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It seems silly that I have to think of this occasionally, but, yes, in addition to all the hats we wear at this party called parenthood, Mommy is a person. Some moms are great at being people; they know how to balance their own needs with the needs of their families, they are happy and fulfilled, and they are respected by themselves and their loved ones. Over the past nine years, I have learned so much from the examples of mommy-people around me, and this article is what I wish I had read at the very start.
Mothers have an amazing capacity to love and care for their families. We do not expect our lives to be unchanged once we get to have children; their laughter, smiles, darling antics, and the love that radiates from them (even as infants) are worth whatever it takes. The challenge comes when we start to feel like martyrs and forget that behind the snuggles, carpools, discipline, and endless procession of meals, we are still women.
The first time I remember wondering where “April” had gone was during lunch one afternoon when I sat down with my three young children to eat a sandwich. Before I had even gotten past the crust, someone wanted a refill of milk, another needed a side of cheese, and a third wanted the sandwich opened, not folded. You’ve been there, right? I didn’t like the frustration I felt, so the next time we all sat down to eat, I did things a little differently. After serving everyone their food (and a napkin and drink and utensils), I asked, “Does everyone have everything they need? I’d like you to tell me right now because I am going to sit down and eat my food. I’m not getting up again until I’m done because Mommy is a person. Let’s say that all together. Mommy…is…a person. That’s right. I get to eat, too. Everyone is all set? Great!”
It took a few days of training before my children stopped asking for things mid-meal, but it actually worked! Sometimes I have to stifle a giggle at the dinner table because I’m deliriously excited to actually eat a whole plate of food in one sitting. Now my son will say, “Mom, can I have another roll with jelly…when you’re done eating?” I want to kiss him on his head and say, “Bless you, child!”
What surprised me was how quickly everyone agreed to my person-hood. My children want me to be happy—they’re really not trying to be overly-demanding. It’s just that they are children. I need to let them know what I need. This epiphany has helped me in many areas of my life, so I have included a few ideas below that will hopefully be helpful to other moms out there.
Deep down, we need to think of ourselves as people
I once read a book called The Sacrificial Mother, which describes many mothers who sacrifice pretty much all of themselves for the sake of their children. For example, they dress their children in designer clothes and provide them with lessons of all kinds, yet they dress themselves in old sweats and never take time to do things they enjoy. Over time, this habit leads to depression and frustration, and often the sacrificial mothers simply want a way out.
We know that if we really want to have the stamina, enthusiasm, and patience to raise great children, we need to take care of ourselves first. The common airplane/oxygen mask analogy applies here: you put the mask on yourself so you can then care for your little ones. Underneath the title of “Mommy” is a real live lady with her own name who is just as important as everyone else.
There are certainly times when sacrifice is necessary and noble. We give up sleep for the sake of our newborns or sick children, we let the house get messier than we’d like it so our children can play and enjoy the excitement of childhood, we give our children the last grape popsicles (even though that’s our favorite flavor) because their eyes light up when they see the color purple. Each of us has benefited from the sacrifice of a mother, and we are dedicated to sacrificing for our own children, but throughout all this, we need to believe that we are of value as women…as people.
All people get to do certain things
There is definitely a balance between realizing this time is not just about us and recognizing that an empty well can not give water. To further explore this topic, I have made a list of some basic things that people get to do.
(1) People get to use the restroom. As a little girl, I would lay on the carpet in the hallway and watch my mother’s feet through the gap under the bathroom door. I would beg her to please come out soon. Did I have nothing else to do? I’m paying for it now—everyone wants to sit right next to me and talk, read books, or climb on my lap. It does get a little tricky, but as my children get older, I am starting to want a little more privacy—and that’s okay!
(2) People get to take a shower and get ready for the day. My days of 45-minute showers are a distant memory, but as long as I move relatively quickly, the lunch-packing, permission-slip-signing, and squabble-solving can wait a few more minutes. While awaiting the birth of my first daughter, I told my husband, “I’m not going to be that kind of mom that is still in her pajamas at 9 am. I’m going to get dressed and ready every day.” I ate my words not more than a week after my daughter was born, and we took a photo to celebrate the day I became “that kind of mom.” The time and frequency of the “getting ready” is negotiable, but when we have the desire and ability to do so, we don’t need to feel guilty about it.
