Labor Day weekend has come to represent a lot more than just a moment to honor the labor movement in the United States, so much so that we don’t often pause to remember that’s what the holiday is really about: a celebration of the victories achieved by organized labor in the late 19th century, many of which we take for granted—eight-hour work days, 5-day work weeks, restrictions on child labor, safety and sanitation laws, etc.
For many, Labor Day often marks the end of summer vacation, the close parenthesis to Memorial Day’s official start of summer.
In 1999, Labor Day weekend came to mean a very different sort of labor for me: the birth of my first child and, as Latham Thomas of Mama Glow points out in this interview, the birthing of myself as a mother.
It seems fitting that the little person who made me a mother turns 18 this year and reaches a new life stage, what she humorously calls “adulting,” just as I am beginning the next phase of my life.
One never stops being a mother—it’s like receiving the world’s best life sentence.
I’ll admit that for that reason, I never could make it through Love You Forever or The Giving Tree without needing at least half a box of Kleenex, so my kids learned not to ask for those books at bedtime!
But at some point, kids do grow up, and while they will always need mothering, they really do need us to stop with the s-mothering, and we are left with…well, what ARE we left with?
From talking to friends and clients around the same age as myself, it seems…not much? I hear a lot of “I’ve lived my entire life for others. Children. Spouse. Parents. Boss. When is it my turn?”
Well guess what? The time is now. And in a really strange reversal, the experiences we had nurturing little people can be helpful in nourishing ourselves.
As mothers, most of us know that words can cut children more deeply than the proverbial sticks and stones, so why is it so many of us look in the mirror and experience a stream of verbal abuse from ourselves: “When did I get so [old/fat/gray/exhausted/insert your-most-commonly-used-criticism-of-yourself here]?”
We send our kids off to college or out in the world with admonitions to eat their vegetables, not drink to excess or take up smoking, get enough sleep, try something new, branch out of their comfort zone, have faith in themselves, try again when they fail, not beat themselves up, and—first and foremost—to make good choices.
But as mothers, are we making the best choices for ourselves?
Or are we putting ourselves aside year after year in the name of being “good mothers”—eating on the run, skipping sleep, cutting out workouts, staying caffeinated all day, drinking too much wine because we feel we deserve it for making through a day of carpools and after-school activities and homework help and making dinner and packing lunches and doing laundry in addition to working full time?
Maybe it’s time to take a page from the labor movement’s book: take a look at how your home “factory” functions and draw and keep some boundaries around your time and energy. It may feel selfish, but it’s really self-honoring.
I’m celebrating Labor Day weekend with a visit to my girl, hiking, fine dining, binge reading the final book of Outlander, and a vacation from cooking/cleaning/laundry. It’s a simple way of mothering myself.
Leave a comment and let me know how you mother yourself…or how you will start to do so!