I can't remember what triggered it. Was it one of the times when my children wouldn't let me go to the bathroom? Or when they woke me up from a nap? Or was it when they ate my piece of chocolate, after eating their own? What I do remember is losing it and yelling, "Mom is a person, too!"
Frustrated, I looked at their perplexed little faces. That's when it dawned on me: this information was new to everyone, myself included.
It wasn't always like this. I thought about when we lived in my hometown in Mexico and I had only my oldest son. I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom so I left my full-time job when I was eight months pregnant. Yet when my son was only 4 months old, I began pursuing an online certificate in College Counseling and I had my first student client before my son's first birthday.
I was a wife and a mother and also a student and a burgeoning entrepreneur. More than that, with so much family in Mexico, I was also a devoted daughter, tagging along to help my mom pick out a dress, and a dutiful daughter-in-law, unfailingly attending our weekly family meal. I was also a sister, a granddaughter, a cousin, a niece, not to mention a friend. Sometimes, when I wasn't busy socializing, working or studying, I even found time to exercise.
I also had live-in help. A wonderful woman who cleaned and cooked and occasionally watched my son. Yes. That was a huge reason why I was able to have such a multi-faceted life.
Everything changed when we moved to Switzerland. By the time I had lost it, we had been living there for two years. My oldest son was four, my second son was 18 months and I was pregnant with my third.
I had no family on this side of the ocean, except for my husband who worked over 40 hours a week and traveled often. I had no nanny. And daycare here was prohibitively expensive, as was the cleaning woman who came about once a week.
I can't say I'm proud of yelling at my kids. But I am proud of that moment of revelation. Although I had been going on like this for two years, I realized it couldn't go on any longer. I would either need to find a way to put my needs on the radar, or my husband and kids could visit me back in my hometown.
Around that time, I was reading, ScreamFree Parenting, by Hal Edward Runkel. In his book, he argues that the highest form of love is, "I love me, for your benefit." In other words, in order to give our best to the people we love, we need to love ourselves first.
I jumped right on board. Alone on this side of the ocean, if I didn't take care of my needs, nobody would. And if Mom was not in her right mind, everybody would suffer for it.
That was the day I enrolled in a yoga class, every Wednesday evening. My husband rarely came home before 7 pm, but, determined, I informed him that he needed to be home earlier on yoga night because I was not missing my class. His other choice was to give me two days' notice so I could get a sitter.
With time, I switched from yoga to tennis, and then to the high-energy fitness exercise-to-music Zumba. I eventually found time to step up the pace of my work in college counseling, usually after the kids had gone to bed. And, despite my exhaustion from a mother's day of work, I found it invigorating.
A few years later, I began to take online classes again. Although I was living in a very different context from Mexico, I gradually found a way to be a multi-faceted woman again. And my entire family benefited from it.
I still have times when I get caught up in the frenzy of motherhood and put my needs on the back burner for weeks, or even months, at a time. But then I remember my life-changing revelation and I schedule a babysitter and give myself a couple of hours to get back on track.
As for the chocolate, I won't let my kids eat mine, not if I really want it and they've already had their own. Call me selfish, but hey, Mom loves chocolate. And Mom is a person too.