The world has taught us as Black women that we have to do it all. That somehow it is normal for us to balance all of our lives and the lives of our children and husbands and significant others while neglecting ourselves. We feel selfish if we dare take some time to get our hair done or make ourselves a dinner we would really like to eat. If we get to the register and the bill is higher than expected the first thing we do it put back the thing we were getting for ourselves. Where did this come from? Who told us to be a “good” mom meant we had to be tired all of the time? Who told us that there was some magical formula of familial that included us being left out of the equation?
Before I had kids, I clearly remember taking time out to do things just for myself. I made sure I got my hair done on a regular schedule, spent time with my girlfriends, ordered take out when the mood hit, and even spent quiet time alone when I did not feel like being bothered with others. I made sure I was a priority at all times and refused to deal with people who did not share that same sentiment. I had clear boundaries and I did not compromise them for anyone. I was quick to dismiss potential suitors who made me an option and not a selection. I scheduled my day according to when I wanted to be bothered and valiantly scanned my caller id whenever the house phone rang. I was protective of my time, my money, and my peace. Something switched when at 25 I welcomed my big beautiful baby girl into the world. Everything flipped and my life suddenly became hers. I lost interest in things that were interesting before she got here. I forgot how to take care of myself and convinced myself that the sleepless nights and the self-neglect just came along with the territory of being a mom. My dresses were replaced with sagging jogging pants and T-shirts. My trips out alone were consumed with picking up items she needed and might need in the future. My two-bedroom apartment was a child playground, medicine cabinet, and education center wrapped in one at all times. I even had a Winnie the Pooh throw blanket on my couch as a decoration. I was in school working towards a Master’s degree and worked full time and of course, was a full-time mom. My hair stayed in a ponytail and my time with friends often included my daughter. Emotionally I was exhausted and found myself feeling guilty anytime my thoughts even ventured away from her for more than a few moments. If I left her to go do something for myself I spent the entire time checking in on her and was never just alone and still. I told myself that this is what motherhood was all about--sacrifice. After all that was all I knew. My mom sacrificed and worked at a job that she hated for decades to make sure we never missed a meal. She gave up her college plans when my dad and she welcomed my sister into the world and only went back after I was in high school. She always answered her work phone when we called. She made our prom dresses, did our hair, helped us with homework, and made sure that we never needed anything. My mom even did my laundry well into my college years. I had learned sacrifice from the best and only mom I knew. And it took me a very long time to see just how wrong it was.
Fast forward 17 years and another kid later and I am just unlearning the definition of sacrifice. I found myself sitting on the floor of my closet crying and could not control it. I was crying crying like heaving and couldn’t catch my breath. The more I sat the more I cried uncontrollably. Our family had been through a lot and I had held it together for my children and always held a brave and stable face to the world but today the walls came tumbling down and I had no idea why. I allowed myself for the first time to think of just myself at that moment. I leaned into the cry and realized not only had it been a long time coming but it was a much-needed release of emotion that I could no longer hold in. I was full. My mind was full. My emotional bank was empty and I had no one to blame but myself. I had filled my every moment with others. From my husband to my kids and friends and family… I left no proverbial room for me. I couldn’t blame anyone for not putting me first but myself. I had taught those around me that I did not matter and that I was good not mattering because I didn’t matter to myself. Lightbulb moment: always answering “tired” when someone asks how are you doing it not ok.
Why are you always tired boss? What or who is tiring you out and how do you become untired?
After my ugly cry moment, I knew that something had to change. I was not put here on earth to be tired all the time. Sure, I was starting a business and working a full-time job which might occasionally call for some all-nighters and cause me to be tired at times. Sure the kids might need help with homework or the husband might want to hang out late but that did not have to be my everyday. I started to take small bits of time just for myself in the mornings. Instead of getting up and starting my day as usual by waking up the youngest for school, I told him to set his own alarm clock and I sat in bed and played my game for 15 minutes or read the news for 15 minutes, or even closed my eyes and enjoy the silence of being alive in the morning. I made hair appointments that included a soul-filling conversation with other women which may or may not spill over into an afternoon adult beverage and dinner.
I took trips out of the house just for me to do things that I wanted to do whether it was walking around Homegoods (a life-giving but expensive habit) or drive very fast down the expressway with my sunroof open (shhh don’t turn me in). The more I practiced stealing back my time and my peace, the less guilty I felt. Those 15 minutes turned into an hour-long workout with other moms reclaiming our bodies a few mornings a week. Those workouts expanded into baking cakes with sister-friends at my house and sitting up late outside doing nothing on the patio with my friends turned sisters who were also learning the value of selfishness. The laughter was so good for my soul that my soul began to crave it more and more. I remember taking a moment one day and truly reflecting on my journey of loving myself again. It has been a long time coming and while I don’t always get it right more times than not when people ask me now how I am doing I say “good” and I mean it. There are times when I am still tired of course but it is no longer a badge of honor that I feel obligated to carry because I am a mom. When I am tired I am learning to rest and when I rest I am learning to settle and when I settle into rest I am recharged so I can truly show up not only for the humans I gave birth to but for myself--first.