When I joined the local chapter of MOMS Club almost ten years ago, I had no idea what lay ahead in the next decade. Becoming a mother turned my world completely upside down, as I learned an entirely new way of being. Thankfully connecting with other women in various stages of this journey called motherhood helped tremendously. While the purpose of MOMS Club is to support other moms (it literally stands for Moms Offering Moms Support), sometimes it was easy to forget this intention and focus more on the children than supporting each other.
I had NO IDEA that a worldwide pandemic would remind me, once again, the true purpose of MOMS Club. Because now that we are all ordered to “shelter in place,” we can no longer meet at the park, offer our little ones an assortment of snacks, and enjoy an adult conversation while our children happily play. I miss holding babies for younger members while they run their toddler to the bathroom. I long for the day when my children will squeal with delight as they chase their friends through the grass. I miss it more than I realized I would.
And yet, I feel something familiar happening. With this worldwide crisis- my life has once again been turned upside down. And once more, I am grateful to find comfort through connection with other moms. No longer able to gather for playdates and activities, we have gotten back to the purpose of our group- Moms Offering Moms Support. Our leaders have been creative, setting up new ways for us to connect virtually. On our first call, we asked questions and gained information from two of our own members who currently work on the front lines in the battle against COVID 19. Listening to words of wisdom from a family doctor and a nurse who are also friends was helpful, comforting, and informative. I felt empowered with knowledge and more importantly- connected to the women I am on this motherhood journey with. This week we had our second call and were joined by a counselor who discussed the importance of self-care through this crisis.
One by one, as courageous moms opened up and shared their experiences during this crisis, a theme emerged. The feeling of “mom guilt” was a thread that wove our unique experiences together connecting us all. Without the breaks of school and the connections with other moms at playdates, and the added responsibility of “distance learning” our older children, we all feel the pressure and experience guilt of not being “good enough.” In many ways, adjusting to this new life feels like starting motherhood all over again, only this time with bigger (and more) children.
Every mom I know shares some similarities. We love our children. And at times we fear we are failing our children. It is no surprise we are feeling the strain of doing it all while also putting ourselves last. For decades a “good mom” has been portrayed in our society as one who takes care of everyone else first, who does not complain, and whose needs come last. The problem is- this simply is not realistic or sustainable.
We are all better moms when we value ourselves enough to prioritize our needs alongside the needs of our loved ones.
One of my long time friends told me years ago, “Lisette- you HAVE to learn to take care of yourself. Because as the mom- YOU are the captain of the ship. And if MAMMA goes down, the entire ship goes down.” And boy was she right.
So, how do we combat the feelings of guilt as we hesitate to ask for a half an hour of undisturbed time just so we can cram in some exercise? How do we justify our desire for 15 minutes of silence when we know having healthy kids is one of our biggest blessings. We do the best that we can, in the moment, with what we have. If we are lucky enough to have a partner, we ask him/her to pitch in and help. If television and video games hold the attention of our children, our sanity is worth more than abiding by some screen time rules developed by men in doctor coats. Doing whatever needs to be done to ensure we take some time periodically to put ourselves and our mental health first is a priority. And not just during a world crisis. Our tendency to forget ourselves happens all too often, it is just illuminated during this time of crisis.
When I struggle with putting myself first, a few things help me. I know what happens when the ship goes down because unfortunately in the past I neglected my own needs and ultimately sank below the water. Now I remind myself that my children deserve a mother who is healthy, happy, and present. And this requires taking care of my own needs along with their needs. Also, I think about the values and lessons I hope to teach my boys. I want to raise children who become kind, compassionate, strong, and resilient adults. One of the BEST ways to teach children is by modeling. They don’t do what we say, they do what they see us doing. By asking my husband to help with parenting duties I hope my boys learn to one day become an active partner and parent who steps in to help their partners. When they see their mom asking for her own needs to be met, my boys learn the value and strength in using your voice assertively. My goal is to raise people who view women as equals to men, and I can’t expect to do that if I am constantly putting myself last. I want them to understand that ALL PEOPLE have inherent value and deserve respect, self-care, and to ask for what they need. So I work to live this way, every single day. And that requires I value myself as much as I value others.
And so, the beauty is- our “mom guilt” is not the only thing that connects us. We all also get the chance to teach our own children a new narrative on the roles of women in this world. By stepping out of our own comfort zone and asking for what we want we are able to take care of ourselves while also becoming better moms for our children. Because they are watching what we do and learning every day what it means to be a woman and a mother. We are helping them as much as we are helping ourselves.
So please, fellow moms, connect with other moms on this journey of raising little people. Know that you are not alone. And go ahead and ask for help when you can. Take a break and allow your own needs to be a priority. And let go of the guilt- it does not serve you. If you can’t do it for yourself- do it for the family that loves, depends upon, and needs you. You are worth it-I promise. And putting yourself first at times will only make you a better mother.