Mom-life Crisis

My first baby is 9 years old, and I have been thinking about how that means that I am midway through parenting him.  9 years more, and he will be 18, moving out and heading to college, making his own choices and finding his way in the world.  Of course, I will always be his mother, and I know that my parents continue to parent me, in different ways, now that I am an adult child, but the really intense day to day parenting job is halfway done.

Maybe it is this halfway mark that has caused me to itch for something for myself, maybe it is because we are out of survival mode and I have a chance to look around and take stock, but I have realized that at this stage in my life the best thing that I can do for myself and my family is to have some time away from them doing something that I loved to do when I was younger.

My life’s dream, in the process of coming true, is to be married to a man I love, have a home and a family, to give my life to God through service of that family, and to do it with joy.

After nine straight years of moving rapidly in and out of survival mode, I have gotten very, very good at the practical parts of serving my family, I have learned to cook, drive a big van, teach spelling and make gingerbread, but the joy part was often lacking.  Sure, I was happy in the happy times and I thought that the babies were cute, I was strong in the tougher times and good at getting through each day, but I was losing touch with the person who was something other than a teacher, cook or laundress.  When you have a baby at 23, you get practice at putting aside your dreams and serving the greater good of the family, but do the children and husband really benefit from having a house run by a woman who just looks at getting through each day?  Is it truly giving my life to God if it doesn’t really feel like my life anymore?

Along the way I have found little ways to tap into joy and to hold on to myself.  Photography and writing have been wonderful parts of my life, and I know that I am always happier when I have a good book on my bedside table.

This winter I am exploring something much, much bigger.  I am fulfilling a secret, impractical dream, to spend my days skiing.  I am training to be a professional ski instructor in an Adaptive program, where I will teach skiing to disabled children and adults.  So far I have put in 3 of the 8 training days required.  The first day, I would randomly tell people that I had six children, I had to say it in introduction along with my name because it was so much a part of me, and because I had no identity outside of that fact.  By the third day, however, I was just excited to be out and skiing, to use pro vocab and tech talk, to make hot short radius turns and keep up with the guys, there were actually moments when I was able to exist outside of my role as a mother.  I realized in the course of that day that being a wife and mother is my calling but it does not, and should not, have to exclude any other interests.

So, I am doing this sort of crazy, self indulgent thing, my kids will have to spend several hours in the car to get to the mountains each weekend and my husband will be responsible for them, on and off of the slopes, while I train and work, but I am so, so glad.  When I ski I am in touch with a deep joy that I don’t experience at any other time.  This has been true for me since I was a little girl, and I realized as a teen that mountains were religious places for me.  I do not go through the motions of faith, I truly believe, I am in wonder and awe of God when I am on a mountain, in the snow.  The only other time I have experienced that feeling is in the moments following the birth of a child.

There are a lot of complicated logistics involved in getting this time on the mountain.  We have had to buy new clothes and equipment, we will establish a weekend routine for the kids and give up most of our extracurricular activities during the week.  We also have to say no to all invitations and activities on winter weekends, which is sort of intense. My parents did it, when we were kids, and I know that we were all better for it, but until now I had little idea what it required of them in terms of thought, commitment and finance.  My husband is being so generous and flexible to make it work, and I am very thankful for that.  I am so, so excited.

I had thought for a long time that I would have to wait until my children were grown to get a life.  I love my children and being a mother, but every time I had a baby I would get a little bit depressed thinking that the clock had started over, I had just added another 18 years of parenting to my tally.  While my first baby is nine, my baby is only 2, so by the time he goes to college I will have been mothering for 25 years.  If I am going to do more than make it through those years, if I am going to live them with joy as a daughter of God, I need to do it in a way that is not soul crushing, making some room for the things that lift my spirit.  If I am going to have more children, I am going to need to find some time for me in the midst of my mothering.