(3) People get to exercise. This definitely can take some planning and creativity, but exercise relieves stress and has so many other benefits—isn’t it funny that when the day gets hectic, that is often the first thing to go? I haven’t always been the best at this, but generally, we’ve been able to make this work. Gym memberships and jogging strollers are great to have, but exercise can happen at home, too. I used to do a pilates video a few times a week, and my children liked to throw their big bouncy balls at my feet while I did the “kick-kick front, kick-kick back.” It kept them entertained, and I got a little workout. Exercise is not always easy, but it’s worth the effort!
(4) People get to read. We are constantly encouraged by society to read to our children, make plenty of books available to them, and sign up for the library’s Summer Reading Program, but outside of my book club or casual conversations with my girlfriends, no one seems to care if I pick up a book or not. Reading is one of the best ways for us to keep our minds sharp, enriched, and excited about life. It is okay to sit down sometimes and read while our children play or read near us. We can slip a book into our diaper bags or carry a great volume with us in case we have to wait somewhere. At the library, I used to avoid the adult section at all costs because my children would get bored and noisy. Now, I ask, “Do you want to get your books first, or do you want me to get my books first?” I look up the titles and call numbers on the Internet before I go, so I don’t have to peruse the aisles while saying, “SHHHHH!” over and over again, but now we all come home with great books, and I’m a happy camper…er, reader.
(5) People get to think. Julia Roberts once told Oprah that when she became a mommy, her brains fell out. Oprah wasn’t sure what to make of that, but all the moms in the audience were nodding with understanding. It takes everything I’ve got to keep my brain synapses firing when I am in the midst of “mommying.” When I had three children under four years old, the noise was sometimes too much. My oldest child was very verbal, and I would sometimes have to say, “Alia, Mommy needs 15 minutes of quiet so she can think.” One time Alia responded very seriously, “If I stop talking, my body will die.” Somehow I convinced her otherwise, and she went along with my request, but think-time is like gold, and it’s all right to ask for it.
6) People get to have conversations with other people. We can’t spend all our family time talking on the phone with our friends or chatting online—our children need us. However, if we would like to have a reasonably-lengthed conversation with another adult, that is an acceptable request. If my children need me while I’m talking to someone else, they come hold my hand until there’s a break in the conversation (Okay, actually, they interrupt all the time, and I have to keep asking them to please hold my hand if they need something. Occasionally they remember, but not very often).
(7) People get to snuggle with their spouses. I like to sit by my husband, and if we want to smooch in the kitchen while the kids are yelling “Gross!” that’s okay.
(8) People get to take a break. In the general work-force, each employee gets a lunch break and a couple of short breaks during the day…enforced by the law. When I am home with my children, no one is knocking on my door saying, “Excuse me, but did Mrs. Perry get her nap in today? We’re here to make sure she has a twenty-minute break for every four hours she works.” That would be great, but we are the ones responsible for planning our own breaks. We can sit down and put our feet up every once in awhile, take a night away when we’re in need of some rejuvenation…whatever we can creatively come up with. It is an investment in our families!
(9) People get to dream. Just because we’re caught up in the pressing needs of our children doesn’t mean that we can’t think about our own goals and dreams. I know one mom who’s working on her “six-pack”, one who is training to be a photographer, another who wants to travel with her children all over the world…there is no right or wrong way to dream, but let’s not forget that dreaming is a wonderful activity! If we want our dreams to come true someday, those dreams have to exist in the first place.
(I’m sure there are probably several more that I haven’t even listed, but you get the picture. If you would like to add an idea, you can list them in the “Comments” section below.)
