I was four years and two children into my motherhood journey when I read five little words that changed my entire outlook. I came across them in a Facebook thread in a local mamas group. A newly postpartum mother had poured her heart out into a post about her struggle with PPD and the guilt she was feeling over her decision to stop breastfeeding to allow herself to seek treatment and heal. One of the midwives I follow and respect deeply had left a heartfelt and encouraging reply assuring her that she was doing her best for her baby, that she needed to take care of herself because…”martyrs don’t make good mamas.”
Those words pulled at my heart and tears flooded my eyes. It’s not that I hadn’t heard the message before. I had heard it several ways:
You can’t pour from an empty cup.
On an airplane, you should put on your own oxygen mask before you help anyone else.
You can’t take care of your children if you don’t take care of yourself.
I had heard it for years, and for years, I just didn’t believe it was true for me. I know it is due in part to the post partum anxiety I experienced with my first baby. I could not and would not be away from her. I justified myself by clinging to words like “attachment parenting”. I wanted to be sure my babies were taken care of according to the standards I had adopted for myself and deemed BEST. I told myself it was fine. This is only for a season. I didn’t need to be away from them. I didn’t NEED “me time”.
That day, when I read the comments between two strangers, my perspective was different. For some reason, seeing someone, whose opinion I respected so much, share that truth with a wonderful mother who was clearly doing EVERYTHING in her power to be the best possible mama for her baby, allowed me to consider that it just might be true for me, too.
When we hold our babies for the first time, our hearts change. Our love for that tiny little baby is unconditional, complete and sacrificial. That’s what makes it SO difficult to find a balance between taking care of our families and taking care of ourselves.
We absolutely need to meet the needs of our babies, but one of those needs is to give them a mother who is healthy, from the inside out. Something I didn’t recognize until recently is that I wasn’t doing any favors to my children by making them my literal everything. I wasn’t proving my love for them by never asking for or accepting help from others. And it was pretty clear the first time they had Chick Fil A that, actually, they were totally open to non-organic or even fast food options. I had been wearing myself down completely trying to do everything “right” and committing myself completely to the role of mama, 24/7. But… something I’ve only recently accepted is that almost all of their needs can be met in more than one way and, just as importantly, by more than one person. I also realized there was a whole other set of needs that I had been totally ignoring:
My children need to see a mother who values herself, so they can learn the importance of self worth in their own life.
My children need a mother invested in her own spiritual well being, so that they can know the importance of faith.
My children need a mother who values time with their father so they can observe the commitment it takes to maintain a healthy marriage.
My children need a mother who values her friendships enough to make time for those friends so that they know the necessity and value of community.
My children need a mother who DOES take breaks and admits that she, actually, CAN’T do it all, so that when they experience those same feelings of being overwhelmed by their responsibilities, they know it’s okay to ask for help.
Maybe most importantly, my children need to know that safety and love can be found, not exclusively in the arms of their mother, but in the arms of their father, grandparents, and trusted family and friends.
Since adopting this new philosophy for myself, so many areas of my life have been made richer, but would you like to know which one has seen the most surprising improvement?
My mama heart is renewed when I allow myself time to recharge and refresh. I’m energized by the time I spend pursuing other interests and investing in other relationships. I have more of myself to give to them when I am not touched out, burned out and running on empty.
I honestly hope that it doesn’t take any other mama 4+ years of parenting to believe that they don’t have to do it all, or that their basic human needs for rest, physical and mental health, and love (or even regular showers and occasional hot food) matter. I hope that none of you are suffocating under the pressure to be some super mom/perfect parent. I hope that when you read this post, it’s old news to you. But… if there are any other mamas out there who are so beyond tired from striving for some self imposed standard of parenting perfection or from taking care of everyone except for yourself, please know and believe that you are just as important as every other member of your family. You matter. Don’t believe the lie that self care makes you selfish. At the heart of taking care of your family is taking care of you. You really can’t pour from an empty cup. I’m sure you’ve heard all of that before, but maybe today, hearing it from a stranger on the internet, you can begin to believe it for yourself, too.