My wife Mel has been running lately, and I’ve noticed a few things. She looks pretty hot in running pants. But what I’ve noticed more than any physical stuff is that she’s taking more time for herself, and I couldn’t be happier about it.
She talks about her running goals. She fusses about her running shoes and her gear, and to be honest, this is the most I’ve seen her talk about herself and her own self-care since we had kids. She’s even suckered me into joining her on one of those social distancing 5Ks where everyone runs wherever they are on the same day and tracks themselves with an app.
Now listen, this is not a post where some husband talks about how his wife is working out and you all need to get in shape, children be damned. This is me saying that moms don’t take a lot of time to do things for themselves, and 90% of the reason they don’t is because they feel guilty about it, so when they do, it’s on us to make sure they feel supported.
There’s this notion built into most mothers’ DNA that tells them if they are not fussing over their children 24/7, they are doing it wrong. Then there is the judgment factor, and every mom wants to judge other moms for this or that, so it causes moms to burn the candle at both ends, never pausing for a moment to realize that their own needs are not being met.
I’m sure every mom reading this post can relate to those feelings.
A few years ago, Mel and I came up with an arrangement. We each would get three hours a week to ourselves, to do whatever we wanted. On Sunday afternoons, I’d usually go for a bike ride or work on writing. But when it was Mel’s turn, I usually had to fight her to break away from the family so she could go in the backyard and garden or go in our bedroom and read a book. For a long time, I didn’t understand this. Until one day when she mentioned that she has a difficult time breaking away, and taking time to herself didn’t feel as relaxing unless she had everything in order.
Naturally, with three kids, nothing will ever be in order, and she didn’t need to worry one bit about dropping her obligations to have some Mel time. But that didn’t matter, and every time Mel’s weekly time to herself came around, I had to remind her to take it. Only recently has it begun to sink in that she deserves this time.
I think most mothers struggle with these same feelings, and it doesn’t take much for them to feel guilty about taking time to themselves. One snide comment from their husband, one quid pro quo, one phone call to ask where something is, and they are shoved right back into the motherhood madness. And the reality is, mothers need time to not be mothers. They need time to be who they were before children, and one of the best things a husband can do to help them with that time is to be supportive of it.
Listen folks, if your wife mentions that she’s thinking of joining a gym, or taking up running, or cycling, or doing CrossFit, tell her to spend a little more on the better workout gear, or join the closer, nicer, gym; don’t squabble over the price. She knows the budget as well as you do. Pay for the competition entry fee and don’t call it a waste of money. Vocalize your encouragement in her journey.
If she decides she wants to join a book club or have a regular girls’ night with friends or start writing a book, put together a schedule, tend to the kids, and don’t complain about it.
And definitely don’t ask for favors in return.
It could be gardening, or blogging, or fixing up old cars, or scrapbooking, or meditation, or yoga, or sewing, or knitting… whatever it might be, support the heck out of her as she engages with it.
If you notice that your wife is starting to feel suffocated by spending all her time with those kids that won’t stop clinging and asking and wanting, work out a time for her to spend a few hours by herself. Then support her when she takes it, and don’t cave when the kids only want mom. Fight with those little buggers, and let them know that mom time is sacred time.
Above all, take all that guilt a mother feels for spending time and money on herself off the table and replace it with reassurance. Make sure that she feels comfortable making this a long lasting commitment to herself, and be with her for the long haul as she engages self care. Don’t become critical of it two weeks in; rather, still be encouraging of her 10 years out. View the time and money as an investment in her, your marriage, and your family, because that’s exactly what it is.
She will appreciate it, and honestly, after everything a mother gives to her family, she deserves it.