I woke up Friday and before I even got out of bed, I prayed: “God, please be really clear with me today. I don’t have the vision or stamina for nuance.”
The night before, I had gone to sleep crying. One of my kids is being hard in the way that is my kryptonite. I wasn’t at my strongest; yet I had a lot to accomplish. I was in the middle of a “take one child to a well-visit, another to open a bank account, one to be fitted for a prom tux, another to the beauty shop and three of our animals to the vet in two separate appointments” marathon.
As I was tending to all of these kids and animals, I kept hearing that quiet and persistent voice that I’ve come to recognize as the Holy Spirit. The voice kept asking, “Anna, what do you love?” After a lot of sighing, my response was “I don’t have any idea. I know what I do all day, but I don’t know what I love.”
Even though I had asked God to be clear with me, I wasn’t loving this line of questioning. It was a little direct. Nonetheless, it seemed worth paying attention to this simple question and my lack of an answer.
So, I started a list of things that I love:
traveling to new places to hike and explore
walking in my neighborhood, listening to NPR
Throughout the day, I kept adding to my list of things that I love and I noticed that most were solitary activities. I felt bad my list didn’t include any activities with my amazing friends, my kids or even my husband. I was certain that the “good moms” would have said playing games with their kids or taking cooking classes with their husbands were what they loved. I also felt bad that my list appeared to have been written by a very elderly woman. When did I turn into such an old hermit? Shouldn’t my list be more social or interesting? Most things that I love didn’t “help” anyone. I wasn’t proud of my list.
Here’s what I heard next: “Anna, you are allowed to exist.” This made me cry. It felt like such a relief to remember that God was looking out for me, wanting me to be well and whole. I think we moms sometimes forget that we were our own people before we had our children and we’ll be our own people again after our children are grown and gone. I’ve been a mom for sixteen years now and I sometimes forget that I exist outside of the people who need me. I do know that disappearing into my family seems unwise. I think this is part of the reason that some couples fall apart after their children leave the house: they don’t exist as people anymore.
My husband wants me to exist. He tries to take really good care of me, but since I don’t always know what I need, it’s hard for him to guess what will help me. I vacillate between wanting things to be so quiet that I don’t hear another human and wanting to sit in his lap. I’m not an easy wife. Besides, it really isn’t his job to make sure I don’t disappear and it certainly isn’t my children’s job to make sure I am fulfilled. My own mother got her master’s degree when I was in high school and I barely even noticed. I don’t think it occurred to me that she existed outside of our family and I’m certain she didn’t ask us if we would mind that she was starting her career. It was wise of her to do what she needed to do instead of waiting for her children to suggest she pursue her dreams. I know that I was a pretty self-absorbed teenager, but I doubt most kids think of their mom’s fulfillment very often.
It’s up to us moms to take care of ourselves. Move yourselves up on the list of people who need care. Figure out what you love and do those things whenever you can. Over the weekend, I did a few things that I love and I was amazed how open I then became to the people around me. As my aunt used to tell me, “The best mom is a happy mom.”
Take good care of your unique and beautiful selves, sweet mamas. Your very existence is a gift to us all.