Today is Mother’s Day. I have a love/hate relationship with this day. Because it always falls on a Sunday, two things have been true about the celebration. First, it has traditionally been a “work” day for me. The second is a bit more complicated. I hate the way that we celebrate this day, especially in the Church world. This is a day that invokes so many emotions. It is not a Hallmark-able fuzzy celebration. It’s true confession time: being a mother is not a natural thing for me. I found it especially hard and perpetually draining in the younger years. I was not created to be a lovey, book reading, storytelling, cooking, homemaking mommy. I was, however, born with the reproductive system that allowed life to come from my body. I also have a powerful shame game and fully convinced myself that by choosing not to have children, I would be setting up resentment and regret. So, here I am. Happy Mother’s Day to me!
It seemed only fitting that this would be the day to tackle a question that seems to plague so many women and mothers. Even as someone who does not thrive in all things nurturing, I have perfected the art of diminishing my personal needs, time and interests. I can run to the bedside of a hurting loved one or rush to a friend in crisis, all while my own ass is hanging on by a thread. My therapists through the years would call these boundary issues. I would call it the crisis of the female conscience. I had the example lived before me that as a woman, it was my job to care for all the people. By birthright, I was created to meet the physical, spiritual, emotional, relational and anything-else-that-you-can-think-of needs for all of the people in my view. And I should do it with excitement and joy, as a good woman should. I mean, you have read Proverbs 31, right?
There are times that basic caregiving (you know, like the infant stage) just take all the life. I don’t care who you are, certain seasons are just life suckers. This is normal. What we are talking about here is the sustained, long worn path of self denial in the face of other-care. As a women in my 20’s and 30’s, I fought the MAJOR shame gremlins that liked to steal all my joy. If I planned a date out or a fun activity with a friend and a child or parent or friend needed me, I would naturally and without much thought, move to the space of their service. Duty and responsibility always led. These are not virtuous traits. These are the lies that my ego feeds me. The ones where I am convinced that no one can do things the way that I can. The ones where I believe that people really cannot handle their own lives without me.
As I have moved into my 40’s, I have sharpened my caregiving skills in my own direction. I have begun to define what differentiates my needs from the people around me. Drinking a cup of coffee by myself is lovely, but an entire morning of sitting on the beach writing is soul filling. Starting my day with a devotional is an endearing goal, but putting on my walking shoes and walking 4 miles will turn my day (and the previous day) around. When my soul is weary, my family is much better off for me to go on a long drive than for me to begrudgingly throw together dinner. Nothing good can come from that kind of need meeting – except a big heaping pile of resentment.
For me, the inability to identify the feelings, ask for what I need and do something about it, have been the recently recognized challenges. I have spent years preparing the way for others to identify their own needs and receive the space and care that they need. I have lived 45 years on this earth. It matters not how many times I have been told to put my oxygen mask on first, I still find myself strapping that thing on other people’s faces and neglecting my own. My body, spirit and gut show the scars of this way of life. So here, on this Mother’s Day 2020, I am headed into the next 45 years with a new call. If there is one thing that the global pandemic has taught me, it is that when I take the time to breathe, write, garden, breathe, walk, be still, breathe and breathe some more, I am a better friend, mom and person. Here is to a day of guiltless, shame-free crawfish eating, poolside sitting day of remembering that I am worth intentional acts of self-care.