Monday, October 23, 2017

Thoughts on Society and Moms

I read this article in Time magazine this weekend and found it incredibly interesting to read all of the ways that moms are prone to feeling terrible about the role of being a mom.  I sat a meeting recently at work where a co-worker, whose children are now in college, was listing her regrets for things she didn't do often enough when raising her sons.  I started listing things that I feel bad about in raising my daughters.  A few other moms chimed in with their regrets.  Another one of my co-workers who does not have children looked around the room and was flabbergasted that all of these women who she thinks are amazing, and are probably excellent parents, were sitting at a conference table talking about everything the felt awful about.  She said she didn't understand why we all felt like there was so much to feel bad about when we were clearly all involved and dedicated, and it made her sad to hear all of these things being said. 

But that's kind of how it is, isn't it?  We, as mothers, are often bombarded with so much feedback about how every one of our life choices will somehow damage our children that we overlook all of the really amazing things we do.  We overlook the kissed boo boos, the extra bedtime story, the hugs in the morning, the way we lovingly swaddle a newborn, the millions of diapers that get changed before your child finally is ready to potty train, the encouragement given as you struggle with that potty training, and the celebrations you throw for every single success your child has.  We discard the birthday parties, the afternoon spent making cookies, the few minutes you can squeeze in to color together, the tea parties we attend, the lovies we patch back together after they've been loved a little too much, the clothes we purchase, the shoes we tie, the bath times where we end up soaked from overzealous splashing, the way we check on them before going to bed ourselves each night.  We think of those things as "ordinary" or "expected" and we forget that each of those things IS motherhood.  They are all strung together bit by bit to weave this tapestry of motherhood that our children will remember.  And none of those things involve whether you bought organic or conventional apples.

Those aren't the things that society as a whole, and certainly not other mothers, seem to think matter in the long run.  If you're a new mom, you're immediately bombarded with tons of advice on what you should or should not do.  What you should eat (organic chemical free everything!!).  What you should drink (Water!  Filtered to remove all chemicals!  Never coffee!!).  Whether you should breast feed or bottle feed (Breast feeding is the only answer, formula is poison!!!).  You are slammed with "advice" that sounds an awful lot like judgement, because it is.  It's a million judgements thrown at you to pressure you into making the "right" choices.  But "right" for other people might not be "right" for you, and there doesn't seem to be a clear voice of sanity to talk about that on a large scale.  There aren't many voices saying "fed is best".  There aren't many voices saying "Circumcision is a personal choice, do what you want".  There aren't many voices saying "I trust you're not trying to damage your growing fetus with what you eat, so I'll keep my damn mouth shut". 

The article I read was followed by this essay, detailing the many opinions people want to hand out like Halloween candy while you're pregnant.  It brought back some vivid memories of the "advice" people wanted to give me while I was pregnant.  I distinctly remember a moment where I was at my in-laws house and I reached into the fridge to grab a soda.  My sister-in-law looked directly at me and said "The caffeine free ones are in the door".  She was pregnant at the time as well, and I said "OK, thank you" as I cracked open my can of regular Coke.  She stared at me and said "You know you're not supposed to have caffeine, right?" and I said "I'm not supposed to have too much caffeine, and I haven't."  It was a strange moment of realizing that suddenly people were watching me, and paying close attention to what I might be eating or drinking.  The reality was that I was told I could have 200 mg of caffeine a day.  The can of Coke contained 34 mg, which I knew because I had looked it up.  Plus, at that point I was over five months into my pregnancy and the caffeine concerns were less of a concern in general.  I wasn't damaging my baby, I was giving myself a little sugar rush.  That wasn't the assumption that was made, in this case, though.  The assumption was that I should know better than to drink that soda.  I had never experienced anything like it before.

All of this leads me to wonder WHY so many people feel qualified to weigh in, pass judgement, give "advice" in situations where we are perfectly capable of figuring these things out on our own.  Sure, we've all met that horrible bratty kid who listens to no one and misbehaves constantly and wondered "What are that kid's parents doing?", but I feel like that's often the exception and not the rule.  Why do people around us feel like it's ok to tell you that you're feeding your kid poison if you mix up some formula?  Why do they feel like it's ok to tell you that if you breast feed you can't do it in public?  Why do your friends and family get to weigh in on whether you circumcise your son?  Furthermore, why do we as parents, particularly moms, have to feel like we're always doing the wrong things for our kids when all any of us wants to do is what's right?  It seems like there's some mystical force in the universe that has somehow pitted us against each other instead of supporting each other through something that is really fucking difficult.  Because sometimes being a mom is really fucking difficult!  Self doubt doesn't make it any easier.  Having your family tell you that you don't love your kid because you make sarcastic jokes about them doesn't make it any easier.  Having your friends tell you that you should raise your kid like they raised theirs doesn't make it any easier.  Having strangers pass judgement on you for how you choose to discipline, speak to, or interact with your child doesn't make it any easier.

