Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Martyr Mom

Sure, sometimes a lack of boundaries can be sweet.



I've been really proud of myself lately. Not for the things I've done, but for the things I haven't done.


What haven't I done? I haven't gotten up and fetched a snack for my kids every time they said they were hungry. I haven't run around after every living member of this house, cleaning up their messes for them. I haven't cooked a home-made meal every single day. I haven't let my son sit in my lap at dinner and pick up all the food I'd planned to eat with his fingers. I haven't tried to remedy my daughter's hurt feelings when I tell her it's time to turn off the TV.


Consequently, I also haven't lost my you-know-what on my kids over the smallest things.


It took me a while to realize I'd become a martyr mom. I mean, how could such a fervent feminist be a martyr mom? But I was. I had zero boundaries with my kids. They climbed all over me (literally - I have the bruises to prove it) at the end of a long day of work. They took food off of my plate without asking and demanded second meals when the first one I slaved over didn't meet with their approval. They threw fits when I didn't spend every single moment dedicated to them and their needs.


But much of my martyrdom came directly from me. How I'd rush from work to pick up Sam, even though sometimes I really just wanted to chill out for 20 minutes with a latte. How I hung out with them all weekend, rather than go off on my own, because of the gnawing, persistent guilt I felt for spending so much time at work. How the sound of their whining or crying triggered something deep inside me, a crippling fear that I could lose them at any moment and that I'd never forgive myself for every saying "no" to anything they asked of me.


So, most of the time, I was there. I was present. I played, I picked up small bodies, I got on all fours so I could be a horse, I cooked, I cleaned, I tucked in, I hugged, I answered questions. And then, after days of this, days of saying nothing but "no" to my own demands, days of slaving from the time I woke up (5:30am most days) until the time that the last child when to bed (8:30pm most days), working with my body and mind and soul with barely any time to even pee, I eventually erupted. I screamed and stomped and stormed and sometimes even threw things, all in frustration that NOBODY EVER TAKES CARE OF ME!


Until I finally realized that it would never occur to anyone to take care of me if they never saw me taking care of myself.


So now I say "no" to others a lot more, and "yes" to myself a lot more. On Thursdays, I work as a middle school teacher from 7am to 3:45pm, leave to pick up Stella, take her to her occupational therapist, after which we pick up Sam and come home. The minute we get home, I take our new dog Sweet Pea for a walk, with the two kids in tow. By the time we get back from her walk, it's 6pm and I'm ready to collapse. Can you believe that for the longest time I made a home-cooked meal after all that? Not anymore. Some days, I pick up dinner for the kids at Subway while Stella's in therapy, some days I pop some frozen ravioli in boiling water, other days it's leftovers or pb&j. Not ideal, I know, but my mental health thanks me for it. Today I refused to get up and fetch my 2nd grade daughter a snack moments after she finished breakfast. I told her where the snacks are located and granted her permission to go get one, then I ignored her whining and pouting while I stayed on the couch and pet the dog. I've learned that I can, in fact, endure a two year old's wrath when I refuse to carry him up and down stairs he can easily walk on his own. And right now I'm writing a blog entry on the couch during our snow day while Stella vegges out on episodes of "Strawberry Shortcake" and Sam naps.


I've realized that, just as my love for my kids isn't conditional, neither is their love for me. I'm not going to lose my babies because I didn't play horsey one day after school, and I won't send them into therapy simply because I made a batch of chili for dinner, knowing it's not on my daughter's preapproved list of three things she'll actually eat.


What I might do is teach them that it's important to care for yourself as you love others. It's important for the kindness, respect, and tenderness you show others to first be modeled to yourself.


And I'll show them that it's far preferable to have a mom who sometimes says "no" than one who sometimes explodes.


Besides, I'm sure they'll find other reasons to go to therapy later.

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