Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Lonely Mother's no-More!

(this blog originally appeared in the 8/23/11 edition of The Review Atlas as a part of my weekly Practical Parenting series)

There's a huge difference between being lonely and being alone. You can be in a room surrounded by people and still be lonely. Activity doesn't necessarily ward off alienation either. You can run around all day, shuffling your kids to practice, taking care of errands or chasing overactive toddlers and be absolutely lonely. And overwhelmed. And angry. And at your wits end.

This is a reality for many mothers. Particularly stay at home moms.

Sure we look happy in the carpool lane. We take our kids to story time and you see us at the park. We're out in public and we're smiling. But sometimes, ok most of the time, it's just on the outside. We work very hard to look somewhat put together. But many times the truth is our nerves are frayed and we are one poopy diaper away from insanity. It's those days that we feel like a failure. I mean how can we feel successful? We can't even simultaneously take care of our children and own personal hygiene. Days go by before we brush our teeth and we wear permanently stained clothes. We are mothers and we struggle. 

I recently had a mom pull me aside and ask me how I look so happy all the time. This was the fourth time she's seen me in the last two years. If she really knew me she probably wouldn't have asked that question. But she did and I felt compelled to answer her. Especially after I looked into her eyes and I could tell she wasn't kidding. She was desperate.

"Well", I said, "I am happy ... today. But that's just today. You didn't see me yesterday when the toilet was clogged. Or Sunday when the birthday party was in full blown chaos. Or last week when we discovered the ceiling had a water stain directly under the bathtub."

Her sigh was so loud and violent I did a double take. She lifted her face and with tears in her eyes she looked into my mine and said "Thank You!"

This whole scenario reminded me of two very important facts. First, there is no perfect mother. This is big news for some of you. You are striving for perfection, falling short (of course) and swimming in a stream of guilt. Let me encourage you to stop looking at the other mommies and imagining they have it all together. They don't. If you get caught in the dangerous habit of observing other families and judging them against yourself you'll never allow yourself to feel truly happy. Instead, you'll always feel less superior than the women around you. And your parenting skills will suffer. Trust me when I tell you that other mother is far from perfect anyway. She has her days just like you and plus, did you catch a glimpse of her minivan? It's a total disaster. I think I saw a moldy sippy cup roll out into the parking lot.

Women are relentless with ourselves. We can walk into a room and within seconds know who is prettier, thinner, heavier and more athletic. Next we mentally filter through the assessments we've made and rank ourselves in the line up. Then we comfort ourselves. We think, "Well, at lease I'm not the heaviest in the room" or "I definitely have the prettiest shoes". We've got to stop this. It's nothing more than self inflicted torture. And it's ridiculous. If we all stop looking each other up and down and instead take a step forward and initiate kindness our neighborhood playgroup and PTC's would be more popular places.

Secondly, give yourself a break. Now that I've completely reassured you that you are not the only one who's frustrated, lonely and worn out, cut yourself some slack. Not everyday is lovely. Some days are terrible. Some days you have peanut butter in your hair. Some nights you get no sleep. In fact many. We all, at times, feel angry at our kids. Some of us are just better at hiding it than others. Motherhood is not easy. I'm sorry if they forgot to cover that in your Childbirth Preparation Class. It's hard work. Like, really hard. It's messy and ugly. It's exhausting and overstimulating. It's a tough road. But it's kinda supposed to be. It's not easy. For anyone. Know that and give yourself a break. 

If you are sensing that you are feeling angry or short tempered with your children you may need a physical break from them. This is tricky move to navigate because taking time off tends to initiate more feelings of guilt. You think, "I'm such a bad mother I can't even stomach to be around my our children today!" This is a natural feeling and it shouldn't keep you from taking the time you need. Sometimes it is imperative that you ask a loving, responsible adult whether it be Grandma, your mother in law, a neighbor or best friend, to care for your kids for an afternoon. Get out and window shop. Take a walk. Read a book in the park. Journal. Go out to eat or to the movies. Just take sometime to breathe and rejuvenate. You'll be happier for doing it and thereby be in a better mood for all the crazy demands of motherhood.

No mother is perfect. You're not. She's not. I'm not. Let's understand this and move on. Why? Because I think we're meant to be a support to one another not a discouragment. Let's stop downgrading ourselves because we think all the other mothers are doing a better job then we are. We each have our own strengths. We have different personalities. And we are raising children with unique temperaments. No two motherhood experiences are going to be the same. It's not possible.

Instead let's I hope for a remnant of mothers who will support each other. Women who can share the joys and challenges of motherhood instead of the isolation. There are a host of lonely mothers out there. We are struggling and we need a friend. How about the next time you see one of us you offer an encouraging word? And how about the next time someone asks us, "How are you doing?" we take a deep breath and answer honestly. You might find you're not alone. Why? Because I'm the mom and I said so! That's why!

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