The Rest of the Story

In reading your super thoughtful comments on my last post I realized something important. I left out the biggest obstacle that I’m up against.


As much as it feels comfortable to focus my attention on scheduling challenges and nap times, those things are  nothing in the face of the real problem. They certainly don’t make life easier, but as you guys so rightly pointed out, they can be worked around. What I haven’t found a way to work around is me.

My wife and I have talked the No Mama Time problem to death (sorry honey) and have generated long lists of possible solutions. Unfortunately my brand of crazy makes not really workable. A few examples to give you the flavor:

  • Sure, I could let you handle bath and bedtime for both boys, but if I’m not doing that shouldn’t I be (insert chore here)?
  • Yeah, I would love to have a Saturday morning to myself but we only get so much family time and wouldn’t it be better to just spend that time together? At some point they’re not going to want to hang out with us anymore.

I am sure to talk myself out of every idea we can dream up. It’s maddening. There’s a few things that contribute to this kind of crazy. Things like perfectionism, a tendency to see things as very black and white when problem solving about something anxiety-provoking, and worst of all….. A deeply held (seemingly unshakable) belief that it is my duty on this Earth to love and care for people. Unfortunately, I do not count as other people.

Now, don’t let this fool you. I am not saying that I am a lesbian, non-Catholic Mother Theresa. Not by a long shot. I’m saying that I have been known to focus my attention on other people’s needs as a way to avoid my own. I am also saying that down deep I believe that I have to make people love me (hats off to the Enneagram for helping me figure that one out). The way I’ve always done that is by helping everyone else meet their needs while having no needs of my own. Brilliant, don’t you think?

I see now that the only way I was ever able to make this even marginally work was by narrowing the field of people in my life (you can only force so many people to love you after all) and having plenty of time at my disposal. This strategy allowed me to care for a few people well AND still have time to care for myself. Then…we had kids.

As it turns out, having small children is the perfect storm for this kind of crazy. It is IMPOSSIBLE to hang on to this strategy with two kids and a wife. I will never be able to meet everyone’s needs perfectly. It’s not possible and it’s not even best for their own growth. I’m going to have to let this go, but it’s not easy. My head is entirely clear on the matter. My head knows that of course I have needs just like everyone does and that is perfectly as it should be. My head also knows that I am not actually responsible for the way other people feel. My heart feels otherwise. I experience real panic when I think about taking time away to do something wholly for myself. My heart says there is real danger there.

  • What if I get out of the house and so my wife misses her run and she’s out of sorts and unhappy?
  • What if the place looks like a tornado hit and it puts everyone on edge?
  • What if the boys or my wife feel like I’m ignoring them?

It’s clear to anyone with some sense that none of these what-if scenarios are catastrophic, but they can feel that way to me when I’m at a low point.

The bottom line is that I’ve got to get past this. I want it for myself and I want it for my boys. This is not the model of self-care that I want to embody. Also, I’m just getting to old for it. I’ve been peeling back the layers on this one for the last fifteen years and really….enough analysis already. It’s time to trust my family to love me simply bc I’m me and to trust myself enough to acknowledge my own vulnerable human-ness. It’s time to grow up.

***I am happy to report that I’m writing this at the coffee shop while my wife manages Yogi’s nap and Monkey’s who-knows-what. Baby steps, right?

** Also, thanks for wading through all of this with me.


7 thoughts on “The Rest of the Story

  1. Oh I know that role you feel the need to fill all too well. That need to make people love you runs deep through my veins. I like to think that acknowledging it as you have is one giant step forward. Your quest to move beyond acknowledging it and into starting to fix it is admirable. You’ll get there! And hey, taking a break alone at the coffee shop seems like one huge stride to me!

  2. Yay coffee shop! I’m totally with you on the family time argument–I get a little sad every time I take Clem somewhere and don’t get to spend that time with my wife–but let me tell you: life is SOOOOO much better when my wife’s had some time to herself. You say “I want it for myself and I want it for my boys” but, at the risk of making assumptions that your marriage is similar to mine, might you also consider wanting it for your wife and for your marriage? I mean, I love my wife always and forever, but she’s not a lot of fun when she’s cranky and stressed out and exhausted (you know, beyond the normal run-of-the-mill exhaustion that won’t go away until another decade or so).

    Oh, and also, if you have either the financial resources or access to gr.oupon-type things, may I recommend house-cleaning services? I felt like such a spoiled brat the first time we did it (even though it was gifted to us) but it was so nice to outsource that particular aspect of time consumption that I didn’t think twice about doing it again when a reputable company came up as a daily deal.

  3. This is something I struggle with too. I SAY I want time for myself, but almost every time J offers some, I find a reason to turn it down. I’m not tomorrow, though. I’m going to a movie. Alone. It will be hard for me to walk out the door, but I know that it will be good for all three of us. Anyway, where you get to in this post is beautiful. And I hope you’re not too hard on yourself because my single month of parenting two taught me that, resistance to self-love aside, there really is ALMOST NO TIME for a mama when she’s home with two. And you’re right: they won’t always need us this much. This is a moment, and though balance is so, so good, surrender to this is not terrible either. If you’re like me (which, you are), you could get by on the occasional time to yourself. So maybe the trick is letting yourself have little getaways, and accepting that part of this gig is surrendering most of that kind of thing for a little while? That maybe this (parenting little ones) won’t be the time in your life when you really fix this particular struggle? Anyway, your insights here are lovely.

  4. My kids are 2.5 and almost 5, and the past year has been magical. All of a sudden, things are different and time is starting to open up for me — and it will for you too. My kids play together (without me) for 30-60 minutes at a time and are very happy doing so. They can sit quietly at the table and draw or paint with watercolors while I make dinner (or, more commonly, they help). They are safe enough in the bath so I can maintain a distance of a few feet to fold laundry or wipe down the sink and toilet (and I am still there to chat, sing, and make up games). My son can clean his own room and my daughter can pick up things in her room too — and they help with other chores as needed. I had no idea how much things would change as they got older (and they are still pretty young). I have to agree with R, above — this isn’t perhaps the best time to solve the problem. Just do your best and give it some time.

  5. Self awareness is at the top of the pyramid, right? So, you’re doing awesome!!! In those low moments, I’ve found talk therapy and meds work wonders. Sometimes there are mental hurdles that we can’t talk ourselves out of, and that is nothing to be ashamed of! xoxo

  6. I don’t have any wisdom to share, just awe. I’m inspired by any SAH parenting. That is such hard work. It seems to me that acknowledging the issue is the first step to finding a solution. Between you two bright women you will surely figure it out soon. 🙂

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