When my oldest daughter was a toddler and my son was a baby, I was so busy with activities filling my schedule, I hardly was fit to call myself a stay at home mother.
It was more like an “always on the run mother”, attending parenting classes, play dates, mother’s days out, Bible study, visitation, and so on. My children were horrible little brats from all of the running around and lack of consistent discipline, and I was exhausted, my house was a mess, and life was just chaos.
Then I read an article all about how mommy me time is rooted in selfishness, and I went to the other extreme, as is my nature.
I’m really, really good at extremes.
I stayed home, tried to focus on raising my children and keeping the home, and had three more children during this time. I was always reading up on how to be the perfect Christian mom (ha ha ha), because I tend to be a perfectionist. This lead to some off-kilter, out of balance things in my life which God has lovingly corrected…summed up in the word “legalism”.
I had to see a doctor when my youngest was only a month or so old because of the flu, and I was trying to disguise my postpartum depression, not willing to admit having it.
The doctor obviously clued into what was going on, and I immediately responded defensively that I wasn’t going to take medicine. She calmed me down, again very gently, and said she didn’t like medicine either unless it was clearly called for. She then asked some questions about my life, how much rest I was getting, and so forth.
Regarding my legalistic ideals of that time, I should mention that I had been reading a lot of whacked out ideas around this time about family life, and was convinced I could just do this all myself, without worrying about the lack of help, and the lack of rest. I didn’t have any outside help, but I decided I just didn’t need any, since God didn’t provide any. I can do all things through Christ, right? I am woman, hear me roar. ~smile~ What on earth was wrong with me!??!??
I remember the doctor put her hands on my knees and said, “Look, here’s your prescription. I want you to get out of the house once a week without children and do something for you. I strongly recommend a health club or something like that, because exercise will make you feel better unless you over do it. As soon as you are over the flu, that is my orders,” and then she smiled at me.
I went home to my husband and conveyed to him with disgust what the doctor said.
“I’m glad someone finally agrees that you need to do something besides stare at these four walls and slowly go mad with a houseful of children to tend to and no down time,” replied my husband.
“Say WHAT??!?” I couldn’t believe he was agreeing with her.
Later, armed with my already purchased lifetime membership to a health club (which I hadn’t used since Judah was born, and I gave up “worldliness”), I was sent off by my husband, almost like an unwilling kindergartener given the boot into their classroom for the first time, and made to work out with a trainer. This was hard for me. Not the working out as much as overcoming an idea that
- I was being selfish by leaving my babies
- I was being unladylike by being in a health club
- that I was being immodest by wearing sweatpants (legalism, remember? *sigh*)
- that I was only going to make things worse….I’m exhausted and depressed and you send me to go work out around beautiful people after I’ve had 5 back to back pregnancies? Are you nuts, woman?
The first time I went out, I complained to my husband when I got home about how awful the music was, how awful the whole thing was, and how out of place and uncomfortable I felt.
“Good!” he said, “If you are uncomfortable about being around normal people and not just your group of mega conservative moms and kids, then maybe you need to get out of the house more often”
That was over twelve years ago, and I’ve come to some conclusions about the whole mommy me time debate.
I think if there is one thing God is forever needing to remind me, it’s balance, because I am prone to extremes in pretty much every area of my life.
Is it wrong to have your schedule so full of running around looking for refreshment that you never get your main job was done (whatever that may be)? Yes.
Is it wrong to not allow yourself proper rest and refreshing? Also yes.
Going off on some extreme because it’s the “cool” thing to do in your non-conformist uber conservative social circle does not earn you brownie points with heaven.
Jesus Commanded Rest
Jesus, who was God in the flesh, many times sought to get away alone to rest and even commanded His followers to withdraw from the multitudes to whom they were ministering, and rest (Mark 6:31).
Now, if Jesus and the disciples needed time away from those who needed them, and to whom they were called to minister, then why is it wrong for a mother to also have some time away from those to whom she is called to minister (her children) for the purposes of being refreshed and better able to minister?
Our Primary Rest and Refreshing Comes from the Lord
Obviously, for Christians, the Lord is our first source of rest and refreshing, and time with Him is crucial for our spiritual health and well-being.
When you have young children, this is not always easy to do, and can sometimes be stressful to achieve if you have children that wake up as soon as they sense someone is moving around (as one of mine always did). When my children were younger, the Lord began to show me the benefits of having a devotional lifestyle instead of skipping a quiet time on those days the children wouldn’t let me start my day with quiet.
Try to go to church. Do not to spend the whole church service in the nursery talking about diaper brands either, or chasing a toddler in the foyer (you won’t be struck by lightning for putting them in the nursery).
You need to be in the worship service and under some preaching, at least some of the time. I know some interruption is unavoidable with a nursing baby, but as much as is possible, get your spiritual tank filled in your local fellowship.
The Purpose of Me Time has to be Kept in Mind
The whole point of time away is for rest and refreshing, not avoidance of chores we don’t like to do, or because we are in denial of the 3 weeks of laundry that has built up behind the closet door.
Not that I’ve ever done that. No….(ahem)
The whole idea is to be refreshed so that as you come back to the daily grind, whatever that may entail for you, you’re rested enough to do what needs doing.
Those who disparage mommy time tend to use examples of moms who use personal time to avoid responsibilities. This is, in my opinion, a denial of the very real fact that everyone functions better when well rested, with some down time in life. Some people may turn a little downtime into a lifestyle of rest (that’s the ditch on the other side of the highway, as the saying goes).
For me, REST is all about making myself better able to function at what I need to do.
Stephen Covey, in his book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” talks about this in the last habit, when he writes about “sharpening the saw”. The picture he presents is that if a man is trying to saw wood, and the blade is getting dull, he can either take a break to sharpen the blade, or he can keep going. If he keeps going, the blade will become duller over time from overuse, causing him to have to work harder for less impressive results. The lesson: If we don’t take time to “sharpen the saw”, we risk working harder with fewer results because we are not functioning optimally.
Enjoy Some Couple Time Too
The way I’ve come to see it is this way: I was a wife before you became a mother, and I will continue to be a wife, Lord willing, long after my baby has left the house.
However, having little people in your home who need you, are demanding of your time and energy when they are little, and cause your interests to change from gourmet dinner by candlelight, classical music, and adult conversation to mac and cheese on a paper plate, a well-worn CD from some children’s artist and their irritatingly entertaining jingles you catch yourself humming even when you try not to, and reading with great interest about various aspects of motherhood…well, that can be a bit stressful on your relationship with your spouse.
Try not to be so child-centered that you can’t enjoy meaningful time with your husband. You are both in this parenthood thing together, of course, but you should still be able to have other things in common that you enjoy too.
The Husbands Weigh In
A few years ago, as we were hanging out with some friends, my husband and the guys we were visiting with began to talk about the need for dads to throw their wives out of the house from time to time for their own sanity.
I was pretty shocked that guys felt that way. REALLY? THROW YOUR WIVES OUT OF THE HOUSE?!?
They all admitted that coming home to the chaos that happens when their wife is out of the house in pursuit of me time all the time is bad, but they were explaining to us astonished women that it’s just as bad to come home to a stressed mom who is in denial about needing some time of refreshing alone, and who is burned out won’t do anything about it.
My hubby has told me that for years he missed debating and discussing issues in the news because all I seemed capable of debating about was cloth vs. disposable, breastfeeding vs. bottle feeding, and child-rearing philosophies. Retain some of the woman he married even during this season of motherhood.
What about you?
How do you find that balance in mommy me time?