Featured as a guest post on Motherly.
A couple months ago, my husband left on a week long work trip, and put simply – it broke me. It wasn’t the first time he’d been away for work, and there was nothing extraordinary about the week’s events. In all honesty, I can’t even tell you the exact moment that it happened. Somewhere in between juggling my three young children, their daycare / school schedules, and my full time job – something inside me just snapped. I will spare you the details but tell you this: in my 6+ years as a momma, it was definitely one of my lowest moments in motherhood.
I’ve wanted to be a mother since before I can remember. Ask my 10 year old self how many kids I wanted when I grew up, and you would have heard me say at least 6. Having and raising babies has always been something that I knew I would love. And I do. More than anything else in this world. My children are, by far, the very best thing I’ve ever done. But at one point during that difficult week while my husband was away, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror – in the midst of screaming bloody murder at my oldest son – and I didn’t even recognize myself. Was this the same little girl who dreamed of having 6 babies? The same momma who knew that there was no greater privilege in this world than raising children? What brought me to this breaking point?
I’m a big believer in being authentic, and that includes sometimes losing your cool in front of your kids. I think that one of the most important things we can do for our children is be real with them. They need to see us tread through difficult times and to hear us speak our truths – even the ugly ones. We have to teach them that it’s okay to have bad days and big emotions. But you know what? There’s a difference. A difference between losing your temper every once in awhile and taking your own issues out on them. Kids need us to be real, but they don’t need us to be bullies. And that’s exactly what I saw that day, a few months ago, when I caught a glimpse of the ugliness in the mirror. I was being a bully. And it scared me to death.
After a lot of self reflection and countless sleepless nights, I came to the conclusion that I was stuck. Stuck in a paralyzing space where there was just simply not enough time in the day, and not enough of me to go around. I was being pulled in so many different directions and was so focused on trying to appease the outsiders: my co-workers, other parents, friends – that I simply had nothing left to give at the end of the day. I was giving everyone else the best version of myself and my children got whatever remained.
The thing is, us mommas are all the ultimate multi-taskers. It’s part of the job. In a single day, we can accomplish what others can only dream of. We run on little sleep. We remember the small stuff. We can simultaneously soothe a crying baby, wipe a toddler’s snotty nose, and stir the spaghetti sauce. We are the glue that holds our families together. We manage the impossible.
Now my problem wasn’t that I couldn’t multi-task, it was that I couldn’t stop multi-tasking. I just couldn’t refrain from the temptation of saying yes. You see, I’ve always been one of those people-pleasing / over-achieving types. You know, the ones who can balance an unbelievably full plate without letting anything drop? Well, after having children, I just assumed I could continue with that lifestyle. Juggling was just what I did. Who I was. It was my identity. Needless to say, I efficiently popped out those three babies, went back to work, and quickly became the queen of overcommitment – work trips, countless volunteer positions, half marathon training – you name it. My friends and co-workers always commented on how “together” I was. Like the outsiders, I convinced myself I was managing just fine, too. Until that one evening in late September, when the reflection in the mirror proved otherwise.
So here’s the thing. There is a line. A definite point in which you max out and spread yourself too thin. And that’s when things start to unravel. If you’re anything like me, then you know how it plays out….They tell you to jump, and you ask, “how high?” You over-commit; You pick up the slack; You give, and give, and give – until there is nothing left. The world we live in can be cruel and heartless, and it will break you down and exploit your every weakness if you let it. It doesn’t care when you’re out of gas. It doesn’t care that you are on the verge of breaking. It doesn’t care that you have small children at home that need the best of you.
I’ve come to realize that no one is going to come to your rescue, so you’ve got to save yourself. Which got me thinking: what if we didn’t allow ourselves to get to this point? WHAT IF – instead of saying yes, we set boundaries and said NO? What if we stopped expending energy on the people that don’t really matter? Stopped caring so much what others think of us. With the limited time we have, what if we chose to use it more wisely? Treated it like a precious commodity and gave it only to those people and activities that fill our tank, rather than those that deplete it. What if we re-prioritized our life and cared more about how our family experienced us, instead of how “together” the rest of the world thinks we are? And what if at the end of the day, by doing these things, we still had fuel left in our tank to give to our loved ones? And even had a little left over for ourselves.
You see, I’ve come to realize that most of us are completely replaceable in all areas of our lives…work, friendships, the PTA – but not to our children. They have one mother, one family, one childhood, and I am determined to get it right. It’s one of the very few jobs in my life that really, truly matters. I am convinced that raising these beautiful little people is the most important thing I will ever do.
So I started to take inventory. Keeping track of all the things that I spend my time on, and what it brings to my life in return. And then I started walking away. I walked away from my volunteer positions, I walked away from my job, and I walked away from the toxic people and things that drained me of my energy. Energy that I could (and should) be giving to my family. I set boundaries. I said NO. And I started making time for things that I love – running, coffee dates with friends, writing, and time with my BABIES. Nothing glamorous, but I slowly began to fill my tank back up – because as they say, you can’t pour from an empty cup, now can you?
Am I saying that in order to be a good momma you must quit your job and get rid of any distractions outside your home? Absolutely not. What I’m trying to say is that it’s okay to say no to others, so that we can say yes to our families. It’s okay to shift our priorities and focus on motherhood. Because raising little people IS important. How they experience us DOES matter. Our children need their mommas to be there. Really, truly BE THERE. They need the best version of us, not the worst. And if we ever get to a point where there is just not enough to go around, and we have to make a choice about who to give ourselves to, they need us to choose them.
And if you already do this – I applaud you, momma. I recognize that not everyone is going to relate to my struggles. There will be plenty of you who this just simply won’t resonate with. Some of you will judge me. A handful of you might even feel sorry for me. And that’s okay. Because I didn’t write this for you.
I wrote this for me. I wrote this so that I could put my big emotions into words, and hold myself accountable. To remind myself that it’s okay to disappoint some people, so that I can be better for the most important people. To admit that I can’t do it all. Because admitting our faults is never easy, but in the midst of the shame and guilt, there is a fleeting opportunity. It’s in these raw (and often ugly) moments that we are given the chance to reflect, and most importantly, change.
But I also wrote this for you – the momma who shares this story with me. The one who was reminded of her own “breaking point,” and was filled with shame. The one who felt relief in knowing she is not the only one. Because if there is one universal experience that I have encountered during my short time as a mother, it’s that we are never alone. There are ALWAYS other mommas walking alongside you in the trenches.
So to the momma who is spread too thin – I feel you. To the momma who is up until midnight with guilt because of the interactions of the day – you are not alone. To the momma who is trying SO DAMN HARD to be better – I am too. Keep your chin up. Just keep doing your best and try to remember that kids have an amazing ability to sense your honest effort, and they are also quick to forgive.
And finally, for my children. This is mostly for my three, precious babies. I guess you could call it a diary of sorts. A place for them to come when I’m gone…when they are struggling, trying to understand their childhood, or raising babies of their own. I hope that they can read my words and know that although I was far from perfect, I tried. I tried damn hard. I fought my own demons, to try to be better for them. And I loved them like crazy. This is for them.