A friend recently remarked that she was super impressed with how much fun, enriching stuff I do with my kids. She mentioned seeing a group of photos I’d posted on social media of an outing my daughter and I took to a local farm, where we pet a lamb.
It had been an enchanting excursion. I won’t deny it. We were by the ocean and the scenery was lush and pastoral. Emily chased after chickens and we walked up to a fence to look at a bull with gigantic horns that looked like something out of a story book.
Then we got into the car to go home and Emily told me I was the worst mom in the world and she hated me because I wasn’t taking her to a restaurant for lunch.
So, I thanked my friend for her compliment of my pictures. And then I let her know Emily’s five-year-old opinion of me.
Sure I could have taken the compliment and allowed my ego to be stroked. But I happen to believe reality is important.
I also let my friend know that every photo of us doing something energetic and interesting represents a minuscule slice of our actual existence.
For every five minutes we are out doing something exotic, there are about three hours spent lolling around the house watching television, having tantrums, bickering, eye rolling, and sighing. Heavily.
I also do not incorporate photos of my never-ending laundry, toilet scrubbing, and refereeing sibling rivalry on social media. No one does. We all post the highlight reels. We post the pics that say “Look at me winning this impossible quest!”
We perpetuate our own mythology along with the collective mythology of modern day parenting.
It’s what we all do. Sorrynotsorry. No regrets. Because we are all on this seemingly never-ending struggle bus ride fraught with constant motion sickness and punctuated with momentary glimpses of something lovely out the window.
We all do it, but we all forget that we do it. That’s the problem. And that’s what leads us to compare with one another and feel like everyone else is out there having a better time. All the other moms are out there momming better, harder, and faster than we are.
Summertime seems to highlight this dynamic. At least it does for me. There seems to be this unspoken expectation that we are all going to be shiny, happy summer people, and that in addition to all the normal mom duties, we are also going to bring it in the areas of crafts, activities, and day trips to exotic ports of call like we are a deranged cruise director. Oh, and shit, I forgot about incorporating baking and sensory play. Gotta do it all.
I’m here to tell you, you do not have to do it all. I’m here to tell you, it is perfectly okay if this flurry of activity is not a realistic expectation for you. If you are tired, frustrated, or out of good ideas– it is all okay. If you just don’t feel like going outside today, also okay. Stay on the couch. Put in some Disney or Doctor Who. It’s all good. We all eventually get to the same place.
I personally don’t have the time or energy for being super creative mom of the year.
Of course it is important to do things with our children. In no way do I espouse neglect or unlimited screen time. Balance is key. Exercise is important. Hugs count. But…..
We do not need to be in constant motion and contact with our kids.
Kids need a break too. I’ll speak for me and mine. As a children of working parents, my kids have really long days– as long or longer than mine sometimes. Emily can usually be flexible and roll with the flow, but Jack needs a lot more down time. This makes it even trickier to balance their needs with my own. Societal demands, pressures, and expectations have no place in this equation for me.
It’s really hard not to let the social media highlight reels feed into the mythology of what summer and parenting is “supposed to be”. A lot of people I know have gotten off of social media for just that reason.
I’m learning to enjoy the posts of other parents without feeling threatened or pressured to do and be more, more, more. Because really, we are all already doing more than enough.
We are all more than mom enough.
I guess the typical myriad of reasons is to blame. Life is busy. I’m a mom. I work. You can only post so many times about the frustrations of your messy house and kids’ behavior in the summer before you start to hate the sound of your own voice. Blah, blah, blah.
There was something else. . .
My last post was about depression and frustration with life as a mom trying to balance work and parenting and the ongoing grief of losing a close friend. I was responding to one of the WordPress daily prompts, and I allowed myself to get pretty far out with my metaphors. I do that sometimes. It’s part of my process as a writer, and it also helps me deal with my feelings.
Cuz you guys, I have a lot of feelings.
Like, all the feelings. All of them. And lots of all of the feelings.
It’s just how I live. And it’s why I write.
Anyhoo, a very well-meaning reader commented that she felt bad for my kids because I was so depressed and maybe it was hard for them. She went on to make a bunch of heart felt suggestions about maybe I should join a group or try feeling better, etc.
I get where she was coming from, and I genuinely appreciated her kindness and concern.
