As mothers, we can sometimes get caught up in a feeling that everything depends on us, and maybe, if we’re being truly honest, that if our families suffer, it’s our fault. If we forget to pack a snack and we’re out running an errand and a kid melts down because they’re hungry, we berate ourselves. We discipline ourselves. “It’s my fault they’re hungry. They wouldn’t be acting like this if I had brought a snack. It’s not their fault we’re out running errands at 4 PM.”
The internal dialogue can go on and on, slathered in guilt and harassment. We’d never say any of this to the majority of people we know, but we easily say it to ourselves. Maybe it’s just me? Maybe all the other moms out there speak nicer to themselves, but then again, maybe that’s just another way I attack myself. First I yell at myself about the snack, then about how I treat myself. Reprimanding myself for how I treat myself seems like an oxymoron.
So what are things that make me feel guilty? When my children are hungry because I didn’t plan ahead to have dinner ready on time, I feel guilty. When I sleep in and my husband leaves for work without breakfast, I feel like I’m not taking care of him and slacking as a wife. When I hear my kids wake up, I feel like I have to rush out and make breakfast so they feel loved and cared for, and also so they don’t get too hungry or too cranky.
I’m at a stage in my life where I’m questioning the expectations I’ve created, subconsciously and consciously, about what a “good mom” should be. I’m beginning to wonder if in all of this, I forgot to create an expectation of how I should care for and treat myself.
I’ve been struggling recently with anxiety, and this onset of nervousness has caused me to question its origin. A few nights ago I was supposed to be meeting my husband to give him our middle son, so he could take him to basketball practice and then head home with our other two for bedtime. As I drove to meet him, I began thinking about having to go home — and the anxious feelings slithered in. I asked myself what was causing the anxious feeling, and it came down to feeling stuck at home. I’d been home with my kids all day, it was seven at night, and I needed a break. I’m a homeschooling mom, so the next day was still a school day and I was feeling drained heading into the second half of the week.
What I wanted in that moment was to go to the gym and exercise. I was hoping it would help ease the anxious feelings as well. As I thought through wishing I had a babysitter I could call to sit at home with my other two, I realized that my husband was planning to take all three kids to basketball practice the next night because I had my Bible study group. I wondered if maybe he could take them tonight as well. I called and asked and he didn’t mind either way. The kids were excited to get to go to basketball and I headed off to the gym.
On the way to the gym though, I started to question myself. Was I running away from my anxiety? Should I have stayed home and dealt with it instead of running to the gym? Was I being selfish? My 6-year-old goes to bed at seven and now this would push his bedtime till eight. Should I have been more self-sacrificing and just stayed home so he could get to bed on time? I continued to the gym as planned, and in the end, I came home feeling relaxed and rejuvenated. My husband had arrived home a few minutes before I had, so the kids were already getting their pajamas on and heading to bed. Everyone seemed to survive; in fact, maybe even heading to bed happier than they would have earlier.
After the kids were in bed, I asked my husband if he thought I was running away from my anxiety. I mentioned feeling guilty for choosing to go to the gym, basically admitting I was feeling guilty for picking myself. He said he didn’t know if I was running away or not, but he did know that when he goes to play basketball once a week, that he never feels guilty. That thought really stuck with me. Was I making myself feel guilty when I didn’t need to? Do I have realistic expectations of what kind of mother I want to be? Have I maybe forgotten to include taking care of myself on my to-do list? And finally, do I really know what or how I feel about the situation?
Now, I don’t plan on heading out every night to hit the gym instead of getting my kids in bed, but I am beginning to look at taking my health into consideration as I plan my day. It’s been a growing process, and I’m still not sure what I think about choosing myself. I worry that I’ll become selfish in choosing what I want or need and then I worry I’ll lose myself if I don’t take better care of myself.
I’m a work in process, but I do know that God is doing big things in my life right now and I am hopefully optimistic that He’s really digging in and encouraging me to grow.
How do you choose to take care of yourself? What makes you feel guilty? Where do you draw a line between choosing your needs or your family’s needs?
Copyright 2019 Courtney Vallejo