I throw open the shower door, and a blast of cold air shocks my skin. Instantly covered in goosebumps, I grab my towel and step out.
Was a hot shower the best way to spend these minutes of free time? I wonder. While the water was running, my mind wandered in a way that seemed productive. Each drop felt like an idea seeping down into my brain. But as soon as I turned the nozzle off, the chaotic swirl of real life slammed into me as fast as the frigid air outside the shower. I could have been actually writing instead of just thinking about it. I could have been reading or, heck, even painting my nails.
Taking a shower just feels so…mundane. I never regret it exactly, but I have a hard time appreciating the minutes I must carve out to take care of my physical body. I often wonder if those minutes could have been better spent on something more glamorous.
I quickly slide into jeans and a sweater, trying to hang on to the words floating around in my head, knowing that once I step outside my bedroom, I will not have time to type them out fully.
Before I open the door, I unlock my phone and urgently mutter, “Limits! Have it all! Yes and no!” into my notes app, hoping I will remember what I meant by these phrases when I re-read them later.
The first time I walked into a MOPS group, I was eight months pregnant with my first child.
As an icebreaker, we drew a handful of m&ms and then shared information about ourselves based on the colors in our pile. If you drew a yellow m&m, you said where you grew up. A green m&m was for your favorite place to go on a date. A blue m&m was for hobbies.
Literally every other mom at my table declared her children were her hobby. I could not fathom this.
I was excited to become a mother, but surely hobbies were things like…crocheting. And reading. And pilates. Humans are their own thing. People aren’t hobbies.
When it was my turn, I said my hobbies were cooking and reading, and I got a lot of knowing glances from the more experienced moms. Just you wait, they seemed to say. And it was true: I had no concept yet of how my life was about to change.
My own mom tried to warn me. She told me that when my little brother came along, she accepted that she would not have personal time anymore. Her life had become about taking care of two kids, and little room was left for self-care or hobbies.
I knew right away this was a cautionary tale, that I could never survive without time to myself. More than I ever wanted to fit in or to be invited, I’ve longed for wide-open spaces when I don’t have to be anywhere or do what someone else wants. I crave quality alone time most of all—miles and miles of it.
I heard what my mom said, and distantly I comprehended I would have to make sacrifices when I became a mother. But I figured it would be different for me. After all, my mom worked a demanding full-time job. Of course, it was hard for her to dig into her own projects or sit down and relax—her whole day was already spoken for. My story would not be hers. I was staying home with my kids.
(A decision which, I’m amused to admit now, I thought of as “the easy way out.”)
“Are there going to be any friends today?” my son asks in a hopeful voice as soon as I get downstairs.
My eyes almost pop out of my head—I can’t believe he is asking me this again. Last night and this morning, we discussed today being a “boring boring.” We call it this because once, in a fit of glee about having no urgent needs to herd my children out of the house, I made my baby daughter dance around while chanting “boring boring” for several minutes.
Mommy needs boring days sometimes.
I am an introvert and a homebody. If we have playdates three days in a row, like we did this week, I feel an incredible eagerness not to leave my house for a fortnight. You know. To recover. Today I am looking forward to working on a craft, to cleaning up the kitchen, to being unburdened by expectations (as much as that’s possible with three kids).
But this morning, he cannot contain his extrovert desire to see friends. The more fun he has, the more fun he wants to have. His tank is never full.
Did he learn that from me?
My husband has accused me of playing a zero-sum game, meaning that everything I do to fill up my heart only takes me as far as neutral ground. I have a hard time feeling truly joyful. There is rarely any extra juice in my battery (no matter what I do or for how long).
Since having kids, I often feel like there is no neutral. Saying yes to them means saying no to my own needs. Because I constantly feel I have very little personal space (Mom was right!), I have become more and more possessive of it. It no longer counts as true “time to myself” if I spend it shaving my legs or washing my face or putting away laundry. It no longer counts if anyone speaks to me or shows their little face. My “margin” is slowly growing to overtake the whole page. I want to have it all. I am getting…greedy.
As a mom, I know God calls me to cherish the people He’s given me—and yes, to sacrifice for them. He may have given me an insatiable desire to entertain myself, but He also gave me some lovely limitations: three kids who need to be kept safe, taught, and shown their worth.
Loving my children isn’t something I can schedule in. It’s not a hobby or an activity; it’s a constant state.
When I struggle because me-time never feels long enough, I wonder if I have the wrong focus. What if the purpose of self-care isn’t entertainment, but preparing to do my job wholeheartedly?
I’ve been asking myself hard questions about how I use my alone time—do I emerge feeling refreshed? Or do I become irritable when it ends, resentful of my family’s pressing desires?
Maybe self-care means letting go of my own expectations to have it all.
Maybe when I get comfortable with good enough, my soul will be filled with joy.
Melissa Hogarty lives in Northern Virginia with her husband and three very loud and silly children. She believes deeply in the power of reading and the love of Christ. She loves to bake, sing loudly, and make her own home décor. She blogs about food, faith, and family over at Savored Grace, and you can also find her on Instagram.