When Pieces of Us Get Swooped Away by Motherhood

Leaning up against our piano, across from my little white desk where I’m sitting right now, is an old steel-string guitar in a case that won’t snap shut anymore. I used to play it a little.

I bought it when I was in my early 20s on a whim at Homestead Pickin’ Parlor, a quirky little music shop next door to where I worked for an adult literacy program in the basement of a used furniture store. My first “real job” out of college.


One day, I noticed a new sign for guitar lessons on the door. I’d played saxophone in my high school band and took piano lessons as a kid, but I’d always dreamed of playing the guitar. In my mind, it’s the queen mother of all instruments.

Twenty minutes later, I walked out of that little shop a proud owner of a second-hand, Blueridge guitar and with a reminder slip to return the following Tuesday at 5 p.m. for my first lesson with Martha.

Martha, a flower child in the flesh with little round glasses, freckles, and a globe of curly red hair, had the patience of a saint as she did her best to teach scales and chords and rhythms to me— the clean-cut yuppie in a bob cut from next door (little did she know I’m a flower child in disguise).

Despite a lack of natural musical talent and finger dexterity, after weekly lessons with Martha for a year or so, I was able to clumsily strum and pick my way through many of my favorite folksy tunes such as “Knocking on Heavens Door” by Bob Dylan, “Circle Game” by Joni Mitchell, “Peace Train” by Cat Stevens. “Feelin’ Groovy” by Paul Simon. . .

Knowing it was my own hands “jamming” out at least some semblance of those masterful melodies, was nothing short of euphoria. It filled cracks and crevices in me I didn’t even know were there.

Sadly, I’ve hardly picked up that guitar for fifteen years. It’s mostly there to inspire the kids to want to play it. The minute my first child latched on to me for her survival and sustenance, pieces of me were completely swooped away in the glorious vortex of motherhood, swirling around in the purest love of all, anointed and disheveled by sense of purpose, joy, despair, hope, and fear.

And in the center of it all,  since that first sleepless inauguration, has grown a smoldering self-neglect so still and quiet that it often goes unnoticed by even the most astute radar.

Sometimes when I glance over at that guitar, a longing for those pieces of me I’ve let go of, one by one like red balloons, washes over me. If I only had kept playing and practicing. As a mom of three, there always seems to be something else I ought to be doing than tending to my own desires and needs.

As any mother head-over-heels in love with her children will tell you, I wouldn’t trade the often self-depriving, complicated, heart-wrenching vocation of motherhood for anything in the world. But now that my kids are teens and tweens, more than ever they’re needing a strong, healthy mother to model after. How can I guide them to that which makes their spirits soar when I so often shut myself off from that which makes mine?

When it comes to self-care—making time for date nights with my husband, exercising regularly, eating lunch sitting down, getting regular physicals, hobbies, asking for help, buying myself new socks —I’d give myself a low C-minus overall. And I don’t even struggle with half the stuff some women I know and love do, like caring round-the-clock for a child with severe special needs or working long hours to make ends meet.

I took an important step forward this week, though. I read Julie Burton’s new book: The Self-Care Solution. I don’t typically read self-help type books, but this one called to me, and plus, I’ve had the honor of getting to know Julie through the Twin Cities Writing Studio, which she founded along with Nina Badzin. She’s the real deal.

In countless ways, it was like reading my own story. Julie, a mother of four, writes, “I feel my children’s feelings, and I take on their issues as if they are my own. I struggle—I mean I really struggle, at a cellular level—to understand where I stop and they start, or where they stop and I start.”

Oh my gosh, she nails it with those lines and all throughout the book.

Julie’s journey from rock bottom in the self-care department to wholeness— combined with real-life stories of other women she’s interviewed and powerful, practical, bite-sized ideas for incorporating self-care into our everyday lives—reached out and into my smoldering nucleus like a sweet, cool mist.

A mist as awakening as this Aha! moment Julie describes . . .

“I was driving in my car with my daughter in the backseat, and just daydreaming, thinking about nothing in particular. My daughter said something silly and she laughed. And then I laughed—really laughed. And I realized that this subtle yet powerful feeling that was filling up my entire being—a feeling that, until that simple moment of laughing with my daughter, I had not realized how much I had missed it—was happiness.”

