conversation enough times to know the standard rebuttals. So, again, with all the love and grace and gentleness I can muster, here you go:
“I’d feel too guilty leaving my children.” -- Power through it. Living in fear of guilt is not living, and the fact that its hard doesn’t make it wrong. Give your children the opportunity to be in someone else’s care (your husband’s, your relative’s, a trusted friend or babysitter). Lovingly demonstrate to your children that Mommy always comes back. Give yourself the chance to relinquish control of their every need. Remind yourself what it’s like to be an individual. I promise it won’t hurt as much as you think it will, and that the pay-off will be worth it.
I know it’s not easy. I’ve been there. When I worked full time, I hated the thought of leaving my children for one more minute, especially for something that wasn’t “necessary.” I still hate giving up family time when my husband travels so frequently. But knowing that I will come back refreshed and ready to face the everyday challenges that await me makes it worth it.
“I don’t have anyone to watch my children.” -- If you’re married, your husband can and should stay with the kids. He can do it; let him stretch those muscles. Let him and the kids find their own groove. If you’re not married (or your husband works crazy hours or travels frequently like mine does), it does require additional creativity, sure. But I’d argue that if that’s your situation, you need this time even more. Ask a relative, if you’re lucky enough to have some living close by. Trade childcare favors with a friend; volunteer to trade hours at a drop-in childcare place; find a Mother’s Day Out program at a local church or a local MOPS group; hire a babysitter if all else fails. It’s tough but it is not unsolvable.
“I don’t even know what I would do with myself.” -- This reads to me like an argument for spending some time away to reintroduce yourself to the woman you still are under all that responsibility. If you’re an extrovert: go out for dinner with girlfriends or take a class. If you recharge by spending time alone (like I do), take a book or laptop (or tablet or whatever) to a bookstore or coffee shop, go to the movies by yourself, workout, go shopping by yourself, get a pedicure—it really doesn’t matter. The importance is not WHAT you do, but that you do it.
“I can’t afford it.” -- My response to this one is the same as when someone says she can’t afford to have regular date nights with her husband: I say you can’t afford not to. I am no stranger to a tight budget. I get it. It just means you have to be more creative. Take a walk, buy a $2 cup of coffee at a coffee shop and mooch the wifi, go to the library, window shop, go on a hike, take a drive; again, it really doesn’t matter what you do with the time.
I could do this all day. (Seriously, if you don’t see your excuse listed here, email me and I’ll help you overcome it).
I would caution you not to try to make things count as me time that really aren’t. If you feel like grocery shopping alone or working or leading a Bible Study is really blissful and counts, then by all means, do it. But if you do it, then find yourself still craving time alone, it probably doesn’t count.
And here’s why I so firmly believe this is necessary: Motherhood is not for the faint of heart. As hard as I found it to work full time and be away from my kids for those four years I did it, I sometimes feel being home is even harder for me. I have taken my phone into the bathroom and locked the door; I have snapped at my children when all they wanted was for me to play with them. I GET IT. Motherhood is a process of constantly pouring out: serving, showing patience and grace, teaching, and loving your children. And it’s wonderful. But it’s nearly impossible to pour out all day if there’s nothing going in. Taking care of yourself and being a good mother are not contradictory. Taking care of yourself—mind, body, soul-- is essential to being a healthy, strong, patient mother for your children. So if you can’t be convinced to do it for yourself, then do it for them.
If you’re like my friends who berate themselves for craving this time, you might find that this desire isn’t actually your deepest one. It’s just the one shouting loudest, the one that’s most desperate to be heard—and answered. Make a plan to answer it, and I think you might find it will stop yelling so loudly.