Dying to self is the nature of motherhood. Pregnancy starts out with a mile-long list of all the “should nots” for the sake of the growing baby. Some of those sacrifices are tiny (swordfish isn’t exactly something you find often here in the Midwest), but others are more significant. When I was pregnant with our oldest daughter, I took lukewarm showers, convinced that What to Expect’s admonition to “avoid hot showers” was critical to having a healthy baby.
I spent nine months nurturing a little life with my very self, and I was willing to give up everything from rollercoaster rides to alcohol for the sake of that little life.
And today, eight years later? I’m still missing those hot showers, but the opportunities for sacrifice have increased.
It is a sacrifice to let my kids leave the house without re-dressing them. My 8 and 6 year olds have eclectic tastes. They like layers, bright colors, and pattern mixing.
My 4 year old likes to dress himself—which involves backwards shirts and shoes on the wrong feet. The cutest is when his sweat pants go on backwards—then the little strings meant to tighten the pants (in the front) flop around like a piggy tail (in the back) with his constant motion. It’s a sacrifice to let them enjoy their independence when I’d rather “fix” their looks, or at least make them wear “I dressed myself today” lanyards.
Another opportunity for sacrifice comes after mealtime. By the time I finally sit down to have dessert, guess who’s already done and ready to help Mom eat hers? Everyone. Everyone brings out their his or her sad puppy eyes, “Can I have a bite, Mom? We’re supposed to share, you know.”
Touché, my little manipulators, touché.
To be honest, I get cranky after too few hot showers and too many shared bites of dessert.
*When I stumble upon wet gobs of toilet paper in the bathroom sink from someone’s “experiment.”
*When I see that a certain child’s muddy boots were left out. Again.
*When I spend my whole day cleaning up, and one of the kids complains about a tiny amount of required tidying.
Each of these little things can become the straw that breaks the camel mom’s back.
The cropping up of resentment is my signal to step back. If I can’t greet these little sacrifices in caring for my family with a cheerful heart, then it’s time to do some reflecting.
– Is the issue important, or am I just mad?
– Is there some logical way to fix the problem?
– Would I react the same way if there was company over?
– Would I react the same way if I was well-rested?
– When is the last time I did something for my own well-being?
Today offered the perfect example of trying to assess whether I need to work on embracing opportunities for sacrifice, or whether I’m not caring for myself.
The toddler wanted to be held while I was cooking dinner.
The preschooler was upset because he WANTED FOOD NOW!
The 6 year old wanted me to read a story, and the hungry preschooler DID NOT want me wasting valuable dinner prep time on a dumb book.
I wasn’t pleasing anyone. Under normal circumstances, I would put the toddler in the high chair with a snack, offer the preschooler another snack, and sit down with a book and the 6 year old. Not rocket science in the mom world. Snack ‘em up! That’s my mom motto, after all.
But I was emotionally spent. There had been so much arguing. So. Much. Arguing. throughout the day. I hadn’t accomplished all I intended. I was just plain tired. I was unable come up with the simple plan to dole out cheese appetizers.
So when my 8 year old asked me a question about a book she was reading in the midst of all the whining, I snapped.
“Can’t you see I’m busy?!?!” I said as I scrambled to pull together dinner with two crabby leg-weights.
And that’s when I realized I needed a Mom Time Out. I apologized, finished up supper, and promised a movie after dinner. We don’t do much screen time, so the kids were pleased at that peace offering.
I don’t feel any shame in plopping the kids down in front of a movie so I can take a moment to assess my resentment when it bubbles up. Motherhood involves a tough balance between “dying to self” and “losing oneself,” and a Mom Time Out is critical in finding that balance. During the movie I was able to figure out my deal. Although I can’t guarantee I won’t snap again tomorrow, I did come up with a plan so that it’s less likely to happen.
Most of my day centers on giving of myself for the sake of my kids, and it’s beautiful. But I can’t use the instruction to “die to myself” as an excuse to treat myself poorly. I am a beloved child of God, and my dignity requires that I treat myself as such. When I’m not able to handle the day-to-day tasks involving toilets or dustpans, that’s the indicator that I’m not taking care of myself at some level. I can’t give of myself when there is nothing to give.
My husband does well in encouraging me to escape when needed —to go the grocery store, to visit a friend, to sneak away and write—as much as he can. That distance can help me see if I am being too selfish (I just want my house to not smell like wet feet!) or too selfless (I haven’t had time to read a book without pictures in ages).
Will my walls ever be free from pen scribbles? Will the kids ever stay in their beds once they are put there?!?!
No and no. But I will gladly trade pristine paint and better sleep for the privilege of being a mama to my mess of kids.
Sacrifice is hard. Sacrifice hurts. But when it’s done for a greater good, sacrifice is also incredibly sweet.
Alicia blogs at Sweeping Up Joy about finding beauty and humor in life right now– even when it’s hidden behind piles of laundry and chewed up books.