From the responses on my recent post on The Cost of Motherhood, I wanted to tackle the subject of how to balance your needs and your baby’s needs. Because I’m an expert on that subject, long ago having mastered the delicate tension between meeting my needs and those of my children.
Can you hear my laughter from where you are sitting? Or can you still hear the echoes of me freaking out earlier today because I haven’t had enough me-time lately? Do you feel the not-so-delicate tension oozing from my body from a stress-filled, totally out-of-balance month?
Clearly, I do NOT have this balance figured out. But I’m going to write about it anyway, not as an expert, but as mom in the trenches, figuring it out one failure at a time. (If I had a bumper sticker for my life, that would be it, by the way.) So here are a few suggestions from someone who gets it wrong a lot.
Recognize You Both Have Needs.
This may sound really obvious, but I swear to you I have met people who think it’s one or the other. Moms usually make the mistake in favor of the baby. As in: the mom forgets her needs. Have you been that mom? You catch yourself in the mirror one day and don’t recognize yourself. The woman there seems old/tired/ugly/heavy/angry/exhausted and/or DEAD. This is when you have forgotten or denied your needs for too long. Babies are needy. Their need is legitimate. But so are your needs. Start with this realization and you’re on your way.
Recognize That Life Comes in Seasons.
One of the things that has been hardest for me is realizing that I have dreams…but I can’t pursue them very well with little children. I know some writers churn out great novels and other work while they have babies and small people clutching their ankles. For me, I don’t like people very much when I’m working. I want to get my head in the right space and not be bothered. In this current period of my life “not be bothered” is not a phrase that exists. I also don’t want my family to BE a bother. So this means I am much happier knowing that I can pursue my dreams, but in this current seasons of baby/toddlerhood, I need to pursue other things. The famous words from the Bible (and in famous song by The Byrds) claiming there is a season for everything hold true today.
Look and Listen for the Signs.
This is a little easier with your baby. Babies are simple and when there is a need they…(say it with me)…CRY. They need to be loved, fed, clothed, re-clothed when they poop in their clothes, and sleep. Your own signs? They are a little more subtle. You might notice it when you start to cry after someone cuts you off in traffic. Or when you find yourself losing it on one of your kids or your husband or the person making your sub. Maybe when your pants get too tight, or too loose. When you develop a new habit of biting your nails, pulling on your eyebrows, or drinking alone. THESE MAY ALL BE SIGNS YOUR NEEDS ARE NOT BEING MET. Because your signs are more subtle, try to track them or have a friend or spouse also watch for you. Once you recognize them, hit the next step: hard.
When the Balance Is Off, RECHARGE.
For every person, this looks different. Many people recommend sleeping when the baby is sleeping, but for me, a recharge meant having me-time when the babies were asleep. Blogging, writing, catching up on emails, or reading the Bible or a good book. Just as you need to learn your signs, you need to learn how to meet your own needs. Maybe it’s something pampering like a manicure or haircut. Maybe you need to go watch a movie by yourself. Maybe you need a nap. Maybe you need coffee with a good friend and no babies at all. Sometimes these things feel selfish and so we convince ourselves we don’t NEED a break/dinner/pedicure/time with a friend/nap. Then you’ll find yourself up there crying in the drive-thru when they’re out of your favorite doughnut flavor. It really is true that it’s hard to be a great mom when you’re not in a great place as a person. Pretend you’re on a plane: give yourself an oxygen mask first.
This might seem out of place on this list, but this is for real. I know that I fall prey to this all the time. My thoughts go something like this: I don’t really need a break because Sally McPerfect Pants has 18 children and her kids obey all the time and she stays home and homeschools while working full time and breastfeeding everyone and being really thin and having a great blog and cooking all meals from scratch with grain she grinds and plants she grows in the yard and she says SHE doesn’t need a break. There is no Sally McPerfect Pants. But sometimes when we look around and stack up what we have and do with someone else, we can fool ourselves. This is not about the not-real Sally McPerfect Pants. This is YOU and YOUR FAMILY. Your needs and the needs of your baby(ies).