Your goal is to be better than “sane”
One evening as my husband and I were trying to figure out our schedule, he said, “How can I best be of help to you this week?” I looked at my calendar and then replied, “Well, to be sane, I need…” and I proceeded to list a couple of things he could help me with so I could complete all the “have-to’s” for the week. What my husband said next was so sweet that I almost jumped into his arms. He said, “April, I don’t want you to just be ‘sane’, I want you to thrive.” That was a whole new perspective for me. After thinking about his question for three seconds, I replied, “WELL THEN…here’s what I need to thrive. I need 8 hours of sleep during each 24-hour period, four days of exercise, three hours at the library each month…alone, a date night once a week…and I went on for awhile more. Nothing was unreasonable, just formerly unmentioned. I recognize that not everyone has the support of a loving spouse. We each have our own challenges, and we need to figure out how we can thrive in the circumstances we are in. What do you need in order to thrive?
Why does all this matter?
Because YOU matter. Maybe no one has told you that today, but you are important—not just because you do a whole lot of work for everyone else, but because you are a person. There are times in our lives when we are out of balance—when we have a newborn, when our week is incredibly hectic, etc.—but as we treat ourselves as people, we will feel happy, valued, and more content with our families. We will be able to see more clearly what we have to offer the world, and we will teach our children that if they get the precious opportunity to become parents, they will still be people, too! Being a mommy is the greatest…I hope you can enjoy the process and treasure every moment because you are a person.
QUESTION: What do you do to remind yourself of your “person-hood”?
CHALLENGE: Choose (at least) one way you are going to be a “person” from now on, and enjoy!
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Said this on 6-27-2008 At 09:26 am
April, you are awesome! These are great insights for moms. I’m glad you’re putting such great things out there for us.
Said this on 5-5-2009 At 11:31 am
Loved this article! It really hit home. Just yesterday, after an especially frustrating time with my 13 year old son (who despite his incredible potential somehow just isn’t the perfectionist that I am – and I have a hard time dealing with that fact) I told my kids to tell their dad that I was leaving and not sure when I’d be back. I put on my walking shoes and headed out the door not sure of my destination or how far I would really take my threat. My 10 year old and 3 year old followed along and begged me not to leave. Luckily a walk around the neighborhood (with concerned kids in tow) gave me the strength to return and say I was sorry to my son. I truly believe my frustration and lack of tact with my kids lately is due to the fact that I don’t feel worthwhile anymore. My teenager disregards any advice I give and the kids often ignore me or roll their eyes when I ask them to practice or help out. Once top notch at everything, I now often feel that I am a failure as a mother. Given that I have let everything but my kids slide, I feel pretty depressed. I have given it all away and not filled my own reserves. I am recommitting myself to me. I will seek out opportunities to build freindships, get involved in the community and possibly try out for a play or join a choir. I will have my kids repeat over and over that “Mommy is a person” so I can eat dinner too and possibly even get help cleaning up afterward!
Said this on 1-7-2010 At 03:13 pm
I love this! I have definitely been there, in fact i was thinking this just today (about just trying to finish a 30 minute workout that ended up lasting 1 1/2 hours due to the interruptions and then again at lunch) Great read, with wonderful ideas I will be trying!
Said this on 3-28-2010 At 05:20 am
April –This is a great post!
Said this on 4-3-2010 At 06:21 pm
I needed this advice years ago. All I can say is WOW! What a major “ah ha” moment for me. Thanks so much for recording these thoughts.
Said this on 4-6-2010 At 12:11 pm
Thanks! I’ve recently become involved as a leader in a service club for my kids. I’ve also been invited to be on a couple of city advisory councils. I used to think this wasn’t okay since my kids are all under the age of 8, but now that I’ve reaped the rewards of fulfillment and feeling like a PERSON that can give outside my home (and in my home) it has been a tranformation. I’m so much happier. I am enjoying my hobbies again! Being a mother is super wonderful, and super hard and it’s nice to sometimes complete work that is recognized and valued by others. Thanks for the post.
Said this on 8-4-2010 At 08:00 am
I always tell my kids, no seconds for you until I’m done with my firsts… it’s such a simple thing, but I think it helps kids stop and think about the many demands they make on mothers. Great article!