Being a mother is a tough gig. Especially to very young children who show their appreciation for all your love, affection and hard work by throwing themselves on the floor screaming in the middle of the grocery store or smearing peanut butter and jelly on the one clean thing you had to wear to the pediatrician’s office. Frequently, I work hard to keep them happy all day, clean up after them in the evening, only to worry about them when I try to sleep at night. Do I have anything to pack for lunch tomorrow? It’s 2am and no one has cried for me. Are they still breathing!? (Followed by mini panic attack, checking frantically to ensure that they are indeed breathing, peeing, debating on whether or not flushing will wake someone, tripping over the dirty laundry on the way back to bed, putting that on my mental to do list for tomorrow, then wishing I hadn’t thought about my to do list because it is so, so long.)
Thankfully, I have a husband who is a STELLAR father; he works hard all day crunching numbers as a financial analyst and then plays hard with the kids when he comes home. He notices when my eye starts twitching because I just cannot hear the words “MINE” or “NOOOO!!” one more time and he takes the kids outside so I can cook dinner in peace. He knows that I eat, sleep and breathe children all day and when I don’t get enough of a break MEAN MOMMY comes out. (Imagine the Hulk with PMS. That’s Mean Mommy.) I’m a lucky girl to have a husband who gives me a break as often as he can, and sometimes without me having to ask.
But sometimes, on a Saturday afternoon, my awesome husband goes to fix a seemingly minor leak under the kitchen sink and discovers that a whole wall has to come out of the kitchen because the studs have completely rotted out. This spurs an impromptu DIY kitchen remodel that looks like something out of the movie “The Money Pit” and involves my poor husband spending every evening and weekend working on our kitchen for SIX MONTHS. (I know, I know. He’s smart AND handy. Did I mention he’s handsome too? Ok, I’ll stop now.) As you might imagine, constant kitchen construction + my utter ineptitude at anything involving tools + husband unable to breastfeed our seven month old = Mean Mommy on constant childcare duty.
For someone who was a social worker in a previous life, I suck at self care. My kids’ needs come first, my husband gets sloppy seconds and I get anything that is leftover, which most of the time is nada. But my husband’s sudden inability to give me a break forced me to make time for ME. It was hard. It made me feel selfish; when I felt better after having some alone time, I felt guilty about what I should have been doing and wasn’t. (Like how I should be doing dishes right now and planning dinner instead of writing. Whoops.) But I also realized that taking time for me made me a happier, more patient mom. It meant that the time I spent with my kids was quality time instead of just a countdown until bedtime. It meant that I was better at recognizing when Mean Mommy was about to rear her ugly head and I could do something about it before she snapped at the kids. I had to come to terms with the fact that I was not the super mom I wanted to be, and that even the wonderful and glorious job of raising beautiful human beings is no fun when you do it non-stop.
So how, you ask, do you take a day off amidst of the chaos of being a stay at home mom to a then seven month old and a two year old with no wall or sink in your kitchen?
Step 1: Take your to do list for the day and stuff it under the couch. Whatever is on there can wait. Accept that you are going to work harder on another day to make up for your lack of productivity today. The good news is you might actually have more stamina tomorrow after having a break!
Step 2: Put your most comfortable pair of yoga pants and a baggy t-shirt. Shower and bra are completely optional. If your ladies hang low and wobble to and fro, you might just want a little extra support. Your choice. When it comes to the shower, personally I like to save mine until the small humans are napping so it is long, luxurious and (hopefully) uninterrupted.
Step 3: Turn on the TV. Break out the iPad. Bring on the video games. I know. I know. You are starting to feel that all too familiar pang of guilt. Maybe you are starting to visualize your child’s brain melting like a crayon in your minivan on a hot summer’s day. Just remember that 364 days a year you rock your mom job. (Ok, maybe 345. Nobody’s perfect.) One day won’t kill ‘em. You may actually be surprised by how quickly they lose interest in the TV. Also try turning on some music. My kids can shake their groove thing for a surprisingly long time.
Step 4: Whip out your industrial sized box of goldfish. Place it on the coffee table and inform the children they can help themselves. For smaller folks, just pour about ½ the box directly onto the coffee table. For lunch, try peanut butter and jelly or cereal. Whatever you don’t normally let them eat because you are a super mom, bring it on. The point is, feed them something that makes them happy. If you spend most of your days hiding carrots in your kid’s mac n’ cheese (guilty) or cheering your kid through every mother loving bite of vegetables until you open a bottle of wine so you can stop banging your head on the dinner table (ahem, GUILTY) then, take a break today. I’m not saying you should stop fighting the good fight over vegetables or chicken or just refusing to eat anything but cheese. I’m saying WAY TO GO. Way to fight the good fight. You’ve done SO well, that taking the day off today is not going to ruin it.
Step 5: If you build it, they will come. Gather together all of your cardboard boxes. (We constantly have stacks of empty diaper boxes and Amazon boxes hanging around our house.) Build a tower and let them knock it down. Add a sheet and build a fort. This is hours of fun.
Step 6: When the natives get restless, break out something new. Cars, legos, play doh. (Um, are Barbies still cool? I don’t know. I’ve forgotten what it is like to be girly since I live with three boys. Our house is like a mini testosterone fueled fart capsule. If you have girls, I’m sure you know what to do. Break out the glitter if you have to.) Basically, if it makes messes, it’s awesome. Repeat.
Step 7: Once your children are happily engaged, sit down on the couch with a nice (hot!) cup of coffee and enjoy a little bit of time for YOU. Call a friend you haven’t talked to in ages. Read a book. Pop your headphones in and watch your favorite TV show on your laptop.
The bottom line is we spend most of our waking moments doing our absolute best to be great mothers. IT. IS. EXHAUSTING. We deserve a day off. Give yourself permission to relax. You may even surprise yourself when you find you have a little spring in your step tomorrow morning. Trust me, those dishes in the sink will still be there. (Or of you are really lucky, your husband will do you a solid and load the dishwasher for you. Now that is a win, win!) Besides, if you are doing your very best most of the time, one day of mediocre parenting won’t leave any lasting damage. And if it does, there’s always therapy.