My kids are 5 (just turned) and almost 3, and for the past year, I’ve finally started to feel like myself again–I’ve got my body back (mostly), my energy back, my motivation for organizing and writing back–I’m in a good place. But that period of time between bringing home baby #2 and now has been the hardest period of my life. (And I turned 40 last year.)
I’ve learned a lot about sacrifice–not just that you have to do it as a Mom, but specifically which things I can sacrifice and not turn into a martyr. When my kids are older and talk about what kind of mom they had, I DO NOT want them to say, “My mom gave up everything for me.” I don’t want to be the lady on What Not To Wear who has completely let herself go and wears all black or wears sweatpants everywhere because she’s doing everything for her children. I don’t want to be the woman who wakes up one day and realizes she can’t remember who she is, and she’s been depressed for a very long time.
I don’t know just how pervasive this angel mother/martyr type is in our culture, or just how damaging, but I know it can be. I was lucky enough to be able to get two college degrees before I had children, so my identity was not dependent upon being a mother in Zion. (At the time, of course, I felt like I wasn’t living up to my potential, and I wondered if I would be single forever.) But knowing the narrative we teach our young women (“get an education…so you can be a better mom”), I see how easy it is for young moms to sacrifice themselves on the altar of motherhood. To bear their crosses and suffer in silence. Isn’t that what the Savior did?
But I have never been a “suffer in silence” sort of person. So it was very easy for me to realize that when you’re in survival mode, you can’t sacrifice the things that make you feel like a human being. There are plenty of other things that can go first. So–here’s my list.
Top Ten Things I’ve let go of in order to survive life with little children:
10. Folding kids’ laundry. We have enough drawers to separate pants from shirts and undies, and my daughter can sort and toss them in herself. Also: making beds. Waste of time.
9. Putting food on the table. My mom always “served” dinner at the table, with serving dishes and serving spoons. (For now, I put my kids’ food on plates for them.) But mommy and daddy serve themselves from the stove. And sometimes Daddy gets take-out for us.
8. I should put Pinterest here, but the truth is, it’s pretty great for finding ways to simplify cooking, organizing, DIY projects, finding gifts. But that’s the key word: SIMPLIFY. Not overcomplicate. If I have to buy specialty ingredients, or it takes more than 5 steps, forget it.
7. Caring what other people think about my appearance.
- Either: No, I didn’t wear makeup today, whatever. (But BB cream and dry shampoo are a girl’s best friend!)
- Or: Yes, I wore makeup to the gym, because it makes me feel better. If that means I’ve absorbed society’s limited definition of beauty, fine. Feeling pretty makes me feel good.
6. Worries about breast-feeding in public. (No, I am not one to just bare my breasts.) But I stopped deciding to just stay home because it was too much trouble to try to feed discreetly. When my husband and I took our 2.5 year old and 3 month old to the Dragon Con parade, in baby carrier, and I nursed him while the parade went by (and it was sweltering hot outside), I felt I had arrived as a Mom. I actually got quite a few thumbs up from people (not because they saw my boobs) because they were like, “Good for you for not staying home.”
5. My kids’ eating habits: When you’re in extreme survival mode, let them snack all day. They don’t eat vegetables? Buy vitamins and fiber supplements. Keep trying, but if they refuse, don’t sweat it. It will work itself out later.
4. Worrying too much about germs. (Yes, I vaccinate). When my oldest was a baby, I used to keep her penned in one area so she wouldn’t crawl around on the dirty floor. When I had the second baby, and I learned what survival was really like, and she ate things off the floor, I thought, “Oh good, at least she’s getting a snack.” (That was during her picky toddler phase.) So if my 2 year old plays in the play area at Chick-fil-A, and happens to eat a french fry before I can get the alcohol wipe from the dispenser? Oh well.
3. Cleaning the house all by myself. This may sound like a contradiction to #4. But if your emotional well being is highly affected by your environment, and it makes you anxious to live in filth–hire a maid. Best thing I ever did! Ours cleans once a month, which is all I need. I still spend plenty of time picking up after the kids, sweeping, laundry, dishes, etc. (Granted, we can afford it, though it is not as pricey as I thought it would be.) Before? I’d walk around seeing things that were dirty, wondering when I could get to it, and if I made time for it, it was MY time that I could be doing things I liked, so I felt resentful. Anyone who has lived with a toddler knows that as soon as you clean up one mess, there are 3 behind you. It’s a crazy making business. After? Knowing that things will actually get “clean” in a few weeks, I’m more relaxed about cleaning up temporary messes, wet bed sheets, etc. I still have my kids clean their toys, put away silverware and plates, etc, but now I don’t have to live with a disgusting bathroom because I don’t have time to actually clean things once all their crap is picked up.
2. Recently, Facebook. (I’ve never had a Twitter account.) I was too worked up in politics, and it was sucking dry my emotional well-being. I’d want to read an article, and being interrupted by my kids every 5 minutes would make me more irritated than usual. I’d have a running argument in my head. This doesn’t make for a mommy who can stop and empathize in order to stave off bad behavior, or who can look for teaching moments so her kids learn not to be little monsters.
And finally, (drumroll) . . .
1. Caring what other people think about my mothering abilities. This is the number one concern that constantly rears its ugly head, and the biggest thing that affects your stress as a mom. Are my children clean? Is their hair brushed? Are they giving me too much back talk in public? Are they getting away with inappropriate behavior? Am I going to be a bad example in someone’s blog? Is my house clean? I.e. am I a slob? Am I looking at my phone too much while my children are playing? Etc., etc.
Unfortunately, moms who are going through divorces or in custody disputes and prone to the scrutiny of social workers may well have to worry about these things. But most often, the real critics are ourselves, or what we fear others are thinking. And that is the most crucial thing to let go.
Things NOT to sacrifice:
- Medication: A year after I weaned my second baby, I was still sluggish and exhausted and moody and long story short, decided I needed to run tests to figure out what my body needed. Luckily for me, I don’t have to take anti-depressants, or anti-anxiety meds. But everybody needs something. At my age, Progesterone is a gift from God, and I do not exaggerate. Add magnesium, probiotic, and energy supplements, and I feel like 25 again 🙂 (It also does wonders for your marriage if you can actually enjoy being intimate, which affects everything else. Ladies, you know what I mean.)
- Exercise: I joined our local YMCA, which is affordable, and my kids love it! Win-win. Getting through the exhausting days of saying the same thing 500 times and listening to every iteration of what can be called “stinky” requires endorphins. Especially when they stop taking naps.
- Prayer, personal devotion time. Whether it’s a few minutes of reading scriptures or listening to conference talks, or playing MOTAB while fixing dinner to stem the tide of irritation you feel from noisy kids (this happened yesterday)–make time for something to open yourself to the spirit, to be mindful. And I confess, I have let these go for periods of time. But I am a MUCH more peaceful and grounded person when I make time for them.
- Whatever gives you individuality / helps you use your brain. I started writing poetry before I had kids, and I keep it up as best I can. I recently had to hire a babysitter once a week during the day so I could get some work done–and I’m a much better mommy for it. I can do something that energizes and emotionally sustains me, and I enjoy my time with them more when I have that.
I do occasionally find myself in survival mode, feeling overwhelmed, needing to simplify. And often, I have to pinpoint exactly whose expectations I need to let go of. I have to determine whose feelings really matter most. Sometimes it’s my child or my spouse. Sometimes it’s someone I visit teach (i.e. kids get snacks for lunch so we can be flexible and helpful today). And sometimes, Mommy has to put on the metaphorical oxygen mask before she can help anybody else.
What have you “let go” of to survive being a mom?