I can hear the calls, “Mommy, Mommy, Mommy, look at me, play with me, watch this, I have something to tell you, I need this, I want that.” They are words that take on a variety of meaning when spoken from the mouths of babes. Those sounds that echo loudly in the early years of children’s lives are short-lived, yet can deplete the energy of mothers everywhere. As I hear them readily, I cannot imagine my life without that resonance. It is space of children needing a mother’s love and attention. In the same breath, it serves as a reminder that freedom is temporarily lost for you as a mother. Time moves without your permission and is a valuable currency. How you choose to spend it, is your choice.

A child’s dependency is greater than food, shelter, and clothing. Deprivation of a child’s attention by parents is surprising, yet may be understandable. We live in a society of movers and shakers of men and women, working to put food on the table and shelter over their sprouts’ heads. The necessity to maintain the health and care of our kids is imperative. Yet, within these parameters of essentials, are love, attention, and time prerequisites? I pose the question because as my exhaustion materializes while caring for my young children (toddler and grade school-aged), I struggle with the need and desire for my freedom of time: to work, to play, to experience and practice self-care, to experience life outside the child environment. Women who put themselves last on their list of priorities suffer greatly, sometimes unbeknownst to themselves.

When children witness sacrifices of a mother of herself for the sake of her children, it serves as a reminder that self-care may not be a priority. The effect is not the expected; they may know they were loved, but also learn that my mother neglects herself. There are parent-rearing theories that you cannot spoil children with time and attention. However, at the expense of neglecting a mother’s health, spiritually, emotionally, and physically can have dire effects. Showing love does not mean self-neglect; it often has the adverse effect.

Therefore, how can we women care for our children with love and attention, while enabling ourselves the freedom and time to care for ourselves? Actually, it is a balancing act and sacrifice. To balance time for your children, a mother needs to find the space and energy to give her children what they need, communication, experience of play, respectful interaction, and quality time. If this means living in a smaller home, having less toys, having “stay-cations” (vacations at home), and fewer material items so that a mother works less in order to provide what includes the “time” portion of raising children, then I argue this is the sacrifice. It may take support that a mother or father manages to put into place. In doing so, to balance time between work, your children, and occasions for alone and spousal (should this be part of the equation) time, is the challenge. Remove the excuses of how this cannot be done and suddenly the solutions appear.

In the end, when you look back upon your life, rather than regret that I ought to have spent more time with my children than working, or I wished I had neglected myself less, and shared the time differently, take action to balance the scales. Utilize time to give and receive. Caring for my kids does not mean sacrificing them or me. There is a space along the learning curve of motherhood that enables you to have it all. This balancing act is manageable if strategically planned and desired. It takes some maneuvering, an input and output experiment of more or less time here or there for the freedom you seek.

The reality is that childhood is short lived. Sounds of “Mommy, Mommy, Mommy, look at me” will not reverberate off the walls in your presence forever. Finding a space to experience the joy of giving time of attention and love, while also role-modeling self-care for a teaching moment of self-esteem, is vital to a mother and child’s health. Next time I feel the tug of fingers upon the ends of my shirt and the words, “Mommy, Mommy, Mommy, come with me,” I will look into his eyes with love and understanding and know that my total freedom for work and myself is practically around the corner. Time moves without your permission; it is a valuable commodity. Only you may choose how to spend it.