Recently, a friend asked me to come over and help her babysit. She’d agreed to babysit another friend’s two children. I immediately said yes with absolutely no hesitation. I wanted to help her. And I did.
But that request turned into another.
She asked me to take over the babysitting job entirely. She felt overwhelmed taking care of her own kids while also taking care of the kids she was babysitting. I felt horrible doing it, but I declined. I declined even though I’d spent most of the last two days dragging one of my children to her home to help her.
It might have seemed arbitrary but that was my limit. That’s where I drew the line. It’s where I felt assured that I wasn’t overextending myself beyond where I felt comfortable. I wanted to make sure I’d have something left in my gas tank for my family at the end of the day.
On another occasion in the last year, a close family member wanted me to accompany him on a four hour road trip. Despite feeling a great deal of pressure, I declined. I left my door wide open to this person and welcomed him anytime. However, I refused to extend myself beyond my open door with a road trip.
This refusal was much less arbitrary. I’d just driven over 1000 miles with my husband and three kids for our most recent Permanent Change of Station (PCS). I wasn’t interested in getting back on the road anytime soon. I made it painfully obvious that I really didn’t want to drive beyond my city limit at that time. I declined even though I felt guilty for doing so, and despite pressure to make the trip anyway.
Knowing & Setting Your Limits
This guilt made me think: What was so wrong with me knowing my limits in these situations? These situations were too much for me to handle at the time. It would have been too stressful. And nothing robs mothers of the joy of motherhood more often and more easily than stress.
I have made it a priority to know my limits and to keep setting them for my friends and family. And I vow not to feel guilty about it. Or at least, I’ll try not to.
I continued on this same path with my husband and kids. I now request that my husband help with bath time more. Bath time is probably the most stressful part of my day. My kids clean more — at my insistence. That way, I have more time to snuggle and play with them instead of doing chores.
It’s OK to Think About Yourself Sometimes
Don’t get me wrong, I believe in helping others. And if I hadn’t just moved halfway across the country, I probably would have made that road trip. And if my husband wasn’t out of town like he was at the time, I probably would have helped with the babysitting. But he was gone. And we had just moved. And my decision to think of myself at the time was OK. With or without those extenuating circumstances.
Because I know that if I met me — a woman raising three kids, one of whom has special needs; a woman with a husband often out of town for work — I know I’d give her a hug. I would wrap my arms around her, cut her some slack and lend a hand. I’d enlist my husband and children to help her, too. I’d probably even ask my friends to seek her out. So why not do that for myself?
Why not give myself a hug when I need it? Why not know that, despite my failures, I’m doing my best and cut myself some slack? Why not enlist my husband and kids to make my life easier when they can? And why not, despite my reluctance to ask for help for myself, ask for help from my friends? I’d do it for someone else.
I intend to do everything I would do for another woman — for myself. And I challenge other women to do the same.