But there was another part of me that felt incredibly vulnerable and frightened. Like, do people think I’m crazy? Do people think I’m a bad mom? Am I a bad mom? Am I screwing up my kids?
For a few hours I contemplated taking the post down, hiding it in the stack of posts that feel too raw, real, and close to share with the general public.
But then I pulled the brake on the run away mine cart in twisty recesses of my brain.
No. I’m not a bad mom.
And my kids are fine.
My kids don’t see me as depressed or damaged or screwed up. My kids see me as a human with human emotions. My kids see me as a person with big feels who channels those feels into poetry and art and silliness around the house.
Life isn’t always rainbows and unicorns, and I do not think we should pretend it is for our children. That is not reality and it doesn’t prepare or teach kids for what they need to deal with the complexities of the world in which we live, or their own emotional landscapes.
This is not to say that children who live with caretakers with severe and persistent mental health issues don’t suffer profound consequences if the adult does not seek help. That situation is no joke, and I am not writing to minimize it. But that situation is not me or mine.
I’ve cried in front of my kids. I’ve yelled and screamed in front of my kids. I’ve slammed a door once or twice. I admit I’m not perfect. But I’ve also taken loads of deep breaths. I’ve talked about my feelings. I’ve taken space and counted to ten. I’ve modeled healthy coping skills for them right along with being my own human self.
Am I screwing up my kids? Yes. Of course I am. We all screw up our kids in one way or another. And if you think you don’t, then you are living among the rainbows and unicorns and more power to you.
So I left the post up, because here is the other thing:
As moms with mental health issues and needs, we absolutely have to have safe and open space to address these topics. For me, my blog is my space. I’ve had decades of therapy and it has helped. I know the things and the skills. At this point in my life, writing is the way I process and what I need to do to take care of myself.
Feeling judged and crazy because we are anxious or depressed is a huge barrier for women in admitting and addressing their needs for support and treatment. Too long have we been told we are hysterical and maligned for simply feeling the pressure of this impossible life.
And oh my goodness, it really is impossible. Being a mom, let alone a working mom, is the hardest thing I can imagine. Add into that the facets of anxiety or depression and you have something so real.
So, despite my fear and vulnerability, I left the post up. I’m no heroine, but if my words resonated with even one other mom, then I feel like it was worth it to put myself out there.
Look. If you had a cold or a toothache, it would be excruciating to deal with life, to work, to mom, to cook and clean and do all the things you have to do to be responsible. But would you feel ashamed to say, “Whoa, it’s really difficult to mom and adult today because of this cold?” Probably not.
I don’t really think it should be any different with anxiety and depression. Our feelings can get big and become sort of like emotional toothaches. That isn’t something to feel shame about.
But I did. And I do. And part of me still wants to take that post down so that you’ll all think I have my shit together and that I’m a super great mom and that I’m doing okay.
Truth is, I am a super great mom and I’m doing okay. And my kids are okay. No need to worry about my kids. We are all going to make it.
What are your thoughts? What are your struggles? I’d love to hear from you!
This is science:
I read that for years,
after a miscarriage,
of the deceased fetus
in the mama,
having crossed a barrier
with her tissue,
and altering her own
body in ways of which
she may not
or ever understanding.
So it is
This is science.
So it is.
It’s still a little dusky light out, and I’m lying in bed with my daughter, who’s already asleep. Tears slide down my cheeks as they usually do at this time of day. It’s become somewhat of a ritual. My crepuscular cry.
It pisses me the fuck off.
I’ve never cried so much in my life. It’s dumb. It feels shitty. Crying is supposed to make you feel better. It’s science. It releases good chemicals in your brain. I tell my clients all the time about the beautiful and sacred purpose of tears. All. The. Freaking. Time. But it never fails to make me feel like a failure and a fraud and just so fatigued.
It’s been a hard year. Probably the hardest.
I feel I have some sort of obligation to buy space in a newspaper and print a public apology to anyone who has known me over the past year. I’ve been a horrible train wreck of a human. I’ve been messy and loud and weird.
If you all could have known me a couple years ago, I want to say. If you had known me then. Those were the good days. Those were the times I bore some semblance to normal, when I could contain my Self better.
That was when I was at my old job. With E. just two doors down from me every day for years and years.
