The motherhood deficit

You’ve heard of sleep deficit, otherwise known as the cumulative effect of not getting enough sleep. Well I believe there is such a thing as a motherhood deficit.

It occurred to me when I was corresponding back and forth with a friend recently. We were discussing how time away from our children actually makes us crave more time away. We agreed that, rather than being restorative, it sometimes makes it harder to resume where we left off.

Here’s my theory.

As mothers we spend so much time giving of ourselves  to our children, our partners, our employer, friends or family and countless others that we actually accumulate a deficit. A deficit happens when an entity spends more than it takes in — otherwise known as motherhood.  We forget to regularly pay ourselves in rest, relaxation, and tranquility. Then, when we actually do try to make a deposit in the bank of self, the bank gets greedy and wants  full payback.

It makes perfect sense. When I had my first child I think I went into shock and I’m not sure I’ve ever recovered or found my footing as an individual since then. Certainly I love being a mother, it’s a role I wouldn’t give up for the world. But I love myself too, and I somehow forgot that. My life is defined by all the things that I am to others and even when I’m trying to make a deposit in the bank of self, I’m subconsciously pulled in a myriad of directions. My mind is never free and clear and so I never overcome my deficit.

I enjoy my time away, time when I have only myself to worry about, if even for an hour. Parenthood isn’t all coming up roses, it’s hard, very hard, so I’m being honest when I say that time to myself sometimes makes me nostalgic for the simplicity of my former life. Even when I do get time to myself I feel crazed to fill it with all of the hobbies and pursuits I enjoy. I’m always running, even when I’m supposed to be relaxing.

 I miss lazy mornings spent in bed. I miss coming home at night and not having to cook dinner unless I feel like it. I miss going out for an evening and thinking only of my bedtime. I miss long and luxurious showers. I miss hours of reading in a cozy chair with hot coffee. I miss being alone in my house. I miss dinner parties with friends. I miss Saturdays spent shopping for hours. I miss quiet. All of these things used to be restorative. They kept me going. They filled my bank of self. These days they are few and far between and I’m suffering from the motherhood deficit.

 Do you believe there is a motherhood deficit? How do you refuel and do you ever feel fully recharged?

 Image: ‘Pikes Place Morning‘  via a Creative Commons license.

52 thoughts on “The motherhood deficit

  1. I have a motherhood deficit, too! This is a helpful way to look at it, because I find that I have the same issue. When I’m away, I think I’ll be happy and rested when I come back, and then I’m often more cranky. So there you go.

    My solution? I’m going to try to implement a date night once a week. I think that might help.

    I so love reading your posts. We’re on the same page about so many things.

    • Christine says:

      I’m so glad we are. It’s great to connect with like-minded women. Makes it easier, wouldn’t you agree? My solution I think is going to be to find more time alone. Whenever I get out on my own it’s always to meet someone, or it’s after the kids have gone to bed (which isn’t a proper break in my opinion). I think I’m going to start carving out a couple of hours during the day on weekends for just me – without the company of technology.

  2. Nicki says:

    I am not sure you want to hear/read my perspective. I have been deficient for years and am just now – the baby is 16 – starting to get my “me” back. It took me a long time to realize that I needed to me, outside of being Mama, to be a better mother to the kids.

  3. cristina says:

    I love your theory.. this has been weighing on mind lately. As my little people are gaining more independence, the more alone time I want for myself. The minute I get that alone time, I just want one more minute.. 5 more minutes! A whole day would be heavenly. And a part of me feels guilt over that wanting.

  4. I get this. I do. Part of my problem, though, is that I’m with my kids all. the. time. I don’t work outside the home, very rarely do I ever get time to just myself, without at least one kid (and even that’s rare). It’s a lot day after day and some days, I start to wonder if I’ve had enough.

    • Christine says:

      That is a lot! I’m not sure what to say, and perhaps this seems trite, and I don’t mean it to, but try to make it a priority if you can. Though I say it’s never enough, some is better than none. It’s healthy for you and for them. If I had to work 24/7 at the office, I’d naturally feel resentment. Being a mom 24/7 isn’t any different in my opinion.

