It’s the dog days of summer and to us moms, that means we’re knee deep in child tantrums, sweat-drenched attempts to get the kids in the car before we melt, and the ever-so-popular “I’m bored.” It also means you’re fairly accustomed to feeling like you might lose it at any given moment. But it’s those real life moments that need addressing. They rarely get the attention they deserve. Instead, they get tucked far back into our closet of mommy shame, masked by all kinds of things we think to communicate instead. We’re a clever bunch. We lose it for a hot second. We bury it. We show up to playgroup with a smile. We think we can hide it. But we’re tired. And we need back up. So let me be blunt: Dear moms, you’re not enough.
You try to be. We all do. And it’s a valiant effort. Heck, for the last 10 to 20 years of our lives, we’ve all heard that we can. Women can do anything, be anything they want! We’ve quickly applied this to motherhood as well (ahem, the mythical Supermom). The problem is, they aren’t the same thing. Being a woman should have no relevance to opportunity or success (regardless of the fact that it still does). You don’t need other people to succeed simply because you are a woman. But as moms, we need people. From the very beginning, we need villages. Because the truth is, we can raise our children to be good and strong and just, but we can’t do it alone. Everyone’s village looks different and has a different role and impact on their lives. But, what I’m talking now about is the mom village that helps keep us sane.
Hear me out. I was in the car today with my daughter, trying to focus on the road as she was having a complete meltdown because she didn’t want tacos for lunch. Reasonable, I know. Anyway, I noticed my anxiety level rising; my hands were tightening around the steering wheel, and I felt trapped. Not because I was in the car alone with her, but because I needed help and didn’t want anyone to know how crazy I felt. And I have an all-star support system, 24 hours a day. Seriously, cream of the crop—and I wouldn’t call them. And I knew I had no intention of calling them. Why? I didn’t want anyone to think I could feel this lost on how to handle my own child. I’m a family therapist, for Pete’s sake. I know I’m not alone. We all keep those desperate moment feelings from each other.
Here’s the crazy part. As moms, we work so hard to create outlets for ourselves: MOPS groups, blog sites, play date meet-ups, Facebook. But, the truth is we often don’t use them properly. What I’ve observed about my own generation is that we’re a group of “yes moms” who lie a lot. We can’t possibly say yes to everything, but yet, we keep trying. At best, we should be “I’ll try moms.” We’d be so much happier and so much more honest. And believe me, I’m totally guilty of it.
Take Facebook for example. It is more often used as a place to shine rather than to be vulnerable. Again, guilty. But, the problem is we have these outlets and we still don’t tell the whole truth. Why? Many reasons, of course. But, society has decided (and we continue to let it) that mommy fail is a real thing. It’s like a disease we don’t want to admit to. And it quickly becomes just one other way women continue to shame themselves. Does this mean everyone is judging all the time? Hardly. These groups are genuinely good. But, every time we hold back on what we’re dealing with, it perpetuates the cycle of shame we feel as mothers AND doesn’t allow the group to do its job.
Brené Brown is one of my most favorite people I’ve never met. She talks about the difference between shame and guilt. For mothers, the difference is very important. As she describes it, “Guilt = ‘I did something bad,’ Shame = ‘I am bad,’” (pg. 41). I believe many mothers operate daily in the dark cloud of shame, and this is heavy. Too heavy and wildly unnecessary. We confuse a bad choice as a mother with being a bad mother. One bad move and we think we’ve ruined our kid.
It’s time to step back into our authentic selves. We are good mothers. We really are. But, we have so many hats to wear. Too many to count, at times. So, we’ve got to quit trying to wear them all at once because it just looks ridiculous and then they don’t fit correctly. It’s time to organize. Put some down, throw some away, or give one to a friend to hold. And please, for the love, burn the Supermom cape. It is so 2014.
Instead, acknowledge the beauty of a new perspective after an ugly cry. Recognize the power of good self-care and have that glass of wine after the kids go to sleep. Join a book club. Take a walk around the block between feedings. Talk to your people. Truly talk to them. Two words: Target alone. Seriously. Find out what works for you. For me, it’s music. It always has been. There is nothing an Indigo Girls song with the windows rolled down can’t fix.
The point is, mom self-care doesn’t just happen. It must be intentional. And the biggest part of mom self-care, in my opinion, is communicating. Admit that life might momentarily be insane, cry to your bestie about your day/kids/spouse/job, and then get back up again. It’s a more authentic way of living. I promise it feels better than the fake post about how glad you are that your four-year-old is already reading novels with an attached Instagram for proof. I can’t tell you how much more refreshing it is to hear another mom admit, “I totally sucked at this mom thing today.” And I know you’re capable of intentional behavior because you try so very hard to get this mom thing right.
Y’all, doing this kid thing is hard. Following blog posts are helpful, but they aren’t enough. Joining a play date group isn’t enough. Posting about your cute kids in the sprinklers isn’t enough. You cannot do this alone. Join a local MOPS group and tell them how much you need support. They want to give it. Use the opportunities given to you. Utilize your people. Talk. Laugh. Be Honest. We ALL know that when another mom discloses, the dam breaks open. As humans, we want to belong. As mothers, I think that desire doubles. But you can’t belong if you don’t let people in. Other moms count as people, and we are some of the best people.
Brown, Brené. (2010). The gifts of imperfection: Let go of who you think you’re supposed to be and embrace who you are. Hazelden Publishing: Center City, Minnesota.