Those were the days when E. would leave me random clippings from the New York Times Sunday paper on my desk at work. She’d cut out stuff she thought I’d find interesting. I remember one about the healing power of fairy tales.
The memory of these flimsy papers brings a fresh wave of grief crashing down over my head. I’d read them and think of something pithy to say in return, then travel the five paces to her door to chat with her.
Those were the days when I was witty and reformed. If you had only known me then. Sure, I had my rough times, plenty of them. But I wasn’t broken. Not like I am now.
Changing jobs was really difficult in ways I never could have predicted, but I think I could have adapted a hell of a lot better if I hadn’t had the sudden trauma of E. up and dying on me last October.
It’s not just work and death. It’s motherhood and marriage and financial instability. It’s never having enough time or energy to brush my children’s hair and feed them breakfast. It’s all the piles of things that make me want to curl up in bed and daydream for three hours.
All the things. They have broken me.
The thought occurs to me that I might not ever get fixed again.
I blame a lot on E. and maybe that’s not fair. But seriously…
E.’s death changed me. I kept thinking I would trudge through the grief and get to the other side and things would “get back to normal” and I would “feel like myself again.” That doesn’t seem to be the case. I think E.’s death altered me at a molecular level, shifted my DNA in ways I won’t be able to figure out how to switch back.
The light is fading and I’m so tired. I consider falling asleep next to my daughter, but there is still a lot of laundry to do, coffee to set up for the morning, and messages to return to friends.
I think about going to work this week and my heart starts to race. I think about the stack of bills lying in wait on my desk and my stomach lurches. I’m no longer sleepy.
I try to think about how my five year old daughter rode her bike with no training wheels for the first time this weekend, and how my nine year old has his first band concert this week in which he will play the trumpet. What brilliant triumphs!
You see, I’m not a total Debbie Downer. I still get blissed out by these every day miracles. Life still has color and flavor and lots of sound. I take every opportunity I can to indulge in rampant laughter.
But mostly I’m adrift inside myself, lost in the space within me. I’m like an astronaut, untethered from her rocket and running low on oxygen, uncertain what will happen next.
It’s a scary image. I think of calling someone up and telling someone about it, but I can’t reach out because that is even scarier.
I’d like to go and sit in the grass with E. and talk to her. It is one of the only places where I feel at peace these days, and sometimes I feel frustrated when I can’t get there, but the thought occurs to me that you can’t live your life in a cemetery.
I roll onto my back and look up into the darkness of my daughter’s room.
I’ve stopped crying.
I know I’ll wake up in the middle of the night and panic at the brackish taste in my mouth. My mind will race back over all the things I said throughout the previous day and will try to remember if I said anything gravely wrong or damning to anyone.
I’ll get up and brush my teeth. I’ll look at my reflection and think it’s so weird to be up brushing my teeth at three in the morning, but it’ll ground me enough to go back to bed for a couple more hours.
I’m sorry I’m such a mess. I’m sorry I’m so much. I’m sorry I’m so disorganized and self absorbed. I’m sorry.
I think that’s why I tend to drift away. I get big and crazy and too intense and then feel the need to take myself somewhere else.
It’s been a hard year and I’m broken and I might not be fixable as I drift farther and farther away from things I thought I knew.
What a fucking crock of shit.
Do you remember those “Chose Your Own Adventure” books from when we were in fourth or fifth grade?
They were these young reader books where you’d get to the end of a chapter and if you wanted to take the character to a cave to fight a dragon it would tell you to flip to a certain page, and if you wanted the character to get in a boat and sail off someplace, you’d be instructed to go to a different page.
As I got in the shower, and reflected on Mother’s Day, I thought how motherhood is sort of like a Chose Your Own Adventure book.
I thought this because I thought “Mother’s Day; what a fucking crock of shit.”
And then the guilty little people pleaser in me poked me in the ribs and said meekly, “But you should be so grateful! It really wasn’t all bad! Why don’t you just chose to think it was nice?”
It’s true. Overall it was a nice day. I felt loved and cared for, managed to please my own mother and my mother in law (nailed it!), and had good laughs among family. My children made me gifts and delighted me by creating beautiful cards for their grandmothers.
I got sweet, supportive texts from dear friends. I felt recognized by my husband who pulled out all the stops with four bottles of incredible wine, flowers, and a balloon. A balloon you guys! I got a freaking balloon!! I mean, how does life get any better than that?
