My children are my world. The love I have for them is practically immeasurable. But even with this already incredibly high level of love, there was something I learned along the way as a mother that actually caused it to increase. Ironically, it took a divorce and a custody arrangement to teach me this lesson: It is equally as important to be away from your children as it is to be with them.
Space is important in all relationships, often varying from relationship to relationship. The relationship we share with our children is no different. How much time to spend together? How much time to spend apart from one another? That is the question. What we are searching for is the sweet spot -- an ideal point or combination of time, space and communication. That place where you feel like you've had enough time with the other person, but not so much where you start to feel critical and no longer want to spend time with them.
In the "martyrdom of motherhood," we often hoist ourselves up to assume the egotistical position that our children will be well cared for by us, and us only; that our children will suffer if we are not there micro-managing their lives like bumpers in a pinball machine: don't touch that, be careful of this, stop that.
We've gotten the idea that this is what we are supposed to do: to give up all other aspects of life and give only of ourselves as a mother. Yes, being a mother is a lifelong career, and thus takes up a great majority of your time and attention. But you are still YOU. You are a makeup of all that is you, part of which is a mother and part of which is not. By "filling your cup" with all the things that satisfy you in life, you will then be better able and more willing to give to those you want to give to. Especially your children.
My suggestion would be to surround yourself with a tribe of loved and trusted members who will lend a hand in a way that is truly helpful -- in a way that allows you to take a little time out for yourself, to experience the other parts of life so that you can return to your children with a little more perspective and even more appreciation for what you have and who you are. Time to introspect about how life is going with you and your children.
There is no need to run yourself into the ground. I often see women who loathe their lives as mothers and complain of having no break. The life of a mother, however, is such a beautiful one -- maybe the most beautiful. But even something as beautiful as being a mother requires distance from it to continue with a true perspective of it. The tools of mothering derive from the life that she lives -- the fuller her life, the better able she is to handle the surprises that come with the job. These periodic "reprieves" are what allow a woman to exercise the other aspects of her life -- aspects which are just as important as that of being a mother. When this is done on a regular basis, and the time is maximized, much more happiness is found in mothering. It goes without saying that a happy mother will always be better than a mother who is "merely there," especially if she is growing increasingly resentful. With my own five children, I had seen this occurring in myself. I had begun to find the time arduous -- and we weren't having fun.
As mentioned earlier, I didn't learn the importance of "space" until I was pushed into the situation through divorce. Our family's shared schedule was one week with me and one with their father. The break for me -- as hard as it was to imagine, and later, to admit -- was a welcome one. My initial thought was, How are these kids ever going to survive without their mother? As time went on with this new arrangement, I found that after only a few days apart from my children, I was missing them and was even counting the days until I'd see them again. I was longing for them, thinking of all that I wanted to do with them, and truly looking forward to resuming our daily lives together. Likewise, I could sense that they were having a similar experience.
I found that I had to get used to the strange silence of the children being away. It was odd to be able to complete tasks uninterrupted. I was able to speak to them on the phone and find out how they were getting along in my absence. Many parents share the understanding that one of the ultimate joys of life with their children is to see them handle life well on their own. No mother wants to worry about her children, even though she may just by the very nature of the relationship. As I began to loosen my grip, I noticed that they were solving problems for themselves, growing more confident about themselves and the world they live in (something which I am always pleasantly surprised to see and extremely proud of). Because of our time apart, I was able to view our relationship in terms of what we ultimately become with our "children-friends." This space provided a time for my children to go out and apply all of the goodness that was instilled in them by their mama!
It is obvious that one need not go through a divorce to learn from this allocation of space. There are many ways to benefit from it, and many who can assist you and whom you can assist as well. After all, THIS is what a family is! Yes, it's true, we live in scary times. But it is often not as bad as news stories would lead us to believe. Know that somewhere near you is another mother who is feeling like she needs a break. Know that this is something you can help with. In this sisterhood, which includes aunties, god-moms, nanas and neighbors alike, all of our extended family that God handpicked for us, we have a wealth of love and help that can benefit the lot if we allow ourselves to loosen our grips a little and trust that all will be well.
Find that sweet spot with your babies and your children. Know that you will be better for them and they will be better for you as a result.