I recently ran into a mom while out shopping. She looked remarkably put together, especially since I usually only see her at the gym, and seemed to be enjoying her recent Starbucks purchase. As we were chatting she revealed that this was one of her two mornings during the week that she was kid-free. Her two children are preschool and pre-k aged. I applauded her for getting out and having some time to herself. She said that while she does enjoy it, she feels guilty about it.
I completely related to her guilt. When I first became a stay-at-home-mom I didn’t take measures to make sure I was getting kid-free time. I felt like I had finally realized my dream of starting a family so what business did I have making time for myself. Especially since my husband was working so hard to provide for us and there were lots of other moms who would love to have the option to stay at home, but couldn’t do so for various reasons. So I took this to mean that I had to do my ‘job’ at all costs.
That first year home with my oldest was incredibly hard. I struggled with losing my individual identity as my only focus became his care and feedings. I mourned my lost independence and felt like a swirling mess of completely unreasonable hormones. Still I powered through and never considered hiring a sitter or asking for help from family or friends. It was my choice to stay home so I was stuck with it for better and often times worse.
Looking back I realized how much this cost my personal well-being. I couldn’t see it or know it at the time, but my stubborn refusal for help was not only hurting me, it was hurting my ability to be a solid, present parent for my child. I don’t know for sure, but I believe that if I had given myself breaks and allowed myself some time to reset and recharge, I may have enjoyed that first year of motherhood a whole lot more. We have to give ourselves some distance to see the beauty that is right in front of us.
When my second kid arrived, I finally let go of some of my guilt and put my older son in preschool a couple of mornings a week and had a sitter that would come in one afternoon a week. This made a big difference for me. Being able to walk freely about not lugging a giant diaper bag was liberating. I mostly would find places to go that were quiet. I would frequent the library or a nearby botanical garden to read, journal and contemplate life. That’s the great thing about free time, you begin to remember that you were this whole other interesting person before kids came into the picture.
As for the guilt of putting ourselves first, I don’t know if and when that goes away. Parenting guilt shows up for all of us in some form or another, even if we stay-at-home or not. All we can do is honor the feelings we have and fight the urge to be swept away by them. Guilt should never be at the helm of our decision-making process for self-preservation. Have you ever been guilted into something and then felt great about it? Most likely not. Every once in a while, be courageous enough to put yourself first and see how that makes you look at your children after you do. With renewed patience and a chance to miss them, you are more likely to see them through a much-needed filter of love.
Written by Diana DeVaul, MSW and Parent