It’s 7:30 at night, and I’m still scrambling to get things wrapped up. The lights are dimmed to a soothing level, and everyone else is winding down for the evening—brushing teeth, putting on pajamas. The routine is as familiar and comforting as the squeaky floorboard we walk over in the hallway.
While everyone else prepares to descend into dreamland, I stride from room to room, an action item list running in my head: Lay out the kids’ clothes for tomorrow. (Don’t forget it’s Spirit Day.) Pack snacks. Feed the cats. Sign that permission slip. Make sure they read 20 minutes before going to bed. Did I pick up the dry cleaning?
After rounds of hugs and kisses are given and the last “I love yous” are said, I shut the doors to my sons’ rooms and take a deep breath. Another successful day in the books. Before me lies a long stretch of uninterrupted hours I’m allowed to spend on myself—reading, writing, pondering the Word. So why do I feel so bewildered? Rather than a sense of overwhelming satisfaction, I feel winnowed out and opt for an hour or two on Netflix. And so the hours feel wasted, unredeemed, because while there’s time, there’s not enough of me left to do anything with it.
When my children look back on these days, I’m sure they’ll recall nuzzling into clean sheets and going to sleep with full tummies and calm hearts. But will they remember me only as a consummate “doer”—the fastidious concierge of our four-person hotel—or as a complete person, one with passions and goals, who followed God with her whole heart?
There is the mother I am and the mother I want to be. The gap between these two widens with each passing day, and if I don’t jump soon, the distance may become too vast to cross.
To be a full-time working mother is to be Martha and Lydia rolled up into one—running a tight ship at home while simultaneously maintaining a successful career. (See Luke 10 and Acts 16.) I’m not saying I go “full Proverbs 31 woman” either; corners get cut early and often. That means takeout is allowed on the menu, few things are made from scratch, and volunteer hours are limited. But even with these hacks, I’m still drained at day’s end. And I’m not alone. According to a recent study, “the average working mom clocks in a 98-hour work week, with her day typically starting at 6:23 a.m. She doesn’t end up finishing her work or family duties until 8:31 p.m., meaning she works 14 hours per day.” The Greeks, those ever-methodical linguists, had a word for this—kopiaó—which means “I grow weary.”
Here’s the crazy thing. As tired as I am, I love both things that drain me. I get to write for a living. (Take that, everyone who said an English degree was useless!) I also get a kick out of being a mother and watching the boys go through all the weird and wonderful stuff of childhood. No, I wouldn’t trade either half of my life. I just wish there was a way to put one on pause every so often.
How does one be a wife and mother yet retain a firm grasp on those things that make her who she is? As Hamlet said, “Ay, there’s the rub.”
How does one be a wife and mother yet retain a firm grasp on those things that make her who she is?
Self-care is one of those First World phrases that I’ve long disdained. It speaks of a bougie self-centeredness that repulses the hardworking, sensible Midwesterner in me. But if there’s one priceless commodity in a woman’s life, it’s time. Every hour, every minute really, has to be spent well and wisely. That means things on a typical self-care list—taking a walk alone, indulging in a delicious treat, or de-cluttering “just because”—feel totally frivolous. There’s still work to be accomplished on the other side of any respite, after all, pressing in like passengers on an overcrowded subway car.
However, I’m slowly coming to see that those moments, though seemingly selfish, are worth fighting for. It’s on a brief walk (hopefully in a green space) that I remember to appreciate beauty. It’s that taste of something delicious that reminds me God “richly supplies us with all things to enjoy” (1 Tim. 6:17). Tidying a room provides the much-needed head space required for creativity. Taking the time for self-care puts things in perspective. It’s good to be reminded that the world keeps spinning on its little ol’ axis—whether I’m accomplishing something or not.
Anyone who has read the New Testament knows Jesus often drew away to pray and commune with the Father, but He also made sure to hold space for His apostles—to give them time to tend to their own physical and mental needs. After being sent to heal the sick, cast out demons, and spread the gospel, “the apostles gathered together with Jesus; and they reported to Him all that they had done and taught. And He said to them, ‘Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest a while.’ (For there were many people coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat.) They went away in the boat to a secluded place by themselves” (Mark 6:30-32). It is that “coming away to a secluded place” in the midst of our kingdom work, even if only for a few moments, that keeps the tank full.
Beyond self-care, there is soul-care to consider as well. There must be space for me to be like Mary, to choose the good part and sit calmly at the feet of my master. (See Luke 10:42.) After all, it’s not as a wife, mother, sister, or daughter that I pursue God but as something so much grander and purer. I pursue Him as Jamie, the being He lovingly wove together in her mother’s womb. If I lose sight of that and disassemble myself into neatly labeled pieces, it will be near impossible to become the woman I’m designed to be. And my worries and work further muddy the waters. God began a good work in me, not through my pedestrian human doings, and it is in that truth I must rest (Phil. 1:6).
My industry and diligence, though well intentioned, teach my children a kind of Orwellian efficiency or how to play a zero-sum game with time. Instead, I want them to see the holistic me—a mom who loves and nourishes them without starving herself in the process, a woman secure in God, who trusts Him rather than her own feeble strength and talent.
I want to leave them with vivid Technicolor memories, too, not drab ones. I want them to recall the way I gabbled on about a good book, how I stopped to smell (and drink from) the honeysuckle shrubs growing along the outfield fence where they played Little League, and that I always turned up the radio and sang when Tom Petty came on. I hope they will read the many words I stitched together over a lifetime—a patchwork of my mind that they can wrap themselves in on a long night of the soul. These moments are Ebenezers, cairns I raise while walking the road home to my Jesus, and they, not my hustle, will remind my boys they are loved well—by both their mother and their God.
Illustrations by Steve Scott