I am a young mother of three small children. I love my husband, and I know that he loves me. I am writing you because I feel trapped. It feels terrible to even type that, let alone say it out loud. I am grateful that I am able to stay home with my children, but each day I feel like I am losing part of myself.
Before my husband and I had children, I earned my Master’s degree and had really big hopes for my life. Shortly after graduation, I worked at a decent firm in our hometown for a couple of years, focusing on working up the ladder and building my professional reputation. Then, we learned that I was pregnant. It was a shock, but we had hoped to start a family one day. We decided to shift our plans a little bit and embrace this new gift we had been given.
The plan was for me to work as long as I could into the pregnancy, take maternity leave, and return to my career once our child was a year old. But that never happened. Here we are, five years (and two more children) later and we have no plans of me returning to work anytime soon.
Ellie, I am worn out. I am tired of the daily in-and-out of my life. I don’t know how to do this anymore. My days are crammed full with preparing meals, changing diapers, wiping noses, doing laundry, and trying to keep the house in decent condition.
I feel guilty for not wanting to be home with my children, but I feel like I’m coming undone. How do I learn to accept the life I have – I know it’s just a short season in the grand scheme of things – and not resent my family?
Dear Tired Mama,
You are an amazingly strong, brilliant woman. You worked your ass off to achieve academic and professional success. You decided to sacrifice those accomplishments – even temporarily – in order to prioritize the dreams you and your husband had for a family. That is a sacrifice that most people aren’t willing to make.
And here you are, five years later, three children under foot, and you are tired. Who the hell wouldn’t be? I have lived that kind of life (my two sons were born just over fifteen months apart), and I know that it feels like a glorious shipwreck most of the time.
Society tells us that we should enjoy this season, that we should soak up every second because it all passes so soon, that we will look back on the early years of our children’s lives and wish we could go back and savor them a little bit more. And those are all true things. But they are not the truest thing.
The truest thing is that you cannot care for others until you care for yourself first. Self-care is hard for mamas. It goes against our nature because it requires us to put others second. Because of this, it is something you will have to work at.
It took a little while (and a lot of therapy) for me to figure out what self-care looked like. When I was going through my divorce, I made a list of things that made me happy, brought me peace, and helped me rest. I committed to doing at least one of these things every day. Some nights, the very best thing I could do was light a candle and take a ten-minute bath before I crawled into bed and bawled my head off out of sadness and exhaustion. And these simple things made all the difference.
What are you doing, TM, to care for yourself? Are you connected to like-minded people that you can share life with? Do you carve out time to be alone? These are important habits to build into your life because you can’t pour yourself out to your children if you’re starting with a cup that’s bone dry.
From what you write about your husband, he seems to love you and care about your family. I know that it might be a scary thing to talk with him about your feelings, but it is clear to me that you are courageous and brave and not afraid of walking down a dark-right-now path. You have done hard things before, like get your Master’s and start an entry-level job that was probably demanding as all get-out. And so now, you get the chance to be courageous and brave again by owning your present story in the face of this trapping you’re caught in.
I would encourage you to tell your husband how you feel, give him an opportunity to see your life from the perspective of being eyeballs-deep in dirty diapers. And then tell him what you need and ask him to help you get it.
It is a hard thing to say you feel trapped by your family. It is a hard thing to admit that your life does not look the way you want it to look. Your bravery has taken you far already. And now, sweetheart, it’s time to take that bravery a little bit further down the path to your husband so that the two of you together can navigate the trenches that you’re in.
Let these experiences break you wide open. I know that it feels like death at times. And it is. It’s the death of who you were as your newer, wiser, braver self emerges. That is how we survive these hellish parts of life – by owning our story and caring for ourselves through the process of our becoming. It’s not easy, but it is what we all must do if we want to grow and change and bloom. You have everything within you to do this very difficult thing. Now, let’s get to work.
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