It was one of those days. I woke up with 6 million things to do within 24 hours, a messy house, spotty wifi, and a printer that couldn’t detect the [freaking normal] paper size. My to-do list carried over from the day before, and the day before that, and the week before that.
But I had the list. I was super-organized. Highly caffeinated. And even though (especially since?) the children seem a little under the weather, I’d booked a babysitter so I could get everything done, uninterrupted (bravo!).
Less than an hour after my kid-free time started, though, and I could hear the kids downstairs start wailing. A few minutes passed. More crying. A bang of I-don’t-wanna’-know-what-just-fell-down-there. Then a knock on the door. The sitter’s tried everything, but she just can’t console the baby.
Of course, this means that I might decide to stop what I’m doing, and console the baby. He is my baby, after all.
I’d like to say that this is a total pleasure every time, but if you’re a mama, you know that isn’t true. You know that, perhaps more than you’d like to admit, you just want to calm them enough to get some relief… and go back to what you were doing.
Your children may want you desperately, often when you desperately want to do something else.
And it sucks. It’s motherhood. There’s no magic answer, just the truth: it isn’t all snuggles and sweetness. Instead, motherhood is a series of choices, a see-saw of balancing each day. It’s responsibility and, yes, availability, sometimes when you least want to be seen or talked to or touched. It’s part of the job.
How do you take care of yourself in these moments?
By “taking your temperature” and asking yourself: “what do I want to do?” Acknowledging how you feel, without judgment or guilt. And from that place, making a conscious decision about what to do next.
When we tell the truth and feel heard — especially by ourselves — we’re training our brains for more resilience. When we acknowledge how we feel, we generate authenticity. When we use that intel to make conscious choices about how to move forward, we can alleviate the feelings of servitude that seep into motherhood when we aren’t looking.
Of course, most of us will often choose to address our children’s needs first. But it isn’t the only option and, in fact, it can be the less healthy one (for everyone).
Sometimes, you choose the something else.
It may sound rogue, but it’s possible to take care of ourselves by prioritizing the “something else” instead of our child. If our child is safe and her basic needs are met, and we’re right in the middle of something important; we may make a different choice. (I gave the sitter another 10 minutes of trying so that I could wrap up what I was working on.)
You also have to consider how your emotions affect your child. If you show up on the scene angry and impatient, they’ll feel that. If you arrive pretending to be calm and relaxed, but inside your seething, they can pick up on that, too — and the conflict between what you say and what they see can be confusing and stressful for them.
The see-saw of balancing priorities has two sides, and we can respond differently, depending on the details. Each time, tune into yourself. Acknowledge your feelings. Choose your next step consciously. And know that this is you taking care of yourself.