I was feeding my daughter on our bed this weekend and I had a waterfall of thoughts and feelings descend on me.
I feel like I’m settling into my role as mom and wife, though most days I still feel like I’m getting my sea legs. Just about the time I get settled, another wave changes something causing me to update the way I find balance and right the world again. I guess that’s life, but I seem to feel it a lot more in this season with new waves coming just about every few weeks. #teething.
Most of the thoughts that came up for me tonight were about me as mom….wondering when I started to loose my “self” in this new role and new sense of “self” and pondering the road I took to get here. I went farther in those thoughts and wondered about my mom and other moms…..what must it have been like for them to have this role of mother and also still have a “self”? A self that may or may not have been/is being seen by their family and kids. What is it like for them to have a self apart from what their kids think they are…caretaker, comforter, meal maker, homework checker….their everything? What do kids think if their mom emphasizes and makes time to tend to her “self”? Do they feel jipped? Do they feel blessed? Does it feel fair? Is all of this good….selfish….a little of both?
I guess I should clarify a bit. When I talk about questioning when I started “loosing my ‘self'” I don’t mean that in a bad way.
When I say “self” I am thinking of the person I want to be when the journey is over….what I want to be known for and how I want people to see me. So, loosing my “self” in my context means losing the person I was and the roles I had and exchanging them for this new identity and self as mother. I don’t feel demoted to this role, but promoted. I think the person I thought I was before this whole motherhood journey was only mildly appreciated by me. In fact I think I was just starting to get to know who I was and how I was made and it had been a bumpy road. It was not as pretty as I thought it was and far uglier then I ever wanted to admit.
But see, that’s the part of me that needed to be cared for. That ugly part I wanted to ignore.
Those years of singleness was God’s space. He used it to teach me a lot about who I was as His creation. He had to strip away the “self” I thought I was…the false “self”…in order to introduce me to the real self….the one He died for and saved.
I now see why He had to die for me. I’m broken and ugly and cruel and mean underneath the facade I have tried to show people. Whenever I reveal that ugly part of me to others, they want to argue with me and say…”No you’re not! You’re so sweet and kind.” I laugh inside and think…”Haha…fooled you all, didn’t I??”
But I think this line of questions tonight about “self” along with a recent session with my spiritual director has let me to understand something really important.
This broken self is also the hurting self. It’s the self that needs saving and needs care and it’s because it has been un-tended to, it has a vicious side to it like an animal that’s been injured. My spiritual director used this metaphor and it fits so well…..injured animals attack and lash out at someone who is trying to help them heal. They are hurt and when help comes to their aid, it doesn’t look safe. It just looks like something else that’s trying to hurt them.
That hurt animal in me needs a tranquilizer dart to the backside most days to get it to calm down enough for healing to begin. I’m feisty and prideful and argumentative and challenging, all to push people away and thus continue the wounded self, staying broken and hurt.
But motherhood has done something interesting to this self. The feisty has calmed down a bit because I have this little person who needs me. So, I have no choice but to slow down and turn my eyes away from my wounds so that I can care for another. It’s that realization that makes me see how I’ve begun to loose my old self…it’s a good thing….a wonderful thing, in fact. I like having space in me for others.
I think in some ways and in some people, this might actually perpetuate problems because they are already giving themselves to everyone. Their defense mechanism isn’t anger and self preservation like mine. Theirs is helping people. For them it’s easier to help others get their needs met because it helps them avoid paying attention to their own needs. So, literally the very opposite of me.
I’ve spent so much time single and life being just about me and then getting married so late and becoming a mom so soon after getting married that I think all the cards in the deck have flipped up in the air and I’m still trying to figure out what order they go in again. That “self” has been jostled so much that I’m now wondering who I was to begin with. And that confusion has stilled me….which is where, funny enough, in the chaos of it all…healing can happen.
I think before Ellie, life was going so fast that I would spend time thinking about how to heal but I couldn’t be still long enough for anything I learned to really begin anything. I just let my busy be apart of me, wrapping myself up in the expectations of others. That was easier then trying to live up to my own perfectionist expectations because those seemed too high. Anytime someone shined a light on that I would push it away or keep moving away from change and healing.
So, I sit here without much keeping me busy like I was before and I’m learning a whole new version of my self and I am finding I really like it. I like who Ellie has helped transform me into. I like how I’ve grown in patience and kindness and gentleness with her. I like who I see myself as a mother (most days) and actually feel like I’m doing what I was created to do.
Other days my selfish rears up and says…”What about me?! You care for others all day long….what about me?? When is it my turn for a break? When is it my turn to check out? When do I get to do what I want?”
Honestly, that voice isn’t totally wrong. And that’s where I circle back to my questions from earlier tonight. What does it mean to have a “self” and be a parent? What does it mean to care for myself while also caring for another that NEEDS to be cared for? What do you do to replenish and restore that “self” that gets drained, when it gets drained?
I honestly have no idea how to answer that because balance in these two spaces was not really modeled for me and every time I think about wanting to do something to care for my “self” I feel guilt. I saw my mom give all of her “self” away so something in me believes that’s the “good” to pursue. However, that doesn’t sit well with me either.
I remember one of my professors saying that to deny ourselves we have to first know our selves.
That makes sense to me. I feel more inclined to deny myself when I have spent some time knowing my “self” and what it needs. And I want Ellie to see that in me!
The perfectionist in me says you need to be all things to her no matter what it costs you…give it all away! But the selfish voice in my head (which I have come to love and appreciate because it balances my perfectionist out!)…says, “No! What about me? Don’t miss me! I matter too!”
And honestly, that’s the little girl in me crying out to be seen. I know that now because I have done the work of figuring it out. Before I just labeled her as selfish. But that little girl didn’t get what she needed….somewhere…a long time ago. No blame to anyone because people can’t help a need they don’t know about and that little version of me, didn’t know how to ask for it. So, it is what it is.
But, she fights hard to make sure she gets it now. If there is even a small possibility that my husband is going to get more time for himself then me, that little girl says…me, me me!….and fights and claws until she gets what she needs. It’s a tad savage, but she’s a little wild and un-cared for down there so she’ll remain a wild child until she gets what she needs more consistently. She needs to know she matters and that someone is looking out for her so she doesn’t need to fight for it herself. To care for this little wild child is to give her safety and give her a break from her wild ways. My poor husband is her caretaker and…bless him…he works hard to care for her. He’s a wonderful caretaker :) but it’s a hard job for him. We balance each other out though…there’s a little kid version of him I care for as well as he grows up too. Isn’t marriage delightful?!
*sigh* I think this has been a rotten jumble of thoughts as I read back through what I’ve typed out so far. I’m okay with that, because this is my little corner of the world to spill my guts. However, I’m sorry to those who find themselves bothered by the rabbit trails and missing clarity and lack of concise thinking. This is me. Messy and unfinished and unedited so I thank you for your grace and I won’t take it personally if you rolled your eyes and stopped reading to the end…haha…understood and no judgement here.
My desire to find a happy conclusion to these thoughts is going to have to be okay with the fact that those haven’t come yet. But if you find that you have some thoughts on this balance of denying self and self-care, I welcome them.
Jesus…..Jesus did self care and he definitely modeled denying self. I believe some time in the Gospels might help me grab a few more tools in this journey.
Blessings to you if you find yourself in any of the same places. It’s always nice to know you’re not feeling undone alone!