BEHIND DOMESTIC LINES

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MOMS’ NEEDS MATTER TOO

By Jami Ingledue

Moms are so accustomed to putting everyone’s needs before our own that we often don’t even realize when we’re doing it, it just becomes second nature. It’s easy to forget after a while that we have needs at all, and that our needs matter too.

But mom’s needs are just as deserving as everyone else’s in the family. The kids’ needs do not always need to be put before our own. When anyone has deep needs in the family that are not being met, everyone feels it, and everyone suffers.

And our kids’ deepest need is for a secure connection and bond with us; all growth, all development is based on this secure foundation. We can’t do that if we’re a shell of a human. WE are their biggest need, and they need us whole and well. So meeting our own needs is also an essential part of meeting our kids’ needs.

Regardless of who benefits, though, we should meet our own needs for ourselves. Because moms are people too. Everyone’s needs are individual, but here are some of the biggest unmet needs I see in moms.

The need for achievement. This is a big one for stay-at-home moms, especially with babies and toddlers. It’s just nearly impossible to feel a sense of achievement when all you do all day is make meals and change diapers. It’s ironic that even though raising small humans has got to be one of the most important jobs in the world, it feels like we never get one damn thing done. I felt this keenly after leaving my successful career to stay home with a baby. I think this is a need that, for many women, just can’t be met through mothering alone. And it’s a little dangerous to try; then we get too caught up in our kid’s every success and failure, seeing them all as a reflection on us.

The need for space. As an introvert, I feel this one deeply. Quiet alone time is how I recharge, and if I don’t get it I start to feel very drained very quickly. God knows that this a tricky need to meet when one has babies and toddlers. But it’s also the most valuable then. There is also a need for physical space after being touched and yanked on ALL the livelong day.  Even if it’s just a solo trip to the grocery store, an hour at the coffee shop, or (the refuge of moms everywhere) a few minutes in the bathroom with the door locked—if this is a strong need, make it happen, and have no shame in that.

The need for rest. Sleep is a huge issue of course, and I think we could be better about asserting our needs just like so many of our husbands do, and taking a nap whenever we can. But I also mean the need for downtime. We feel this pressure as parents now to sign our kids up for every activity they show the remotest interest in, to take them on adventure-filled day trips on the weekend to educational and fun places, to spend our every moment entertaining them. To this I simply say: no. Our need for downtime matters too. And anyway we know that kids need child-directed free play more than anything else. Boredom is a prerequisite to building imagination. And when in all of human history have parents spent their lives entertaining their kids? But my main point is: why put our need for rest and downtime last on the list? Why does their need for entertainment come first? Is it really serving us well? Some families absolutely do best when their kids are in lots of activities, and that is perfectly fine. But it should on balance serve the needs of the family, not completely drain one or two people.

The need to be seen. Being a mom so often feels like becoming invisible: all the neverending work you do goes generally unseen, your own wit and creativity is subsumed, your body becomes a baby-making, milking, diaper changing machine. We as individual women can just…disappear.

The need to be ourselves. But disappearing into motherhood serves no one. It is perhaps inevitable for a while, when babies and toddlers demand so much of our time and attention. But giving up our own enjoyment and identity only leads to unhappiness and resentment. And anyway, our kids need to see us as people, not just mothers. Don’t we want that for our own kids? We don’t want our daughters to be martyrs, and we don’t want our boys to expect martyrs. So we must model for our kids what it looks like to be fully human, with our own passions and interests and rich inner life.

The need to connect. We are not meant to do this alone. We feel this in our bones. Feeling connected—to close friends, to other parents, to our communities—makes all the difference. It helps us feel supported, held up, valued.

The need to be nurtured. Sometimes we are the ones that need a hug, that need to be told it’s going to be okay, that need to not have to pretend like everything is fine. We need to be told we’re doing a great job and we’re awesome people. We need to hear the same things that we say to  our kids. And it’s so hard to ask for it. We don’t want to say, “please hug me now.” But, as awkward as it feels, it’s a start. We can’t blame others, especially our partners, for not being mind readers.

The need for respect. I felt this deeply after becoming a SAHM. Suddenly you have no title, no validation, no income. The power balance in the home shifts ever so subtly. And before you know it you feel like everyone’s servant. Grab that boundary and move it back—demand that everyone speak to you with respect, starting with your spouse.

The need for wildness. The need to connect to something untamed within ourselves, when one utterly mundane day just blurs into the next and the next, sucking all of our energy and spirit. The need to feel that great potential and unknown, whether it’s in the garden or the wilderness or the ocean or making music or a night on the town. Something to remind us that our souls are big and the universe is expansive and anything can happen, and life is not just sippy cups and bus schedules. We are more than our circumstances.

The need to fill our own souls. What fills you up? Find it. Do it. Period.

If we don’t honor our own needs and try to fill them in healthy ways, it’s so easy when we are at such a deficit to turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms. But we want better, for ourselves and for our kids. When we see ourselves as deserving, when we put value on addressing our own needs as a person, we are in turn showing them that everyone is deserving. No one gets left behind, no one is sacrificed. Compassion for the world starts with compassion for the self.

Jami worked as a librarian for over a decade before choosing to stay home when her son, now 4, was born. She also has a 17-year-old daughter. She makes all-natural soap and body products and sells them through her company, Dancing Bee Farms (dancingbeefarms.net). She lives with her husband, daughter, and son on an acre of land in rural Ohio, where they keep bees, garden, and brew beer.

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