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Challenge: Stretched Too Thin

Mama guilt is real and sometimes ridiculous

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I find myself sitting alone in the kitchen after I give the kids their dinner some nights, eating alone and listening to a podcast, and it fills me with guilt.

How dare I sit and not be with my children? Don’t I love them? Don’t I want to be with them all the time? If I don’t is something wrong with me?

Of course I know I love my children. And I know I don’t have to be with them all the time to show it. I know there isn’t anything wrong with needing a break from my children throughout the day but something deep within in me says my little breaks are selfish and wrong.

Where does this guilt come from? I have no idea. No one has ever told me I should play with my children constantly or entertain them non-stop or sacrifice quiet moments to myself because I gave birth to tiny humans.

My husband works a second shift, leaving me home with the kids during two of the busiest, sometimes most stressful, times of day - supper and bedtime. I don’t resent being a stay-at-home mom. In fact, I wanted to be at a stay-at-home mom for years. I worried about putting financial stress on our family but I felt being home with our son, to raise him, was the right step to take. By the time he was in school I considered going back to work to lift some of the financial burden but by the time I made up my mind about that I was pregnant again. A situation at my son’s school led to a decision to homeschool him at the end of last school year. Going back to work wasn’t an option at that point.

Seven years ago, after working for 14 years, I was home with my son, overwhelmed with the thought that I was now doing something I never imagined doing. When I was a teenager and in college, I knew I was going to be a writer or a photojournalist who traveled the world, not a mom. And if I was a mom, that baby would be in a carrier, on my back, not in my lap or in my floor while I did the things stay-at-home moms did. I didn't know what they did, but to me stay-at-home moms were boring and frumpy and covered in spit-up, yet also super organized and played with their children and did crafts and arts with them and cooked home meals and stood in the kitchen in their aprons and waited for their husbands to come home from work and - and - the mere thought of being that mom sent me into sheer panic mode.

But then I was holding him and he was looking at me. He was funny and intelligent and I forgot about the boogers and spit up on me. The late nights were hard and I was a walking zombie. Pregnancy and breastfeeding kicked my tail and soon I was on thyroid medication and supplements and anything I could consume to keep me functioning. But he was worth it all.

And today both he and his sister are worth it all.

What’s happened to me, though, is what happens to many stay-at-home moms: I run the danger of pouring so much of me into them there is very little left for anyone else and there is definitely nothing left for me to relax and refresh my inner self.

I remember being so obsessed with caring for my son, feeling his care was my sole responsibility, that I found myself consumed by guilt if I even took a few moments to myself to take a shower or a bath or run to the store to grocery shop on my own.

My mom did everything for us growing up. My dad worked and she cooked, cleaned, cared for us and was there for us when we fell off our bikes or came down with a cold or woke up with a nightmare. She was amazing and I think when I became a mom I subconsciously compared myself to her and thought I had to do as much as she did and had to sacrifice the way she did, or at least the way I thought she did.

One thing I don’t remember my mom doing is playing with me. She colored with me some, but as for playing, she’d been raised that children needed to entertain themselves and learn on their own to teach them independence. She didn’t ignore me, or shout at me to leave her alone, but she gently directed me toward my toys or my sketchbooks or outside to find something to do.

I truly have no idea what my mom did to relax, except she read. A lot. She escaped in a book and she took time for herself when she cooked. Did she feel guilty that she wasn’t spending her every waking moment with me or my brother? I don’t know but I have a feeling she knew we were okay on our own and she didn’t need to be with us every second. She also wasn’t bombarded with messages from magazines and social media and tv about our failings as parents.

Is being a mother harder now because of the many voices we have telling us how to be one? I don't know, but what I do know is we don't have to listen to all those voices. Maybe we can take one or two, think about what they are saying and apply their advice, but then we can ignore the others and listen to the only voice that really matters: the voice inside us that tells us when we've stretched ourselves thin enough and it's OK to set the kids up with a game, a book or even - gasp! - a cartoon and take a little time for ourselves.

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