Hi there, Mama. How are you doing? I mean, really doing? You say you’re fine, but I can see that you’re not. It’s OK. I’m not fine, either.
The truth is, I don’t know any moms who are “fine.” In fact, I think we should erase “fine” from our vocabularies. We are so much more and so much less than fine most days. Motherhood is a dichotomy of extremes. The highest highs and the lowest lows. Intense joy and insane frustration. Love that overwhelms you and exhaustion that overtakes you.
Those extremes can wear you down. Yes, even the good ones. The constant back and forth is taxing on the psyche and the soul. One of my favorite writers, Christine Organ, uses the term “soul-tired.” Motherhood can make you soul-tired, especially if you aren’t taking good care of yourself.
I know, I know. Taking care of yourself feels like one more thing to add to your mile-long to-do list. And how are you supposed to take care of yourself when you have little people relying on you to take care of them? You feel spent. There’s nothing left to give yourself.
Please listen to me carefully, Mama. I’ve been where you are. I’ve cried while my baby cried, sleepless and helpless. I’ve stared out the window of my toy-strewn living room, wondering how this mess and mayhem became my life. I’ve felt my nerves fraying at the ends—like, physically felt them fraying—and wondered if I might actually break. I’ve fought the urge to walk out the front door and keep going, far, far away.
What I’ve learned in 15 years of parenting is that this urge shouldn’t be fought. It should be indulged. Hear me out.
Motherhood is wonderful and magical and awful and hard. But when you’re feeling all of the awful and hard and none of the wonder and magic? It’s time to take a break. Actually, it’s past time. You are right in feeling spent because that’s exactly what you are.
But why do I need a break? I love my children! you think, probably with a hefty dose of guilt. Here’s the thing: Love is a limitless resource. Energy is not. Love is your engine, and energy is your fuel. Without fuel, all the love in the world is not going to get you anywhere. You sit there idle, knowing you should be moving, but utterly incapable of doing so. You have to refuel, and ideally you should do it before you get to empty.
You may not want to hear this, but refueling as a mother almost always requires leaving your children. Sorry, it’s true. You can’t put gas in your tank while driving the car. You think you’re doing your kids a service by being “on” 100% of the time, but you’re not—you’re not doing them a favor, and you’re not on 100% of the time. You’re there, but you’re not on.
Trust me when I tell you that your kids need you to do this. They need a mom who is not spent. They need a mom who has both love and energy to give them. They need a mom who has had enough time away that she actually enjoys being there and being “on.”
I know this whole idea might be stressing you out, but here’s the good news: It doesn’t actually require much. You know how it takes just a few minutes to put gas in the car, and then you can drive for miles and miles? You need more than a few minutes away from motherhood, but it doesn’t have to be a whole weekend or even a whole day. Just an hour or two of purposefully, consciously filling your tank can make a huge difference. Get your butt to a coffee shop or a bookstore or a spa or the gym or wherever you go to feel most like yourself. Take a book or your phone or your journal or your best friend—whatever you need to fill your empty tank. Maybe you just need a nap. Take one.
If you have no one who can watch your kids for an hour or two once in a while, join a moms group. If you don’t like the first one you try, keep looking. I promise, they are everywhere. Call your local churches. Call your local rec center. Call your city hall. Google “mom groups” and the name of your town. Finding just one like-minded mom who can kid-swap with you is a life-changer.
Whatever you do, don’t believe that what you’re feeling right now is what motherhood is supposed to be. Sometimes it sucks, yes. Sometimes it’s exhausting, yes. Those are universal truths. But if you feel like you’re standing on the edge of a cliff looking down, that’s a sign for you to step back and walk away for a while. I know it’s hard, but you will be amazed at how much a little refueling can change your whole outlook on motherhood.
The biggest hurdle is to let go of the idea that good moms don’t need breaks. Regular breaks will keep you from breaking. Good moms make sure their children’s mother is taken care of, period. So fuel up, Mama, for your kids’ sake as much as for your own. It’ll make you a better, happier, fuller mother, guaranteed.