While I will always be my daughters’ mom, my years of active mothering are coming to a close.
My daughters are attending college locally, and I am blessed to have them living at home during this time. But, changes are afoot! My oldest daughter plans to move five hours away to begin her master’s program in counseling, and my youngest will soon be moving across the country to intern at Walt Disney World. Suddenly, I am facing an empty nest and my emotions are running a bit wild.
A mom’s life is busy.
When the girls were young, my husband was working full-time and taking night classes to complete his master’s program at a college 45 minutes from home. This left me holding down the fort as best I could.
I remember the days of waking up early, making sure everyone was fed, cleaned up, dressed, and out the door on time, and then going to work myself. After teaching a full day, I picked up the girls from school, and drove them to karate and ballet. Hurriedly, I ran errands while they were in classes, picked them up on time (usually), and rushed home. I helped with homework, made dinner, cleaned up, and supervised play time, bath time, and bedtime.
I tried to stay awake and semi-conscious long enough to connect with my husband for a few minutes before falling into bed, exhausted...only to begin it all again the next morning.
There wasn’t much room in there for self-care!
Self-care for moms seems like an oxymoron; kind of like jumbo shrimp. How do we fill our own emotional tank, as we care for the needs of our children?
I started thinking back to what I did for self-care before I was a mom. I had a long list: exercise classes, sewing and crafts, acting and singing, painting, and traveling. I pursued my dream career by working in theatre, film, and commercials. My teaching career was important to me, too, and I spent many extra hours developing programs, working on committees, presenting at conferences, and teaching college classes. I finished my master’s degree and considered completing a doctorate. I volunteered at church: using my gift to perform in scenes that Dr. Ted would use for sermon illustrations, led small groups, and hosted life-groups in our home. All of these activities fed my emotional well-being, made me feel a part of community, and that I was contributing to something bigger than myself.
When my husband and I decided to begin a family, I naively thought that being a mom would easily fit into this schedule. I thought I would, somehow, just take the baby along with me, feed her a few Cheerios every now and then, and go on with my life.
Then my first baby was placed in my arms.
And it all changed.
All of my hopes, my desires, my needs became secondary. In a moment, it became all about my child: What did she need? What does God have planned for her life? How do I support that plan through all that is to come?
And, Lord, help me to not mess it up!
Self-care became something I only caught a glimpse of in the rear-view mirror. The idea of taking care of myself—meeting my own needs—was something I could only fleetingly consider; usually only in moments of utter distress when my emotional tank was already hovering at empty.
The goals and dreams that God had placed in me––those things that made me “me”––faded to black as the day-to-day needs of my children, my husband, my home, and my job took over.
And, I’m sure I became a less than effective mom (and wife) because of it.
Did it have to be this way?
Certainly there is a winnowing, a pruning that needs to take place as we enter motherhood. Motherhood forces us to slow down, to look outside of ourselves, to be more present and attentive. It forces us to cut out the “junk.” And this is good, because we all are running way too fast, distracted by way too many things, and living way too far in the future.
But here’s a truth to consider: God doesn’t want us to lose who He created us to be in this season of motherhood. Instead, He wants to use who He created us to be to help our children become who He created them to be. And in order to do this well, we need to care for ourselves well.
During my season of motherhood, I have heard God say, “In order to help your children thrive, you need to care for the unique and wonderful person I created in you.”
We all need time with God, but fitting it in amongst the busyness of motherhood can be challenging. I’m sure you never do this, but when I would read my Bible at the end of a long day of mothering, I would fall asleep before I got to the second verse! So, I tried to do my devotions early in the morning...but I just kept hitting the snooze button. Although I recognized my need to draw close to God, it was so hard to be consistent, and I felt condemned by my inability to put Him first.
I had a find a new way, and I had to let myself off the hook for “not doing enough.” I came to realize the little moments of connection with my Savior were just as impactful as an hour of steady, focused study time. I learned to pray while I washed dishes, to leave my Bible open on the counter and read it while the kids were doing their homework, to be okay with journaling every now and then instead of daily. I learned to let my children share in my time with God, to sing songs of praise or pray with them while driving in the car, to talk with them about what God was speaking to me, and to help them learn to listen to His voice.
