Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Doin' It

I was reading a post on anymommy's blog recently, where she answers the question "How do you do it?" I get that question a lot. Actually, it mostly comes in the form of a simple statement, "I don't know how you do it."

My response is usually the same: "Many days, I don't"

What I mean by this is simple: What one person considers laziness or neglect, I would consider coping. I've realized that this isn't really a good thing. While I love to be witty and often use self-deprecating humor, I long ago realized the danger in trying to do it all, simply for the sake of saying I can. Let me give you my flashback that will forever be ingrained in my memory:

I was living in Wisconsin, 6 hours from my in-laws and 10 hours from my family. We had recently bought our first house, which was over 100 years old, and it needed a bunch of work. My husband was working the standard 40 hours a week, but every extra hour was pretty much spent on fixing up our house. I had given birth to our third child, our son Linus, when Charlie Brown was 18 months old and Peppermint Patty was 37 months old. For three years now, I had been juggling motherhood with moving around (being a pastor's wife) and also trying to figure out what kind of a wife and mother I was. While the act of caring for a family came quite naturally, I had a really hard time figuring out where *I* fit into that equation. Any time I wanted or needed time for myself I felt very selfish, like my family would suffer because of my self-indulgent desires.

Just before Linus turned 1 year old, in the fall of 2003, I took all 3 kids to a fall festival at a farm, all by myself. There were all sorts of fun activities: farm animals to pet, a hay-bale maze, a pumpkin patch, a sand box with buried treasure (pennies) to keep, etc. On the way home, all 3 kids fell asleep in the car. The sound of silence was glorious! I passed an outlet mall with a Carter's store that was having a big tent sale. I could not remember the last time I had gone shopping without the kids. So, I stopped at the tent sale, and I left my kids in the car with the engine running, to keep the A/C on while they slept. I parked very close to the tent and looked over to the van every once in a while, just to keep an eye on them.

Now, before you get too scared, this story does not have a bad ending, just the possibility of a bad ending. I picked out a bunch of stuff to buy. I can't even remember how long I was browsing... it was probably a lot longer than I remember because time without kids just flies by. But, I had to go inside the store to pay for the items. When I came out of the store, a security guard was by my car, calling someone on her walkie-talkie. I don't know if it was the police or just her supervisor or what. But I knew in that instant that I'd gone too far. I'd been too remiss about the possibility of something bad happening to my kids.

The entire drive home I bawled my eyes out. I felt like I had put my children into the mouth of a lion. I felt like I had betrayed their trust. And, the sad part was that I knew why I had done it... I was simply too exhausted to care anymore. I had lost ALL perspective about what was best or most important, because my maternal instincts had turned into "fight or flight" and I was fleeing. I wanted nothing more than to throw off the responsibilities of fixing formula bottles and making sure no one had a potty accident. My limit had been reached, but I was too weak or too afraid to just beg someone for help. Really, I guess, I didn't know who to ask for help.

When a person is in the middle of a crisis, often it is too hard for them to recognize that the situation is a crisis before it's too late. It took me getting to the point where I could have been reported to the police for child neglect, before I realized what the better/smarter/safer option was. I was so focused on being a good mother, being a good wife, and looking to the outside world as if it was all a piece of cake, that I completely lost control of everything.

There have been times since then that I've screwed up as a parent. Not in a small way, mind you. I've lost my child at the zoo twice, once walked away from the baby at the store (not realizing I was one child short until at the checkout line), and once forgot a child buckled in the car in the Texas summer (but I remembered about 30 seconds later). And so the moral of this story is not that I'm trying to excuse my behavior. Because believe me, I'm not. The moral is that I am not perfect, and (lightbulb moment) I should really not expect myself to be perfect. Nor should I expect others to be perfect. Nor should others expect me to be perfect. The only result of that is an inevitable let-down. My little failures - and my big ones - are no longer catastrophic events. I have quit beating myself up and I have learned how to forgive myself. When I screw up, I still get angry with myself, but I try to figure out if there was something I could have done differently and I want to learn from it. I'm also more open to advice from other people about parenting. I try not to get defensive when people offer suggestions, because doing something the same way over and over but expecting a different result is pure insanity. I have realized that parenting is not an exact science; it's all about what works for one family as a whole and also for the individuals in that family. No solution is one-size-fits-all.

Sometimes, this summer, I've spent too much time on the computer. Sometimes, my kids have spent too much time in front of the t.v. But sometimes I've let them fight over Legos because at least they weren't staring at the boob-tube. And, sometimes we've gone out and spent too much money because at least we were all spending time together. It's all a delicate balance. So delicate, in fact, that there are times that I'm afraid my house of cards will collapse. But, at the same time, I pray that my family has gotten a strong enough foundation to survive my parenting skills!

This post is from a Writing Prompt by Lulaville, hosted by MamaKat's Writer's Workshop


Jen said...

I can relate to this post on so many levels, so many. I love that you put it out there. Motherhood is hard and we need to support each other.

Janie at Sounding Forth said...

I think you've coped well. You're an awesome mom.

Anna See said...

This is so true! Perfectionism is a crock. I want moms to be real with each other so we won't feel so darn alone.

