According to my brother, the Peace Corps got it right when they said it was “the toughest job you’ll ever love.” But, I think the phrase could equally apply to motherhood.
As an adoptive parent, I never experienced pregnancy and all the fun, pain, and wonder that comes along with it. Instead, I adopted a daughter from Russia and another from Guatemala with all the fun, pain, and wonder that comes along with that.
I love being a mother, but it is the toughest job I’ve ever had…without training. As I watch them grow into beautiful young ladies, I am struck at how much work goes into raising them.
Raising “normal” child is difficult and challenging enough, but when a child has special needs, such as Reactive Attachment Disorder, the ante is raised.
I love my daughters, but besides protecting them, loving them, teaching them about life, making sure they brush their teeth, ensuring they get their homework done, and reminding them to change their underwear on a regular basis, I schedule, drive, and attend weekly therapy sessions. And when we are not in therapy, I try to keep everyone on a strict schedule, apply our attachment therapy skills 24-7 to their behaviors, while trying to be a happy, upbeat, loving, awesome mom.
This is exhausting.
I never feel like I get a break. If one daughter has her RAD under control and is working on her life, the other is exploding. They are two separate pendulums swinging in opposite directions at all times, never in sync with each other. The hyper-vigilance this requires on my part to always be ready to handle any behavior from whatever direction it comes from is exhausting and as taken its toll.
The saying, “if Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy” is true, but as mothers, do we really take the phrase seriously?
For years I watched my mother give and sacrifice to the detriment of her own self. She gave everything to us, leaving nothing left to give to herself. But, it wasn’t just my mother who gave of her self; it was my grandmother and her grandmother. I think mothers throughout time have given of their selves to make the loves of their children better. It’s part of the job description.
So, with this “giving” of generations of women to their children, I always feel guilty when I set aside a little time just for me. A chance to steal away from the stress and chaos of raising special needs children. While attending Nancy Thomas’ RAD camp, I learned that if my tank is empty, there is no way I can give my children what they need, so I must take the time to fill my tank.
This means I occasionally take a break from the routine of bedtime, letting my husband handle it, while I soak in a bubble bath. Or, I schedule a massage or a facial, or spend an afternoon at the movies…not watching an animated or 3D children’s movie. In the summer I garden and in the winter, I read or crochet, and I schedule an occasional weekend to visit girlfriends or take a vacation with my husband, sans children.
I recently applied this “fill ‘er up” theory to my own physical health. The years of stress had caused me to gain weight and ignore the possible threats to my life. So, I decided to take my life into control like I do with the lives of my children. I started exercising and I changed how I ate. I made it a priority to walk an hour a day, not only for physical exercise, but also for stress relief. The result is a 25 pound weight loss and a happier, healthier mother.
It is true that if Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy, but it could also be true that if Mama ain’t healthy, ain’t nobody healthy, and if Mama ain’t here, everybody is screwed.
So, set aside the guilt of taking time for you, and start taking time to care for yourself. Because when Mama is happy…everyone benefits.