I thought I had this nailed. I thought I had mastered this challenge when my kids were younger. But this feeling was familiar. A pulling sensation from chest as I drove away from my house. I could call it love, but love doesn’t require me to be physically present.

Love doesn’t require me to sacrifice my own wellbeing.

And my being wasn’t well. She was exhausted and in service to all others besides herself.

It occurred to me that I might be addicted to my kids.

I recognized it as a physical feeling in my body. When they were little I used to have mini panic attacks if I was away from them for too long. Some of that might have been control issues; me thinking I was the only one that could take care of them in a manner that met my standards.

Mac and cheese? No veggies? How many juice boxes? What, no bath?!

It was hard for me to get away without them when I had given up my marketing career and dedicated myself to being a stay-at-home mom.

My work identity had melded with my mother identity, so my ambition and goals were tied up in my nurturing and caregiving.

I noticed when I stepped away from this role of mother I translated that pang of possibility as a pull to be with my children. Because caring for them felt good–it felt meaningful and rewarding. And I was damn good at it.

So I went back. Again and again. And each time I chose them over my own self-care, I took another step away from my true self.

I didn’t recognize this addiction back then. I’ve become very adept the past ten years or so at sensing when my spiritual bank account is becoming depleted. That place inside me where my being exists–the essence of me that isn’t defined by any roles–she requires space. Time. Attention.

Things that aren’t flowing in abundance when you have three children in two different schools, in three different after-school activities. When you’re building a home-based business and you’re renovating bathrooms and dog-sitting and volunteering in the community and intentionally working on your marriage.

We all have addictive tendencies. This success-driven culture that we live in is like a persuasive dealer who comes wearing designer shoes and a cute haircut claiming that she has just what you need to get you through the next hurdle. The day, the week, the month…

The nightly glass of wine (or two…that turns in to a bottle), the spoon in the ice cream container after the kids go to bed, the way your mind goes to exercise or shopping or triple lattes when you can’t fathom the notion of taking the time to sit. To feel in to what it is your being needs. To say no to the desires of others in service to your Spirit.

These kids–they’re an intoxicating crew. My love for them flows through every cell of my body and extends infinitely beyond my physical self. And I see how I can use that love as a crutch. As a diversion from tending to the sometimes difficult work of my own personal experience. It’s a socially accepted form of addiction, because it is embedded in the very definition of modern motherhood–to choose our children over all else.

Addicts never really “cure” themselves of their addictions. Once they devote themselves to kicking their habit they say they’re in recovery. Recovery is defined as the restoration of health, the return to a better state or condition. In AA they say that you have to take it “one day at a time,” because

In each present moment you are creating your life anew.

That’s what’s called for in the tending of our Spirits. And the people in our lives who are used to us being constantly available may not take this very well. It helps me to remember that as a leader in the family I am modeling appropriate behavior. I want my daughters to grow up knowing that their needs matter. I want my son to expect his future wife to put taking care of herself at the top of her list. I want my husband to get the best version of me, not the worn out, disconnected, resentful me. That’s not who he fell in love with. That was built brick-by-brick each time I neglected my needs and desires. Tearing that wall down can be painful, but it’s worth it. In doing it I’ll be present in my love for my family and for myself one day at a time.
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