Wow, I really narrowed it down with that highly specific title. You’re still with me so far?? Where are all my soul sisters?? All three of you who will identify with this post??
Obviously I am taking a chance that nobody will identify with this post. But on the off chance that I have a parenting soul-sister out there who may benefit from my recent epiphany, I am giving it a shot. If you happen to know her, will you pass this along?
Today was a pretty monumental day for me. It was the day I stopped feeling like a bad parent. What a weird day for it too, as my usually sweet-tempered daughter has been throwing the world’s best tantrums all day. But it has been a long time coming, this understanding myself as a parent, with little pieces of the puzzle falling into place until last night the final piece clicked and I finally got it.
Over the past year or so, I have read a series of extremely influential articles and books. This is why I believe the pros of social media outweigh the cons (for me personally) because I likely never would have encountered these were it not for blogging and social media use. Here they are and how they contributed to this momentous day:
1) This summer, I realized I am a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP). For those of you unfamiliar with the term, check this site out for an overview. Now, some might say it’s a load of crap, but I strongly identified with it, and it made sense of some of my weird “quirks” and how being an HSP can make parenting a baby extremely challenging. I read the brilliant post by Megan Tietz about how to survive as a highly sensitive parent and almost cried. But here is what I realized:
As an HSP, “normal” parenting tasks are extremely unpleasant on a sensory level. For example, the smell of a dirty diaper or some baby foods make me actually recoil. I have to physically cover my nose with my shirt to keep from gagging each and every time I change a poopy diaper. I have an elaborate routine of when to hold my breath to avoid maximum exposure to stink. It quite literally makes my gag reflex act up each and every time and there have been times I have been afraid I might actually vomit.
Beyond smells, I have this really weird thing with textures where I cannot stand touching certain foods with my bare hands. I absolutely hate rinsing dishes if it means some food leftovers might get on my skin. So feeding a toddler, where I must do a whole lot of hands on feeding makes me cringe. Also, clutter in my environment makes me feel unnerved. It makes it hard for me to concentrate and is completely distracting and irritating. So, add in a baby and the thousands of baby “things” and a toddler who has no concept of “one toy at a time” (and she shouldn’t need to!) and I am irritated by my surroundings on some level most of the day until I am finally “allowed” to clean up. The sounds of baby toys and constant toddler chatter and music makes me feel just plain ol’ overwhelmed and on edge. Do I expect an award for dealing with these normal things? No. But it made me feel so much better to know there was a reason these things were more difficult for me than for other people. In a nutshell, I realized that I am constantly unpleasantly and overly stimulated on a sensory level on a daily basis. And its ok to feel like that. Many of these stages of parenting will pass. So, parents who have no problem “getting your hands dirty”? I salute and admire you. But I am not you. And again, that’s ok.
BOTTOM LINE: Fellow HSP mamas, your struggle is real. You really are more bothered on a sensory level by some parenting tasks. And that’s ok. Our children aren’t going to grow up wishing we just loved changing their diapers more. This too shall pass – cut yourself some slack for not “loving” it all.
2) I am a work at home mom. There isn’t a huge group of us out there. As a WAHM, I find myself exhausted all the damn time. Which, by the way, I do not feel is unique to me as a WAHM. I’m quite confident most moms feel tired all the time. Then I read this article titled “Why Mothers Are Really Exhausted” and one piece totally stood out for me – hypervigilance. The article talks about anxiety and how some mothers can be in a low-level state of fight-or-flight all day long when staying home with their children. I though – YES. ME, 100%. I am a worrier, and I struggle with anxiety from time to time. I am always thinking about the next thing to be careful about. My eyes feel like they are on my daughter every waking hour unless they are on a computer screen for work. Friends who have met with me for play dates can probably vouch that I am not really “there” if my daughter is in the room. I am focused on her at all times. I am continuously trying to protect her from the next danger lurking around the corner, be it choking hazards, falling hazards, BEES, whatever. Now, its not that I can’t try to “change” and have less anxiety. That is certainly a worthwhile goal. But for now, it helps me to explain why I cannot shake this exhaustion no matter how much sleep I get. And it also helps me understand why others may look at me with concern as to why I can’t just “relax”. I have friends who have no problem letting their children do things that make me veerrrrryyyyy uncomfortable, because maybe they are not in that hyper-vigilant state. Which again, I applaud and salute you, but I am not you, and – say it with me – that’s ok.
