There is a saying among parents, especially mothers, that we must fill our own cup in order to best be able to give to others. The idea is simple- if all we do is give of ourselves then eventually we’ll be empty with nothing to give anyone. Taking care of ourselves, taking time for ourselves is not selfish but a necessary part of being the best parent we can be. I absolutely, 100% agree with this sentiment. However, I think that there are many ways to fill your cup and, for me at least, motherhood is actually one of them.
Don’t get me wrong- there is a lot of drudgery that is involved in being a parent. I do not relish laundry, dishes or cooking. Keeping my cool in an attempt to help them learn to keep theirs when what I really want to do is have a fit of my own is not easy. Non-stop chatter about things I don’t find the least bit interesting (Taylor Swift and Minecraft come to mind) can be annoying at times. This is the work part of motherhood. But there’s another side, a rewarding side. One which fills my cup. The relationship side.
I’ve come to view the work and relationship aspects of motherhood as two distinct sides of the same coin. It was imperative to my relationship with my children for me to be able to do this. It was difficult at first because they seem so inextricably linked but once I figured it out, it changed everything.
I think of all of the mundane, cup draining aspects of parenting much like I think of my husband’s job*. He is the primary bread-winner in our house. When I am meal-planning, teaching co-op classes and taxiing the kids around he is going to a job that gives us the money to live and play. It is his (self-selected) role in our family much like taking care of the domestic aspects is my (also self-selected) role. R doesn’t always like his job but he does it because that’s part of the deal of being a husband and a father. I would really hate to think that he views this aspect of his role as his primary function in our relationship or that when he looks at us all he sees is the crappy job he has to do to support us. It would break my heart if he saw me this way. I realized one day that it would also break my kids hearts if they thought I viewed the work parts of parenting as our primary relationship and that when I look at them all I see is the work they create for me.
So, I learned to compartmentalize. I do not relish grocery shopping or cooking but I do love family meal times. I do not enjoy being taxi driver for my kids but we have some great talks in the car. I don’t love being referee when they’re bickering but when they are getting along we have some great adventures. It isn’t always easy to sort out the drudgery from the spirit-lifting aspects of parenting but I do it for every other relationship in my life so it only seems natural that I do it for my children as well.
When I stated earlier that this viewpoint changed everything I was not merely referring to a shift in my viewpoint- I was referring to a major shift in how we live our day to day lives. I have always recognized the importance of taking the time to fill my cup, so to speak; this was actually one of the first things I learned as a new mom. I made sure to have time each day, usually when the kids were sleeping, to do something for myself. I made sure to have time to spend with my husband, just the two of us. I always made time to see my friends and simply relax and laugh together. But once I had the epiphany that my kids could also fill my cup I started to make time for those moments as well. I learned to let the dishes go and play that new board game together. I learned that staying in our pajamas and watching Doctor Who or Buffy the Vampire Slayer all day is a perfectly acceptable way to spend the day. I learned to relax and enjoy them for who they are instead of constantly worrying about who they will someday be. In short, I learned to focus on the relationship side of motherhood.
Obviously my relationship with my kids is not the only thing that fills my cup; I have a great marriage, a close-knit family, fantastic friends, a job I enjoy and a strong sense of self. All of these things take from and fill my cup in their own ways. Yes, there is actually quite a bit more drudgery in parenting because I am merely responsible to my spouse, parents, sibling, friends, co-workers. I am responsible for my children and therefore the level of crap that must be dealt with is increased. But so is the level of reward.*I also have a part-time job but am not the primary bread-winner. At one time we shared this role equally but that has shifted. For the purpose of this analogy I’m choosing to focus on his job and it’s role in our relationship.