  5. Sarah says:

    I’m suffering, too. So much so that I couldn’t possibly put together enough coherent thoughts to write it all down so eloquently, C. My days are eaten up by all I have to do. My nights are spent recovering from my days. And then I just do it all over again. On the weekend I don’t seem to know which way is up. I’m caught between engaging my kids in worthwhile activities and tuning them into tv so I can tune out.

    I’m certain that one of the things most difficult for me is the loneliness I feel. If I had friends like you who lived close by we could quite possibly cobble together big deposits in out individual banks by spending just small portions of time with one another. Here and there. Where it fits in. Alas, I am mostly alone here in my life, except for my family of course. And sometimes it’s too hard to dwell on at all.

  6. Vanessa Frei says:

    Wonderfully put. I feel like I have a HUGE deficit, but the good news is that I am slowly working on evening it out. I am slowly getting back to the gym and I usually try to at least get out with the girls once or twice a month. The one thing that I really really miss is not being able to laze around on the weekends… my life feels like its a train ride with no stops…full steam ahead at all times. What I wouldn’t give for a weekend away at the cottage with nobody but myself to worry about.

  7. Oh, Christine, I desperately miss those things too. And I am so glad to see I am not alone. It is just terribly hard to even speak it out loud. But yes, my “self” is running on a deficit. The problem is, as I see it anyhow, is that I need to learn how to live like this. To reconcile with it. Accept it. Be happy with the way things are. Because I don’t see anything changing for at least 12 years from now. I simply see that I need to give a part of myself away for now, and to not fight it. To go with it. And, as my hubby loves to say, to remember that “life is long.” While you may not have time for hobbies or leisurely coffees now, you will. Just not now.

    • Christine says:

      You are of course right Julie. And sometimes I need to be reminded of this perspective. You know the saying: the days are long but the years or fast (or something like that!)

  8. Jane says:

    I am so glad you said this outloud. I have been struggling with balancing “me time” and beating myself up on the days when everyone is in school and it’s time to pick them up and I’m not ready just yet. Guilt over not wanting to do the very job that I have declared (on more than 100 occasions) is my favorite job EVER. As Nicki pointed out, however, while it may not feel like it now – the time with children home will be over before you know it.

  9. Oh Christine you are not alone! I feel guilty sometimes…a lot of the time…for wanting that time in my life back where I could just do what I wanted. Shouldn’t I alwasy want to do this motherhood gig? It is so hard to think that sometimes I am failing me and failing my kids because maybe I would be a better woman, wife and mother if I really took some time for myself. Time that did not include laundry or cleaning or bills. Because those ridiculous things fill my without kid time.

    I’m with Sarah – the lonliness is the worst. I r eally just want to reach into twitter and grab you all for a glass of wine and a pedicure and know that I with women who understand and that I am not alone.

    Finally – I would give anything to be in my house alone. I do not think that has happened in years. I need to find a babysitter to take the kids out of my house. That would be a real luxury these days.

    • Christine says:

      Being in my house alone is a big thing for me. But being alone and not feeling like I have to be productive. I miss that! And I feel the same guilt – the guilt that I should just love being with them. Particularly since I work. But I think it’ s only natural. We don’t like to be with our husbands all the time either. They might be our kids, but they are people, and sometimes they can just be too much!

  10. Finola says:

    I have been getting more and more time to myself now that my girls are 6 and 8, but I still have trouble with the fact that my kids will need me every day, forever.
    I asked my husband recently if he thought it could be possible to have post-traumatic stress syndrome after having children. Maybe that isn’t the right term because it diminishes very seriously horrific situations that people may have been through, but I know I am changed forever and that my stomach can turn to knots and I can start to sweat and have trouble breathing in an instant.

    • Christine says:

      Finola! I get this, I really, really do. Since having kids I have regular panic attacks. It freaks me out! I think it’s just because there is too much and it all matters no matter how much we say it can wait.

  11. Sarah says:

    Interesting theory… not sure I enjoyed having to wrap my head around a money concept (so to speak) at 11pm, though. 😉

    I definitely have this. Although, I do still do a lot of the things you miss, they are fewer and farther between. It’s hard to find time to restore. To just be. I miss being.