Now, I know that some who are in total survival mode are going to be upset when they read this.  Easy for you to say, they feel, of course I want a hobby but I have a baby at the breast, my family has no money for babysitting and I can barely take a shower, let alone whole weekends away.  I hear you, I have been there, and I will probably be there again.  If you feel that there is little joy in what you are doing each day, think of one small thing that you might do just for you each day.  Maybe it is a bath after the children are in bed, a run in the early morning, or a babysitter and a haircut.  But lets be honest with ourselves, if you have gotten to the point where a haircut feels like an unreasonable luxury, things have gone too far.  Take a few deep breaths and talk to your husband about how you can get a little bit of personal time, and then use it in a way that energizes and refreshes you.  This last part can be tricky, because there are all sorts of things that we use our time for that do not energize and refresh us — grocery shopping, for example, is not personal time, but if your husband will stay home with the kids while you shop, suggest that you take 15 minutes before you go into the store to sit in a cafe and drink a latte by yourself, just those moments might be a big help in survival mode.  PTA committee work is not really personal time, but you might make some friends there and then make time for a moms night out.  A shower is not a luxury, but if you have some wonderful body wash and take a little extra time to blow dry your hair, it might be enough to refresh you for a better day.  One mistake that I made early on was to spend a lot of my limited personal time at the mall.  I thought that this was practical, clothes needed to be bought, and that I would be renewed by coming home with something stylish.  I often over spent, or got resentful that the stylish clothes did not fit my mom body, and I was always exhausted by the crowds and sensory overload.  Now, shopping might float your boat, or exercising, or reading, but whatever it is, find something that you really love to do and do it by yourself from time to time.  I am begging you.  Husbands, if you are reading this, don’t just make time for your wife to do this, ask her to and encourage it, because if she is like me the first few times she will be so wracked with guilt that she might quit going.  And, while she is gone, enjoy parenting in your own way, make Dad food like scrambled eggs for dinner, and assure her that you cherish that time with the children, and that they will always remember it, like my brothers remember the weekend when my Dad took them to see Blazing Saddles while my mom and I were visiting friends in Missouri.  And, as a side note, moms, when you get home, do not criticize or correct the way that your husband parented, if you ever want personal time again.

Making time for yourself is important, and you may find that your family is more responsive and respectful of that need than you expect.  For me, the main obstacles were internal.  You can find some personal time to renew your joy, it may be a lot of time or just a little but it requires some things of you:

Assessing what would be refreshing

Saying no to some other things that you could be doing with your time

Letting go enough to allow someone else to care for your home and children while you are out

Being efficient about your home tasks to make some extra time (grocery shopping online, for example)

Being flexible when plans get changed or cancelled

Finding a calm and rational tone to ask for what you need and asserting yourself

So, mom, say it to yourself before your teenagers say it to you, go out there and GET A LIFE!

===Updated to say, in the comments please share personal indulgences, big or small, that help keep the joy in your life, I was just thinking that music can be one, I forget to put on music but when I do it adds so much joy to our day, especially Christmas music!

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  • Excellent. Truly excellent. Been there, burned out, didn’t have any choice so went on burning, found the ‘quiet spot in my soul’, recovered. nnIt is SO hard to find what truly refreshing, rather than just an indulgence. You’ve nailed it by pointing out that your source of refreshment is one that allows God into your heart in a different way. nnHappy for you. Happy skiing.nn

  • Anonymous

    MaryAlice, I agree so much, and I don’t think this should be upsetting for anyone to read. I have found that, when I’m pulling out of survival mode, I experience the natural pull to “get a life”; in survival mode, the tasks before me are so demanding that I can’t really even imagine becoming personally whole again. It’s WONDERFUL to go back to the things we love, from the pre-family life, but now with our families as our reason for living instead of ourselves–it is so rich and joyful, those are my moments of deepest gratitude.nnSurvival mode is time in the crucible where we can’t tell yet how we’re growing in unity with Christ and supernatural joy.The non-survival times are where we reap the benefits, both natural and supernatural.nnI can imagine just what you describe on the ski slopes–that is running for me, both recreational and racing. It is religious; I experience God there in a complete, close, and private way, just slightly less than in the tabernacle and Eucharist. I love the quote from Chariots of Fire: “God made me fast, and when I run I feel his pleasure.” It so much more than that, I could go on and on! God gives us our gifts and our loves to be enjoyed and to make us more whole, whether we are single or married and/or moms of many.nnOne more thing: I think having an alive mom speaks volumes in transmitting the joy of the vocation of motherhood to the children, especially the daughters. Not just to combat the teenager “get a life, mom” attitude, but all the way through, in seeing a mom who is, for the most part, ALIVE in her vocation, with intellectual interests, a passionate spiritual life, athleticism, a fulfilling social world, community involvement, hobbies.