Mother’s Day is right around the corner. Maybe treat yourself to this awesome book.


I’m Julie Jo Severson, mom of three and freelance writer. I launched this blog Carvings On A Desk in 2015. It’s where I doodle about past, present, future clinking glasses and making peace and keep pieces of myself from getting swept away. To see my other recent posts, click here.


About Julie Jo Severson

Julie Jo Severson, former PR girl, is now a freelance writer, journalist, editor, and lost-and-found attendant for two teens and a tween. This is where she doodles about past, present, future clinking glasses and making peace.

43 comments on “When Pieces of Us Get Swooped Away by Motherhood

  1. Oh, this book sounds so good! I’d give myself a C for self care as well. And I ‘m a sucker for a good self-help book, soooo I think I need read this! Thanks Julie.

  2. Oh I giggled at the line about eating lunch sitting down. May you sit down one day and start strumming again! I don’t usually read self-help either as I always get irritated that it doesn’t magically solve my problems, but this one sounds like a winner. And a helper.

  3. Thanks for that book review. I don’t typically read self help either. I’m going to see if its on audio because I know I won’t be still to read it but I like that it has “those lines” we need to hear and that we all can relate too. I can so relate to your line, “there always seems to be something else I ought to be doing than tending to my own desires and needs” that a good one for why I won’t make time for a self-help book. I give myself a B even factoring in that I still stand up to eat most meals. I’m making an honest effort towards getting an A. Hope one day you just go for it and pick the guitar up again.

    • Wow, a B going on A! Good for you Kenya. I hear you about self-help books and lack of time and not really my thing. But this one was beautiful and touched a nerve. One day I’ll get back to the guitar. I’ll have to toughen up my fingers again, though, because it kinda hurts to try and play those steel strings now:(

  4. I’m all for self-care. My hurdle is getting over feeling guilty taking the time to exercise or just sit outside and read for 20 minutes. Mothering is all consuming. In wonderful ways and in unexpected ways but we all know, we are better people when we can be express ourselves and be recognized as ourselves, apart from taking all our identity and energy as mother. I’ll have to look at the book and see if she addresses the guilt thing.

  5. Wow, that quote from the book is RIGHT ON. Music has been at the center of my own self-care for many years. Folk music, in particular, is rich ground for making a powerful new adult community. Maybe there is a local group of folks looking for a basic guitar backup. See if you can find it! As a fiddler, I can tell you I am always happy to meet a picker!

    • That’s so wonderful about your music. Thanks for your vote of confidence:) Your suggestion of me being somebody’s back-up put a big smile on my face. I couldn’t pay anyone to use me as their back-up. Ha! No, my guitar playing wasn’t good to begin with–just something to relax me in the confines of my own little abode with my audience being me, myself, and I. But maybe one day I’ll play for my kids.

  6. Exquisite. Just exquisite. Seriously, you are SO gifted with words, Julie. Reading your experience with those fading memories and lost passions resonates so deeply with me. This book sounds amazing. Anything you love, I just know I will too.

    You may not have that guitar out, but girl- you have your writer’s hat on and you are exactly where you need to be. Please keep playing your words! 🙂

    • Christine, your comment has been roaring in me since I read it yesterday. Do you realize how much you encourage others? You’re a filler-upper like no other. I’m so grateful to have connected with you. Thank you . . . again.

    • Hi Nina:) Yeah that line popped right off the page and so did so many. What a gift Julie has created with this book. So glad to know both of you. You guys have no idea what your understanding, kind words, and “nudging” has meant to me. Miss you too!

  7. Ah, a topic I am so passionate about! As moms, it can be a struggle to make time for ourselves and what nourishes us. I have found blogging and making jewelry — in general, having creative outlets — has really helped me through some of the more trying parenting moments. I hope that you are able to pick up that guitar again soon.

    • Thank you Bev! And thank you for sharing this on Twitter. I just saw that. Very much appreciate that as I truly believe there are so many women who could benefit from what Julie has learned through her journey to health and well-being.

  8. Julie Jo, I loved this post. I am doing fairly well keeping up with writing, since it’s my job, but I am doing more technical writing and less creative than I’d like. And the painting that used to be so centering for me is left neglected for months at a time. But I don’t regret it (?) – not when I get lots of hugs and kisses and laughs from my 18 month old girl. I feel like some pieces of me are being temporarily boxed away for this season in my life, and they’ll be there later when I’m ready to return to them.

