Life is demanding. Most of us are juggling more metaphorical balls than we can really handle having in the air at once: full-time jobs, parenthood, making time for family, making time for friends, cooking, cleaning, the other miscellaneous tasks that are required to maintain a household…. those are just the basic items that require balance in life. But maybe you also have other dependents to care for, like an ailing parent or other family member. Maybe you are dealing with mental or physical illnesses yourself. And on top of that, somehow we’re also supposed to eat healthy, exercise, and still find time for the hobbies we enjoy. Sound familiar?
I constantly find myself asking, how? How are we supposed to be able to do all of these things well and manage to be happy about all of it, too? How are we to not feel stretched thin all the time?
Well, the answer is, in my opinion, that there is no answer. Perhaps there are the lucky individuals out there who are just able to handle it all with grace, but I’ve come to realize that I’m not one of them. I feel like I used to be. At one point in time, I was going to school full-time, had three part-time jobs at once, and had time to have fun. It didn’t feel like I was about to drop a ball. For whatever reason – whether it be a change in me or just the change in type of responsibilities I have now compared to then – I don’t feel like I’m doing such a great job at juggling it all.
No matter what, something has to give. If I’m doing my job really well, I feel like I am failing as a mother. If I’m momming to the best of my ability, I’m being neglectful of my work. If I’m spending time with family, months pass without seeing friends. If I’m making time for friends, I feel like a delinquent mother. All too often it feels like there is no winning.
Sometimes, it just gets to be too much.
If you were so kindly following my blog last year, you’ll notice that I went dark in August. It wasn’t because I lost interest in what I was trying to do with my writing. I needed to step away because I was losing balance. When you are trying to do too much at once, it’s inevitable that ultimately something is going to come crashing down. It also made me realize that I needed to start doing something that had started to seem impossible: take space.
I know it’s common to hear: you need to have me-time. You need to take time for yourself. You don’t need to give up what you love to make way for other things you love. However it’s phrased, this idea that you just need to make time for yourself is shoved constantly down our throats. But is it that simple?
I don’t know about you, but I can make a lot of things. Blankets. Cookies. A child. But time? Time is something that I simply can’t make or find enough of. So I’m here to tell you that you can’t make time as they so make it seem. But what you can do is take space.
What does that mean? Also, not a single-answer question.
Taking space can come in a variety of forms. At the time, for me, it was understanding that some things do have to give. I had to step away from trying to build a profitable blog, but I didn’t stop writing. I wrote for myself- to process how I was feeling, to start a new novel. These are things that I may never share with anyone, things I may never publish. I typed some of it, I wrote some of it by hand. I didn’t abandon the thing that I loved, but I took space from an aspect of it.
Sometimes taking space means not letting your job consume your life. I believe in doing whatever you do to the best of your ability, but not at the expense of your own well-being or if it requires sacrificing things like time with your family. I can tell you that as a teacher, I could literally devote every waking moment of every day to my vocation, and it would still never be enough. The demands are devouring. I grew tired of getting so little time with my son during his waking hours. Do I want to look back in ten years from now with regret, wishing that I had been able to spend more time soaking up his littleness? Do I want my memories of him as a toddler to be full of me saying, “Wait a minute, Leo. Mommy can’t hold you right now. I’m busy working”? Absolutely not.
The most important role that I feel that I am playing in this world is being a mother. I only get one chance to be a mother to this child, a short 18-year period to hold him and teach him, to just sit back and be in awe of this beautiful person I’ve created. And I’m not going to squander that. I am going to do my job to the best of my ability during the amount of time I spend doing my job, and I am going to spend the rest of my time being the most important person to my son. Because work will always exist, but that… that is short-lived. And I don’t feel guilty in the least for taking that space.
On the flipside, because I feel like I get so little time with him, it feels wrong to spend any of that time anywhere but with him. I tire of a lot of things easily, but being a mommy isn’t one of them. If I’m awake and I can be at home with my son, it feels wrong not to be.
Time is so limited. He is only going to be small for so long. I miss him when I leave.
These thoughts run through my mind every time I make plans to do something else. It has gotten especially difficult since he can now say, “Mommy, don’t leave!” Albeit, it’s not every time I walk out the door, but it still tugs on my heartstrings. And I don’t mean that just metaphorically. When I’m away for a few hours, a night, two nights… I feel the literal pulling sensation in my chest, like there is a magnet in him and a magnet in me, and they’re trying desperately to draw together.
Taking space from being a mom isn’t easy, but it’s important too. Some women feel like they lose their identity being a mother, but I feel the opposite. I feel in so many ways like I found myself in being a mother, that I don’t always know how I can be something else. But the connections we made with other people before that tiny being was born are important to nurture as well. You have to make time for dinner with friends or date night with your significant other. Because whether or not you realize it, sometimes you need the space from the tiny human. Sometimes taking space for those relationships makes you a better mother.
Speaking of relationships… it’s important to take space for relationships, it’s also necessary for your well-being to take space from relationships. I think that we can often feel obligated to be around people just because they are family or they are long-time friends. But sometimes there are people close to us that we need to take space from. There are people who may or may not mean well that take a toll on us, and we have the right to distance ourselves. I don’t want to say the cliché, trendy thing that is being said far too much, but removing toxic (*cringe*) people isn’t wrong. Others can read the separation the way they want to, but their judgment or assessment of the situation shouldn’t be a reflection of your happiness. You don’t have to explain to anyone why you take that space. It’s yours to take, with or without explanation.
We also need to take space either for or from certain activities. Personally, I need to spend less time checking my phone unnecessarily. While I am at work, I rarely look at my phone for obvious reasons. When I’m home, I find myself picking it up out of habit, out of some subconscious notion that I could be missing something. But when I catch myself scrolling social media and realize it’s without purpose, I remind myself of all I am missing out on: the world around me, in real time. On the flipside, I can’t neglect my love of the written word. I need to read like I need air. When I’m happy, I read. When I’m angry, I read. When I’m feeling sad, I lose myself in another world in a book. When I don’t have much time to read or I’m too tired, I multi-task while I’m brushing my teeth. A few pages is better than none! I may not be able to quite find the time to do other things I love, like knitting or crocheting, and I’ve made peace with that. But I will always take space for literature.
This is something that I’ve been working on and it’s probably something that I’ll always be working on, because none of the demands in my life will be going away anytime soon. But I think that we need to stop feeling as though we need to be able to do it all. Sometimes we can, and sometimes we can’t. We are the most stressed out country in the world for a reason, and it’s time we start doing something about it. So when you feel like you need to get away, like you wish you could go somewhere remote far from it all, don’t be afraid to create distance in other ways. Easier said than done, I know. All forms of art take practice and patience, but this is one masterpiece your physical, mental, and emotional health depends on.
What do you need to take space for or from?