“Child, I will slap the pretty off your face!”
This was my mother’s coping phrase to me from when I was four-ish until I was 19-ish.
Believe me, the woman had every right. Now as a mother myself, I know for sure she did.
As a matter of fact, right after I had my first child I phoned my mother to apologize for everything I had ever put her through—good and bad. Tears and muffled words were involved, but she understood it all. Mothers tend to understand both the spoken and unspoken. After all, we are truly the highest level of our human kind.
But this higher level of existence also weighs us down. We are the shields of life. Such shields are not easy to carry. Add to that the quantity of hours children require to grow, thrive, and learn how to be who they are meant to be. there is a day (on weekly basis) that it all becomes too heavy.
Recently, I had one such day. A day where my two kids, whom I love most in this world, drove me to my edge. That edge where I felt like
my skin was not my skin, my home was not my home, and my mind was simply a mush of emotions without a trace of logic left within. An entire day of crying, demanding, refusing, battling, negotiating like expert pirates, whining and probing to—I assume—build their own identities.
A cycle built like a tower of Legos that I wanted to knock down with a high, kung-fu, ha-ya type of kick. Since that was not an option, I turned to my fellow mommas. I just needed to know I was not the only one wanting to scream and cry; that I was not alone in feeling that my house was being eaten by plastic termites called toys. What I found instead was amazing blogs and Pinterest ideas with DIY crafts and activities, decorated laundry rooms, kids dressed in perfectly matched Gap for Kids, cakes, cookies, hand-made cleaning solutions, organized this, immaculate that.
There I was, holding a computer like it was my security blanket, and crying.
Am I really such a terrible mother? I have two kids and can’t seem to get a grip most days, and there’s Martha Motherhood over there with five children (two of them not even her own) and she is baking, sewing, cleaning, and enriching their lives.
Then, I laughed. My mind seems to be split in multiple personalities when I am sleep deprived and when I am on that children-induced edge. My second though was: Whatever Martha Motherhood is on, I wonder where I can get some? Seriously, it seemed impossible to me to have the time for all of it within a 24-hour period.
I used to be the most organized person I know, and now, I use a dry-hair shampoo. I know I am not alone in this. I can’t be. I know there are mothers out there who feel just like me—defeated, helpless, tired. Oh, so tired.
I know there are others who have used a dryer as a closet for the past week. I know there are other mothers who associate the word avalanche with the pile of laundry they have shoved behind the laundry room door. I know there are moms out there who have turned their living room into the playroom and the coffee table is on the balcony collecting leaves because their crazy bananas, adventurous little boy could crack his head on it otherwise.
There must be others out there like me. I feel it. Maybe this strong feeling prompted me to look for something on the web that would help me. A manual! A manual on how to do all this. No such thing exists, as we all know. We are simply left to create our own coping mechanisms.
Here are few of mine that have reduced my stress and anxiety levels of carrying the shields of motherhood.
1. Let go of certain expectations.
First thing I did was let go of three specific anxiety boosters.
One—my clothes don’t have to match. I am sorry to the fashionistas out there, but it is okay to wear clothes that just happen to be clean without worrying about the color scheme.
Two—I do not have to wear make up every day. Make up is now an only-on-a-special-occasion thing for me. I didn’t realize that not wearing make up would save me 20-25 minutes per day; not to mention the money I’ve saved. Simple math says that is almost two hours of extra time per week that is not related to yet another stressful daily act. Most importantly, this process has allowed me to accept myself on a much deeper level. The liberation that came with it was exhilarating. I am who I am; the make up companies can shove it for making me feel otherwise.
Third—I threw away the scales. I didn’t need that b&%$* in my life. It caused too much anxiety, and I hated it! It hated me, too. Women (not just mothers) put way too much effort into a relationship with this evil, cruel simple machine. Without it in my house, I no longer start my days feeling negative toward myself. Guess what? I now realize that such negativity easily transfers to my children. So, I start every day with being kind to myself. It is amazing how much positivity can come from simply blowing myself a morning kiss immediately after brushing my teeth.
2. Daddy time.
It took me two years to realize that my way of parenting is not the only nor the best way of doing things. There are many good ways, wonderful ways that work—those ways of fathers, for example. Yes, my motherly instinct about my kids’ needs are stronger. Yes, they eat healthier with me. Yes, my kisses have a magical way of curing boo boos. But, their dad is a parent, too—not a babysitter who gets to watch the kids for me once a quarter.