  12. Kate says:

    Yes. You said it better then I can. I get so little time away. So little. And I agree with Sarah, the loneliness of it is the worst, because somehow putting in a little time with someone who understands is like doubling your deposit.
    I’ve been pissy with my husband recently. It wasn’t until last night that I realized why. Just when school started and life got topsy turvy, my baby got sick and my husband’s work picked up (like a tornado), leaving me feeling Responsible for Everything. I want to just be. Let go. But when?

    I know this time is fleeting and we will soon miss these busy days, but… I owe the Kate bank a lot.

  13. Amber says:

    I have experienced the same sort of thing with sleep. I can be chronically sleep deprived, and totally functional. But as soon as I get a good night’s sleep I feel EXHAUSTED. I have the same theory – you find out what you’re missing and you want more. I think that having time for yourself is very similar, for sure.

  14. Christine says:

    Oh, I have/had my moments that’s for sure. Some days when I was knee-deep in motherhood, the minutes just dragged on and I would have done anything for ‘me’ time. I remember it vaguely.
    I don’t know when or how it happened, but eventually the kids all grew up, moved out and now we’re planning on having foster children.

    Maybe I’m a masochist?

  15. The year after I had my son, I often thought: it was a blessing to have no help because I would’ve just run away and never spent time with him.
    Recently, I had a babysitter once a week and I didn’t want her to come more often.
    So I thought about the difference. My conclusion? The first year with E was so sleep-deprived and lonely. I could hardly do anything. I think it was a sign of how hard things were. Now I’m better at taking time for myself and my deficit must be less. I also realize that feeling renewed lasts about an hour. And it’s ok to get annoyed again. So maybe I’m not holding myself to such high parenting standards either.

    • Christine says:

      I need to take your lead for sure, lower my standards, expect less. And I don’t mean that in a bad way at all. I just need to be more accepting of things. I’m not good at it, and to be honest as hard as I try, I find it difficult to get there.

      And yes, the feeling of being renewed? It never lasts long enough.

  16. Dear God, QUIET. I miss it so much. I have the loudest kids in the universe (okay, Fite’s kids maybe give mine a run for the money, but still, it’s always hella loud). My husband and I, who both were shy, quiet kids, have no ideas where these heathens came from. Whenever my mother calls, she hears the noise in the background and says, “Jesus, are the Green Bay Packers over for dinner?” And she’s not far off.

    I love my time away, and do miss the Minxes, and when I get home I’m so glad to see them…for about 30 minutes. Then, I want to run away again. Re-entry is always difficult.

    Loved this post, Christine. Also, have to say again how much your new site rocks!

  17. Oh yes, I can totally relate to this. After a weekend with the in-laws where I had zero childcare responsibilities, I was thrown into single parenting for a week again. I’m screaming for more alone time. Every ounce of my being craves it. Yet all I get is a needy toddler (who I LOVE) demanding every ounce of me. 24 hours a day.

  18. Becca says:

    I feel this way day in and day out. More lately than ever before. I just told Tim the other day that I’m looking forward to empty nest. I miss Me and I miss Us. Even right now, as I sit on my swing alone, in peace as my kids are off at school, I’m not relaxed because I keep looking at my watch thinking of how quickly these few hours will go and that it won’t be enough. We all feel this Christine, I’m sure of it.
    Thank you for discussing it so openly!!

  19. Justine says:

    This deficit runs high over at my place too but somehow, because I get to spend so little time with my daughter, I don’t miss time to myself as much as I do the time with her. I think when my situation changes I would feel differently.

    I think ensuring that we have adult time while she’s in bed or going out by ourselves on the weekend as a couple are enough for me for now. Blogging has filled a void and it is also my time to myself, so when I get a good dose of writing in, I feel recharged. Is that weird?

  20. ShannonL says:

    I loved this, Christine. You said all of the things that I and so many other moms feel. That list of things you miss? ME TOO. To all of them.

    Last week and this have been absolutely crazy. The weeks are crazy. There’s ball practice and homework (a lot of homework) and lunch making. We weren’t home all weekend and we’ll be away again next weekend. There is just No Time. Just thinking about it makes my chest tight and I can barely catch my breath. I hope we’re both able to refill our banks soon. We need and deserve it!

