I caught her in the lunch line today.
She was exhausted. I could see it in her eyes and hear it in her voice. A mom of a three year old and a four month old, living in a country that is not her own, far from her family, and married to a man from a different nation. All things she chose – all things she loves – but all things that add extra stress and pressure to the everyday life of a new mom.
Her littlest one was not sleeping well. She was beyond tired. I hugged her and shared some encouragement, and then we went through the line together to load our plates up.
I pondered that brief exchange for the rest of the day. Something about it kept percolating and bubbling in my mind, and finally distilled it down to this —
Sometimes, being a bad mom makes you a better mom.
Let me explain.
All the sacrificial decisions we make as mothers, giving of ourselves to meet the needs of another helpless human being. Every single choice, no matter what it is, should be worthy of applause and praise. Yet after three kids (which in no way makes me an expert, but does provide me with a bit of context), I’m slowly realizing that boundaries can be just as important as sacrifice. Not boundaries that place our children in harm’s way or are unrealistic for their age. Boundaries – limits – that allow us as moms to grasp a bit of sanity in the midst of an insane season of life.
What is a boundary I can set for myself? Or for my family? Maybe I’ll let my kid cry for 10 minutes while I take a shower. Maybe I’ll say yes to one or two bottle feeds to let my sore nipples have a rest. Maybe I’ll do a drive through lunch instead of made from scratch or choose a snuggly movie afternoon instead of another project to complete. Each one of those decisions can make me feel like a ‘bad’ mom. Poor nutrition! Screen time! Formula feeding! Yet how much does it cost me to be that ‘good’ mom? Can I place limits on myself and say ‘I need help’ or ‘I really can’t’ and make my home a safer place because I am a healthier mom?
Truth be told, if I am drained of life and energy then what I have to give to others will be my worst. How can I care for myself so that I can better care for others? Often that ‘self care’ is more of a sacrifice than the selfless behavior that I might be currently choosing. Waking up earlier. Planning further ahead. Saying yes to humility and inviting help from the outside. Putting technology away and picking up a book. Nourishing instead of indulging. I see it less as selfishness (which is something I wrestled with for a long time) and more as fuel for my calling.
Today I woke at 6 AM. It’s the weekend. I could have slept in (at least until 7 AM when the littlest wakes up). Instead, I quietly crept downstairs and took the dog for a walk. I choose to have time alone because I know that’s a boundary that fuels me. The lies of ‘You could have cooked breakfast for your family!’ or ‘Three loads of laundry are waiting!’ or ‘What about that cupboard you sad you’d organize?’ swirled around me as I gathered the leash and house keys.
Those things can wait. They will be there when I get back from my twenty minutes of silence and will be available to me for the rest of the day. What this bad mom chose to do is fuel for the better mom I know I can be.