Mother's Work · Motherhood · Parenting · Self-Care · Toddlers

Skating on thin ice

This past week has blown so many holes in my belief that I have things under control, or that life follows some sense of order. It has taken very little for me to feel depleted, and here I thought I was so resourced. The stress of potty training our boys combined with the daily corralling of three toddlers to and from school every day in Midwestern winter weather, plus a few nights of bad sleep have taken a toll on my physical health. In my head, I hear voices saying, ‘aw, come on, you don’t have it that hard!’ True, a lot of jobs are hard. There are many people who are much worse off than I am, by whatever measure you’d like to use. But that’s not really what this blog is about. If life is hard for this one mother, then let the story be told, and maybe one other mother will read it and find comfort in its resonance.

Regardless, I find myself wondering ‘how hard is it, really?’ many times a day. One way to measure it is by comparing myself to others in my same field – other mothers at school drop-off and pick-up, or at the grocery store. But that’s a really slippery slope. It’s really a no-win situation, because someone else will always look more put together, more composed than I think I do. But I don’t know their true story! I weave a story in my head. It’s all a matter of perception. Another way of measuring it is by assessing my level of tolerance. My hair may be greasy, I may not have showered in three days, I may be confusing my children’s names, I may have borderline amnesia – but I can take more, bring it on! I can move mountains, I always say. The truth is, my body will tell me when to stop, whether I like it or not. My back surgery for a herniated disk one month after our twin boys’ first birthday was a perfect example of that. It was my body telling me, ‘honey, you’ve actually broken your own back. You’ve hit your limit.’ A third way to measure difficulty is to look at how much of the weight I am carrying myself instead of asking for help and sharing the burden. Asking for help is one of the biggest challenges for type A mothers (and I say that lovingly, as I am one of them). I am not even close to maximizing the opportunities for help that surround me. In fact, I think I’m going to experiment one day (or several) and ask myself with each task I face whether someone else could do it instead. And does it have to happen right now, or can it be taken care of later? The answer is not always ‘no’ – some things have to happen right now. And usually, if a type A mother asks for help, she needs that help right now – otherwise she wouldn’t have asked for help. So, in short, the less I ask for help, the harder my job will be.

So how hard is it then, already, this mother’s work? And does anyone really care? I don’t ask that because I feel neglected or forgotten, but because I think people don’t really ponder the question with that much depth. They don’t really need to, because it’s taken care of by society’s assumption: that one parent, in most cases the mother, has the job of caring for the kids, or arranging for care for the kids, and they do it out of love, no matter how hard that job is. The automatic response when people see me with my three toddlers is, ‘gosh, you’ve got your hands full!” Yes, I do. You actually have no idea. Or maybe you do, so I thank you for acknowledging me.

But in the end, it doesn’t really matter what someone else says, right? The true measure is within me, and I have a lot of power to change how I perceive my work’s level of difficulty. I can explore and reduce my internal resistance to the job; I can relax my body more frequently throughout the day; I can make sure to resource myself as often as possible; I can slow down; I can ask for help; or I can simply change the way things are.

Right?

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