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Our Mothers, Our Selves

Edel Jarboe


Growing up, I barely remember my mother taking any time for herself. This is perfectly understandable; raising six kids does not afford you the luxury of time. She fed us, clothed us, and healed our boo-boos. She taught me how to ride a bike, how to roller skate, how to cook and sew, and she listened to my problems. She made time for all six of us. But this article isn't about how wonderful my mother is. She taught me valuable mothering skills but the lesson I learned is the one that she didn't intend to teach me. My mother taught me that motherhood means self-sacrifice.

But now that I am older, I question this lesson. Maybe if she had taken more time for herself, she wouldn't have been so tired all the time. Maybe I wouldn't be so worried about her health now. But then again, maybe I wouldn't understand the value and importance of balance in a woman's life. So how does a woman find the right balance between mothering herself and her children? How much mothering do we all still need?

When are you most likely to need time to yourself? After a stressful day at work? After a disagreement with your spouse or a friend? When you are tired? When being a mother, wife, working woman, et al gets to be too much? Whatever signals your need to get a grip, the key is realizing it. Pay attention to those times when you feel tired, stressed, upset, or overwhelmed. How does this affect your mothering skills? If it is having a negative effect, and you find yourself snapping or yelling at your kids, then you need to make sure that you take the time to nurture yourself.

Are you content with your life? Or do you wish that you had gotten that degree in marketing? Do you often wish that you could pursue your dream of writing? Chances are, if you aren't happy with where you are in your life right now, this dissatisfaction is spilling over into other areas of your life, including raising your kids. Even if you don't voice your discontent, kids pick up on our moods and overhear and understand a lot more than we think. And unfortunately, they may erroneously conclude that you are unhappy with them or that you don't love them. Don't blame your kids for holding you back, not even subconsciously. Live in the present and take responsibility for your life. The trick is to find a way to have the life you've always wanted but to do it in such a way that both you and your family benefit. How? Talk it over with your family and have faith that together you will find a way. Never be afraid to ask for help in creating a happier life.

When is the best time for you to practice self-nurturing? Is it in the morning before anyone else is up? If you are a work at home mom, is it after everyone has left? How about in the afternoon? Is there time for you to do something for yourself before the kids come home from school? How about after the kids are in bed? Be on the lookout for little pockets of time in your daily routine where you can savor a solitary pleasure. A great time to do something for yourself is when you are commuting alone either to or from work or to and from shuttling the kids here and there. Pop your favorite music or audio book into your car stereo and just relax.

What soothes your body and soul? It could be reading, a nap, a bubble bath, painting, cooking, hiking, or writing poetry. Taking care of yourself by doing your makeup, hair, nails or finding other moms to talk to are also great emotional support boosters. Take the time to discover what refreshes you and makes you feel good about yourself. At first, you will feel that you are being selfish and feel guilty for taking time to nurture yourself. Don't. Stop comparing yourself to other mothers, or even to your own mother. Do what works for you and your family. Investing time in your well-being is not selfish because nurturing yourself is smart mothering.

The key, as with all things related to creating a balanced life, is scheduling. Schedule time for yourself and let your family know that you are not to be disturbed for this time period. But don't just shut the door in their loving faces. Enlist their aid instead. Explain that you are going to read, nap, meditate, paint, etc. and establish the criteria for interruptions. In other words, define up front b all the emergencies that you can be disturbed for. (Note: This is assuming of course that your kids are old enough to be left alone unsupervised for a short period of time and/or they are in the care of another responsible adult.)

I didn't find out until I was a teenager that my mother had wanted to be an artist. Even now I feel an overwhelming sadness that she gave up something that she really enjoyed. But her creativity leaked out in other ways. She loved to sew and we all knew that she was not to be disturbed at these times. This was her refuge, her sanity break. She taught my sisters and I how to sew as well and I know that we all feel more connected because of it.

If the activity that you enjoy can be shared and your children are old enough, then by all means share it. Don't pass up an opportunity to share a positive experience with your children. If possible, include them in activities such as baking, gardening, or walking. They will remember it as a special time with you.

To nurture. This is the role of the female in many species. There are certain things that we do each day to nourish our selves, our souls. I know that I have to have my cup of tea every morning to feel human. For others it could be a nap, a luxuriously scented bubble bath, or a piece of really good chocolate. I know one woman who gets up to watch the sun rise from her kitchen window. She revels in the silence and in the freshness of the day. I believe that whatever it is that makes a woman feel like her own person can only help her as a mother. There is a limit to self-sacrifice and that limit is reached when the real you disappears. Even if it's only one hour a week, take the time to nurture yourself in some way. We teach our children many lessons, let them learn the value of balance from you.

Edel Jarboe is the founder of, an online magazine helping women lead healthier, happier, and more balanced lives.
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