I've been a mom of an infant/toddler for nearly three years.  In that time, I can count on one hand on one finger how many encouragements I've gotten while out in public with my daughter. I can't begin to tell you how many judgmental head shakes, dirty looks, admonishing glances, whispered comments, or outright verbal backlash I've gotten.  And my daughter is pretty damn well behaved in public.  I can't imagine what mothers with children who are extra challenging in public spaces get.  I can guarantee it's probably not encouragement.  I can guarantee that what they need in that moment is encouragement. 

I don't know why we do this to each other, but damn do I feel like it needs to stop.  Maybe the next time you're out, and you see a mom doing whatever she's got to do with her kid, just give her a smile and tell her she's doing a great job.  You might be the only person who says that to her all year. 

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Late night thoughts

Today she's sweaty hair plastered against her forehead from the baby fine waves that escape her pigtails as she runs around outside, exploring ants and digging holes with a stick.  She's scraped knees, and dirty sneakers, peals of giggles and exclamations of "Come back here you silly goose!" as she chases leaves blowing in the breeze.  She's more person than baby now, and every moment is a new discovery.  She relishes in exploring the world around her, would rather be outside than in, and has taken to kissing her toys goodnight.  She has begun telling me about things she loves, from books to trampolines to flowers, there is always something she is excited to tell me about.  She is learning to socialize with other children, but often would prefer to be by herself.  She holds her small friends at a distance, preferring the safety of mommy's lap or daddy's arms to the scary idea of having to learn to befriend children her own age.  At parties, she will disappear into a corner with a book or some crayons and paper while other children argue over dolls and other playthings.  When she finds another child she enjoys time with, she will talk excitedly about her time with them for days, even when they've spent very little time interacting.  She has so many opinions, and everything has to be her idea.  There is no forcing her into something she doesn't want to do, she will be the leader in her life.  She knows her alphabet, most of her letter sounds, and her numbers up through 30.  She notices everything.  She thinks she's hilarious, and she is.  She remembers plots from her story books that she hasn't had read to her in months.  She giggles as she says "Leave the goldfish alone!", a line from one of her favorite books.  She loves cats, and usually the dog, as long as he's not trying to give her kisses.

She's a new person each day I greet her.  She's grown since yesterday.  She's learned more things since yesterday.  My yesterday girl has left me and my today girl stands before me, ready to do it all over again.  She is beautiful, and brilliant, and infuriating and endearing all at the same time.  She has a temper that is rivaled by few.  She can be affectionate in ways you'd never expect.  Her smile is so beautiful that I know some day it will get her out of whatever trouble she gets herself into.  She is light, and wonder, and fascination all wrapped up into one person.

She is one of my favorite accomplishments.

I am so grateful for her.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

There are a lot of opinions

There are times in the past two years of this parenting journey where I've wondered if other people listen to some of the things that I've had people say to me.  Like, I know that everyone faces their own hardships, or their own challenges and struggle with judgmental people on some level, but I wonder if other people have experiences similar to mine.

It's been no secret that my internal struggles have been largely with feeling like I'm cut out for this mom thing.  I've had so much inner turmoil over whether I should or could be a parent that it robbed me of all appreciation of the experience of becoming a parent.  It's been an ongoing voice in the back of my head that I work to silence every day.  I am always questioning every decision.  Every piece of progress she makes or doesn't make, I wonder if I should have done something different.  Nothing is straight forward.  Nothing happens without questioning or insecurity.  I try to project confidence, but when I'm by myself, alone with my thoughts, the voice starts creeping in and I'm spending a significant amount of energy to silence it.

So, imagine how hard it is to silence that voice when you also have people around you outright telling you that you're a crap parent.  To have people say things like "Your daughter deserves better" or to have people tell you that your child deserves to know they're loved but you don't show them that you love them in any way, or to have people tell you what you would do "if you were a good parent".

My in-laws have taken to attacking me and my parenting skills.  And when I say that, I don't mean some sort of polite, passive aggressive commentary offered up in conversation.  I mean outright attacking me.  My mother-in-law told me that I don't show my daughter I love her.  My brother-in-law decided to tell me what I'd be doing if I were a good parent.  And I'm just supposed to accept that shit in an effort to be polite.  But you know what it doesn't do?  It doesn't help that voice in my head get any quieter.

