I just love America. And current events. And current events that take place in America. Like this gem: “Me-ternity” Leave Is A Very Bad Name For a Very Good Idea. Yep, just in time for Mother’s Day, it’s a great look at a one woman writer’s unintended social gaffe (and to be fair, an interview with the New York Times is a terrible place to misstep). In case you haven’t heard it discussed on virtually every news outlet and morning program in the nation, I’ll bring you up to speed. The author, Meghann Foye, writes a chicklit novel that’s about a woman who fakes a pregnancy in order to get paid time away from work. Ultimately it was meant to be funny, but her interview with the NYT proved quite the opposite. Bless her heart.
Of course, at the same time I’m hearing all the vitriol coming her way from moms across America, I’m also taking a course in Herbal Medicine for Women, and what are we studying at the moment? None other than stress, the negative effects of unchecked stress on women’s health, and the serious lack of “me time” for women, and moms in particular. And as a mom myself, I can totally identify with the scores of women who called into my morning radio show or posted on Twitter with #me-ternity listing off the 8 million reasons maternity leave is not “me time.” I totally get it. I’ve done it myself- more times than I can count, I’ve stood at the sink, washing dishes and counting in my head all the things I have to do to take care of “these people” before I can do anything for myself. It’s almost like a badge of honor, right? Like “look at my super-motherness! I am so selfless and dedicated.” I’ve rattled off to other moms all my awesome-indicators of martyrdom, owning it proudly: “I can only wash my hair twice a week, and if I get a shower I’m lucky!” or “I don’t have enough time to exercise…I have four kids!” I could seriously break a sweat just naming all the sacrifices I make for these people.
But there’s resentment brewing under all that martyrdom. It comes at a price. There’s a science behind the way our body processes stress, and at its core is the fact that our HPA axis (that’s hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis for those of you keeping score) is meant to stabilize our bodies through periods of stress, but it can’t sustain a high stress load for long. (Think fight or flight, and then going back to rest-mode once the threat is gone.) Eventually, our bodies show wear and tear from stress. Maybe it’s sleep deprivation, maybe it’s heart palpitations. Maybe your skin breaks out or you gain weight from stress eating. Whatever it is, stress doesn’t look good on any of us.
I nearly lost my mom this winter. It was surprising and heartbreaking, and the emotional roller-coaster we rode was a scary one. In that time, I dealt with the stress by thinking of who my mom was, as a person, not just as a mother. She would tell you that her single greatest accomplishment in life was raising the three of us (myself, my sister, and my brother), but she did a lot more than that. In looking back, my mother was always herself. She didn’t live vicariously through us, not even a little. She was a stay-at-home mom, and didn’t have a major career to speak of, and that was okay with her. She didn’t attempt to make our lives what hers wasn’t- she had a life, she had interests, and she pursued them. I don’t know if she felt guilty about them, but I know they didn’t take away from her being an excellent mother. I remember her sunbathing on our back porch and reading an endless stack of novels. I remember her having an elaborate craft room set up for sewing projects and wreath-making. I remember her throwing fun parties for our church’s adult choir. I even remember her favorite shows- Cheers, Seinfeld, and then Frasier, and of course watching Matlock and Murder She Wrote. I remember those things because they were important to her- not more important than us, but they interested her, and she did what interested her. She also took us to practices, but not to every activity we requested (I still remember wishing to be a Brownie scout), and pushed us to find an interest and stick with it (piano and voice lessons). She encouraged us without forcing us, and in this we found the confidence to be ourselves, hopefully without taking away from her. I watched so many of my friends’ mothers push them into activities they didn’t really enjoy, or become so involved in the activities that my friends felt like their moms were on the team- this wasn’t my mom at all. She had a life that was her own, and we were a huge part of it, but not all of it.
I wonder how any of us can do that now. Is it possible to step away from living wholly for the kids and just be us? I’m migrating the content of this blog to a new one very soon, and shifting the tone a bit. My goal is to channel a lot of this creative expression into something more intentional, more mindful. It’s so hard to take the time we have each day and make room for ourselves, but if we don’t, there’s a cost. I mentioned a while back that the hubs and I are ready to have another baby. But we’ve hit a trouble spot- I’m suffering from adrenal fatigue, and as a result, I’m not ovulating. No chance of baby making at the moment. Huge bummer. Bigger bummer? I’m not working in the corporate world anymore- I can’t blame my stress on the job. Instead, I can totally attribute it to the fact that I’m not eating (because I can accomplish so much when the kids eat lunch!) and I’m not sleeping (because laundry is easier to fold after everyone goes to bed), and I’m not giving my body time to recharge (because what kind of mother would I be if I took time for myself?). And instead of wearing those sacrifices as an amazing indicator of my super mom-ness, I have to be intentional and make room in my day for self-care.
Is this you? Do you have me-time? Or are you 100% devoted to everyone else, all the time, because that’s the right thing to do? I wish I knew the magic method to doing things differently, but I don’t. For now, I’m going to try my best to be okay with letting the kids play in the neighborhood while the baby naps and the toddler takes a bath, so I can read or listen to a podcast or write a blog post. (I say that, but naturally I’ll need some accountability or I’ll be right back to my old tricks.) What do you need to do to give yourself some time? What does self-care look like for you? We all need it. Let’s just not tell the New York Times we’re taking a “me-ternity” leave, okay?