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Taking Care of Mom
by Win and Bill Sweet

          The airplane taxis down the runway for take-off and the voice of the stewardess fills the cabin. As she describes the various safety features of the aircraft, she says, "Should there be a loss of cabin pressure, an oxygen mask will appear in front of you. . . If you are traveling with a child, put on your mask first and then assist the child."

          This safety instruction is a perfect example of an application of the principle of Enlightened Self-interest: If the adult has taken care of her or his needs so as to be functioning well, that adult is in a position to be effective on behalf of the child. We discovered in our family, that when we took time, energy, and money to have our own fun, nourishment, and space, the household atmosphere was lighter and more joyous.

          We all understand that in order to function well a person must have a proper balance of food, physical and mental rest, and exercise. Yet on a daily basis, mothers get the cultural message that in order to be good mothers they should be continually self-sacrificing. When the self is sacrificed, there is no self to be optimally effective. Every mother knows the dragged-out feeling, just barely making it from one task or demand to another. Some mothers wouldn't feel normal if they weren't dragging and feeling constantly pushed. A state of pressured exhaustion, however, is counterproductive to the goal of a positive, joyful experience in family life.

          Mothers are also pulled down by the intrusion of guilt, which is almost synonymous with motherhood in our culture. Mothers can translate guilt into myriad forms, "I'm not cooking enough," "The house is never as clean as it should be," "I spend too much money to keep the household running well," "I didn't get enough done today," "The kids were cranky today; Jason got a C in spelling; I'm a terrible mother." This attitude, which is based on fear, has deep cultural roots spanning back for centuries and affects every mother today. Donna shared with us during a telephone call, "It's an odd day. I don't feel guilty for a change. But I'm beginning to feel guilty because I don't feel guilty." Moms who take time to take care of themselves are especially susceptible to a sense of guilt.

          Fearlessly take strong and positive steps toward breaking cultural patterns concerning the roles, responsibilities, and value of Mom in order to establish a joyful atmosphere in your home. This atmosphere of joy will naturally include an assumption that taking care of Mom is high on the list of priorities. Then, in that atmosphere, the family life together is much more likely to be healthy, happy, and harmonious.

          How many budgets include a category for nourishment and growth for Mom and the marriage? Unfortunately, not many. But in fact, that's like expecting to fix dinner without buying any groceries. Just as you make out a grocery list, get into the habit each month of planning activities and intervals of nourishment and growth for Mom and the marriage. Some ideas from other families for taking care of Mom are: a sitter comes one afternoon or one day a week, Dad takes the kids out on Saturday, Mom and Dad have a date once a week and a weekend away every few months, Mom doesn't cook dinner once a week, relatives or friends keep the children overnight.

          One of our friends, who is a single mom, shared this with us: "When my children were younger, I always neglected taking care of myself. All the income I made went to the children and their needs. Later, when I began to budget money for my own needs, they seemed to feel more secure and their respect for me and for themselves grew. The children's quality of life rose as mine did." Practicing Enlightened Self-interest benefits everyone.

          Win: During the years we had school at home, the family had breakfast, sent Dad off to work, and then I figuratively put a "Do Not Disturb" sign on my bedroom door for an hour or so. The children could do as they pleased, but could not disturb me unless the house caught fire. I used my hour to read, write in my journal, sleep, sit quietly with a cup of tea, do a little sketching, lounge in the sun—whatever was the most fun and nourishing for me. I enjoyed a nice renewing time. This gave all of us space and worked very well because, if I weren't rested and nourished, the children would be negatively affected.

          You may throw up your hands and wail, "There's no time, energy, or money left over for taking care of Mom." But Moms who practice Enlightened Self-interest find that in catching the vision and shifting priorities, some former necessities that gobbled up time, energy, and money are really not so necessary. The first step is to boldly catch the vision that Mom must have time for rest and renewal in order for the entire family to function well. The next step is for you and your family to shift priorities to bring this vision to reality.

          Make taking care of Mom a necessity, and therefore, a high priority in your family's plans. This shift creates the all-important key family element: a rested, refreshed, and therefore, an effective Mom. Family joy naturally follows.  



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