I have had 2 friends be arrested for leaving kids (each 4 years old) in a car to run in somewhere. Very scary and very sad. Court, probation, the whole works.

I remember what it was like to have babies and be too tired to function or to care.



stephanie (bad mom) said...

Your last statement is priceless.

You are so very smart. Though I still don't know "how you do it." ;D

jori-o said...


Taylor K said...

Thanks for the MamaKat writing workshop inspiration!

TuTu's Bliss said...

If we were perfect parents one of two things would happen..

A. Our perfection would put undue pressure on our children and send them into therapy
B. Our perfection would keep them out of therapy and away from the self help section and the American economy would REALLY collapse

When I parent badly I'm doing it for my kids and country! Hugs, Jen

Beth (A Mom's Life) said...

I think all mom's feel this way at one point or another. It's so hard to admit that we need help! Why is that???

Anonymous said...

Oh man, I can SO relate to this post. When I was a brand new little Mama we were living in San Diego. My family was in New Zealand, hubby's family was in Georgia / Florida and The Man Himself was working two jobs. I had PND hard out but didn't realize it at the time. Anywho, was driving along Coast Highway 101 enjoying the view, I could see something going up and down in the back seat - it was the safety bar of my sons carseat going up and down and smacking him in the forehead - I had forgotten to buckle him in! I think we all do things like this, but not all of us are brave enough to admit it. Admission would be proof positive that we are not perfect and some Super Mums are not prepared to give up their title too easily.

vanna said...

love love love this post, you rock!!

Wonderful World of Weiners said...

House of cards are MEANT to come crumbling that you can reassess and rebuild.

Sounds like you're doing a good job.


lov said...

i love this post!

HaB said...

I only have one child - and I am only home with her in the evenings and on the weekend, since I am a WOHM, and there are times where I don't cope. And, I have to call my mom or my sister for help. I just say - I can't do this - please just come play with her for 5 minutes..PLEASE. And, then after I put her to bed, I feel like the shittiest parent on the face of the earth. You would think I would, could, be able to handle 3.5 hours in the evening.

But, at the end of the day - I realize that I will have good days and bad days. And, that I don't want to be the perfect mom. I just want to be A mom.

Emily said...

Wow, what a great post! I can so relate on so many levels and it's so encouraging to know I'm not the only one that feels like that. Often, I feel like I'm at my wits end but still have to keep it together so I look like that together mom! Thanks for reminding me that I don't always have to have it together!

June Freaking Cleaver said...

Every mother should read this post - we've all been there, and most of us have a positive outcome when we lose our focus.

Thank you for your honesty.

There are no PERFECT parents, and we can never really know how someone is coping with loneliness and frustration from the outside.

Whiney Momma said...

Well said and it is so true. I think all mommies everywhere can relate to this.

Booklover1212 said...

Visiting from Mama Kat's blog and thoroughly enjoyed your post today. So very true and so very honest. Thank you for opening yourself up and sharing that part of you!

~ Jennifer

TheSingleGirl said...

I hear ya!!!

Stopping by from Mama Kat's....
Have a great day. :D

mommy nurse said...

Amen, mama!

A Lil Enchanted said...

Wow... what an awesome post... thanks for sharing!

Being a Mom is soooo hard. I had my 3 older kids all within 1 year and I had very little help. Some days were just so hard to get through but I was determined for them to have a great childhood... well that didn't happen thanks to their abusive piece of crap Dad. But I tried so hard... I hope they at least have some good memories. They are grown up now and I have lil Steffie... and I'm here to tell you it's not really any easier this time around even with just 1. Some days I feel like such a failure... my house is not clean enough... I'm not spending enough time with her... my patience is too thin... I'm on my computer way too much... etc etc etc.

But I'm doing my best just like every other Mother out there. we do what we can when we can... and keep struggling to keep it all together without losing our sanity... or our hair.

Thanks so much for sharing!

A Lil Enchanted,

ItsKelly said...

Great post! All of us, moms or not, have a breaking point. For me, perfection is so important sometimes that it keeps me from asking for help when I need it or forgiving myself when I mess up (b/c that would mean having to admit the mistake). Your writing gave me chills. So honest and so true.

Vicki said...

My husband (who is from Texas) and I LOVE this blog so much, I just had to follow. He says you remind him of home :)

Wendy said...

I remember an exhausted mom once turning down my offer of help, saying, "but I should be able to do all this by myself!"

It really made me think about how it's only in this modern age that any mom would be expected to do all this by herself. At other points in history house help was common for anyone with any kind of money - and even if you were poor you would typically have an extended family around, the women raising the kids and doing the domestic part. Older kids helped with the younger ones.

Now mom has to do it all. And keep hubby happy. And many times work, too. It's all too much. Moving a lot removes your support system regularly and starting all over is so difficult. At the hardest times of your life you find yourself completely isolated, with no one to call or to trust or to help you.

Once I got turned into the police for leaving my kids alone in the car, but they weren't actually alone. We were all supposed to go grocery shopping & my 2-year-old and newborn fell asleep on the way. I was so tired that hubby went into the store & did our shopping while I slept in the front seat. Ms. Busy Body who called the police failed to notice that MOM was lying across the front snoring. I appreciated that someone would care, but I remember the terror that I could lose my kids for something I didn't even do.