After I had my first child, I thought I had motherhood figured out. In the scope of my life, I had never been happier. I was savoring every moment I had with my little boy. I was finishing my degree and doing my student teaching. I had lost a significant amount of weight and felt really good about myself and my health, for the first time in a long time. I was hired to coach the high school drill team I was once a part of and everything seemed to be going my way.
Then I got pregnant.
Let me explain that pregnancy is not easy on me. I am NOT one of those cute little pregnant ladies that goes to her spinning class, cooks three meals a day, and cleans her house from top to bottom, all while wearing 6 inch heels. I’m more like Wendy from What to Expect When You’re Expecting. Have you seen that movie? Well, this scene might make you pee your pants and yes, this was me.
The point is, pregnancy does not look good on me. My whole world changed. I was struggling to keep up with even just the most mundane tasks like switching the laundry from the washer to the dryer and cooking breakfast for my 2-year-old son. Instead, I was making trip after trip to the bathroom to throw up whatever ounce of bile that was left in my stomach. Soon, I just started carrying around a bowl because it took too much effort to run to the bathroom every time.
I would sometimes sit on the bathroom floor, with the door closed, and cry. Wondering how on earth moms do this! Last time I was pregnant, I was just as miserable physically but the advantage was that I had the freedom to lie in bed and sleep. I didn’t have a little toddler needing me every second. I didn’t have many outside responsibilities and I certainly didn’t have so. much. laundry.
I tried to hold it together as much as I could and although some of the nausea passed, I was still on an emotional rollercoaster most of the time. Even the silliest things set me off and had me completely overwhelmed.
After I finally had our sweet baby girl, I thought it was going to be butterflies and rainbows. I had survived pregnancy, now it was time to just savor this precious little newborn baby. Again, I was in for a rude awakening.
One of my friends told me while I was pregnant that having two kids wasn’t all that different than having one. This gave me hope. Hope that was smashed like a fly on the windshield of my car.
I remember coming home and repeatedly locking myself in the bathroom with a screaming baby in her carseat and a tantrum throwing toddler banging on the door. I cried and cried and cried. Then I would pull myself together, stand up, reach for the door, and cry again. It was an exhausting and dark time.
Luckily for me, pregnancy and postpartum depression didn’t last forever. However, being emotionally available to my children is still hard sometimes. Whether we’re going through a tough time or we just consider this particular season of child raising in general a tough time, giving our best selves to our kids is hard. There is a lot on our plates and minds and sometimes turning our undivided attention over to a toddler, or a moody teenager, is the last thing we feel like doing.
Our kids need more than just a hot meal and a warm bath at night. They need us. They need to know we care and that we like to spend time with them. It’s so easy to get to that everyday overwhelm stage and forget how sensitive their little hearts are. We have to make ourselves available, not just physically but emotionally too.
Here are 3 things that might help you get to that place.
Just Say “No”
This means “say no” to just about everything you possibly can. In the midst of my emotional rollercoaster of pregnancy, I had to quit my coaching job. It was not an easy decision and I let down a lot of people in the community. However, I felt I had to do what was most important for my emotional health and my family.
After I had my daughter I got a night job cleaning offices. It was great to have the extra income but it quickly became too much again. I stuck it out for almost two years and I was finally able to quit last month. What a relief! Just the feeling of having my evenings back has boosted my spirits 150%. I don’t have to spend all weekend trying to get caught up on my life.
When we have young kids, it’s totally ok to say “no” to just about any other responsibilities. I take my main job and my church callings seriously but I don’t feel responsible to take on much more than that outside of my own family and home. This includes extra jobs. I have decided it is far more worth it to live a little more frugally than to work a second job.
On top of that though, there are always opportunities to be involved in the community or with friends. If I sign my son up for soccer and you ask me to coach, it’s gonna be a polite, but firm, “no.” If you want me to volunteer on a weekly basis to help out the library, as much of a book lover as I am, I’m gonna have to say, “no.” I wish I could help everybody but I just can’t at this stage in my life. And you know what, it’s ok. And it’s ok for you to say “no” too.
Take Care of Yourself
I am what some people might call an outgoing introvert (which sometimes surprises people). This means I love people and I like to be around them, but in small doses. Alone time is suuuuuper important to me. I like to think and being around people too much seriously drains my energy.
Since getting married and having kids, my alone time has almost disappeared altogether. I sometimes find myself lingering at the store on the rare occasion I’m by myself. I get up at 5am most days, just to get some alone time before everyone else gets up. I still use the “lock myself in the bathroom” tactic when I just can’t take it anymore.
Last year I was deposed for a lawsuit and the lawyer’s office invited me to come up the night before and stay in a hotel. As ridiculous as it sounds, I was beyond thrilled! I knew I would miss my kids but I was looking forward to having some alone time. I went to dinner by myself, went shopping by myself, and then sat in my hotel room and read a book by myself. It was rejuvenating!
What I’m getting at is that we all need to take care of ourselves. It’s true that if we don’t take care of our own emotional reserve, we’ll never be emotionally available to anyone else, including our children. If you’re more of an extrovert and need to be around people, time with friends should be at the top of your list. Maybe you really like to feel pampered and a monthly pedicure is vital to your emotional sanity. Whatever it is, do it. Do it not only for yourself but for your husband and your kids.
If you read this post, you’ll also know I’m going to tell you to do something to move you toward your dreams. Whatever they are. You will feel more alive and more like yourself if you’re doing something that excites you, beyond the scope of raising little munchkins. It’s empowering not only for you, but for your kids as well.
Now that you’ve created enough margin in your schedule by saying “No” to less important things, and you’re taking care of yourself regularly, it’s time to focus on being present with your kids.
My son is a serious talker. His mind never stops and his mommy is his sounding board. There have been times when he was trying to tell me something and he’s had to repeat himself several times because my mind was on other things (or my eyes were on my phone) and I couldn’t get the right response out.
“Mommy, I have a really good question. How do they get the penguins to the zoo? They live in antarctica and I don’t know how they get them to here.”
“Uh huh honey…”
“No, mom–I’m asking you a question!”
“Oh, what’s the matter sweetheart?”
“How do they get the penguins to the zoo?”
“The penguins at the zoo? How do they get them there?”
“I don’t know baby.”
“Mom! Are you even listening?”
It’s the sad reality sometimes. But some of the best conversations we’ve had were when I put down my phone, turned my thoughts off, and actively listened. He’s told me some surprising things, things that had I not been listening, I would have missed. He’s opened up to me about uncomfortable but important topics and I’ve had the opportunity to use those as teachable moments.
I don’t want my kids to be afraid to talk to me, or feel like talking to me is useless because I’m not really listening, even if it appears that I am. I don’t want to miss these precious years because I’m always “somewhere else” rather than in the moment.
Being emotionally available to our children is one of the most important things we can give them.
It starts with how we schedule our time and how we take care of ourselves. Then it is our choice to be present in the moment. These simple habits will allow us to put forth our best selves and be the best mother we can be.
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Can you relate? What do you do to take care of yourself? How do you make sure you are emotionally available to your children?