Okay, before you start thinking I’m a terrible person, I’d like to say that there are many, many ways in which motherhood has taken me deeper into selflessness than I ever thought possible. I shared my body with another human for 41.5 weeks. (Three years if you include breastfeeding.) I have given up sleep, wine, sex, travel, time, and sanity for my son, and at 11 weeks pregnant I’m about to start the whole thing over again. Most moms will readily agree that there is nothing more selfless than raising children. I am the last to argue that.
But there is another aspect of motherhood that has slowly crept up on me in the last couple of years. It was something that for a while, had me feeling guilty and frustrated, until I decided to just embrace it as part of this season. It’s something I was finally able to verbalize with a friend, and once I did I thought, “I can’t be the only one feeling this way.”
The thing is, motherhood -in all it’s self-sacrificing glory- has also taught me to be selfish. In learning to hold my family and my emotional health as top priorities, I have also learned to say “no.” And I’m not just talking about saying no to big events or late-night get-togethers, although those have often had to be refused.
I’m talking about selfishly guarding my time, my emotional energy, and my availability in a way that I never, ever thought was okay before.
When I fist got pregnant, I distinctly remember thinking that I didn’t want to be one of those people who dropped off the face of the earth when they had a child. I didn’t understand why anyone would need to be so selfish with their time and energy just because they were now also raising a small human. And some people don’t! Some parents very smoothly fit their new baby into their old life, and I think that’s wonderful. But I also think that it’s important to recognize our own limits and define our own priorities.
For me, maintaining multiple close friendships in which I give my time and emotional energy just isn’t something I can healthily maintain at the moment, unless I’m also okay with my marriage drifting apart or my child being pushed down the priority list. It’s about all I can do right now to have a coherent conversation with my husband and one or two close friends over the course of a week. Other people have the capacity to handle more, others less. I hope as mothers we never judge each other on our ability to give of our time and energy, because we just can’t see into the mental and emotional state of others.
That friend that used to always be there for you very literally might not be able to handle the level of communication you want to maintain. The mom that always wants to hang out might be an extreme extrovert and really genuinely need those sixteen play dates a week in order to stay emotionally healthy.
You just never know…unless you ask. I think as an overall group, mothers in our culture are often afraid to be real about our needs. So let’s start asking each other and being understanding of the “selfish” needs that might be expressed. Let’s stop getting hurt when someone asks for some space or time, and instead ask if everything is okay, or if they’d like us to just drop off a coffee and plan a play date for another day. Let’s not be afraid to say “no” when we need to, and also not afraid to ask twenty different people if they’d like to hang out until we get the adult interaction we need.
Mothering young children is sort of like the way kids grow, I think. Our needs come and go and change in unpredictable spurts. Right now I’ve been in a selfish season, one of hunkering down and focusing on just a few things at a time. In the fall when I have a newborn and a toddler, I might need all the girlfriends bringing all the coffee and talking about all the things. I hope as an older mother one day, I’ll be able to selflessly pour into younger women who are just starting to navigate the ebbs and flows of their needs as mothers.
Whatever the seasons of life bring for me, I will always be grateful that this season has taught me that sometimes, it’s okay to be selfish. As long as we know it’s for a season and we are gracious with the needs of our fellow mamas, I say do what you need to do to be the healthiest mom you can be. In the meantime, I’ll be over here choosing naps over play dates for just a little while longer.