Photo by SportSuburban
I made a breakfast table decision way back when my kids were still small enough for a highchair and booster seat: I will do my best to anticipate my family’s morning needs—providing something to eat and drink, and even something to spread on their toast. But once I sit down? I’m not getting up again until I’ve finished my own breakfast. More importantly, I’m not getting up until I’ve enjoyed at least one cup of coffee.
This was a stroke of wisdom that must have come from above. It’s a small thing, but it set the tone for a very big idea: I might be a mom, but I am a person, too. I also get hungry, and tired. I, too, like to sit down and enjoy my breakfast. And some day, as I explained to my toddler, you will understand the magic that’s contained in this coffee cup I hold so lovingly.
Is it possible to love yourself without being selfish?
But even with that precedent set early, I have continued to struggle with this particular aspect of being a mom: how to balance serving my family with advocating for myself. Because I do believe that serving those I love—especially those little ones I brought into the world—is part of my role. I don’t mean that in a “vacuuming in heels, putting on lipstick, and making sure dinner is ready when my husband comes home” sort of 1950s way. I mean that serving is a form of active loving. Creating a safe place, where essential needs are heard and met, where I can set aside my own worries to listen to someone else’s, is part of what I signed on to when I decided to bring kids into the world.
My own mom was amazing at this sort of giving, anticipating and serving. Perhaps too amazing. Kids are bound to be self-centered—it’s just the way we come into the world, all helpless and unaware—but even as I entered adolescence I have no memory of thinking, “Wow, my mom is a person. She has things she’d really like to do, friendships she’d like to develop, dreams and ideas.”
As a result, I now feel both emotions tugging at me, often simultaneously: I feel guilty for not being more selfless, and also determined to shout “Hey, what about ME?!?”
Love involves compromise and balance
Most recently, this problem has played itself out on my calendar. My very favorite, “most important” writers’ conference, which only takes place every other year, is schedule for the exact same days as my daughter’s performances of her school play, Oklahoma! (First of all, how do these things happen? Because they seem to happen to me all the time. I had to miss the first play she was ever in because I was participating in a reading at Powell’s Books in Portland.)
The inner dialogue since finding out about this conflict has been off the charts. I play both prosecutor and defender:
“She is guilty! What kind of mom would miss her daughter’s play? The poor girl will be scarred for life by her mom’s absence and lack of support.”
“But what kind of daughter would want her mom to miss the only conference she goes to—one that is so important for her career and for her sense of community, as a lonely writer?”
To be honest, I have felt physically sick over this. For two full months. I haven’t found peace in either argument, even though I went ahead and signed up for the conference weeks ago.
The best I can do, I’ve decided, is miss the last day of the conference and come home early to see the final performance. It’s a compromise, and maybe that’s the lesson I’ll take home. I am both a mom and a person. I have a responsibility to my kids and to myself—to love and look out for all of us. In order for this balancing act of love to work, we all need to practice honesty, listening, compromise, and forgiveness. And as the mom, it’s my job to lead the way.