I became a mom at 19 years old. Though I had a lot of help when my son was young, and got to have more freedom than some, there were a lot of things I never experienced. I didn't spend my twenties freely exploring who I was, and I didn't get a chance to travel. All of my decisions needed to be filtered through the mom lens. Many dreams in my twenties needed to take a backseat due to the financial constraints, time restrictions, and physical limits of raising a child on my own. I couldn't be an exchange student in Europe, I couldn't volunteer at the Sundance Film Festival, and I couldn't take a job that ended late at night. Much of what I did needed to take place between 6am and 6pm, when child care was open. Luckily, I found other opportunities to explore...through books, films, spiritual growth, and making art on weekends when family would watch him, but there has always been a longing for the freedom and time to bring forth other desires in my heart.
Just as my son was reaching the age of 13, an age where that kind of freedom could open up a bit, my daughter was born. I stayed home with her the first two years. I knew I had a calling to create something, and I tried to use some of that time to explore what it was. I had dreams, and visions, but didn't really have the time and space to implement them. This doesn't mean I didn't love being a mom. I wouldn't change it for anything. I am very bonded to my children, and always had a hard time leaving them, especially when they were very young. I nursed them, we co-slept, and I got very good at suppressing my desires. Until I could no longer ignore that there were things I still wanted to do. And so, things would need to change...I would need to change.
I realized that balancing my need for independence with my role as a mother is challenging for me, but it was something I simply needed to do. And so I thought about ways to create this space, and began taking small steps, the first of which was my daughter sleeping in her own bed. We got her the bunk beds she so desperately wanted, and for a couple of months, they sat in her room unused. Eventually, I reached my limit. I needed space, and she needed to learn to comfort herself and go to sleep like a big girl. I hit my breaking point after she had been sick for a week with a virus, and I was about 3 days in with the illness myself. I needed to take care of me. She was getting better, and I set up a bed on the floor next to me. She slept there for the next two weeks. This felt like a major victory considering she has always slept with her head on my arm. I of course felt guilty, but I came to realize this was a necessary step for both of us. She now goes to bed in her OWN room every night. I say goodnight, and she asks for extra hugs, but in the end, she goes to sleep. This change gave me the space I needed to have a little quiet time before bed, something unheard of since she was born.
This desire for more independence illuminated other ways I could meet my needs. On weekends for example, I would often alternate between entertaining my daughter, and cleaning the house. All the while pushing down what I wanted to do. This made me quite resentful, and tired. I would spend an occasional day out with friends when I had a sitter, but the painting, reading, writing, and exploring my calling was always on the back burner. It was really eating me up inside, knowing that there is something I was supposed to create, but felt unable to do.
I've realized that I am a person too, with wants and needs, and there's no reason why I should be burned out at the end of the weekend, with that feeling still gnawing away at me. So I committed to more harmony in this area. I set up an art space for my daughter, and then I begin painting. I put on a movie for her, and sit down to write. It is easier now that she's older, but it is still challenging. I am still learning what that balance is for us, but it feels really good that I took back control of my life and no longer let guilt take over. I am valuable and my needs are valuable, and I am a better mother for modeling this for her.
I used to think self-care was an occasional massage, nap, or dinner out with friends. A random treat from time to time, when I was desperately needing a break. Now, I know that taking care of myself is creating the space within to ask myself what I need as I go throughout my days. Self-care is true self compassion, and a checking in to ask "how am I doing," the way I would with anyone else I was taking care of. It might mean coming up with creative ways to meet my needs, but that is much better than denying them, or putting them off for "one day." I look forward to continue growing in this area, to deeper self-care, more dreams realized, and will keep enforcing loving boundaries with my children in order to make sure we are all taken care of.