    • Christine says:

      Sometimes it’s hard to just take a breath isn’t it? And then you look up and you think…where in the world did the time go? Oh I know…it was lost in all the chaos!

  21. Pauline says:

    “Parenthood isn’t all coming up roses, it’s hard, very hard, so I’m being honest when I say that time to myself sometimes makes me nostalgic for the simplicity of my former life”

    I’m reluctant to have children because I am worried that I will never get time to myself again. I love doing my own thing and really enjoy my free time. People my age all seem to want to rush into reproducing, thinking that it will be magical and wonderful, but from what I’ve heard and read, it seems like neverending work to me! (Of course, it is sometimes rewarding work, but work all the same!)

  22. Kameron says:

    I think we all feel this way. I get so little time to myself that, when I have it, I am trying to shove it full of things to do. I think it is especially hard right now since the baby is, well still a baby! I’m more convinced than ever that I’m all set with the 2 that I have. I can’t start this cycle over again!

  23. Very eloquent post, Christine. This is why it’s so important that we cater to our needs; that we nourish our souls. I’m loving the ideas from previous comments. Date nights. Lunch out with the ladies. Cocktail hour with colleagues. Browsing books during your lunch hour. I happen to have a very hands-on husband and a great support system around me so these are all possible, though not as often as I’d like.

    • Christine says:

      Hi Belinda! Like you I am very fortunate to have a supportive and involved husband. Without him I think I would go completely crazy! I suppose we need to take it when we can and be grateful for what we can get, and know that this too shall pass.

  24. Chantal says:

    I definitely feel this way. I think reason I do are many and complicated. But one reason is that I never spend “my” time doing nothing. A few of the activities that I loved pre-children are activities that I would do in my home. Reading, napping, watching TV (not Treehouse). When I am alone in my house I feel compelled to do something useful, there is so much to do. Clean, declutter, laundry… I can’t relax in my own home. And it drives me nuts!

  25. I love your theory! I think there’s a lot to the concept of a motherhood deficit. Unfortunately, refilling the well ain’t easy. It either takes a family, or the proverbial village – or – however many decades until you’re done. But I will say, for me, writing helps refill the well, even if it’s at odd hours, and for moments grabbed between all the “must do” tasks.

  26. Elaine says:

    A day at the spa last month was the closet I’ve come to “recharging” in a long time. I honestly feel the BEST way to get the needed rest from the constant tug and pull of motherhood is to go or be somewhere without them, if you are able. And we are going on a little trip next month. Will I think about them while we are gone? Sure, but I know they will be in good hands with their grandmother and I will be having a great time too! 🙂

    I hear you on the deficit though, and am going to have to agree with you on that… no matter how much we can get away for a bit…

  27. Lara says:

    I believe this 100%. I even wondered if I would have a harder time being home with the kids after going away to BlogHer because I will have had a taste of the “good life” of just me, instead of feeling refreshed.

    It’s hard! I wish I had an answer. For now I’m managed to find a way to be alone sometimes and really appreciate that. And I really count on the fact that it will get easier when they’re older. When they’re 10 I think you can sleep in a bit later. When they are 15 they don’t need you to get up at all!

    If I don’t think that way, I’ll just curl up and cry 😉

  28. Misty Funk says:

    Fantastic post, Christine. This reminds me of a podcast I heard on DoubleX of Slate Magazine. I’m sure most mothers can relate. Thanks for posting.

  29. Aging Mommy says:

    It has taken me three years plus to not feel guilty about me time – yet now the problem remains that I still feel I do not get enough of it. As for time for my husband and I to spend together without our daughter, that is non existent pretty much. It is just a hard fact of having young children – unless you employ a full time live in Nanny and let them take care of your children. I know that two years from now I will have a lot more time to myself, when my daughter starts kindergarten and try constantly to remind myself that in the meantime these days of her being so very little and filled with innocent joy will soon be gone, so make the most of every moment and count myself lucky to be able to do so. But it can be very hard.

