Mommy Guilt and Taking Care of Myself

Mommy Guilt and Taking Care of Myself September 16, 2010

After writing my bigger picture post last week, the comments really got me thinking. That post is the result of a long journey, and I was sharing something I learned at the end of that journey. So now I’m going to share a bit more detail.
When I got married I was under the impression that “godly” women were called to sacrifice everything for their husband and children. After all, it was right there in Eve’s curse “Your desire shall be for you husband and he shall rule over you” and “I will greatly increase your pain in childbearing”. Women had brought sin into the world (and the woman who said yes to God when He wanted to bring redemption into the world was forgotten somehow), the only way to redeem ourselves was to submit, sacrifice, and bear many children for our husband and for God.
I was determined to be the wife I was sure my husband wanted. I did it all. I cleaned and cooked and cared for the kids. I tried not to complain, because “real Christian’s are supposed to be happy” and everyone knows that the mother’s mood sets the tone for the entire house.
And I failed.
I never felt caught up with all the housework. The depression I had struggled with throughout my teens kept sneaking back into my life. I started spanking my kids, something I had sworn I would never do before I had become a parent. I was frustrated with my husband for not realizing that I was exhausted and doing something about it, but I was to ashamed by my failure to tell him what I really needed.
I couldn’t understand what was wrong with me. I had had a decent childhood, I was married to the man of my dreams, I had 2 adorable baby girls and one on the way. WHY WASN’T I HAPPY DAMMIT!
Over the last 2 years, I’ve started to realize that I am OK just the way I am. That I didn’t have to be perfect to be a good wife and mother. And I’ve learned that expressing my emotions is a good thing. I have every right to be sad, happy, angry, amused, tired or energetic. Emotions are normal and healthy.
I can’t tell you the relief I have experienced letting the perfectionism go, yes it has taken practice, and I still catch myself trying to get back to the illusion sometimes, but now I know that is not what I want, and it’s not what my husband wants. Expressing my emotions has been another story. I don’t know why I can feel so guilty for having normal feelings. I would feel like a bad person whenever I experienced any “bad” emotions. And I still catch myself shoving them down and trying to hide them. Only now my husband can tell when I when I’m hiding something, and he keeps asking until I break down and tell him how I really feel.
I was surprised how free I felt when I started to just get my feelings off my chest instead of trying to shove them down and pretend they weren’t there. I began working through some of the issues in my past for the first time, since I didn’t have to pretend it had all been wonderful anymore. And I’ve realized that I want my kids to feel free to express their emotions too. I began to model it to them, talking about when I was angry or tired instead of letting it build. And I was excited when they started to do the same.
When I wrote last week, I had realized several things. First off, hubby’s work has been busy lately, so I’ve been a single parent a bit more than usual. Second, I was letting the perfectionism slip back in. My standards were getting higher (I just cleaned this room!) and I was trying to maintain the happy mommy persona again. I’ve had practice being real, but now I was unconsciously shoving that down. Instead of admitting that I was tired and bored, I kept it all “together” because I was the only one home and I couldn’t admit failure could I? There was no one to take over if I quit!
So instead of admitting my feelings and taking care of myself, (even if that meant putting on the TV for the girls), I trudged onwards. And when I felt tired and frustrated I blamed it on my kids. After all, if they weren’t around I wouldn’t be feeling this way, it certainly wasn’t my fault for having those feelings.
I was wrong. Yes my children contributing to my exhaustion, of course! But I could not assign them the blame and resent them for it. I was forgetting 2 key things.
 Emotions are not bad. It is OK for me to feel tired or angry, I don’t need to push the blame onto my kids. I needed to claim responsibility for how I was feeling.
I am responsible for giving myself the care I need. Parenting is the most exhausting and terrifying job there is. But everyone gets tired sometimes, whether they have kids or not. And it is up to me to do what I need to do to recharge. I can’t just sit there passively and pass the blame to my kids. Being a wife and mother DOES require sacrifice, it comes in the form of work to sustain and nurture life, long days and longer nights, being there day in and day out. Sacrificing my health, well-being and sanity is not part of the vocation of motherhood.
Now let me tell you, it is HARD to find the time and initiative to take care of myself when I am worn out AND I can’t just take a nice vacation from my kids. But it is so important!
Taking care of myself means forcing my butt off the couch when the kids have gone to bed and getting myself into the shower. Taking care of myself means giving up on the laundry when I am getting so fed up I am tempted to scream at my kids, and forcing myself to go outside and let them play in the yard while I read a book. Taking care of myself means forcing myself to sit down at the breakfast table and eat more than a handful of jellybeans for my morning meal. Taking care of myself means forcing myself to call a friend to vent a bit of that exhaustion too, instead of bottling it up inside.
I’m not saying any of those things are easy to accomplish, I still struggle with guilt sometimes when I am “neglecting” something else in favor of taking care of myself. But I have found that I am a better wife and mother when I do. And I am happier. It is worth it! Instead of putting off self care until you can afford that vacation to Hawaii, how can you take care of yourself today?
What helps you recharge?
And how can you take the responsibility to make it happen?
Bigger Picture Moment

Bigger Picture Moments is where we step back and take in life. This week it’s being hosted by Melissa at Peanut Butter in My Hair. Hop over to her blog to read more about the Bigger Picture, and maybe share your own moment.

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