“You would not believe what happened today!” In the early days of parenting, I often greeted my husband with these words. I related to him the details of how I mopped up three spills in one day. Another time, I expressed to him my feelings and reaction during our daughter Samantha’s first public tantrum. Once he arrived home to see the freshly scrubbed but still visible evidence of Rory’s first foray into body art.
These three events, once so memorable, have become commonplace in my home. Raising four year old and two year old daughters and a nine month old son means that three spills a day is now about average, public tantrums leave me unfazed, and I am experienced in which cleaning products best erase childish artwork. But unchanged are the demands of parenting preschoolers. My single friends describe the loneliness of not feeling needed, while I am exhausted by the demands bombarding me at nearly every moment of the day, and often several times a night.
After four years of motherhood, I dream of solitude. Parenting resources encourage moms to make “me time” a priority. So I count down the hours and minutes until I can put my three down for their naps and I can decide whether to spend the time napping myself, doing housework, or pursuing a favorite pastime like painting or shopping on eBay. However it seems far too often that I am interrupted before I even get started—as I write this (during naptime of course), my son’s babblings in his crib will soon be turning to complaining squawks and I will need to put my own desires aside again to attend to him.
I have been going through a long “me time” dry spell. The kids’ schedules often don’t mesh where naps are concerned, and babysitters seem to have become extinct in my area. We’ve been too busy on the weekends for me to leave the kids with my husband, and therefore I have had to adjust to life without “me time.”
Now the last time this happened, I found myself changing. Three spills a day meant that I yelled over spilled milk three times. Public tantrums meant I was angry with my bratty kids for the rest of the day after the embarrassment of looking like a poor parent before the eyes of strangers. Crayon art in inappropriate places meant that I overreacted and threw the crayons away instead of supervising and structuring the girls’ play time better. By day’s end, I was full of regret over my short fuse, and fearful that the following day would mean more of the same. Even when I kept my self-control and didn’t lose my temper, my poor attitude manifested itself in an exasperated “why are you such a nuisance” tone that deflated my children’s spirits. But my lack of “me time” was my excuse for my angry attitude and I felt a little justified in acting as I did—after all, I was exhausted and overextended.
One of the biggest boosts when parenthood starts to feel more like a prison sentence comes from knowing I am not alone. Sometimes that is achieved by a visit with a friend, and I try to call one of my fellow preschool moms over for coffee and commiseration when I begin to feel smothered. But the most lasting relief comes from knowing that, even though he was never a mom and never raised children, Jesus knows exactly how I feel, because during his ministry on earth, he was at times in the same situation.
[Jesus] withdrew...to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. When Jesus … saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick. Matthew 14:13-14 NIV
Because I love my children and I want to model Christ to them, I want to respond as Jesus did. I don’t have to succumb to the myth that without “me time” it is impossible to parent well. Through Christ, I can continue with compassion, and when I find myself freed for a time from the demands of my life, I can enjoy it as a blessing, and not a right I am too often denied.