“So… dinner tomorrow. Any allergies? Restrictions? Strong preferences?”
“Nah. We’re pretty low-maintenance.”
I’ve had this conversation dozens of times over the years. In this case, we’d had this family over once, decided to make it a regular thing, and were about to head to their house for the first time. We both have relatively large families, but aside from sheer volume of food, all fourteen of us are easy enough to feed.
I’ve tried to be low-maintenance in as many areas as possible for as long as I can remember. It has its perks—I like being easy-to-get-along-with. It’s nice to be able to go with the flow, to be free of strong aversions. (Except scary movies. Hard pass.) But it has a shadow side, too. In the name of being low-maintenance, I’ve served others’ needs while completely ignoring my own.
Baby’s crying? I’ll go get her. No sense in you waking up when I’m gonna have to feed her anyway.
MAN, I’m hungry. Did I eat lunch? No, I don’t think so. Do six cold, half-eaten nuggets count?
Wow, it got late. But there are still chores to do. No biggie—I’ve been sleep-deprived since 2010. What’s one more hour folding laundry and washing dishes?
As I say it, I realize I sound like a martyr. I didn’t know, though. I thought I was being kind. Selfless. Serving. Those are good things, right? But I missed the growing resentment and the toll it was taking on my physical and mental health.
There were a lot of things I missed, actually.
I didn’t know that ignoring my own needs and my body’s health cues would lead to illness with a long and costly recovery. I spent eight straight years nourishing small people with my body and considering five hours of broken sleep a “good” night. At the end of it, my body quit. I was unable to function, even when I got plenty of rest. (12-14 hours was not enough.) It’s been almost a year now, and with all the medical support, dietary changes, and lifestyle accommodations, I’m only now starting to find something like “normal.”
I didn’t know how much pride I had wrapped up in needing nothing. I mean, I’m happy to extend grace and help to people around me, but I had created an identity around being “low-maintenance” and when that fell apart, I wasn’t sure where to find my value anymore. That sounds dramatic. It is dramatic. But it’s also true. Becoming needy brought on an existential crisis.
I didn’t know that my body and brain are intimately integrated and when one breaks, the other may falter as well. It turns out, the physical part of screwing up my endocrine system was much easier to handle than the mental health part. Shortly after I started falling asleep by accident in the middle of the day on my living room floor while my kids ran around unattended, my mind got really glitchy. Overstimulation (of which my house has plenty) brought on anxiety symptoms which caused my brain to sort of shut down—I liken it to an old and overloaded computer with the little “buffering” circle going around and around… and around. Indefinitely. The shut-down became depression and I’m still finding my way out with all the pharmaceutical, therapeutic, and lifestyle interventions available.
But, while all of this has been tremendously difficult, there were some other things I didn’t understand when I was a low-maintenance mom, and learning them has made the entire ordeal worthwhile.
I learned I have awesome people around me. Being the one who needs nothing is overrated—I’ve found so much joy in letting my friends love me in practical ways. There was one day recently when two of my dearest friends gave me dinner for my family on the same day without my asking! I’ve never felt so loved and supported, and they wouldn’t have known it would be a blessing if I hadn’t sent them the “Having a rough day and everybody has fevers” text, which I wouldn’t likely have done in my “low maintenance” days.
I learned my family can function, even when I acknowledge my own needs and find ways to meet them. When I was at my sickest, my husband was more than capable and willing to take up all the slack. My children didn’t destroy the house when I’d randomly zonk out. Now that I’m feeling relatively normal, I’m learning that there is room for my needs, too. It’s okay for me to make myself lunch. It’s okay to send a kid with a bad dream over to Daddy’s side of the bed for snuggles. It’s okay—helpful, even—to teach my kids to slow down: their questions can wait; I can actually answer them better if they don’t all yell them at once.
I learned my worth has nothing to do with my usefulness. My husband doesn’t love me for the childcare and housekeeping and secretarial duties I perform. My friends don’t like me because I can make meals or watch their children in a pinch. My God doesn’t like me because I read my Bible on the regular or because the only reason I ever miss church is to avoid spreading viruses around my kids’ Sunday School classes. This should be relatively obvious, but when I’m living my life cleaning house and making meals and getting my littles ready for church, I forget that those things are separate from my worth. My value, like the value of an inscrutable Picasso, is determined by the One who created me.
A year after that first dinner, we were meeting again at my friend’s house. We’ve been doing dinners monthly, back and forth between houses, but this is the first she’s fed me since my diet (and everything else about me) became high-maintenance. She calls the day of.
“Hey, I wanted to run dinner plans by you. How does 7-layer dip sound if I make you your own, sans sour cream and cheese?”
“Sounds great, thank you so much!”
Come to find out, me being high-maintenance isn’t a big deal to anybody but me.
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Robin Chapman is a full-time imperfect Jesus lover, wife, and homeschooling mama to four babies, ages one to seven. When she isn’t buried in children or hiding from them, she enjoys reading, photography, and sharing stories on her blog, where she’d love to connect with you! You can also find her on Facebook or Instagram… or perhaps holed up in her bathroom with some coffee.