The thing is, I've dealt with mistreatment from these people for years.  I know that their invalid opinions shouldn't get to me because they're awful, but it's infuriating that I have to put up with that kind of stuff, or listen to it.  And, it makes me wonder if other people deal with this kind of shit, or if it's just something special that life has chosen to shit on me with.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

If I'm being honest

I'm not ok.  I'm not.

I've avoided talking about this with anyone because I everyone in my life has either abandoned me, or if they haven't, they've made me feel like I'm somehow a burden when I actually need someone, so I've been white knuckling it, and this is my only safe space.......or, at least as safe as I can get since it, too, has caused problems when I've let a select few people in, but since it's as safe as I can get, I'm here.

I'm not ok.

I have spent the last two years battling a lot of things that I've been burying and pretending didn't matter, and pretending weren't a problem, but lately I've been reading a lot of stuff, and I'm realizing that everything I've been burying is cropping up when people talk about their issues and it's becoming apparent that I've been in the same boat as them. For example, this week's essay by Chrissy Tiegan hit home.  Sections like this:

"I had never, ever—in my whole entire life—had one person say to me: “I have postpartum depression.” Growing up in the nineties, I associated postpartum depression with Susan Smith [a woman now serving life in prison for killing her two sons; her lawyer argued that she suffered from a long history of depression], with people who didn’t like their babies or felt like they had to harm their children. I didn’t have anything remotely close to those feelings. I looked at Luna every day, amazed by her. So I didn’t think I had it."

So I started doing some digging, and apparently undiagnosed PPD can last up to three years.  And suddenly, so many things started to fall into place.  Some of the crazy I was feeling, some of the struggles I had early on, and have continued to have.  I started looking up symptoms and while not all applied, there were some that just......damn. 

  • You feel guilty because you believe you should be handling new motherhood better than this. You feel like your baby deserves better. You worry whether your baby can tell that you feel so bad, or that you are crying so much, or that you don’t feel the happiness or connection that you thought you would. You may wonder whether your baby would be better off without you.
  • You don’t feel bonded to your baby. You’re not having that mythical mommy bliss that you see on TV or read about in magazines. Not everyone with postpartum depression feels this way, but many do.
  • You feel irritated or angry. You have no patience. Everything annoys you. You feel resentment toward your baby, or your partner, or your friends who don’t have babies. You feel out-of-control rage.
  • You feel hopeless, like this situation will never ever get better. You feel weak and defective, like a failure.
  • You feel disconnected. You feel strangely apart from everyone for some reason, like there’s an invisible wall between you and the rest of the world.
  • Maybe you’re doing everything right. You are exercising. You are taking your vitamins. You have a healthy spirituality. You do yoga. You’re thinking “Why can’t I just get over this?” You feel like you should be able to snap out of it, but you can’t.
  • You know something is wrong. You may not know you have a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder, but you know the way you are feeling is NOT right. You think you’ve “gone crazy.”
  • You are afraid that this is your new reality and that you’ve lost the “old you” forever.
  • You are afraid that if you reach out for help people will judge you. Or that your baby will be taken away.
Check.  Check.  Check.  Check.  It's much of my life has been this, for two solid years. 

And then I think about how hard it's been, because I've been doing it solo.  Because while I spent several months feeling like a crazy person and playing desperate person attempting to break through that invisible wall between me and the rest of the world, that became too much for some people, and in the time I most needed people in my life, they all left.  And it's stayed that way.  And I haven't had anyone to talk to.  I haven't had anyone to understand any of this.  I haven't had......anyone.  I've been so incredibly focused on putting up this fa├žade of a person who has everything under control, and who was easing into all of this without much struggle, and it was forcing me to just bury everything.  But, over time, it's gotten harder to bury, and harder to pretend I'm holding shit together.  Furthermore, it's harder to actually hold my shit together.

Then, when I think about all of those items in that list that I've been fighting for so long, and I couple it with people telling me my daughter deserves better, or that my daughter deserves to know she's loved and cared about but I don't adequately do that, or what I'd do if I was a good parent, it's sort of shocking that I haven't completely lost my shit before now.  But I've held it together through all of that too.  Through the times when I needed people to support me, and they chose to do harm instead.  Though, since it has never felt really safe to fully discuss this with anyone around me, maybe it's not their fault.

At this point, I'm getting to where I just don't care about anything, at least not in a way I should.  I don't really care about keeping the house as clean as I used to.  I don't care about hosting gatherings.  I don't care about going to gatherings.  I'm physically exhausted all the time.  Most nights I just want to go home, curl up on the couch and sleep.  I don't necessarily want to play with my kid.  Everything feels like a chore, and everything feels like it'll take way more effort than it needs to.  And I don't care about most of it.

