Advocates for Home Education in Massachusetts, Inc.

The Art of Motherhood: Taking Care of Ourselves (To Remind Myself)

By Erin Matica

When we are pregnant and while our children are very young, our focus and energy seem to be only about them. That is how it should be. All mammal species, most birds, and even some reptiles, fish, and insects take exquisite care of their young. The robins nesting in our barn eaves seem to have boundless energy brooding, feeding, protecting, nest cleaning, etc. The chicks grow fast and fledge within weeks, but during that nestling stage the parents are working non-stop. Many will continue to feed and look after their young even after they've fledged.

Those of us who have been fortunate enough to breastfeed our children know how those mothering hormones help facilitate bonding and the care of our little ones. It is all very intense and very magical. Homeschooling adds another layer of intensity. As our children get older, it is healthy (and very important!) that they can separate from us when they are ready. Too often today I see parents who are holding their kids back. I know the world can be a scary place, but it is also infinitely interesting and full of wonder. Our job as parents is to teach our kids to be safe in the world and give them the skills to competently enter into adulthood. After all, we are not going to be around forever.

As our kids grow and change, they are going to have more of their own opinions about the world and their lives. We would do well to listen to them. Our roles are to be supportive—not controlling. Only say no if you really need to. Allowing kids to make decisions (and mistakes) is how a person learns to trust herself. If you want kids to grow up strong, competent, secure in themselves, morally sound, and comfortable in their own skins—we have to let them go, even if we are not ready. They will tell us when they are ready, and they will thank us for our trust and support. After all, it is not our life!

Getting back to the title of this essay, in the natural way of children growing and changing so too do we change and grow. Now that my five kids are in their teens and twenties, some don't live at home any more. All but my youngest (age 16) are licensed drivers. A new time in my life seems to be opening up. It is like a weaning. I'm finding that long-put-off projects are coming to the forefront and new plans are being made, too. What I'm trying to say is that just because we are moms, and homeschooling moms at that, does not mean that we should forget about ourselves.

Taking the time to do the things that are just for you, the things that bring you joy, should not always be left on the back burner. It can be very difficult to balance partner, kids, cooking and housework, paid work, and other responsibilities, but we have to hold onto ourselves. Here's why: First of all, you are teaching the kids that you are not some martyr sacrificing herself (this can end up a very unhealthy codependent family relationship). Kids learn that you are a real person with real passions. They watch us taking care of ourselves and learn to do the same. That kind of self-respect is enormously important in the world.

Secondly, doing what we love, those things that are just for us, makes us happy. Being happy is no small thing, and it makes us a better person and a better mom. Balance is everything. Like Thoreau said, Simplify! Simplify! Simplify! Prioritize your life so you are not wasting precious time, money, and energy on things that don't really matter. That way, you are spending time, money, and energy on the things that really do matter to you and that bring you joy.

Thirdly, and most importantly of all, we need to take care of our health. If you have lost interest in your passions, or you are just too tired, look into your health. I had just come off a couple of years of what seemed to be nothing but death and disaster. These events I had no control over, nor did I have control over the inevitable extended family upheaval. The constant stress really destroyed my health and I've spent the last four years (very slowly) recovering.

Luckily, after many trials and tribulations, I've found a health care practitioner who has brought me back from the dead (not literally, but it feels like it). All of this deferred maintenance is finally getting the attention it deserves. Take care of yourself! Don't let the stress of uncontrollable episodes in your life put you over the edge. Listen to your body. Sometimes we've had symptoms for so long we normalize them—fatigue, joint pain, trouble sleeping, PMS, etc. Any symptoms that don't make you feel energized and happy every day need to be looked into. You will be a better person and a better mom if you take care of yourself. You are worth it!