By Louise Gleeson
A few nights ago—on our non-negotiable family dinner night—I ate a bowl of pasta in bed with a chick flick on my laptop to keep me company. And yes, the rest of the family was downstairs at our kitchen table, where they ate Sunday night dinner together as usual.
It had been a long and trying week, with unexpected glitches layered on top of a four-day trip. And underneath all of that, of course, there was still the usual stuff-that-needs-to-get-done. In short, I was physically and mentally beat by the time the week came to a close and we arrived home from our trip.
Even though there were suitcases stuffed with clothes that needed to be washed and backpacks of homework that still needed to be done, I couldn’t face any of it.
So I called a personal time-out and disappeared into my room.
And you know what? No one even batted an eye.
That doesn’t mean my company wouldn’t have been appreciated at the dinner table, or that getting a few loads of laundry on wouldn’t have been helpful.
It means I’ve learned (albeit slowly over time) how to give myself balance, and my family has willingly and happily supported me.
I didn’t arrive here easily.
A couple of kids ago, I would have felt like I was sending the message I couldn’t handle being with my kids.
I’ve come to realize the message I was actually sending, by insisting on sticking it out when I was better served to step back, is that I didn’t think my husband could handle being with the kids (when in fact, he’s very capable and good at it).
And the lack of balance between taking care of my family and taking care of myself (otherwise known as mommy martyrdom) ultimately left me unable to handle them anyway.
When I found myself pregnant with our third child in four years, we made the mutual decision that I would leave my desk job to be at home with the kids. It was more sensible financially, and it was something I felt I needed and wanted to do.
But because I made a choice, I also fell into the trap of feeling I had to be the one to do it all.
I’d spend every weeknight staring at whatever clock hung in whatever room, willing it to move faster so my husband would get home to relieve me. I remember feeling that the moment he walked through the door was the very same moment I’d be completely and utterly used up. Sometimes, I’d tell him I got used up before he got home, and I wasn’t all that nice about it.
I had to make a change for the sake of my marriage and my kids; I didn’t want them to feel like I wasn’t enjoying my time with them. I started to work on taking a step back and finding time to do things I enjoyed.
And more importantly, I worked on letting go of guilt and my need to control. It strengthened my relationship with my husband, my kids and most importantly, myself.
Having a bigger (and busier family) means there’s less of me to go around, but it also forces me to find time for myself and grab it without hesitation. For me, it can be as simple as a good book, a long bath, Netflix while I cook, time with friends, or a chick flick in bed with a bowl of pasta.
I could hear the sounds and laughter of dinner that night, and I knew the kids were fine with me taking a break. In fact, I think they’re better for seeing the value I place on taking care of myself physically and mentally.
When the door creaked open and my 8-year-old daughter tiptoed in with my favourite drink, she was beaming.
“Here you go, Mama,” she said.
But I know what she was really saying with her thoughtful gesture.
“We’re okay. Go ahead. You deserve it.”
Louise Gleeson has four children, a dog, an abundance of free time—as you can imagine—and a blog about it all called Late Night Plays. She also contributes to Today's Parent, Canadian Family and other lifestyle sites