The Impossible Math of Motherhood

I was just on the phone with a client who told me that she’s getting a massage today. She gave me all of the reasons that she deserved this indulgence. Every reason was valid, of course. But every single on was unnecessary.

I challenged her to ask the massage therapist about making this a regular thing - monthly, bi monthly, or even weekly. “Ask her what the cost would be and then go home and take a look at your budget”, I said.

“Yeah, but that’s where it starts to feel selfish”, was her reply.

We’re okay getting the massage when our shoulders are up to our ears and our back is in knots and moving has become painful. We’ve come to regard self-care as something that we do when we’re in crisis. But that’s not how this works.

When I was pregnant my doctor kept having to remind me to take my prenatal vitamins. I hate swallowing pills and those things were massive. Plus I was always nauseous. But she would tell me that the baby is going to take what it needs and it can either take from my overflow or from my bones.

That never stops. Our kids are going to keep taking what they need from us - time, attention, energy, patience - and they can either take from our overflow or from our bones. You have to put enough in that you have enough for you AND for them. It’s the impossible math of motherhood.

Over and over I keep hearing the same thing from moms:

I feel like I break every night.

I’m stretched so thin I swear you can see through me.

I don’t know how I’m going to keep this going.

I’m so tired of yelling.

We are pushing ourselves beyond our breaking points every single day and then marveling when we crack. But it really is simple, you cannot continue to give out more than is coming in. You aren’t weak, you aren’t broken, you aren’t exaggerating, you aren’t somehow a failure.

You’re simply human.

Where do you think the patience is going to come from? The energy? The ability to pay attention? The clear head?

I think we believe that if we just love hard enough it will all simply happen. If we really loved our kids our patience would be endless. If we were good moms we’d have the energy to get everyone through their activities, homework, dinner time, bath/bed routines with a smile on our face.

But love ain’t it, y’all. You have to, YOU HAVE TO pour into yourself what you expect to be able to pour out for them.

The patience comes from a feeling of security - of knowing that you’re on the right track and that things will be okay. So you can be patient with them because you feel secure in your parenting skills. The patience comes from being rested, having a reserve of energy. The patience comes from knowing that when this is over you have somewhere to fall - a friend to call, a parent or sibling to talk to, a spouse or partner to lean on. The patience comes from having a centered heart and mind - from downtime, meditation, therapy, healing.

The energy, the sense of humor, the clear headed decision making, the follow through, the openness - all of those things that we need as mothers come more freely and abundantly when we take care of our selves.

And that requires a way of thinking that puts each of us at the center of our lives. It requires asking, “What do I need right now” and doing our best to give ourselves that - first. It feels backwards and wrong and selfish - at first.

In the middle of my son’s temper tantrum I ask myself, “What do I need right now?” and the answer comes back that I need to know I’m not screwing this all up. And so I take a deep breath and try to give myself some grace. I may literally hug myself. I remind myself that I can do this and that I don’t have to do it alone. Does it make him stop having the tantrum? Nope. Does it give me the patience I need to handle the tantrum like the mother I want to be? Most of the time.

But look, this shit is hard. I’m not going to lie to you and tell you that a massage or a therapy session is going to change your life. Or that a self-care practice is going to break down capitalism and patriarchy and suddenly we’ll all be living in a mom-topia.

I’m just going to tell you what my doctor told me. They can take it from your overflow, or they can take it from your bones.

Graeme SeabrookComment