I don't know where I need to go from here.  My life doesn't currently have time for therapy, or help, really.  And I'm sure there are a lot of people who are going to roll their eyes and say "There is always time to take care of yourself", but those people can shut up because they don't understand how my life is structured and they don't understand how hard it is to take time.  I could probably talk to my doctor and pop some anti-depressants, but without therapy I think that's just a Band-Aid on a problem.  So, the reality is that since everything is indicating these issues can last up to three years but I hear nothing about it going on for longer, maybe I'll just wait it out. 

My knuckles are already used to being white anyway.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Reading and thinking

The past few weeks have had me feeling a bit down.  It might be the mid-winter blues, or maybe I've given in to feeling sorry for myself a bit, or maybe everything I've shoved aside is becoming apparent.  I'm not sure.  Regardless, I feel like I've been on the struggle bus, and I've spent a lot of days on the verge of tears over the stupidest things.  I've whined to a co-worker far more than I ever should.  I've been grasping for a sense of connection, and not finding it.  This isn't new, it's just sort of weighing on me at the moment. 

This morning, the poor co-worker I've been whining to sent me this blog, and I had to read it in pieces, because reading it all at once threatened to send me into tears while sitting in my cubicle.  Sometimes it's odd, to hear what feel like your words, coming out of someone else's mouth.  Or keyboard, as the case may be.  When I got to this passage, I felt like I was this blogger for a moment:

"...supporting my husband while he went back to school. The more I gave, the more was asked of me, and the stronger my guilt became when I wanted anything: a night out, a haircut, to go to the gym, to be left alone for five minutes. I was…. An inconvenience."

This.  This more than anything is how I feel a lot of the time.  Last week I spent an evening away from home.  My husband picked up our daughter, and I went to happy hour with some friends from work.  Then I met my cousin for dinner and drinks, so I didn't get home until nearly 10:00 p.m.  The entire time, I felt guilty.  I felt like I didn't deserve that time away.  Never mind the fact that my husband spends evenings away at class twice a week, and I handle everything at home pretty much on my own while he's in classes or teaching.  Never mind that I do bedtime literally every night and have for at least the last year, barring being out of town for work.  Never mind that I cook dinner every night, and I spend literally  every waking moment that I'm not at work with my daughter.  Never mind that I probably earned an evening away.  I still felt like I didn't deserve it.  My husband told me to go, to have fun, that he had everything under control.  And he did.  I knew he did.  But....for me, it felt like wanting something just wasn't ok.  That me needing a night to breathe was unacceptable.  Like I was abandoning my responsibilities.  It was also coupled with the guilt of knowing that when my husband has evenings away, he's in class, so it's not like he's out enjoying himself or having a good time.  He's basically working, so I don't feel like I deserve to have my time spent frivolously when he doesn't get to do that.  This is all self imposed guilt, but it's hard to shake a lot of the time.  And, that feeling of being an inconvenience, of being invisible, of being somehow unworthy of what everyone else seems to get so easily, that gets hard to shake after a while too.

Which led me to that feeling of needing to connect.  Needing to be able to confide in a person, and feel like I'm not burdening them with myself.  As I was thinking about this, someone in my Facebook news feed posted this article, which had some stats in it that made me feel pretty sad.  Like this stat, for example:

In a survey given in 1985, people were asked to list their friends in response to the question “Over the last six months, who are the people with whom you discussed matters important to you?” The most common number of friends listed was three; 59 percent of respondents listed three or more friends fitting this description. The same survey was given again in 2004. This time the most common number of friends was zero.

So, I guess at least I'm not alone?  But, doesn't that suck?  Doesn't that say so much about who we are as a species where there isn't anyone you can talk to about your life?  It's's depressing.  But the fact that having a weak social circle is as detrimental to your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day is even more depressing.  Because I have basically no social circle.  No support system.  I have one friend who has been around for a long time, and I cherish his friendship, but at the same time, he's not always the guy you can go to with your dark, unhappy thoughts.  And that's ok.  He's always there when you need someone, and that alone means a lot.  It just also makes me feel like a circle isn't two people.  It's not binary, me and you.  There needs to be more.  Often, I find that I'm really seeking a sense of family, of acceptance.  I'm seeking relationships where you can disagree on a topic and still be friends.  What I've realized in the past several years is that I don't have time or patience for people who just ghost you and disappear, or outright tell you there's no problem when clearly there is and they stop talking to you, or who claim to want to amend things and don't put in any effort, or who just decide that you suck without bothering to tell you why so you have a chance to try to fix it.  People who act like you've misunderstood the relationship, when the reality is that they're trying to separate themselves from any guilty they may feel for having hurt you.  Or people who just seem to think you can't be hurt, like you have no feelings, or that because you have a tough exterior, it's ok to just shit all over you because you can take it.  Unfortunately, those are the only people I really know.  Those are the only people I seem to come in contact with, and I'm beginning to wonder if there are any other types of people out there.  I often wonder if this is just it.  And so, I read that article thinking "Well, this would be easier if people weren't all a fistful of assholes".  That also becomes a barrier, because it means you can't force yourself to trust anymore, you don't care about making an effort for something that's going to die or hurt you anyway, so you sit, isolated and alone, and at that point you might as well be smoking 15 cigarettes a day for all the good it's doing you.

