We live in a paradoxical time, do we not? As parents we often find ourselves living in a bizarre balancing act of “long days/short years” meets “just wait for when your kids (fill in the blank) meets “do what makes you happy” meets “live in the moment” meets “if you don’t do or plan XYZ for your family, you’re failing” meets complete and total mental breakdown.
As mothers, we find ourselves in a time in which society is beginning to place more value on self care and mental health, but in which our culture also admonishes us to be true to ourselves while simultaneously placing illogical and impossible expectations on us as mothers raising families. We cannot be all things to all people, and yet we’re kind of expected to be.
So, what’s a gal to do?
I honestly don’t have one great answer to finding a peaceful middle ground on all of this. But I sure identify with feeling pushed and pulled toward many different ideas of thought. And the truth is, there’s a lot of value in each of these ideologies. It’s completely true that the days are long and the years are short. It’s also completely true that we cannot expect women to love every moment of pregnancy or motherhood. We need to temper our need to plan for the future with some good quality mindfulness that helps us appreciate the everyday moments we might otherwise miss. We should cherish those baby days, but we’re certainly allowed to look forward to a time when we’re not wiping butts all day.
While I don’t have an answer for solving the world’s problems (mother-related or otherwise), I do think I’ve stumbled upon some things that sure help take the edge off. When I’m feeling pushed, pulled, frustrated, and overwhelmed with my vocation as mother and then feeling guilty about how I’m feeling, these are some tried and true methods that have helped me come back up for air when I feel like I’m losing it.
Identify your stressors then plan ahead. When you’re in a calm state of mind, take a moment to assess which things contribute most to your sense of chaos and stress. Are you annoyed by a particular person posting on Facebook? Do you find yourself slipping into comparison mode on Instagram? Are you unable to avoid unwanted advice from a particular co-worker? Identify a few things that you can easily see contributing to your anxiety and, this is key, problem solve how to stop them.
A priest recently counseled me that we have to have a strategy for avoiding the things that trip us up. It’s not good enough to identify stressors, complain about them, and then go on our way. We have to strategize ways to react to stressors in the future in order to experience any sort of change. Remember, if nothing changes nothing changes. So, take apps off your phone, unfollow people, prepare quick responses and changes of subject ahead of time so your co-worker doesn’t take you by surprise again. Strategy is everything. If we can head anxiety off at the pass, then we’ve made some real progress!
Cultivate a peaceful environment. I’m naturally a very messy person, but I’ve come to realize that a clean house is quieter than the slob hole I naturally create. So I make it a priority to try to keep things clean. My clean home is truly only motivated by the fact that it is quieter, more restful, and peaceful when things are put away. That, and the fear of unexpected company. I hate cleaning, but I hate poor mental health even more, so I pick up. My clean environment also includes the air and the volume of my home. If I’m stressed, I put on the diffuser and take time to play a calming podcast for the kids or use music to otherwise set the tone. Cultivating a peaceful environment can also mean planning ahead and having good, filling food available specifically for times when things are crazy. Take the time to put together a snack plate that’s ready for the after school/work rush and crash.
I rarely actually want to do these things in the moment. January Harshe calls this “ugly self care.” I may have to actually force myself to clean the kitchen at night, but I do it as a gift to my future self. I never actually love meal prepping for the week, but my future self appreciates it on a Wednesday night after the whole world has got to pot. We may have to get scrappy with ourselves and force ourselves to prioritize these things that aren’t second nature to us, but ugly self care is better than no self care at all.
Cultivate a gentle environment. Take stock in what you’re putting in your brain. If a particular childbirth or parenting birth causes you to feel waves of shame or worry, it’s probably not the right fit. If you’re struggling with feelings of inadequacy, it’s probably not the time to scroll Pinterest or watch shows featuring “perfect” people and homes. This goes for the music and shows you’re putting on for your kids, too. If mama’s feeling wound too tight, this is not the time for annoying character shows with high pitched voices and lots of jumping and flashing lights. Just cut that crap right out. Make sure that the things you’re reading, watching, and allowing to fill the background noise of your space are encouraging and gentle. This is the time for Mr. Rogers, Reading Rainbow, and Wall-E. Let the newest season of Making a Murderer wait and cultivate gentleness in the media you consume.
Remember what is true. It’s so easy for us to get caught up in the what-if’s and the could be’s, especially in pregnancy and motherhood. What if I have to be induced? What if my toddler hates the new baby? What if my kid never starts sleeping and I can’t function at work? What if I fail as a parent and my kid turns out to be an axe-murdering hobo?
When the hypotheticals start taking control, I always remind clients to make a list of what we know to be true. Writing down the facts is incredibly grounding and helpful. I have created a birth team who loves and supports me. I have worked hard to educate myself on my options. I have detailed contingency plans in place. I can change my mind at any time. I can trust my intuition. My children know that I love and adore them. I am valued by my boss and co-workers because they said so at the staff meeting.
We can swim around in hypothetical situations all day long, but we’ll never get anywhere unless we temper that with truth.
Prioritize rest. Contrary to popular belief, you’re not more deserving of love if you’re busier. You don’t get gold stars for working yourself to death or for not feeding your body properly, or burning the candle at both ends. You’re no good to anybody if you’re burnt out, so prioritize rest. There is no shame in giving your body what it needs. And your body needs rest. It’s a non-negotiable.
Self-care and chaos-killing strategizing are my go-to tricks for beating the “caught in the paradox” blues. What helps you fight feeling overwhelmed when you’re pregnant or in the trenches of motherhood? As always, don’t forget to love yourself, and be gentle with yourself. You are worthy and deserving and I guarantee you’re doing just fine.