If you want your character to chose gratitude and happiness, and to enjoy and be thankful for what she has, please turn to page 42 where she lives happily after.
Learning to chose the way you think about things is an important step in recovery from anxiety and depression. I know this as both a mental health professional, and as someone who has experienced anxiety and depression. When we are able to recognize our negative thoughts and rework them into something more positive and helpful, it often creates a more positive and helpful feeling space in us.
And when we feel better, we behave better. We get along better with our spouses and friends. We have more energy for negotiating with the little people in our lives.
So, as I lathered my hair with amazing-smelling coconut shampoo, I tried out some different thoughts about Mother’s Day and I wondered why my initial impulse was to be so negative about it.
Why am I always so negative anyway? I must really suck at life. I’m probably going to be rejected by all my friends and family because I’m such a Debbie Downer. Why can’t I ever just be joyful and super positive about stuff? What the hell is wrong with me? Oh. My. Gee.
It’s cuz I’m depressed you guys. That’s why.
I have been for a while. I’ve been ignoring it and working around the super high anxiety that makes me feel like I’m crawling out of my skin one moment and paralyzed with fear the next. I’ve been isolating and only talking to a few people in my life. I’ve had minimal energy to be with friends and family.
I’ve written almost nothing in the past few months because I’ve had so little energy and almost no joy.
Some of it, I suppose, is chemical- my genetic lot in life.
A lot of it is situational.
Work has been super stressful for me. I’m burnt out and experiencing a fairly intense compassion fatigue which doesn’t leave me with much of an empathy cushion for family or social life.
My son’s behavioral issues have been amped up lately and this creates exhaustion and a keen sense of failure as a parent which plays into my depression like a lyrical melody.
I’m also preparing for my daughter to graduate from preschool. While this is a joyful and exciting time and we are so proud, it also brings into focus a new era for which I am simply not feeling prepared.
Then there is preparing for the summer. As a working mom, arranging all the moving parts of summer camps, transportation, child care, etc. is hugely nerve wracking for me. Not to mention a drain on our finances.
Oh, also my mentally ill brother has gone missing again which never fails to throw my family into emotional upheaval.
I’m not sleeping well, so I’m perpetually tired. My body hurts. About 67% of the time I’m too stressed to eat so my blood sugar is wonky and I’m grouchy.
And because I’m already feeling emotionally fragile, every other little thing that goes wrong sets me off like a firecracker.
It’s hard for me to admit this. I actually hate the sound of my own voice in my head as I peck it all out into this post.
It’s hard for me to admit my negative thoughts about Mother’s Day when I should just be fucking grateful.
But you guys, it’s all so hard. It’s all just so fucking hard.
No one ever told me it would be this hard. Or maybe they did. . . maybe somewhere in my memory there is a shadowy recollection of my own mother’s bedraggled face dragging herself in at the end of a working day and trying to get dinner on the table. Maybe she did try and tell me. But let’s be honest, even if someone had told me, I would not have believed them, because if any of us believed such a thing we would never procreate. Our species depends on the very suspension of that disbelief.
I guess what I am trying to say is that it is all well and good to chose your thoughts and mood and destiny. It’s great. I respect it.
But sometimes the adventures of motherhood chose us and flip us into a cave where it is dark and dank and unpleasant. When you’re sitting there face to face with the dragon of your depression and your heart is thumping away at a resting rate of 150 beats per minute, it is really hard to have a cohesive thought, let alone a positive one of your own choosing.
If your character looks up at the dragon and says, “Hey there, guy. What’s up?” go to page 74 where you will work on acknowledging the shit out of your self worth even on your shittiest day and then eat a taco.
Yeah. This isn’t my character’s first trip to the cave. So I know the least helpful (albeit most tempting) thing to do is to put myself down for being depressed.
I also know that probably the first thing I need to do is look up at that dopey dragon and acknowledge he’s there, lurking and looming like he wants to devour me. He’s scared of eye contact and he gets a little smaller every time I call him by his name.
It’s all hard, guys, and sometimes holidays can highlight what feels like flaws and make things seem really raw and painful. Part of healing starts with choosing to make room for all those feelings rather than shaming myself for feeling them.