  • Kerry

    this was really good to read, and I found myself thinking of my own mother- with 8 children under the age of 14….going to classes at the jr college, volunteering, and eventually getting her Masters when the kids were just a bit older.nAll that kept her incredibly sane and peaceful through the crazier years.n:)

  • Erin

    How did you know that getting a haircut has become a luxury in our house?! rnrnAfter working with our first baby, staying at home now with two (and hoping for more) has become my luxury. I feel privileged and luxuriuos when I don’t have to put on work clothes in the morning and my two year old asks “What we going to today?” and i can fill in the answer any way I want to! BUT, I admit I am in the honeymoon stage of full-time childrearing. There have been fleeting moments in my stay-at-home bliss that I wonder if I am still athletic, or spirited, or funny, like I was in high school or college. Will my kids know I was a great athlete, or will I get lazy and complacent and they will only know me as a mom for the rest of their lives? When I became a mom, did I stop being the soccer player, artist, runner, water-skier? Was that the trade off? Are the two identities compatible without too much sacrifice by those I am supposed to be serving? I have often justified losing my previous interests/identity with the mantra “this [motherhood] is my identity now.” rnrnThank you for this post, even though I am in the early stages of what you are now halfway through— it is a good reminder to hang onto through the years to come. rnrn

  • Bethany

    As you said, my biggest obstacle is internal. I sing in my parish choir. I’m not very good at it, but I enjoy it, very much. And even if all I make it to is practice on Wednesday evenings, that is still two hours that is just for me and it does refresh me. nnBut often I find myself so worn out by the time Wed evening arrives that I tell myself I don’t want to go. I know I would feel better and refreshed if I went, but I’ll talk myself out of it, simply because laying in bed after putting the children down to sleep is easier, at least in thought. nnUnlike most, I didn’t really have a hobby before my kids. I had to quit playing sports due to bad knees, and up until my knee went out in high school that was all I did. It’s hard to created a hobby in the midst of child-rearing. You have know idea how many containers of scrapbooking paraphernalia, cross-stitching accoutrements, collectibles and other sundry items I have scattered all over my house desperately wanting to be reclaimed as a hobby, but I feel as though I don’t have the time. And like with choir practice, even when I have a spare moment, I’d rather be sleeping. nnAt least with Choir I can see other people and they rely on me to be there, most Weds, even if I can’t make it Sunday mornings.

  • KC

    I have not been very good at doing this for some years, but as someone whose biggest hobby pre-children is now what I do for a job (from home), I found that volunteering with the elderly was so refreshing. It might not sound like “me time” to some, but to feel like I was helping someone outside of my immediate circle of family and friends and to put the whole range of life in perspective by spending a few hours with someone 75+ was huge for me. And when I feel like I can’t get a quiet second, I think of those so lonely and offer my impatience up for them. Once my children get a bit older, I can’t wait to bring them along to read to the elderly or entertain them in other ways.

  • I couldn’t agree more! This has been a rather recent breakthrough for me, and realizing that it was OK to take care of myself was so lifechanging that I ended up writing a series at my blog on how I realized I needed self-care, the struggle to get over the false guilt, and ideas on how to give myself the care I need.rnrn

  • Anonymous

    Loved this post. These lessons have hit me hard this year. As an extrovert, my outlet must be at least partially social. I used to find some freedom through volunteer work at my church, but as my home obligations piled up, what was previously an outlet became just another obligation. At this crazy time in my life I think it is important to let go of extra obligations outside the home (such as church volunteer work) and spend at least some time each week doing something I truly enjoy, even if that means a regular moms night out or time out to dinner with friends. Like JM, I also really like to run, and I’m debating taking a pottery class this spring!

  • Amen!! Thank you for sharing this, a truth mothers need to hear, time and again. We are called to multiple vocations in our lives, and the negotiation that must be done to respond to these calls is an act of faithfulness to the God who calls us. Blessings to you and your family as you answer this call and give an example to all of your children about the multiple and varied ways God beckons to us!nnBesides my work in theology (which I truly feel is a vocation, although a challenging one to balance with the vocation to marriage and motherhood as well), I find great joy in writing. I have come to see this as an important part of my vocation, a gift I’ve been given to share and a way to center myself spiritually. So making time to blog, to write poetry, to journal – all this keeps me refreshed and centered in my vocation to mothering.

