There I was, in the middle of the disaster zone also known as my kitchen. A toddler screaming to be let loose from his high chair, the spilled milk from my 4 year old dripping onto his lap and puddling on the floor, the mountain of laundry looming to the left, the dirty dishes piled to the right, and me. No one ever told me about this part of motherhood; the part where emptiness consumes, loneliness magnifies, and the overwhelm of daily life is crippling.
As someone who defines myself as a mother, a moment like that meant I was doing something wrong. Only the social media worthy moments meant I was doing something right. All of the parenting books, magazines, and blogs helped feed my unhealthy striving towards “perfect” motherhood. Furthermore, the expectations I placed on the behavior of my children was akin to asking them to hike to the summit of Mt. Everest. When they couldn’t reach it, I was angry and disappointed.
Being a mom had become my unhealthy, life-defining passion.
Growing tiny humans to be contributing members of society is filled with purpose. It is a wonderful thing to be a mother, but the trouble comes when it’s the only thing. It became clear to me when my first two kids were past the toddler stage that my purpose for 5 years had been motherhood alone. I had lost my identity in the middle of toddlerhood. Every ounce of self was hidden under layers of diapers, snuggles, tantrums, and story times. I had been set adrift in a sea of mothering with no anchor keeping me grounded to life outside of it.
Was I a bad mom for wanting to claim some time back for myself?
The restlessness between mama and self was starting to consume my mind. The outer signs of it being an inability to focus, frustration, and a short temper. I began to recognize that I was not modeling the most essential life lessons I wanted my kids to learn. Be true to who you are, dig for the gifts you have, use them to love others, and sink deep into who you were uniquely created to be.
How could I live a purposeful life with my mama side as an essential part but not the entirety of my being?
The wake up call came one day when I pulled out my sewing machine from the abyss that is the downstairs closet. Immediately my boys were interested in it. They wanted to see what it could do and what it was for. I don’t remember what we made that day, but I do remember how excited they were to see what I was doing and if they could do it too.
I realized something important that day. To inspire my kids to pursue a life of purpose and meaning, I had to be brave enough to step outside the mama box and show them I was a woman pursuing the things that light up my soul.
By sinking deep into my own individuality, the essential bit of who I am that isn’t defined by mom, they started to see new life. Perfect mamahood didn’t matter so much anymore because I wasn’t being defined by that alone. The sewing machine released a flood of creative energy that filled my soul and because of that my children were being released from the shackles of unrealistic expectations. Freedom surrounded our family like a restorative balm on the abrasions of never enough.
Perhaps the most common roadblock to these delightful bits of self-care is the dreaded mom guilt. Guilt still tries to imprison me when I take time for myself, but I shut it down with the truth. Allowing time to pursue my individual passions doesn’t diminish my purpose of motherhood, but amplifies it to new heights. The more I use my gifts and talents, the more motivated I am to guide my children to do the same.
It seems counterintuitive that time for my own life-giving interests would decrease selfishness, but soaking in the overabundance of joy that comes from remembering who I am washes selfishness away. It is easier to love, easier to give, and easier to live with a focus on others when I continually fill myself too.
Jen Fletcher is a writer and artist who loves to help busy mamas find purpose and cultivate rest in the everyday mess. With a focus on the themes of faith, growth, gratitude, and unity, her blog Simply Rooted supplies much needed encouragement for the seemingly ordinary days of motherhood. She lives in North Carolina with her husband and four children.