military life · pregnancy and parenthood

Distinguishing distractions from progress

I do a lot.

I’m raising two tiny humans and supporting my military husband’s career that picks up and moves our lives every few years in random corners of the country. Literally, we’ve gone from one corner to the other. Hawaii to Maryland to now Texas.IMG_6402

I had a career and I had a life plan, but I will never regret choosing family. Sometimes, you have to choose. I had a dream job. I had found a way to marry my communications skills to the nonprofit world. Then we got handed a new set of orders, the blessing of parenthood, and that was the chapter where I learned just how deeply impactful my husband’s military career would be on my life, as well as motherhood.

Being busy has always been a staple of success in my life. In high school, I was the captain of my dance team. I managed a 3.7 gpa. I worked after school at my brother’s pizzeria. And this made me a go-getter. 

In college, I spent four years at a nationally-prestigious journalism program. I worked evenings at the dining halls and as a restaurant hostess. I volunteered as a dance coach. I volunteered as a public relations intern. I volunteered as a graphic designer. I volunteered as a newspaper reporter. I volunteered as a magazine designer AND reporter. And this made me a go-getter.

Post-graduation, which was early by the way, because go-getter,  I moved to Hawaii to chase the love of my life. I picked up a minimum wage job selling cookies to Japanese tourists in Waikiki, where I worked retail and didn’t get home until 3 a.m. I picked up a marketing internship with the same company, but simultaneously nailed a job interview in actual journalism. I got a puppy the next day, and my boyfriend deployed for more than half the next year. And this made me a go-getter. 

Then my boyfriend became my husband, and I planned that wedding in six months before the next deployment. I changed jobs when the first one refused to give me a pay raise paired with a big promotion. That change ended up pairing more passion with my degree, which all made me, yet again, a go-getter. 

Then we moved, and I gave birth to my son. I was staying home, breastfeeding round the clock, calming constant cries (thank you reflux), cleaning when I could, learning how to cook, and trying to teach a tiny human how to navigate this world. And that made me … a mom. 

I kept being a mom until I would become a mom yet again, a year and a half later. There I was, still breastfeeding round the clock, calming double the cries, cleaning double the mess, cooking double the food, and teaching two tiny humans how to navigate this world. And that still made me a mom. 

Being true to myself, my motherhood stayed busy as I dove into raising them and understanding their development.  Suddenly this got complicated, though, and it wasn’t rewarded like the busy in my other life chapters. “You do so much for them.” “You’re always going.” “You should slow down.” I am hearing this more than ever now that I’m dealing with the physical toll and emotional unraveling of starting over in a new community.

I do a lot for them. I do little for me. Yes, I know I need to get better at doing more for myself, but I don’t believe that the two are as correlated as we frame them. I think that’s why even though I am slowing down my mothering, I am still tired.  Learning to do more for myself must be an internal change, not something that is swapped with my role as a mother. I can carve out all the breaks I feel I need from my kids, but if I don’t know how to utilize those breaks for myself then they aren’t really breaks at all.

What I have learned is that being busy is only progress when it serves to help us grow, not distract us. Being busy is something that can be both really good for me and really bad. The good is that it has helped me grow as a mother. When I dive deeper into my kids’ worlds, that brings growth, and that feels good to me..

The bad is that I have historically relied upon external distractions to cope with stress and worry, so that I don’t know how to be internal and cope with hard times head on. This is probably why when I do slow down from my role as a mother, as everyone keeps advising me to do, I immediately fill that time with other busy things, and I miss out on opportunities to truly work on myself.

When we frame self-care as something that our kids take away from us, we are falsely framing the solution to self-care as something that can simply be found when we step away from our kids. And then we feel confused when we don’t know what to do with ourselves apart from our kids.

I do too little for me, but it is not because I do too much for my kids. I’m a busy mom, and I’m a busy person. It’s the second half of that sentence where I have to learn to slow down. I’m starting to ask myself – am I doing this because I’m trying to distract myself, or am I doing this because it is helping me grow?

And then, of course,  there are times where this ideal balance is just not attainable because life ebbs and flows, and we just need grace.  Sometimes feeling tired isn’t an indication of failing to better manage life more than it is an indication that life can just get hard sometimes.

To be better mothers, we need to give more grace. To be stronger women, we need to take more opportunities of growth and less of the ones that serve to simply distract.

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