I've been wanting to share this story for a while now because it still brings a smile to my face. About a month ago my son and I were talking as we drove down the road. We were exploring gender together. It went something like this:
"I'm a boy. Daddy's a man. Sister's a girl. You're a girl."
To which I responded: "well, yes, but to be more specific I'm a woman."
His reply, with a big toothy grin: "nooooo, you're not a woman; you're a mommy!"
I laughed out loud. How true. This came in the middle of a season I believe all moms experience: a season where I felt truly identified by all-things-mommy and no-things-self. I had been struggling with this and was just coming out on the other side when my son announced his apt observation. Thank God I had worked through most of my angst; otherwise, I would have burst into tears instead of laughter.
It was my husband who helped me. He noticed I was short with my kids and generally seemed to be in a bad mood all the time. He also noticed that I did nothing - absolutely nothing - for myself. From the moment I woke up I was taking care of kids, going to work, taking care of kids, taking care of the house, and collapsing into bed. I didn't go out with friends. I didn't let the laundry sit an extra day in order to rest. I didn't tell my son "no", "not now", "wait" while I spent time doing something I wanted to do (like writing) for one simple reason: guilt.
Letting myself become defined by my kids actually prevented me from doing what I wanted to do most: love my kids well. I was hurting them because I was angry, resentful, impatient. I had allowed things to become out of order. By putting my kids first, I was actually making them come last.
My self - my body, my brain, my psyche - was screaming for help, for care. When I realized that it was absolutely necessary for me to tell my kids no and take care of myself first, then I was able to take care of them better. When I left my husband to do the dishes by himself and to take care of the laundry, I found I was able to give him more of myself when I returned.
I know this sounds obvious. I wager that many non-married folks could have lectured me on the need to love thyself first in order to have love to give. BUT - trust me on this - it's a heck of a lot harder when you're staring into a two-year-old's eyes and have to tell him no.
Now, when I find myself in that situation and begin to waver, I simply remember the ironic wisdom he shared with me that day in the car. And I think: "yes, I am a mommy, but I'm also a woman. And to be a good mommy, I must be a woman first."