Lifestyle,  Motherhood,  Our Domestic Church,  Raising Saints

From the Desire to Ignore My Needs, Deliver Me, Jesus.

The woman is at the heart of the home. Let us pray that we women realize the reason for our existence: to love and be loved and through this love become instruments of peace in the world.
St. Teresa of Calcutta

Floral arrangements for modern moms

I am a mother of two little boys. My house is full of trucks, sports equipment, and toy weapons. A portable bassinet and changing table take up most of the walking space in our bedroom. Our dining room is currently the home of a full play kitchen that looks more like a Melissa & Doug showroom rather than a place to gather and eat.

My husband is a Dungeons and Dragons-loving accountant. What space in my house that is not occupied by the little boy paraphernalia is taken up with mini-figures of mountain trolls and three different additions of the Dungeon Master’s Guide stuffed onto shelves already crowded with textbooks detailing the intricacies of estate planning and tax law.

So where does that leave me, in this testosterone-filled nest that we call home?

Cramped. Physically and emotionally cramped. And more than likely whacking my hip into a sharp corner while trying to avoid stepping on a toy tractor.

When my second son was born in June of 2020, our rental suddenly went from feeling cozy to downright small. Our master bedroom went from being our kid-free haven to baby-central. Our toddler raged against having a sibling and discovered that he loved being as loud as humanly possible, particularly when his little brother would finally fall asleep. My husband was in the middle of studying for the CPA exam, which meant a lot of solo-parenting while he studied at work or in his office in the spare bedroom. I quickly found myself exhausted and frustrated by a whirlwind of changes that all happened within a very short period of time. Oh, and all of this was during a global pandemic. Shockingly, fear and isolation did not help the situation at all.

Fast-forward to December 2020. I was in the throes of full-blown burnout. I found myself feeling angry and resentful towards my husband every time he went into his office to study. To my exhausted mom-brain, even having to listen to hour-long lectures on Internal Revenue Code sounded like a vacation as long as you got to have a door closed and locked behind you, far from the piles of laundry and aggressive toddlers. That’s when it hit me: I may live in this house, but there was no place that was specifically my own. I needed a sanctuary, A place where I could go and just be.

This need for space manifested itself in a few ways.

Physical Space

First, I needed a space in my house that was just for me. No toys, no tax textbooks. And. No. Flipping. Laundry. Space where I can go and be JuliaMarie for however long I can steal away before someone needs me to kiss booboos or nurse for the ten millionth time (sleep regressions are no joke, y’all). So, on New Year’s Eve, 2020, I grabbed an old corkboard and painted it. I covered it with holy cards, letters from friends, and other pretty things that make my heart happy. I put up some twinkle lights and slapped a tablecloth over a broken sewing machine, and voila! My little writing nook was born. It’s sweltering hot in the summer and a walk-in freezer in the winter, but it’s my space. Even creating it felt like an act of self-care. It was my way of saying that I am worthy of space, even if it is just a small corner with a box heater to make it bearably warm enough to use.

I haven’t used my cute little space as much as I had hoped to when I put all that work into it. Believe it or not, just making something pretty and saying, “this is mine, don’t touch it!” did not bring me the happiness that I had hoped it would. This brings me to the other type of space I realized I was lacking:

Mental Space

I realized that between working a full-time job, raising two kids, trying to maintain friendships, stay in shape, spend time with my husband, etc., etc., etc., I barely had any time for things that brought my soul to life. As a teenager, I ran two blogs on Tumblr, taught myself how to read and write in Korean, and sketched and painted until I could barely hold a pencil without cramping. Nowadays, if I can sit and watch an episode of something that doesn’t involve animals breaking into song, I call that “self-care.”

Oftentimes, we guilt ourselves into feeling unworthy of holding space, whether it be a physical space reserved for ourselves or emotional space to express what we really feel as we change poopy diapers for what feels like the hundredth time on a busy morning. Hell, I feel guilty for even sitting down to write this blog post because, as we speak, there are about four loads of laundry to fold and a dozen things to prep before another busy day begins.