Fathers fill an important role—the role of showing the children that there is a world out there other than us mothers. I started leaving my kids with their dad once a week to spend time by myself (to take a walk, to read, to sit on a park bench, to have coffee, or to stare blankly into the space.) I also decided not to feel guilty about it. Slowly, my kids learned not to depend on me for everything. They also have a blast during the time they get to spend just with their daddy. My husband’s appreciation for what I do is much more visible, too.
3. Be honest about needs.
I used to think that being tired, vulnerable and imperfect in front of my children was some sort of a failure. I forgot that showing them my weaker side is also showing them how to be human and how to accept and cope with life themselves. So, I have started working on telling my kids what I need. For instance, if I need 10 minutes of quiet time to take a shower, I ask them to respect that time by giving me some uninterrupted space. I tell them that I need that time so I can be a better mom and have more strength to do fun activities. Sanity is found in little things.
4. Kick the sugar habit.
Cutting out processed food and sugar has made a drastic impact on my energy levels and my mood. Now I know that processed foods and sugar tend to do something to my brain, as if they deplete it from necessary energy. I also used to be more irritable. When I first started the process of finding the right way to eat, I was lost and consumed with research. Quickly, I realized I had to eat and think healthy more than once a week for the benefits to stick. How cruel!
I also found countless directions, resources, ways and blogs on how to be healthy. I didn’t know which path to take. Not much worked and I had no direction. My inner mean lady (feel free to insert the b-word here) came out, especially when I was missing bread sticks and ice cream. And Nutella. I had many, many snaccidents. More importantly, my anxiety levels where through the roof, and I couldn’t afford a therapist.
I finally found a C.H.E.K. certified nutritionist and coach. She has taught me how to love food, and how to find a lifestyle protocol that feeds my mind, my body, and my sanity—my whole family in all honesty. She has encouraged me to eat more fat, nurture my relationship with food, and not give up the magic (aka coffee.) My energy levels are now amazing. I have learned how to manage my micro and macronutrients, my supplements, and my yoga practice. My kids are thriving without sugar, too. They are much more reasonable to talk to, calmer, and more focused. This process took over a year to fully grasp, but the mind/body results are irreplaceable.
5. Give kids responsibilities.
When I told a friend of mine that my five-year-old daughter does her own laundry, she was in shock. She looked at me as if I was the worst parent on this planet. Yes, my kids do chores. It is huge for their development, learning responsibility, believing in themselves, respecting me and our household, and for us to have clean clothes and dishes.
First, the mother in me had a hard time not doing it all for my kids. But I asked myself if I am truly helping them by not allowing them to do things on their own? Am I diminishing their abilities (and my belief in them) if I don’t believe they can shove fabric into a drum and push few buttons? What I learned is that the kids are amazing when you let them be.
My five-year-old has turned her laundry chores into a game—she now hops on one leg when putting her clothes away to see how quickly she can do it. My two-year-old can only handle socks at this point, but he tries to shoot them into a drawer like he does with his ball into a basketball hoop. They also put their dishes away after meals. They are helping me on a huge level, but I know that they are learning how to become responsible human beings too. That is a tremendous comfort in itself.
On really tough weeks (husband out of town, too many tournaments, too much work piles up), biogradable paper comes to the rescue. Yes, we eat out of paper bowls and plates during those weeks. This is, honestly a survival method.
6. Take pleasure in the little things.
To cope, I make a mindful effort to find balance in simplicity, in small things—a warm cup of green tea with a teaspoon of local honey, the depth of a hug from a dear, two-year old child, lip balm that makes your lips kissably soft, a phone call from someone who loves you, a vase filled with fresh flowers that match the season. Yoga pants that make my butt look just oh, so fabulous. Connecting back to those small details that make life big—as often as possible throughout the day—to me, that is balance.
To me, all these steps for are about accepting my imperfections. I am choosing to focus on small things and let go of ridiculous expectations that I can do it all.
I am choosing to feed my children a healthy meal every day so every cell in their bodies can be nourished, but there will be fingerprints all over our television, every window, and all of the stainless steel in the house.
I am choosing to read their smiling faces a goodnight story every night, while the laundry avalanche sometimes turns into the Himalayas.
I am choosing to dedicate 10 minutes to myself so I can fill my soul with energy and peace, but the Christmas tree will still be up even though it’s February.
I am okay with these choices. I am imperfect. Yes, there will be days when I have another breakdown, I am sure. But, maybe that is why Mother Nature gave us wine. So that all of us imperfect, not so great mothers by today’s ridiculous standards can toast to each other.
Cheers to all my imperfect, real mothers out there!
Love, the not-so-great Mom who keeps trying.
Author: Amna Collins
Image: Christopher // Flickr
Editors: Sarah Kolkka; Ashleigh Hitchcock & Sara Kärpänen