Tag Archives: Self-care

The How

I ruminate.  A sort of self-imprisonment, made up of “what ifs”, “I coulds” and “maybe I should haves”. The problem with such introspection is not really the questions we ask ourselves, but rather where we think the answers can be found. My emotional state, like a pendulum, swings between feeling good, and feeling not so good. I don’t hang out for long in the middle, but rather spend most of my time on either side of neutral. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned how to maximize the time spent feeling good, and to minimize the intensity and length of time I spend feeling bad. Despite these strides, it’s a two steps forward one step back kind of thing. For me, sometimes the one step back is a pretty big one. Rather, it feels big when I’m not feeling my best. A younger version of myself eclipses the self-assured woman I’ve grown to be. This younger me rarely knows what she wants or how she feels. Her sense of self-worth determined by the opinions and affections of others. Confident, even sassy, 40 year old me, gets so swallowed up by the whys and the whats of my unhappiness, that I forget the how of feeling good.

About a month ago, I was feeling pretty low. It was as though my pendulum had become securely latched to some imaginary wall behind me, cemented in my hopelessness. It felt as though things were not going to change…. Unless of course someone, or something changed it for me. In a funk, instead of reaching out, I turned inwards, stuck in that loop of rumination. I decathected, pulling away from the people and things that matter most.  I’d get it together, and feel ok while I was busying myself with work, or the kids, but the second I stopped, or slowed the pace, my despair would seep back in. My fuse was short, and my words were curt. I began to see concern in my children’s eyes. “Are you happy Mama?” Argh that question… It killed me that my unhappiness had become obvious to the two little people who I most wanted to protect from it, but children see what others don’t. They feel what we do not say. The more we try and hide some part of ourselves, the more energy we end up lending to it, making it impossible for our children not to pick up on. They read energy. Kids understand anger, sadness, and tension in ways that adults don’t. They may not have words for these complicated emotions. But they know the texture, rhythm, and vibration of our pain. They are our mirrors. In their faces, I saw how ugly my impatience was. I saw the dread of my mounting irritability. I knew, that they might blame themselves for my unhappiness (because that’s what kids do), or worse yet, see it as their job to fix me. Despite knowing all of this, I remained stuck, as though paralyzed by the noise in my head, and the ache in my heart.

Until one night, I sat long-faced on the couch, staring blankly at my phone, desperate for their bedtime so that I could be alone with my misery. “Mama, I want to tell you a story. I’ve been waiting for the right time, and I think you need to hear it”, Maya said gingerly as though testing to see whether I was ready to listen. This is how her story went:   “One day I was walking down a road, and there was a hole, and I fell in, and I said to myself, “Its not my fault”. The next day I walked down the same road, and there was a hole, and I fell in, and I said, “Its not my fault”. On the third day, I walked down the road, and there was a hole, and I fell in, and I said, “Its not my fault”. She went on to tell me about days 4-9, same road, and same result. “On the 10th day I walked down the road, there was a hole, but this time, I did NOT fall in. It WAS my fault!” she said emphatically, looking at me as though checking for understanding. Her gaze made me catch my breath. “On the 11th day, I went down a different road. There was no hole.” She stood there in silence, as the words of the last bit of her story hung in the air. “I learned this in my Mindfulness class Mama. It made me think of you”. After weeks of feeling as though I was breathing under water, I took a long deep breath. I waited for her to go on. “You see Mama, we decide. It’s the choices we make.” Marisol, who’d stilled to listen to her sister’s story, watched us both so intently, as though understanding that more was being said between Maya’s words. There was a buzz in the room. An energy that I’d not felt in weeks rippled through me. I was broken open…  The thick, and crusty shell that had encased me turned to dust. It all shifted into laser focus. As long as I thought the answer to my feeling better could be found outside of myself, I would stay locked in my unhappiness. I needed to be accountable for how far back my pendulum had swung, and how long I’d sat in the dark. I needed to acknowledge the darkness, I’d let cast a shadow in my home, and on my children. I knew what I needed to do to start feeling better. I knew. I just needed reminding, that it really was up to me. I’d been waiting for someone or something to fix me. Waiting for all of the holes that lined my road to be filled. Furthermore, I’d focused on the wrong thing. I’d examined and re-examined the problems in my life as though the answers would come from such careful study, despite having learned and re-learned that they rarely do. What I know: My mood improves when my how changes. When I move to action, vs. reaction. When I start doing the things that make me feel better, vs. focusing on the very things that don’t. In my case this means, getting out of my head, and getting back into my life, by doing what brings me joy, like spending time with loved ones, having a little fun, making space for me, and writing this blog. But like most of the big lessons that have helped shape me, I know all of this when I’m feeling good, yet seem to forget when I’m feeling bad. Its like my logical brain gets overridden by my emotional brain in periods of vulnerability. The thing is, the how of feeling good is far less complicated than the what. I complicate it! I lose sight of the fact that all of the issues that need tackling, or decisions that need making, are so much easier to make when you’re feeling better. We all think we’ll feel better when things get sorted out. The truth is we have it backwards.

