Mom 2.0: Making Myself Matter (Again)

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I always laugh when the flight attendant reviewing the safety instructions on an airplane directs us to affix our own oxygen masks before assisting others. How often in life do we actually ever do that?  

We were two kids deep in parenthood when I woke up from yet another far too-short night of sleep with the realization that I hardly recognized myself. From tongue ties, reverse cycling and bottle strikes to shaping and potty training a very strong-willed toddler, I was so depleted. 

With two under two, demands were high and sleep was fleeting. Over time, that combination slowly drained my battery to a point where it barely held a charge even after a rare, but decent recharge.

 I felt like I was sinking. My temper was short. My energy was shot. My ability to concentrate was a thing of the past. Exercise? What’s that!? Forget about holding a decent conversation, let alone holding together meaningful relationships. And when my dear husband showed up wanting even a tiny little piece of me, it pushed me over the edge.  

“How can you ask one more thing of me when I’m giving - literally - all of myself to caring for our babies, to managing our household, to serving my clients at work, and to just simply surviving. I don’t even have anything left to give myself!” I wanted to scream at him (okay, maybe I did actually scream it in his direction once or twice). It was not my finest moment.  

He had every right to want to connect with me, his wife, his person, his partner in crime in this crazy life we’d created. But as much as I’d wanted to, I simply had nothing left to give him.

How do you explain to the person right there in the trenches with you that you don’t have it in you to pour into them right now? Or to instill faith in them that this is not a new norm, but a very hard season that will, in fact, pass. What words would ever do justice when all they see is you slipping further and further away from them? I get it. I’d be terrified of what was evolving in front of me, too. I’d be trying to grab more of it, hold on tighter, never let go. 

And at the same time, that was exactly what I did not need at that moment. I could not take the burden of one more person needing something from me. Because I genuinely didn’t have any more of me to give. Like I said; I didn’t even have anything to give to myself, so how could I give more to one more person?

I also kept wondering, how do you be YOU in this hard, all-consuming season of life? And what happens when you’re not even sure who “you” are anymore? How do you continue to show up for yourself, your tribe and your spouse when you have nothing left to give? How do you ask for more of what you need to get through that phase and keep that circle intact for when you do come through it? 

I do believe that there’s something to this idea that our spouses should be our first priority in our family. But wait, hold on. When our littles are still just SO little, that is SO hard to live in practice. Because their needs are life-sustaining and they don’t get to be put a shelf until I have the space to attend to them. Their needs are now, they are necessary. And they are my joy to fulfill. Truly. But you know that saying that you cannot pour from a empty cup? That was me, constantly trying to squeeze one more drop out.

I’m not entirely sure what exactly my tipping point was (likely because I was in such a brain dead stupor all the time), but I do know that my sense of self and our marriage were both at an all time low. 

Even in the midst of that, I certainly didn’t aspire to be the me that existed before kids or even marriage. That girl was lovely and she had (finally) gotten her shit together, but as life had evolved so had she. She had grown up amidst all this beautiful chaos. But I knew those core elements of who I was, the essence of my existence was still in there somewhere, it was just going to battle every day with the me in survival mode - and losing.

I desperately needed to find my way back.

Our second was a little over a year old when I joined a 12-week core and pelvic floor training program designed specifically for moms. I nearly walked out when she told us at the first class that our “homework” included daily core exercises for the entire 12 weeks. Was she out of her ever-loving mind?

I had to have a serious pep talk with myself. If not now, when? When was I going to make time to repair myself - inside or out?  

A few weeks in, I was overjoyed that I had not missed one single day of those exercises. I was, for the first time in more than three years, making myself a teeny, tiny bit of a priority again. The exercise program intensified as we got deeper into it and I hung in there like a champ. I was so freakin’ proud of myself. And I had a revelation one day that my overwhelming sense of pride in this effort was not so much about the physical effects I was undoubtedly feeling. It was more about the sense of ME I was slowly gaining back.  

I showed up for that class hoping to fix my damaged core muscles. I never imagined it would be transformative for my core self too. 

Making time for more things that truly mattered to me opened my eyes to how I could be better at asking for (and taking) what I need in life in general. I think I had become so stuck in the daily rhythm that was leaving me utterly depleted that it was damn near impossible to see any other way. Getting out of that routine allowed me to see things in a different perspective. It also left me wondering, why do we feel the need to apologize for allowing self care to be a priority?

I had to hit that tipping point. And man, now I can see just how close I was to tipping right over the wrong side of it.

I recognize that a big part of what allowed me to make this shift was that my babies had grown a bit older and their demands had shifted, which allowed me to shift. For those of you deep in the trenches, hold on! That day is likely coming for you too.

At the same time, I have to also recognize that I did this. I showed up. I demanded better. It would have been so easy not to fight. To simply accept the “as-is” state of being I had become accustomed to and simply coast. And who would blame me? This shit is hard. And when I think about how close I was to losing it all because I was too depleted to fight for any of it, it’s hard not to get a little misty-eyed now.

Since completing that 12-week program, I’m still exercising (albeit at a more “normal” frequency of 2-4 times per week) and trying to squeeze in more ways to take care of my own needs. I’ve reconnected with dear friends I’ve deeply missed and forged new friendships that have filled my cup in ways I hadn’t expected. I’m having fun actually dating my husband again. And I don’t feel like my kids are suffering for it. In fact, they may even be better for it because I am better for it. I’m creating a new normal. Life is still in beautiful chaos mode, but it’s getting so, so good.

Yeah, maybe I don’t yet have it all figured out. I’m ok with that. Like I’m still figuring out what it looks like to protect the new and improved sense of self and all the relationships that help make me the best possible version of me. And I know there are still days when I fail to maintain all of those things in the way I want to. But hey, I’m human. And my babies are still pretty little. I know that there are going to be hard days. And I’m ok with that, because I also know that I can do hard things.

And so. Can. You. As you go out into the world today, I empower you to remember to affix your own oxygen mask first.