I first experienced it, truly, when I went back to work and left Matilda at home. Whew. That was a humdinger of guilt, let me tell you. And then, since I was already missing out on so much during the week, I would feel even more guilty if we scheduled a date night. How can I leave now that I just got back? I felt torn between my duties as a wife and mother - though I fully love both - seeing needs on both ends of a giant rope, ready to be yanked in an emotional game of tug-of-war. Either way, I was going to lose. But, either way I was also going to win too, right? I kept my sights on the bigger picture. The greater good. A healthy marriage and a happy child. So, what was all this "feeling bad" business about?
Why did going out with my husband suddenly make me feel like a teenage girl late for curfew, having to justify all my whereabouts and only wanting validation that my decision had been worthwhile? I know, it sounds ridiculous. It is ridiculous. And yet, the cycle continues.
This weekend, my hubby and I have some major plans. We've been graciously gifted a huge opportunity with friends to go hot air ballooning and on a wine tasting tour via limo. Insane! It's probably the biggest adventure (sans children) that we've taken since our honeymoon. We'll be getting up at 4 in the morning (it's a sunrise hot air balloon ride!) and be gone - away from the children - until about 8 or 9 that night. All. Day. This is big for me, people! My mom is flying in this week, so it is perfectly timed for her to be able to spend all day with the girls - and overwhelmingly blessing us with the babysitting! Some other friends are chipping in too, stopping by to make sure my mom is surviving the wiles of the crazy Matilda, and any other unpredictabilities that may occur. All that to say - a lot of coordinating has gone into this weekend to ensure that I have every reason to be fully and entirely guilt-free. (Okay, maybe that wasn't the motivating factor, but it is a bonus.)
But, am I guilt-free? No, not entirely. I'll be honest. This is a toughie for me. It is super easy for me to tell my other girl friends "You guys deserve a break! Totally drop your kid off. I'll watch him/her no problem. I'm responsible! I cook! I know child and infant CPR!" and yet, here I am clutching to my routine like it was the Bible. It is not. It is not the only way. It is not the way or the truth or the life. And it certainly does not set me free. My routine and my being here for these girls every day is a blessing (and an enormous luxury) but it will not hurt them one bit to stray from our normal every day routine and let someone else take the reigns for an hour or two (or twelve). In fact, it may even be good (gasp) for them!
I know this in my head. I know that whenever I go on a date night with Josh, that my girls are in the utmost of care. Our friends are gracious and kind and generous and unfathomably patient with our children. I know that I need to dress up. To get out of the house. To make eye contact with the love of my life and not be thinking the back of my head whether the vaporizer in the nursery had enough water in it or not. I know that the foundation of a healthy family begins with a loving marriage, the constant reconnection of a husband and wife who sincerely want to be around each other. Then why does my heart weigh with guilt at the thought of leaving the house? Why does it feel like such a burden to place the care of my girls on the shoulders of another?
There's one other thing I know for sure. This feeling is not of Jesus. This is all me. Can you imagine if Jesus felt this kind of guilt with each of His followers? He would have been paralyzed with anxiety (which really would have put a damper on the whole "healing" thing). But even Jesus had time away from His disciples to pray and refresh Himself. And, maybe the disciples weren't nursing every few hours and asking to read another Berenstain Bear book...but, let's be real...those guys were rather needy. They depended on Jesus and I'd imagine they (along with many others) were constantly begging and pleading with Him for attention here or there. (Obviously the ministry of Jesus was infinitely greater than my taking care of two little girls...but, I think you see the point.) This guilt is false. This guilt is all-Emily. This guilt is, whether I want to admit it or not, totally my lack of faith that I can't control every situation all the time (which is a total illusion anyway). This guilt has got to go.
I know I'm not alone (please! Fellow mothers! Validate me!) I want to (so badly) slip on a pair of heels like it is second nature, vacuum in pearls like it's no big deal, and breastfeed while applying mascara as if I do it every day. I'm the American woman, therefore, I want it all and I want to look like a million bucks while I do it...with ease. I want all my friends to look at me and think I must feed my children healthy, homemade meals on time every day, get them to lay down for naps by reading Bible stories, and that I iron my husband's work shirts days before he might actually need them.
Um...none of that is true. Why would it be? I don't live in the 1950s or in a pancake syrup commercial. I live in the flipping real world - where I blog in the fifteen minutes my daughter will either nap or watch a borderline educational/entertaining tv show and my baby finally crashed on the bed and is surrounded by pillows so as to hopefully prevent her rolling off, and I have yet to put on deodorant for the day or do the dishes from last night's dinner. It's not that I haven't been productive - I can name about a thousand other things I've done this morning. But, the only one that really matters is that I've kept two little girls alive and I'm still sane. Congratulations, me. Job well done.
We don't need to earn a night out. We don't need to wait until we deserve it. We don't mother and mother and mother all day/night long so that we can justify going out for a cup of coffee with our husbands. STOP that mentality. You don't have to tell your husband every day how freaking hard it is to put up with the whining and the screaming and the crying and that's why you feel you're entitled to the privilege of a shower and an errand run alone to the grocery store. He knows you have it rough. He knows you have the harder job. (And, if he doesn't, he will know it very quickly when you leave the children with him for a couple hours!) The point being...parenthood is not a system of exchanges. You don't get gold stars or medals for suffering one day and needing a break the next.
Stop justifying the date night and start incorporating it.
Time off should be part of the package deal. Part of the "routine". Maybe we don't sign a contract when we have babies, but you'd never let your husband take a job that didn't offer vacation time or weekends off or at least some form of time-off compensation. This isn't "extra". This isn't a favor from the boss. This is just what you are entitled (an overused term that now has a bad rap)...a healthy, consistent, not-abused, opportunity to keep yourself balanced. It's necessary.
Taking these breaks are going to be a new part of my routine. Trusting others. Depending on friends. Finally taking my husband up on that offer to go out by myself once in a while. And making sure my husband knows that he comes first. I constantly need to be reminded how important this is. It is a fine balance for me to find peace between selfishness and restoration. And, this weekend, when I'm up in that hot air balloon, I'm determined to fully enjoy myself and let go of any remaining false guilt, justifications, or other unnecessary anxiety trying to steal my peace.
Goodbye guilt. Up, up, and away.