I will not complain about being a WAHM because I feel extremely lucky to have the best of both worlds. But it is not without its own challenges – namely- ZERO break time. Do I have a moment to sit down and decompress and truly relax from my hyper-vigilant state once my daughter is asleep? No – I walk directly from her room to my office and then directly back when she wakes up. I don’t have a solo drive to work, or a solo bathroom break, or a naptime where I can choose to relax. If I’m not watching my daughter, I am working. That’s the deal I have made. Its no wonder I am exhausted all the time, but it’s the price I am paying for “having it all”.
BOTTOM LINE: Fellow hyper-vigilant, high parenting anxiety, no time to decompress mamas – I get it. I am there with you. I know how real anxiety feels and how intensely we want to protect our babies with everything within our power. I will not mock you or look down on you for being a “helicopter mom”. We are all doing the best we can. And this is why you are so tired, even if it looks on the outside like you are doing “nothing”.
3) I read the brilliant book “Quiet” by Susan Cain this summer and blogged about my immediate relief at realizing I was a full-blown introvert and *it was ok*. It was life changing. But somehow I didn’t make the connection between being a full-fledged introvert and parenting until I read “The Struggle of the Introverted Mother” by Toni Hammer. It was like bells starting ringing and angels started singing as I read it. Like the author, I too have tried to be “present” for my daughter all day long and instead of feeling accomplished and a deep sense of connection, I felt just like I was hit by a truck. Completely wiped out. As an introvert, I recharge by being alone. Many of my friends re-charge with girls nights or going out on the town, and while those things are fun for me too, they drain me. I leave feeling “used up” and tired, not restored and re-energized. And as a WAHM, I am virtually never alone anymore. Never being alone for a hard core introvert = no recharging is happening. My battery just keeps draining and draining unless I am able to retreat even just mentally for a few minutes. This means I cannot sustain playing on the floor for hours on end. This means I will scroll through Instagram or Facebook for a few minutes or let my daughter cuddle on the couch with me and watch Sesame Street while I check out for a minute mentally.
I felt a massive weight of guilt about those things until I read this article and felt like I was given permission to need to check out once in a while. And it also reinforced my need for scheduled alone time as an absolute necessity.
BOTTOM LINE: Fellow introvert mamas, lets retreat into a moment of nothing for a second.
Ahhh. That’s better. You are wired differently than your extroverted friends. But you have your own strengths that you are going to model for your child, and hopefully one of them is showing them how important it is to take care of yourself. And that may mean alone time or it may mean girls nights. Whatever it is, take it without guilt.
4) The more I interact with other mothers, and the more articles and blogs I read, I have come to one undeniable conclusion – we are going to screw our children up in some way. My perfect mother didn’t have a great body image, which she subconsciously passed on to me. You play too much with your kids, they become dependent on you and won’t know how to function without you. You don’t play enough, they feel lonely and don’t develop social skills. Name any issue. There are camps on both sides. So it only makes sense to me to go with what comes naturally, to stop trying to fit the mold of “perfect” mother which doesn’t even exist. World’s best mother in one social group would likely win world’s worst mother in another. There are pros and cons to virtually every parenting decision. I’m going to spend more time focusing on what I do well than beating myself up over what I struggle with.
BOTTOM LINE: Pick your poison. Or more positively and less morbidly, focus on your strengths. Every single parent out there has weaknesses. Some children grow up in horrific living conditions to become absolutely incredible human beings. Some kids grow up having it all and are little shits forever and ever. And vice versa. Try to trust yourself and your parenting intuition.
For the past nearly two years I have compared myself to mothers constantly, envying the “ease” by which many claim to or appear to mother. But today brings a new day in my mothering journey. It brings a reminder that I can do my best to compensate for my challenges but most of the healing comes from making peace with who I am and the fact that I am in this stage of motherhood, which is just that – a stage. And like the ones that came before and the ones ahead, there are favorite parts and least favorite parts. There are parts that play to my strengths and parts where my weaknesses seem to shine incredibly and painfully bright.
Self-compassion is a whole lot harder sometimes than other-compassion. I don’t get it right every day. Some days, I know I retreat “too much” and other times I burn myself out from not retreating enough. Recovering from perfectionism one mistake at a time. Falling apart and coming together. That’s this beautiful life, baby.
My mom likes to remind me that my job is to love my daughter. My job is to keep her alive and love her. To support her as she grows up and love unconditionally. That’s the part I have in the bag. The most important part. And along the way I’m going to teach her how to love herself by being an example of that.
It’s a good day to finally feel like a good parent. Maybe today can be that day for you too.