  • JMB

    For me, when my youngest child started first grade and I had a good 6 hours of solitude and quiet during the day, I felt like I came alive. I realized that my preoccupation with counting the years until the kids could be in school was a sign that perhaps the preschool days for me was survival mode. I have yet to look back longingly for those days because they were so hard for me. nnNow I truly rejoice in my little window of freedom, which lost an hour due to my high schooler’s earlier dismissal. But I have enough time to walk the dog, clean the house, go food shopping, go to Daily Mass, volunteer at school library and run to school to drop off forgotten lunches, sports equipment, homework, etc. I’m truly grateful for this time.

  • Wow- this is such a great post!nWhen I am home with a newborn, my biggest indulgence is scrapbooking. My husband takes care of the rest: dinner, baths, bedtime, cleanup, etc. and I just work up in our room for hours. I stay up as late as I want and he takes care of the morning duties too. I do stop to nurse the baby though! nRight now I have two indulgences: twice a week, I go to a stroller fitness class. The youngest kids come with me, but it is like a playdate for them, so they are happy. My other indulgence is that every other Friday, I get together with a group of friends for a discussion group on home management. Again, I bring the kids, but since there are a bunch of other kids there, they play happily. These activites are luxuries for me since I feel like the time I spend on them should be spent on housework. But I know by now that the housework isn’t going anywhere! If I take care of myself first, I am able to tackle the housework with more energy and cheerfulness.

  • Just wanted to say, this is an incredibly cool post. I think mainly because yes, there is lots of media about this “mommy burn-out” concept but at the same time I don’t think we get to hear a lot from the actual mothers themselves, what moms are actually feeling going through it (and sometimes I think we’re so burnt out we don’t know how or what to feel!)nIn addition to the “who am I as a woman?” question I think the “who are we as a couple?” (sans children) question is another important one. Sadly it seems many women and couples have unnecessary difficulty with these transition times when children leave the home, e.g. “empty nest” syndrome etc. because they lose themselves in the process of parenting. n I’ve really had to confront this as a single mom with my son being special needs. I laughed so hard at the Builders posts about finding time for a shower because I am so right there! But with my son I know there’s no such thing as a “sleepless phase” a “diapers phase” or an “at home” phase because he will always be in those situations, always need full monitoring, help eating, and he will always need full care. In a way it has forced me to carve out time for friends, hobbies and showers right now in the present because I don’t live under the illusion that “i’ll have time for myself later…” It’s also really forced me to squash my perfectionist tendencies because I’m learning that i’m actually a better mom if i capitalize on those rare times outside of work and household chores to recharge. Also learning that I don’t have to be really talented at a hobby in order to enjoy it. nnIt will probably sound ridiculous but for me, I LOVE dying my hair every six weeks. Although salons are not in my budget I never really liked them so don’t miss them. Just being able to have someone watch my son while I indulge in a frivolous beauty routine and then get a hot shower to boot….priceless! I am a new woman. nnAlso running on the treadmill while watching music videos. It results in happy endorphins, the chance to see what’s new in music, and is a guaranteed shower because no one else in the house wants to smell me 😉

  • AWOL Mommy

    Kyra, your comment has really caused me to “keep it real” this week. Thank you for sharing your reality– it really grants a sense of perspective. You and your son have my prayers.

  • Oh my gosh, I’m so glad I clicked on this post and read this today. I have a 2 month old and have just started treatment for postpartum. I REALLY needed to hear these encouraging words. Thank you so much!

  • Mary Alice

    Hang in there and be assertive about getting the help you need!

  • LMG

    Mary Alice–nnThank you for the candid post. nnWe have recently enrolled our toddler in a home school program once a week so that I can spend an hour in adoration. nnIt’s the only time that I am able to contemplate anything (we’re still in survival mode with a new baby) and every time I go, He heals and refreshes me. nnHighly recommended. nn

  • “Also learning that I don’t have to be really talented at a hobby in order to enjoy it”- wow! I never thought of that before- thanks for the encouragement and insight!

  • AWOL Mommy

    This post was wonderful.nnI am the biggest user of our Army chapel’s free childcare here in Germany. I take every opportunity I can to brew coffee, serve baked goods and gather women to study God’s Word, the saints, Mary.. all of it. Sometimes I am the only one who shows up, but it is refreshing nonetheless. I can’t imagine life without this extrovert-tastic form of MomBrain time. Added benefits are that I have made the most amazing friendships of anywhere I have ever lived and I am learning enough about the faith to feel comfortable teaching the older CCD classes.nnSkiing though, that is a whole new level of rad. Thanks for taking the time to inspire, as always.

