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!