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July 12, 2019
“Doesn’t it feel amazing to have an hour every once in a while to move and to breath and to just be however you want to be?” That’s what the yoga instructor asked our class this week as I stood, almost shoulder to shoulder, in a crowded room with the heat turned up for an hour-long class. Sweat was dripping off my face as I dove forward, planted my hands on the mat, and scooped my chest up, then back again to downward dog. “In this hour, you get to play. You get to do whatever you want to do,” she continued on above the music and the sounds of coordinated breathing. As I huffed and puffed, it didn’t feel much like playing but I realized as I drove home to my real life and the real stresses that come with it, she was speaking wisdom.
I’ve thought a lot about the power of play lately. It’s a silly word, one that evokes an image of preschoolers mindlessly sifting through sand at the park.
Defining play for hard-working moms is easy. It simply means they take a break from their obligations and their stressors. They think about the activities that make them happiest and they do those things, guilt-free. They sign up for a massage. They go out for a long dinner with their friends. They go to an excruciatingly hot yoga class (I’m not sure why that’s my version of play, but it is). They flop on the couch and binge watch Netflix all night long in a pair of sweatpants. They take a nap. They forget about all the things they have to do and they do what they want to do for a little while.
Sometimes, it means they spend time doing something loud and sweaty and memorable with their partners, like I did last weekend. I know what you’re thinking but I’m not talking about that, I’m talking about rocking out to our favorite band at an outdoor music festival, singing along to the lyrics at the top of our lungs as the lights blared down from the stage. Sometimes it means they lose themselves for a second in a shared sunset or a good conversation, washing away their exhaustion momentarily.
I remember being especially exhausted when we made some major changes in our finances a while back. It’s tiring to spend your nights and weekends preparing to get your family moved and settled for a year-long family adventure. Once we fully-transitioned to our new home, there were all kinds of new issues to navigate, both for our kids and for ourselves. Emotions were running high and it was hard to adjust. There were all sorts of moments when we all had to be especially brave as we dealt with a new living environment and a new routine. Playing was not at the top of our to-do list.
No mom I know weaves what makes her happy into an already full life without a major amount of effort. Nevertheless, the most successful moms I know make time to do it. They prioritize play because they know this: if we want to live our lives with intention (including parenting with intention), if we want to approach those hard mommy moments with courage (moments like sleepless newborn nights, toddler tantrums, or moments when our kids’ true selves go hiding), we have to build in opportunities to rest.
Almost every mom I know is tired but ninety-nine percent of new parents I meet — both male and female — are really tired. New parents are earning their bravery stripes day by day by day. They’re learning how to take care of a human being for a first time and, if that doesn’t take guts, I’m not sure what does. If you’re a new mama, you know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s even easier for those moms to be brave, though, when they get the rest they need. When they’re less physically and mentally tired, they have the energy to handle the challenges that come their way with more perspective and resolve.
Seasoned moms may get the physical rest they need on a more consistent basis but mental rest is quite another story. Just like burnout is real in the workplace,
You cannot and you should not do it all. So what if your house isn’t perfectly kept and your life is not perfectly organized? Choose to concentrate on the things that really matter to you, then let the rest go. The most peaceful parents learn to prioritize early on and they prioritize play.
You are not the only person who is capable of taking care of your kids. If you have a partner, share your parenting responsibilities with that partner. Work toward parenting as a team. Give your partner the space to take care of him or herself and be committed to taking care of yourself.
Resting is not selfish. Playing is not selfish. Yes, our kids need our focused attention at regular intervals but they don’t need us to be with them all the time. Caring for the people we love most is about setting aside moments to be together, looking for our kids’ deeper needs, and approaching motherhood as less of a perfect balancing act and more of an intentional practice. It’s not about martyring ourselves.
What does it mean to play when we’re busy, burdened modern moms? It means setting down our heavy loads (and handing them off to someone else for a while if necessary). It means paying attention to what we really need. It means taking a break, tipping the scales away from exhaustion and toward bravery, away from burnout and toward joy.
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