  • Lucy

    I have a 6 week old, so I’m very much in survival mode right now, but it was so comforting to read this post and remember that it won’t be very long really before there’s time for taking care of myself in bigger ways. Right now, it’s usually just a shower or a short visit with friends without the kids. But in a few months, I’ll be able to do bigger things to take care of myself. Thank you for reminding me of that.nnAlso, reading this blog is one of the little things I do for me. It refreshes me to read all of your thoughtful posts.

  • Good for you! I agree, we must find ways to feed our own spirits as we nurture the spirits of little ones… I have always been surprised to see how thrilled my husband is to support me when there’s something I’m passionate about. For me these days, there are some little things, like going for a hike or run, and some big things, like being the children’s minister at our church. All have required some family rearranging, but have been wonderful, nurturing, life-giving things. Good luck on the slopes!

  • Kate

    It’s crazy for me to think that I’m out of survival mode already, really for several months now…now that my “baby” is 14 months, I just can’t believe that she is that big, and independent. I’m filled with such joy to read this post, because I can feel the excitement, wonder, and revelation in your words and I because love you I feel it right along with you. I think it speaks to our success as mothers when we are able to carve out this time, to give our families the space to discover different opportunities of time without us, whether it be with daddies, grandparents, or sitters.nI have recently started exercising in the early mornings and it is at times hard to imagine the wonderful moments of the first wakings, the snuggles in bed, the scampering between rooms that is happening while I am out in our town, but it is such a time of beauty out in the world as well. My community in particular seems to full at that time of women who are out reveling in their few moments of solitude and reflection.nnPart of our weddings vows was a passage from Rilke that my husband and I repeat to each other often, it was “a good marriage is that in which each partner imparts the other to be a guardian of his solitude”…guardian of your solitude…a beautiful thing!

  • Texas Mommy

    This is awesome on so many levels! nnCan Dash be in your adaptive ski program?!?! Last year was our first experience with it and it was fantastic for our family. nnThe reason I did ski team in college despite the craziness and headaches it involved and losing every Saturday was that feeling of freedom and joy, of being able to breath the cold fresh air, of feeling like there is no one but you and God for a moment. For me, skiing also elicits a feeling of just being. Not doing, not working, just pure, fluid motion and a clear mind. Just saying that, while you could have picked something that is a lot easier logistically, I agree that skiing is worth the effort!!!

  • Gabie

    When our son was a year and a half old, my husband encouraged, pushed, cajoled, financed me to get trained a yoga instructor – something that I’d been saying I would “really like to do” since we had met. It took 6 months and it was really hard leaving my little guy at first for 3-4 hours a day, but he was with a dear friend (who is the mother of a dear friend) and was happy with her. It was a great experience, in so many different ways. Now he is 3 and I’m teaching out of our home a few days a week, and most of my students are ex-pat mommies like me, looking for a little space of time to step away from the stresses of life and get some exercise as well as some time of silence and stillness.

  • B-mama

    Mary Alice, just have to include one extra comment– way to go. This is just awesome and you give me such hope for the future. I love that you are bringing your family along for the ride. Your kids will be so in awe of their mother rocking it on the slopes!! Kids need to be proud of their parents too! nnI have a 10k in sights for the spring and already have gained so much from the few training runs I have under my belt. Running, for me, is glorious and godly. Thanks for the inspiration!

  • Thanks so much for this – sometimes I convince myself that I am the only mom in the world who swoons around the house like Belle, wanting so much more than this provincial life. The fact that the only metaphor I can come up with here is from a Disney movie is probably further evidence of my mom-life crisis.nnI also tend to turn my “personal me time” into “me being in charge of yet another volunteer thing” time. I do sing in a community choir, and, like Bethany, I’m always so worn out by the time Thursday night rolls around that I think about just not going to practice. But then the time spent with grownups, not talking about my children, is incredibly invigorating – on top of the joy I derive from singing.

  • Mary Alice

    B, I have noticed that for Len it is so helpful to be signed up for a race because then both of us respect his training schedule more and he is less likely to blow off his long runs when our weekends get busy. The same is true of committing to skiing in this way, I could have been skiing more often in the past, perhaps, but I just didn’t, so many things come up. I am about to do my fifth day on snow and so far it is so amazing! Today was the first day that all of the kids were at the mountain, I have great hope that this will all come together!