Recently, I’ve come to realize that I need to take a cue from my husband’s self care habits.
In our house, my husband is way better at prioritizing his needs than I am. In fact, I’m pretty awesome at turning myself into a martyr. After a long night of getting up with sleepless kiddos, my husband won’t hesitate to throw on a movie for our toddlers while the baby sleeps so he can nap on the couch. Meanwhile, if I’m running on two or three hours of sleep, you better believe I’ll be doing everything to prove that I can still keep up, even if I desperately need a nap.
Before I had kids, before I worked from home, I would have laughed at the idea that a person can feel panicked over the tasks that make up life as a mom. Now, I completely understand. First thing in the morning, I’ll rush from task to task, refilling sippy cups, fetching toys, blowing on too-hot scrambled eggs and unloading the dishwasher while my first cup of coffee gets cold on the counter and my eggs burn on the stove. Nothing is an emergency, but everything still feels like an emergency so I’ll spend my days in a frenzy of cleaning, childcare and work without ever stopping to say enough is enough.
That’s the rub: no matter how much I do or how quickly I jump from task to task, it’s never going to be enough. There will always be something to clean, a meal to cook, an email to answer or a kid to dress, entertain and feed. As embarrassing as it is to admit, I start to hold this against my family. I start to believe it’s their fault that I work nonstop.
The reality of the situation is that I’m the one who never says no. It’s my fault that I treat every load of laundry or dumped basket of toys like a fire that needs to be put out, immediately. It is my fault, not my kids’ or my husband’s, that I treat rest or taking care of myself like it’s an optional luxury I simply don’t have time for during this season of my life.
Instead of being realistic about how much I have on my plate and giving myself a pass to let a few things slide, I put endless pressure on myself to keep the house clean and keep our lives together, even if it means stretching myself way too thin. Honestly, I think there is a part of me that is afraid of what will happen if I get behind. What will happen if I’m not constantly holding everything in place? Will everything fall apart?
It sounds dramatic, I know, but you start to get used to keeping ten plates spinning at once. It starts to feel like rest for even a minute will bring all of those plates crashing down. I know I’m not the only mom who operates this way. We make martyrs of ourselves, even when our physical health, mental health and general happiness suffers as a result.
My husband isn’t that way. It seems like most dads aren’t. They stop and sit on the couch. They make the yearly dentist appointment, go to the gym and get their haircut regularly instead of using the difficulty of childcare arrangements as an excuse to put their needs on the back burner. Instead of feeling jealous or resentful, I think it’s time I start trying harder to mimic his habit of prioritizing his needs. My kids need a healthy and happy mom, not a servant. And I need rest way more than I need a perfectly clean house or to keep up with laundry or to put in more work hours.
Nothing good comes from me bending over backwards to keep our lives in perfect order. No one really benefits from my constant self-sacrificing, especially when I only wind up feeling exhausted, frustrated and resentful.
So today, I’m taking a cue from my husband, I’m learning to prioritize my needs by aspiring to finish that cup of coffee before it gets cold. Maybe tomorrow I’ll leave the dishes in the kitchen sink so I have time for an unrushed shower. Baby steps, right?