I learned that putting Him first meant including Him in my whole day. By doing this, He was able to help me understand the importance of this season of motherhood, and to help me to realize the importance of taking care of the special person He created me to be.
So, how do we take care of Momma? Here are three ways:
When I Google “self-care for moms,” I click on a site that promises to give me self-care tips that will help me “feel healthy, look great, and live a joyful life all while juggling a family and career.” Apparently, I am supposed to do things like exercise, take baths, and nap when the baby naps.
But, you know what? All those things just sound like more work to me!
Frankly, I hate exercise (bless those of you who love it), so while I know it’s good for me and I do it grudgingly, I don’t really find it fun. Baths? I get bored sitting in the bathtub, and if I lie down for a nap, my mind starts racing with all the things I am not getting done, which just adds to my stress level. So, while these ideas may be great for some moms, they really don’t fill my emotional tank.
Here’s my point: emotional self-care is individual, and we each need to identify what it is that will fill our unique emotional tank.
If, like me, you have trouble identifying self-care, think back to the days before kids. What did you do just for you? Maybe you, too, need to dust off that sewing machine, or your art supplies, or find a theatre group to join. Maybe you want to take a class, or (bless your heart) you really do want to train for a marathon.
What was fun for you back then might be just as fun for you now!
I have always been somewhat of an introvert, so seeking out friendships has been a challenge for me. I know I need relationships, but I have a hard time truly believing anyone would want to hang out with me; I have used the busyness of motherhood as an excuse to avoid letting others know the real me.
And, after all, I have my husband and my kids to fulfill my relational needs, right?
My husband can’t be all things to me, and God did not create my kids to fulfill my own relational needs.
We weren’t meant to go through this alone. Motherhood can be extremely isolating. It’s easy to put relationships at the bottom of our list and think we will get to them “someday.” But God is relational, and we are created in His image. We need each other, whether that means connecting socially with other moms, seeking out guidance from a trusted mentor, or asking for help from your parents, your siblings, or your husband.
Plan this week to reach out to a friend or mentor for coffee. Consider it a playdate for yourself! You will be better for the effort.
And you will find, as I have, that people really do like you!
As I look back, I realize I didn’t live purposefully enough in the moments of motherhood. Like most moms, I treasured the “getting it done” more than the “doing.” Some days it felt like I was on a ridiculous merry-go-round, racing on to the next task, only to wake up the next day and do it all again. Rarely did I stop to embrace the beauty of the moment.
Here’s a radical, out-of-the-box idea about emotional self-care for moms: find it in the “mom moments” of life!
These mom moments can be truly rewarding: sharing the wonder of new experiences with your child; teaching them about their world; helping them learn to love God and seek out His voice; and discovering His purpose for their lives.
Certainly, not all mom moments are happy ones! But finding the beauty in the moment is what allows us to find joy in our calling of motherhood, no matter what the circumstances. Claim it as a blessing that you are the one who can comfort your colicky infant, help your angry child learn to manage their emotions, or comfort your teen in their moments of heartbreak.
Life is not made of big events, but of single moments of time. Self-care should be this way, too, especially during our season of motherhood. Self-care in the form of spontaneous adventures, spa days, or expensive shopping sprees are, let’s face it, not going to happen very often! But, motherhood gives us a new outlook and a new ability to purposely find joy in the small moments. This can be the greatest emotional self-care of all.
Yes, my years of active motherhood are coming to a close. My daughters are now young adults, embracing new adventures, new ideas, new lives that don’t always include me. My time is again becoming my own. My emotional self-care needs are, again, changing.
And this time is bittersweet.
In these mom moments, I wonder: Did I do enough for them? Did I teach them well? Did I tell them often enough about God’s love for them and His plan for their lives? Did I teach them to fill their own emotional tanks?
Then, I pick up a text from my oldest daughter that reads: “Just a friendly reminder that I love you!” And when my youngest hears she was accepted to the Disney College Program, she chooses to call me first.
I claim the joy in these moments, as I realize that my children have become two of the people I like most in this world.
My tank is full.
Shari is a Pastoral Sex Addiction Professional (PSAP) with Pure Desire. She also is a Special Education Teacher at David Douglas High School. She also has experience in performing arts and ministry. She has been a part of the Clinical Team at Pure Desire since 2011.