Dear Burned-Out Mama of Young Children,
I know you have a very unglamorous job right now. I know you used to spend an hour getting ready in the morning, and now you feel put together if you take the time to blow dry your hair and put on mascara. I know you used to pride yourself in your flat abs, hard-won through early morning workouts before you went to work, and now you feel like you have no control over what your body is doing. The effects of pregnancy, nursing, and those insane hormones have left you almost unrecognizable to even yourself. Sometimes the most frustrating part of your day is finding even one outfit in your closet that is flattering and comfortable, but you're not ready to invest in new clothes, as you will probably change sizes again soon.
I know how many diapers you have changed, and how many times you've helped your toddler use the big potty. I see you rubbing your temples, because you already picked up these toys three times today, and it's not even noon. You're second guessing yourself because you're supposed to be teaching your kids to pick up after themselves, but by the time you convince them to do it, and show them the right bins, and answer all their questions and excuses, you could have cleaned those toys up three more times and drank an entire cup of coffee. I hear you praying that no one happens to drop by for a surprise visit, because the state of your home would cause alarm and panic to any normal human.
I know you're thinking that all those articles are right - self care is important! You can't pour from an empty cup! But would those people who wrote those articles come watch your kids for a quick second so you could eat a snack in broad daylight instead of your closet so you could finish the whole thing without "sharing"? Would they please manage your beloved chaos so you could finish a cup of coffee without warming it up between three and twelve times? K thanks, that would be great.
I see you sighing, remembering how you used to be respected at your job. You used to be someone! Someone who wore matching jewelry and high heels. Someone who took pride in their work, and who was commended for that work by bosses and coworkers. When someone needed something from you, they would email you politely or drop by your desk for a quick chat. For some reason your toddler doesn't understand this workplace etiquette, and prefers instead to sing a chorus of "mommy, mom, ma, mama, mommy!" until you've all but forgotten your real name. Yes, you used to do important work, and you used to be respected.
Hey mama? I know you know this already, but let me remind you because you can't hear it enough: you are doing important work today.
Today you are making someone feel safe, loved, and cared for. Your hugs and kind words are making someone's day.
Today you are teaching uncivilized tiny humans what it means to be part of a family, community, and world. Someone who loves them must show them gently that the world does not revolve around them. Good manners are learned, and who better to teach them than you!
You are showing them how to fuel their bodies properly, to go outside, to move, and to exercise, because their health is a precious gift. You're also showing them that it's ok to have a donut on Fridays, and sometimes cereal is for dinner. It's good for them to know you're not perfect all the time, so later in life they don't beat themselves up for eating a carb.
Today, mama, you are demonstrating how real people have real emotions, and sometimes they need to apologize to their loved ones for quick tempers and sharp words. Your example isn't perfect, but they are learning the art of forbearance and unconditional love - and that it goes both ways!
It's even important for your kids to see you doing that dirty unglamorous work of changing diapers with a happy heart. Though it seems far off, someday you'll be telling them it's time to get a job at McDonalds. and the example of your attitude toward service is what they'll follow. Hopefully.
You might not think much of boosting them up on the counter to help bake the muffins. You might not realize how much it means to sit down and help put together the train tracks. That dance party might have been the only way for you to get through witching hour before Dad gets home. But each of those moments is adding a coin to the piggy bank of happy childhood memories they will someday share with their loved ones.
Most importantly, mama, you are raising citizens of God's kingdom. You're training spiritual warriors who know how to love well, stand up for what they believe in, and trust their God. You're showing them that God works through imperfect people to do his work. His very important work.
Dear Burned Out Mama of Young Children: I'm right beside you in the thick of it. One day we will get our bodies and our personal space and our glamour back. It's a fantastic daydream I indulge in a few times a day, usually while hiding in the closet with my Greek yogurt so I don't have to share. But let's not forget that though these times are physically demanding, sometimes boring, and often unsophisticated, we are doing important work. Let us encourage one another often, for this work is done better with a community.
A Fellow Worker in the Trenches