“Mommmmmy!” How many times do you hear your name called each day? For me, it’s about two hundred, and usually half are before 9 am. When I am home I focus all of my energy on giving everything I have to my family. Wiping up spills, mediating fights, jetting off to activities, snuggling, reading, bathing, hugging. They need me and I’m there. And I wouldn’t trade this time for anything.
Only, it’s not just my children who need me. I’m also giving the time I have to my husband, sisters, parents, friends, and my co-workers. I’m in constant giving mode. It isn’t a burden; to give and help is part of my personality and this probably resonates true with a lot of women. We are caregivers and problem solvers. At home, work, and in our extended families. We are raised and socialized to be so and we accept the role without question. After my children were born I quietly accepted this as my life, giving to others round the clock while occasionally trying to come up for air to squeeze in a workout or some other activity I used to enjoy.
A few years in, however, I started to realize that giving all of my time to others, and non-working time at that, made me feel like I was inching closer and closer to something low and dark. I was not alone. Many friends and clients have since described this feeling to me in different ways. People have told me that it feels like they are underwater, like they are drowning. What I knew was that it didn’t feel good to be absolutely exhausted all the time. And the more drained I felt, the less I had to give.
So I started to do something that felt crazy. I started finding ways to prioritize my own needs. It did not come naturally and it came with a lot of guilt attached. Any time I took for myself felt like time I took away from those I care about. But I realized that no one was going to do this for me—I had to do it for myself or it wasn’t going to happen.
I didn’t jet off to the Caribbean alone to sip mojitos on the beach (although let’s be honest, that sounds pretty fantastic). But I started making time for little things here are there: a few minutes of meditation, a yoga class, an hour to myself while on a work trip to take or walk or get coffee. I managed to carve out time that wasn’t about giving to others but time that was just for me. And it helped. Once I gave myself permission to also focus on me my attitude improved and I found I had more energy and patience for my job and my family.
As mamas, we are busy. We are overwhelmed and often drained. But as the adage goes, we have to put on our oxygen masks first. We are best for others when we are also giving to ourselves and prioritizing our needs. It makes us better parents and partners. And it gives us more energy to play that extra game of Candy Land or read just one more book at bedtime. When mama is happy it’s a win-win for everyone.
Jessica Werner lives in Minneapolis, MN and is the founder of North Shore Life Design.