I didn’t want to be a martyr mom anymore.

What is a martyr mom?

She’s the girl who will leap out of the showersuds still in her hairto grab the crying baby out of her husband’s arms.

She’s the mom who will gladly let her husband take a guys night out but never has the time to call her girlfriends back.

She’s the girl who doesn’t have time to shower or put on makeup or eat a meal sitting down.

She has little babies stuck to her side 24/7.

She has a good life and is in love with her family, but somewhere along the way she forgot about herself.

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She reads dozens of articles touting the importance of bubble baths, mani-pedi appointments, and massages, but most days she doesn’t even take a spare moment to shower.

I was the queen of the martyr moms. The sad truth is, I’d tied my worth as a mother to how much I sacrificed.

I felt like a good mom when I gave up everything for my kids. I didn’t mind quitting my job to stay home with them, bouncing them for hours on end or changing dirty diapers with one hand and wiping a toddler’s butt with the other. When my husband got home in the evening, I would sigh and tell story after story about how I carried the screaming toddler out of the park, or how many bodily fluids I’d cleaned up in the past 12 hours. The harder my day was, the more I enjoyed telling the story. I took pride in being everything for my children.

Then one day I realized I had a problem.

One day it occurred to me that I hadn’t taken the time to put ice in my glass of water for almost three years. When I first had that sweet little newborn boy, who hated being set down, fun things like ice cubes went out the window. I don’t know why I decided that ice just took way too long and I could only take the time to dash into the kitchen, grab a lukewarm cup of water, and dash back, but that habit stuck. My newborn was now almost a 3-year-old, and I still didn’t put ice cubes in my cup.

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Somewhere along the way, I decided the more I suffered and sacrificed, the better mom I was.

As an exercise, I put ice in my water today. I leisurely took out the ice cube tray, filled my glass, and thenbecause I was feeling extra sassyI cut a piece of lime and threw that in too. I timed myself. It took all of twelve seconds to add ice, 29 seconds if you include the lime. That’s it? Twelve seconds of self-care.

For three years, I’ve been choking down lukewarm water, and for what? Twelve stinkin’ seconds.

After the ice experiment, I marched over to my husband and told him I needed an hour a day to myself, by myself. He is a good man and enthusiastically agreed. I told him I needed his help to stick to this resolution, and I wanted him to ask me throughout the week when I was going to take time to get out by myself. He accepted the challenge and from then on would come home regularly and tell me to go out for a while. He’d peel off his shoes, shake off the concrete dust from his job, and grab the babies. I’d march to the closet, grab my bag and laptop, and wave goodbye.

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The first day that I left the two babies with him and jumped into my minivan, I just stared at the dashboard. Where should I go? What should I do? Who was I?

As it turns out, meeting yourself for the first time post-babies is a bit of a terrifying experience.

I couldn’t remember what I used to do for fun, or what I would even do with a free hour outside the house by myself. It felt like my first postpartum jog: every step felt shaky and uncomfortable.

One thing I’ve learned is that just like everything else in life, it gets better with practice.

Practice leaving your babies. Practice taking time to rediscover a hobby. Practice taking care of yourself.

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Since then, things have gotten easier.

When my husband comes home and takes over with the babies, I happily leave the house. Some days I go to the coffee shop and write, other days I run errands, today I am sitting in the library typing away on my laptop. As it turns out, having an hour away from the babies every day is life-changing.

I’m not a better mom when I give every last ounce of life juice to my babies, I’m a better mom when I take the time to drink ice cold water. When I leave for an hour or two, I return filled with gratitude that this is my life, that these are my babies, and that I can be me (even if I am still a mom). I used to be a martyr mom; I’m not anymore.

Bethany Lotulelei

Bethany Lotulelei is a virtual assistant, blogger, and creative living in rural Nebraska. She spends her days going on long stroller walks, hanging out with her hubby and baby boy, and drinking entirely too much coffee.