Before I said a word, I could read the satisfaction on Maya’s face. She knew she’d made her point. She knew her story had unlocked something in me. I mouthed the words, “thank you”, and motioned for her to come in for a hug. Marisol matched her step, and the three of us enveloped one another.   Our long embrace soothed my swollen heart. This moment, these two souls, untangled me. Little mirrors, not responsible for making me happy, but rather are happy, because I am responsible.

Pendulum

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Filed under When Children Teach Us

An Inside Job

My thoughts on motherhood, and the mother I envisioned myself being, in no way matched my early experiences as a mom. This dissonance derailed me for a time. I had a great mom, who loved and nurtured me. I assumed I was cut from the same cloth, and would model myself accordingly. I never doubted that I would be a good mother before I had kids. I’ve doubted it many times since… I felt completely overwhelmed most of the time in the first year of Maya’s life. I thought I knew what it would be like. I thought, if exhaustion is the worst of it, I could surely handle that! I thought, yes babies cry. So what? I won’t mind sitting, and cradling her until she falls asleep. I pictured myself as an endlessly giving, forever nurturing, and never-impatient parent. Seven years in, mom to two daughters, I can assuredly say, that isn’t me.

In that first year I cried a lot… Like maybe as much as Maya did. I walked with her in her stroller through all 4 seasons, and I cried. I cried because I felt like a failure. I wasn’t the mother I thought I would be. I cried because I didn’t feel the way I thought I was going to feel- you know all warm and fuzzy, and madly in love at first sight with my precious newborn daughter. We tell moms-to-be that they will automatically fall in love. While motherhood can have its blissful parts, we exercise selective memory when we tell only the good parts of our stories. We unintentionally set women up to feel inadequate right out of the gate, when we paint the picture that they will not mind being selfless, exhausted and depleted. Think about it.

I knew when my first-born was still living inside of me that I loved her, and that I would care for her with all of my heart. When I held her, and my husband and I looked down at her together, I felt an indescribable connection with this little stranger. But she was just that, a stranger. I understood that she was part of me, of us. I loved and worried for her, but it took me a while to fall in love.

Despite all of the support I had early into motherhood, I felt incredibly alone. I hated the solitude; I was angry, tired, and frustrated. I ached for freedom. Do I have time to shower? Will I ever leave the house alone again? Can I make time for me? When will she stop crying? When will she sleep? For how long? I never could have imagined the impact of sleep deprivation on a person’s wellbeing and stability, and how I would obsess over how to get just a little bit more. Tippy-toeing around, crawling out of her room on all fours, and planning life, as I knew it, around nap time. I need to say here, that what fed my frustration was all of the well-intentioned, one-size-fits-all-advice I got about sleep. The only advice I really needed to heed was do what keeps you sane. Simple. I needed to quiet the noise in my head, so that I could listen to what my instincts were telling me. It came down to- if it soothes her, and gives you a little peace, do it.

Being a mom is the hardest, and best thing I’ve ever done. In time I did fall in love with that little stranger. Worrying for her safety, and welfare became the new normal, and I learned to appreciate the weight of responsibility attached to parenthood. She has taught me more than she will ever know about letting go of preconceived notions, and listening to my inner voice. There is a depth to my love for her that words cannot capture. But, it’s still hard… I imagine it always will be. From the moment our children are born we sit on the sideline of their lives, moving our chair as the game changes. At first we are intimately involved in the game, we shadow the play, and attend to every need. As they grow, and the challenges change, so too does the sideline. I realize now that I will spend the rest of my life negotiating and renegotiating that sideline. I’ve learned that the weight of parental worry is more manageable when shared, and that navigating all of this, is not quite so ominous when I’m taking care of myself.

There is nothing wrong with needing time to adjust. There is nothing wrong with loving so much of what motherhood brings, while not loving all of it. We don’t need to be ok with being selfless, exhausted and depleted. That doesn’t make us good mothers. What makes us good mothers is leaning into the hard stuff, instead of backing out, and making space for our joy and humanity in the process. It is our responsibility to make time to recharge when needed, so that we can get back to the work of being a parent. It’s ok that we see it as work. My expectations of being a mom needed to shift, in order to align with my new reality, thus softening the edges of my previously held rigid beliefs.

My kids don’t need me to be selfless or perfect, they need me to be happy. We sit on the sideline, preoccupied with our children’s wellbeing. We forget our own. With a little nudge, and some encouragement, I am reminded that I foster joy in my children by emanating my own. Cultivating happiness is an inside job. I want my children to learn by example, that exercising self-care is essential. Not only incredibly restorative, and good for the soul, but good for all the souls it’s connected to.

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Filed under Parenting, Transition to Motherhood