A woman is many things: creator, nurturer, healer, and lover among many others. While eternally juggling balls representing self, family, career, health, and whatever else matters to her, somehow just the right balance must be struck to keep the weight of the world from crashing down. On the one hand, she can’t lose herself underneath the expectations and needs of every other aspect of her life, but she also can’t let her personal needs eclipse her other duties.
Some women manage to figure out how to perfectly blend their own needs with what others need from them, but most struggle.
The following are two accounts of two very different women who have found themselves on opposite ends of the spectrum. One has wholeheartedly pursued her individual interests at the expense of her family, while the other consistently places herself at the bottom of the list of priorities to make sure her family always has their needs fulfilled first. Which one has it right? You decide!
Both of these women stand firmly behind their choices and face consequences for their actions. The question is: is either mother right or wrong? We all have the luxury of making decisions for ourselves, knowing that our actions will impact us and others. Each choice has its merits, yet each also has a detrimental side.
April is a 39-year-old nurse who was married for 15 years and is a mother to four children. One pregnancy after another combined with the complacency of marriage added up to obesity, depression, and dissatisfaction with life. To her credit, she decided to take life by the horns and make some major changes in effort to reinvent herself.
First, she started attending Zumba classes. The fun Latin beats and dance moves soon became an addiction, to the point that she wanted nothing more than to attend every class she could find. The weight started to melt off, she began to delight in her reflection in the mirror again, then suddenly she had no time or interest in her family anymore.
Zumba led to intense weightlifting, fitness competitions, entire paychecks spent on new workout attire, multiple gym memberships, and Mexican cruises with her exercise buddies. While she frolicked on the beach and flirted with strange men, her husband and children dealt with her increasing absence, utilities being turned off, and the family minivan repossessed while she drained her marital bank account to fund lavish vacations and her fitness passion.
Her marriage became increasingly volatile as her husband tried to come to grips with his wife’s growing self-absorption and lack of interest in the family in lieu of jet setting, fashion, partying and perfecting her physique. Nothing could stop her from leaving to work-out when she wanted. If her husband tried to leave for work, she would block the driveway to prevent him from going because she needed him to stay home with the children so she could go to Zumba.
One day, she gathered up her belongings and moved into a one-bedroom apartment on the other side of town from her husband and children. She continues to struggle to make her car payment and pay rent and utilities because designer purses, three or more gym memberships, and vacation cash continue to be more important than basic needs, and often even her children.
April’s son recently turned fifteen. She informed him that he wouldn’t be getting a birthday gift this year because she had just bought a Coach bag and didn’t have the money. Her son described feeling like garbage because his mom could seemingly afford all sorts of non-essential things for herself, but he wasn’t important enough to her to acknowledge on his important day.
If you ask April about motherhood priorities, she will insist that, to remain strong as a woman and maternal caregiver, it’s essential to put oneself before others and pursue dreams and personal interests. She balks at other moms who insist that children should always come first.
To some extent, April may be correct in her support of moms doing things for themselves and taking time to do things they enjoy. If a mother allows herself to be swallowed alive by carpools, diapers, ballet lessons, and cooking casseroles, what is left of the woman behind it all?
The problem is, that once a woman becomes a mother, her children are a priority. But where is the line drawn to prevent her from becoming invisible?
Abby is a mother who has taken her place in the backseat to the extreme. Every penny she earns and every moment of her time goes to her children in one way another. She feels overwhelmed by the constant physical and emotional needs of her family and drains every ounce of herself into keeping them well-dressed, well-fed, nurtured, enriched, and adored.
Abby never wanted anything more than to be a mother. She battled infertility and a bad first marriage. When she finally had her chance at a good marriage and family she believed it her joyful duty to dote on her kids and give them everything she could. As loving and devoted as that sounds, the result was that while her children have everything they need and want, she is depleted of energy, time, and the ability to care for herself.
She laments the fact that the two pairs of shoes she owns both have holes in them, that her hair is overgrown and straggly because she can’t afford to get it cut, she is unable to pursue her own hobbies, and she has become resentful of the fact that she feels unappreciated and like a second class citizen in her own home. She recognizes that, in many ways, she put herself in her predicament by setting the tone to cast herself as a nobody.
If asked, Abby would still contend that she feels motherhood supersedes her selfish desires. She acknowledges that she needs to commit more time to herself to take care of her needs, to nurture her interests, and to make herself a priority so that she has the zest to continue taking care of her family.
Surely the happy medium lies somewhere between allowing oneself to become a doormat and being a superstar before all others.
The question, then, is how will you take care of yourself and still be the mother and partner your family deserves? How will you find balance in your life?
Perhaps all of us moms should make a list of things that are important to us and make a priority of taking better care of ourselves so we don’t suffer the plight of Abby. Then, we need to figure out how to make that happen while still remembering that we have a momentous task assigned to us, as mothers, to be a constant and meaningful presence in our children’s lives. So many of us are guilty of neglecting our own needs by putting them after everyone else’s, yet we have to be careful not to allow ourselves to be carried away after a drought of denial so that we don’t end up on the extreme of April.