  30. Shawna says:

    Know what I miss? Leftovers. And disposible income. And still I wouldn’t change it for the world 🙂

  31. Pam says:

    Yes, I think all mothers feel this – even if they won’t all admit it. When my kids were little, I tried to find some time to do things I loved. I joined a once a month book club and a once a month women’s group. Getting out of the house for something other than errands and playdates while also connecting with friends really helped. And once a year I would go away for a weekend with a girlfriend. That was helpful as well. As the kids got bigger it was easier to have that time when they were in school (I was a SAHM). I think it’s much more difficult when you work outside the home. And I, too, fell into the trap of filling up my alone time with all kinds of activities. I’m not sure there really is a solution. But know that it does get better as they get older. And trying to squeeze a little bit of alone time into every day can help in the meantime.

    • Christine says:

      I can never seem to get enough of hearing that it will get better, that they will need us still, but maybe in a less intense way. That’s one of the reasons that I love that you visit and offer perspective. Thanks Pam! It’s so good to learn from those who have been there and come out on the other side.

  32. Really great post. You hit the nail on the head with this one! I am in the Motherhood Deficit Club with you. I really need some solitude to refresh myself. Just being in the quiet is very healing.

  33. I remember very clearly feeling this way when my big kids were little. Now it’s been so long since I became a mom, I barely remember life before kids. Sometimes I’ll remember back to something I was doing BM (before motherhood), like a trip or outing, and have this momentary panicky feeling–where did I leave the kids? And then I’ll remember, oh, yeah. They didn’t exist yet. And feel a little bit of relief, like wow! I really WAS my own person, once upon a time!

    I have glimpses of that feeling when I’m away from the kids for a long time. You’d think I’d come back energized and recharged, and in a way I am, but I’ve also gotten used to independence and no little hands grabbing at my food or little feet toddling into the street and I have a hard time re-acclimating to MW (mother world).

    I’m not sure I ever feel fully recharged these days, but I do manage to keep my cup from going dry, mostly by getting away regularly (I find that more frequent short outings are actually more effective for me than less frequent, long ones), exercising (nothing fancy…I walk the dog a few times a day when I can get my oldest son to babysit for a few minutes, and when my husband’s home in the evening I often go for a nice long walk), and EATING–and I don’t just mean leftover macaroni off the kids’ plates, I make myself real, nutritious snacks. My daily shower is a non-negotiable, and when I really want a bubble bath, I drop what I’m doing and take one.

    It’s the little things, right?

    • Christine says:

      Meagan, I have those things too, my non-negotiables. I’m also very fortunate to have a supportive and understanding husband. So I do get lots of time away, but even still sometimes the sense of me gets backed up. I’ve never completely adjusted since becoming a mom. Maybe I won’t, maybe the key is learning to live with it.

  34. denise says:

    Adore your new site design. Well done!

    Now, I find it ironic that I’ve been trying for three days to get here to read your post about our communal motherhood deficit. Yup. Mhmmmm and ditto what you said. Honesty–this raw openess–is the only way we all find a common ground to realize how normal all our thoughts and feelings are. Thank you for a lovely, lovely post. xo

  35. Fave Links says:

    […] The Motherhood Deficit: Coffees and Commutes […]

  36. Cathy says:

    I’m a little late catching up on my blogs, but for sure there is a motherhood deficit. I can, however, tell you that it will be less sooner than you realize. My oldest is 15 and my youngest is 6. I have two built-in babysitters and have a bunch of new-found freedom. I don’t have to drag kids to the grocery store – even that can be relaxing without kids in tow. My sanity came with making sure I took my one night out a week with my girlfriends. Pool league and a couple of beers was my remedy. You have to make time for yourself.

  37. Hyacynth says:

    Yes! I do believe in motherhood deficit. In fact, I noticed it totally and completely Tuesday after John and I had a night to ourselves Sunday into Monday afternoon. I craved more. And it was harder to return. I thought perhaps I was just growing up as a mom, but I now think it’s a deficit. We give so much. {But I’m really ok with that. It’s just nice to know I’m not alone. You think we could get this recognized as a medical condition? No?}

    • Christine says:

      It’s true. I am okay with it too, and I truly love it. Just sometimes I lose myself in the day-to-day and I have to go searching. I always turn up, sometimes it just takes a little extra time away though.

      And yes, we should get on that!

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