…..children never forget. For this reason, it was so important what one said, and what one did, and it was a relief when they went to bed. For now she need not think about anybody. She could be herself, by herself. And that was what now she often felt the need of-to think; well, not even to think. To be silent; to be alone. All the being and the doing, expansive, glittering, vocal, evaporated; and one shrunk with a sense of solemnity, to being one self… (excerpt from ‘To the Lighthouse’ by Virginia Woolf)
The fog was thick this morning. I saw it through the window and wanted to be enveloped by it, to walk where everything was suffused with softness and the edges were blurred. But on a weekday morning there are other demands and concerns; I needed to ensure that my kids made the bus and had everything they needed. And yet… I longed for a walk around the block in the silence, the dense stillness. The fog’s transience and rarity made it only more compelling. I asked my kids if they would continue to get ready and be alright if I took a walk. They said yes but I felt I was in that familiar dance of attending to their needs and/or managing my own guilt. Could I carve out a space for myself? I took the walk. Quiet still silent the occasional early morning dog walker emerges from the soft gray the trees sway black bark peeking through the soft cloud cover the air is moist the scents of early spring occasional bursts of color yellow forsythia pink magnolia a sudden glimpse of fuchsia all enveloped in the softness of this moment of this day…. Returning home I saw everything was fine: both of my daughters were ready, happy, and made the bus.
So how do we as mothers make decisions regarding the hierarchy of needs? There is so much external and internal pressure to place one-self last. Certainly this is appropriate at times but when we live at the extreme we lose sight of ourselves completely. We are then more vulnerable to ‘burn-out’ as disconnection from our- selves leads us to feel numb, lonely, distressed, guilty, angry, desperate. Often, in this state, we don’t know what we feel, we just know it feels bad. To manage the distress, many moms seek solace in late night food binges and/or excessive alcohol intake, which can intensify feelings of inadequacy,distress, and shame.
We need to treat ourselves gently, with compassion, as lovingly as we treat our treasured children. Here are some suggestions that may be helpful:
1. Remember that you are a person with feelings and needs. This sounds so simple but often moms lose track of themselves in their effort to be self-less caregivers to their children. Caregivers do not need to be self-less. In fact, it is never a good idea to abandon yourself. Try saying, ‘I need to be especially compassionate and gentle with myself since mothering is so important and so exhausting and so emotionally taxing at times’.
2. Be available to signals from your body. Notice if there is increased tightness or discomfort in your jaw, chest, stomach—any part of your body. These are indicators that it’s time to check in with yourself and assess your stress level. These are cues that it’s time to increase your level of self-compassion and determine what might bring you back to a more comfortable baseline. If you can do this, you are much less likely to react with a short-fuse and more able to respond mindfully to a situation.
3. Try to identify what you find soothing. It may be meditating, exercising, watching television, listening to music, going for a walk, going to a movie, taking a bath, reading a book, petting your cat, staring at the wall….whatever helps you to center and relax.
4. Know that it is so important to carve out time for yourself. It’s as important as breathing, for only by doing this will you really be able to catch your breath!
5. Try not to isolate. Know that you are not alone with these feelings. Try being open about your experience and the likelihood is that other moms will know exactly what you’re talking about. Motherhood is amazing and wonderful and challenging and difficult ……allow yourself to hold the complexity and know that balancing your needs and the needs of your children is an ever-evolving process.