  9. Julie, wow, I love the image of you playing guitar! Your honesty, insight and warm heart come through so beautifully in this wonderful piece. Thank you so much for sharing your positive reflections on my book. I am humbled and grateful. There is a continual dance that we moms do in our quest to take care of ourselves and our families. I’m thrilled that my book inspires you to practice regular self-care and let your spirit soar! It certainly soars through your beautiful writing!! Thank you, my friend! XO

  10. I used to play piano, and I stopped when my nephew was born. It was like motherhood. My sister had him when she turned 18, and we were both still living with my mother. She freaked out every time I’d play the piano in fear it would bother her baby (she’s kind of over dramatic, so we walk on egg shells). When I moved out, I’ve been without a piano since. I’ve tried a keyboard, but it’s just not the same, and then someone stole it from my storage. I can’t remember an entire song anymore, and I lost all ability to read sheet music. I’m sitting here going, “Every good boy does fine.” For every note. Now that I have 3 kids, any hopes of going back to the piano are pretty much gone. But I’m trying not to neglect myself in other ways. My blog and online endeavors are my creative escape. It’s just sometimes I do this too much. It’s hard to find that balance.

    • So funny that the Every Good Boy Does Fine is so universal for learning piano. I think, if I remember correctly, for guitar strings, it’s was Every Artist Deserves Good Broccoli Everyday. From what I’ve seen, you’ve got a LOT of creative endeavors going on. You go girl!

  11. I can relate to so much of this….the struggle was harder when the kids were little. I intentionally carved out a niche for myself when I began to blog last year. I also started a small business, a reclaiming of self.

      • Basically I help people and pets. I have done everything from dog walks, assisting with events, driving/errands for someone who lived alone and was recovering from an injury, hospice and dementia care. I try not to put parameters around what I will do for my clients. I just tell them if it is something I am not comfortable doing I will tell them as I am not a nurse so my care is non-medical. I am also a hospice volunteer so I keep busy.

  12. Loved this questions: “How can I guide them to that which makes their spirits soar when I so often shut myself off from that which makes mine?” Applies to all of us at every stage in life as we strive to share Christ with those around us. Thank you for sharing!

  13. Hi Julie Jo! Thank you for introducing this book to all of us.
    I was a guitar player in my teens and twenties. Then, as you so clearly wrote, the children and jobs took over and my calluses fell away. I gave my 12 string to my son. But you know, there are plenty of ways to feed my soul, and help me to become more of me. After all, if I don’t know who I am, how do I love and influence my children and grands?

  14. As much as I know in theory that it’s so important, I often put my own self-care far down on the list. My flute sits under my desk in the case, dusty and unplayed. Not cool. But I am working on remembering that I have to take care of me and set the example I want my daughter to learn. Will definitely check out the book!

  15. This: “How can I guide them to that which makes their spirits soar when I so often shut myself off from that which makes mine?”

    So true, and beautifully said. I’m pretty decent in self-care, with the glaring exception of writing. I take care of everything else first, and I usually come up empty with no time left to write. I’m working on it, or at least working on a plan to work on it!

  16. You are a wonderful writer! I have just stumbled upon this blog of yours and will be back again.

    Our family is about to leave behind toddlerhood for the last time and we will be embarking on a new stage of life. As the changes that will come loom ahead of us, I feel I have been lost to motherhood. It is not something I regret or mourn, but I am suddenly realizing I am not sure who I am without a toddler on my hip. I feel I am on a quest of self-discovery and I am trying hard to embrace the journey.

    Thank you for eloquently expressing some of my feelings. It is affirming not to feel alone.

  17. Thank you so much for posting this piece Julie. As I read it I was looking at my guitar placed in its corner. I have promised myself when my daughter goes to college (in 2 years) I will resume my guitar lessons at the Old Town School of Folk Music. It is a high wire act we mothers lead. I had my daughter later in life thanks to the wonders of infertility treatment so she truly is a blessing in so many ways. I can’t imagine my life without her. It is a high wire act mothers lead as is already pointed out we tend to put others first. The book sounds like a wonderful place to start on some important self reflection.

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