Self Care, Solitude, and Motherhood
The water runs over my hands as I scrub the crusted pot. My baby is snug in the wrap sucking the sweet life energy out of me as I stack dish after dish. I begin to smell the onions cooking on the stove and turn to give them a stir. My son comes running in asking me to fix a toy truck whose soft rubber wheel has snapped off. This multitasking of other people’s needs feels like my constant state.
The phone buzzes begging for attention and reminding me that it’s nearly time to pick my husband up at the bus stop. My mind returns again to the conversation I had early in the day.
“I don’t feel guilty for leaving them with him because I have them all week.” My friend’s casual relaxed statement plays around in my head over and over again. I feel almost jealous of her ability to separate from her children without guilt. I can't even imagine leaving Bryan with the kids all weekend and not feeling guilty about it.
My mind wanders to the book sitting on the counter nearby.
“Herein lies one key to the problem. If women were convinced that a day off or an hour of solitude was a reasonable ambition, they would find a way of attaining it. As it is, they feel so unjustified in their demand that they rarely make the attempt…It is more a question of inner convictions than of outer pressures, though, of course, the outer pressures are there and make it more difficult. As far as the search for solitude is concerned, we live in a negative atmosphere as invisible, as all-pervasive and as enervating as high humidity on an August afternoon. The world today does not understand, in either man or woman, the need to be alone…
Actually these are among the most important times in one’s life - when one is alone. Certain springs are tapped only when we are alone…
Women’s life today is tending more and more toward the state William James describes so well in the German word, ‘Zerrissenheit - torn-to-pieces-hood.’ She cannot live perpetually in ‘Zerrissenheit.’ She will be shattered into a thousand pieces. On the contrary, she must consciously encourage those pursuits which oppose the centrifugal forces of today. Quiet time alone, contemplation, prayer, music, a centering line of thought or reading, of study or work. It can be physical or intellectual or artistic, any creative life proceeding from oneself. It need not be an enormous project or a great work. But it should be something of one’s own.” Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gifts from the Sea
I have always longed for solitude, but I have never been very good at self care. Since having kids I’ve gotten even worse.
I know in my head that time alone has a great deal of value for me as an introvert. I have been told time and time again that not taking care of myself will backfire in the long run. I know that abandoning my needs for the needs of my husband and children, may seem like selflessness, but in reality it isn’t. But, somewhere in my heart I don’t believe these things. Somewhere in my heart I still feel that I am not worth the self care, that time in my own persuits isn’t valuable enough, that I am selfish if I don’t pour my whole self into my family every second of every day.
I turn back to the stubborn crusted food on the pot before me and a question rises in my mind.
HOW am I to find time for myself amidst family cares? HOW am I to find time alone with an active three year old and an 18 month old with special needs? And when if I do, HOW am I going to fight this devaluing of my own self worth, this voice that says I do not deserve it?
I have made some progress in this area since January. I have had a babysitter come one morning a week so that I can get some time to write. And every other Saturday morning I have left Bryan with the kids so that I could go teach yoga. And two or three times a month Bryan and I have left the kids for a much needed dinner date.
I am realizing that the answer to the resounding how that echoes in the questions above is community. The only way I can get the space and time I need to fill my soul and feed my heart is by leaning on the people around me.
I dig my strength deeper into the burned sides of the crusted pan in the sink. This is were the real struggle arises for me.
Before kids it was easy enough to change around my schedule, reorder some priorities and get time to myself when I needed it. Even during busy seasons I could always find time to step out the front door and go for a long walk alone. Now there are two little people who rely on me utterly and completely. I am responsible for their well being, for meeting their needs and I have carried that weight heavily on my shoulders.
The only way for me to get time alone is for me to rely on other people almost as deeply as my children rely on me. I must ask for help. I must let my need be known. And I must trust someone else to be there, to meet my children’s needs in my absence.
This has been incredibly difficult for me, even with my husband. I feel immense guilt about leaving my children for any length of time with anyone I am not paying to be there. Even when I do pay someone to watch them I still feel deep guilt for spending money that we don’t have on something that feels unnecessary.
My phone buzzes again and I put down the sponge to read the message. My husband tells me he is almost at the bus stop. I decide to leave the pot to soak as I hurry to bundle the kids against the cold wind outside.
My friend's words play again in my mind, “I don’t feel guilty for leaving them with him because I have them all week.” I realize I have a long way to go.
I also realize how vulnerable I feel in this need.
Lately, the small moments away have been life changing for me. On the weeks when they haven’t happened I have felt the void and wondered how I survived without them. In the past two weeks my weekly babysitter has gotten another job and been unable to come. My mother-in-law, who usually takes Thaddeus on Wednesdays so that we don’t have him during Sage’s therapy appointments, had to cancel twice. And Thaddeus was off school for a week.
I think of these things as I slip into my coat and feel the weight on my shoulders. How I long to slip the weight of motherhood off my shoulders if only for a few hours.
If I’m really going to get space to take care of my soul, I not only need to fight this feeling of guilt with all I have, I also have to be utterly dependent on other people.
So, I come back to the question…
How do I find space for myself? How do I consistently get the time alone I need, not just once a week or a few times a month, but regularly? How do I safeguard my time so that I can take care of myself despite the changes in others schedules?
I can’t say I have totally figured out the answers to these questions. But, one thing I’m realizing is that I need more than just a small handful of people I can depend on. I need a lot of people. I need a whole community of people I can call. I guess you could say I need a village.
What about you? How do you work time for yourself in amidst other responsibilities, especially the all consuming responsibilities of motherhood?
Rejoicing in the journey, Bethany Stedman