But here’s the thing, dear reader, we have to take up space.

One of my favorite sayings is that you cannot pour from an empty cup. How often do we mothers give and give and give until one day we have a break down because our toddler decides all of a sudden that the peanut butter sandwich you dropped everything to make is now inedible peasant food? What if we did not let ourselves get to that point in the first place? What if, instead of running from one obligation to the next, telling ourselves that we will rest when the dishes are done, or when the kids are asleep, or maybe this weekend if we’re not too exhausted from whatever fresh hell the workweek throws at us, we just stopped. Stopped making excuses. Stopped putting our needs off. Stopped always planning for the future at the expense of our sanity right this moment.

So here lays the crux of the matter. How do we balance our need for space, boundaries, and self-care with the life of self-sacrifice and service our vocation requires of us?

Unfortunately, that question does not have a single clear answer. But I firmly believe that the first step is to remember that caring for ourselves is not optional.

Moms, we are the heart of our homes. We nourish and soothe our often wild and crazy children. We help our spouses stay grounded (and help them locate things literally right in front of their faces). We have to take care of ourselves in a way that reflects the God-given dignity of our vocation. The world tells us that we deserve to be selfish. That we have an inalienable right to girls’ weekends and facemasks. But sisters, while these things are fun and nice in the moment, they fade. “Self-care” done in the name of entitlement and selfishness fails to satisfy. I’m still learning this the hard way. I got to a point where I felt entitled to nights away from my family and that second and third glass of wine because I felt that I deserved it for every little act of service I had performed for my family. I fell into the trap of thinking that my husband and sons owed me for simply doing what I agreed to do when I freely and willingly chose to bind my life in service to another, and when the love that bound me resulted in the creation of two unique and irreplaceable human beings. We are called to sacrifice and love our families. All that being said, I also firmly believe that honoring our dignity as beloved daughters of the Father makes us better wives, better mothers, better friends, and better human beings.

I’m not saying we need to throw our families a loaf of bread at dinner time and tell them to change their own butts because mommy needs a Cosmo and a pedicure. Still, we deserve to have our needs known and met if we are going to serve our loved ones with a generous and open heart. Granted, three-year-olds are not great at honoring boundaries, and it’s not realistic to make self-care plans and expect them to work out every single time without fail. But it’s okay to let that laundry sit for a moment longer so you can take a few minutes to sip your coffee and pray. It’s okay to use those moments of quiet to nourish your soul rather than jumping head-first into the next chore. I’m slowly realizing that my kids will not care if they wear the same clothes that aren’t that dirty two days in a row or if the floors are dusty. But they do care if mommy is flustered and too busy to pay attention to them because THESE WINDOWS NEED TO BE CLEANED RIGHT NOW.

I get it; finding balance is hard. Who has time to sit and read or pray an uninterrupted Rosary? How do we make time to take walks or enjoy a moment in the sun when there are spreadsheets that need updating and week-old text messages to respond to? To be perfectly honest, I’m not really sure. What I do know is that we only have the present moment to love those entrusted to our care. We only have today to tend to the garden of our own souls. Let us then take the task of loving ourselves and those around us seriously by setting aside the things that leave us drained and frustrated. Instead, pick up that book. Take that walk. Or don’t. I can’t pretend to know what nourishes your soul. Only you can determine what you need to feel seen and cherished, not me, and not that other mom on Instagram who just posted a tour of her immaculate home to her stories. The point is, take the time that you need, however infrequent or haphazardly thrown together it may be. Allow yourself to take up space in your home. You may find it slightly easier to stop and breathe before scolding your toddler for doing the thing you’ve asked them five times not to do. You may find that taking the time to snuggle the teething baby just a moment longer might not feel like an obstacle to whatever is next on the to-do list if you’ve taken a moment to stop and remember that your name, too, is written on the Sacred Heart of your Creator.

So breathe. Take up space. You are the heart of your home. Hold that truth close and ponder what it means daily. The answer will change constantly, but the important thing is that you take the time to listen.

That we may remember that our weary hearts matter, Jesus, grant us the grace to desire it.

To Him through Her,

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