I don't know what the point of all of this was.  I just needed to clear my head.  Reading seems to give me a lot of things to think about.

Monday, February 13, 2017

A wealth of useless information

I was talking to a co-worker the other day about the things that worry her about becoming a parent, largely whether the balance of responsibilities will tilt too far to one side.  She said something about how she doesn't want to be the one who has to remember everything all the time.  I told her that once you're on the other side of that parenthood hump, remembering everything isn't really a choice.  It's just a weird habit that you develop and hold onto.  It's this mass of swirling information in your head that doesn't necessarily make sense to anyone else but your brain is holding onto it in case, at some point, you find you need it.  Spoiler alert: A lot of times, you never need it.

That's just how it is, though.  You think about stuff and realize that your own wealth of useless information grows with each passing day, and you can answer the most random questions.  Like, right now, these things can just be pulled from my head:

  • The cat only has one can of cat food left
  • My daughter needs an appointment made for her next checkup
  • My living room's paint color is "Earl Gray"
  • There are no diapers left in the diaper basket, but there's a spare box next to the arm chair
  • There are no diapers upstairs on the changing table
  • The Snurtch book is downstairs in the book basket instead of upstairs in the bookshelf, so if she freaks out that she can't find it, that's where it is.
  • We're out of Swiffer cloths
  • There are three pairs of socks with no matches in my laundry basket
  • The dog only pooped once yesterday, which seems weird.  Must watch to make sure there's not some sort of issue with him.
  • I have half a bottle of dish soap left, which means I'll probably have to buy a new one the week after next.
  • The HOA needs paid, but I want to wait until it's past due because I find the HOA useless and resent paying them so I pay late every year.
  • The Disney Junior book is hidden under my daughter's crib.
  • The Paw Patrol Christmas book is hidden behind the sofa.
  • My husband's phone charger is still sitting on the counter at home, which means his phone will be dead by the time he leaves work.
  • I have to text my friend at 4:30 to follow up on how her interview went.
  • The purple shoes are upstairs under the rocking chair, but the dress shoes are downstairs under the coffee table.
  • There's still a load of laundry in the dryer that needs to be folded.

All of this can be rattled off at a moment's notice.  But can I remember that we already have two containers of parmesan cheese in the fridge?  Nope.  Better buy another....

Monday, January 16, 2017

What's missing, and what's not

Over the last couple of weeks, my world has been able to shift a bit.  My husband had a break from classes, and with the return of free time also came the return of social interaction.  It made me notice a few things.  First and foremost, I miss social interaction.  Beyond that, I think I might need social interaction.  Up until the holiday everything felt like it was too much work.  Too much effort, too much work.  All of my normal enthusiasm for gatherings, and party planning was gone.  It was like I was just zapped of my ability to care about that kind of stuff.  Then the holiday season happened and suddenly there were social gatherings back in my life and it was like I got recharged.  Then, I realized that maybe my lack of ability to care about social gatherings was due to the lack of actually having them.  So, that led to wanting to continue having that social interaction, but life picked back up and I think those are off the table for the time being.

And having that back in my life made me realize how few people there are left to invite to something like that.  I used to have a list of go-to people, and now that list consists of two.  Two people.  That sort of reminded me of why I stopped pushing to have gatherings at the beginning of the fall.  Beyond life making it hard, the idea that my guest list was two people long felt lonely.  And depressing.  And it reminded me of how isolated I feel a lot of the time.  The isolation drains me.  The lack of a village drains me.  But, it also makes me grateful for the couple of people who stayed.

I do enjoy the time I have with my daughter, though.  I think it keeps me from being depleted.  It is still draining, because it's still life with a toddler, but it keeps me from feeling completely alone sometimes.  And I'm grateful for that. 

So, in the end, what's missing is a piece of the life I used to have.  And my village.  What's not missing is something to keep me from feeling the full brunt of that, and that something is pretty great.  It makes me smile nearly every day, even on days when I don't want to.