Monday, February 01, 2016

When You Don't Feel Like Enough: Pitfalls in Parenting

"My wife was so impressed with you and your kids, she wondered if maybe we yell too much at ours. Yours were so well behaved and you were so relaxed." I had just grabbed a beer at the beach bar and didn't know whether to laugh or cry at the comment from our new (temporary) boat neighbor who had witnessed my bathtime/dinnertime/bedtime routine a couple hours earlier with his wife. "THANK YOU." I exclaimed as I thew my arms around him in an over-zealous burst of gratitude. "You have NO idea how much that means to me!" I took a swig of my beer. "I assure you," I continued. "If you would have been aboard last week, your wife would have been saying exactly the opposite." We all had a good chuckle over this and they continued admonishing me with praise for my calm demeanor, our well-behaved girls, our quiet boat... The kudos felt great of course, but what made me feel like singing from the mountaintops while slow-spinning was the fact that there was a moment in time when another mother (of four, no less!) looked at me and thought that I. Had it. Together. 

Because - for the record - I do not. (Have we forgotten the time the cops were called on me?)

I have been that mom before. The mom silently watching another; wondering why her kids are so well behaved when mine are crazy, or how it's possible she looks so put together when I can barely manage to brush my teeth, or how she disciplines without ever seeming to yell when I feel very much 'on the verge', or how she cooks great meals with wholesome ingredients when my kids live off mac-n-cheese and chicken nuggets... I've been that mom who has quietly measured myself against another and feels that I am, for sure, falling short. Don't get me wrong, I have my good days too - lots of them in fact - but I have three toddlers under four and roll solo most of the time which means I am often pushed to my limits of sleep, tolerance, patience, energy, time... So when it became clear that I was the mom being watched and that my kids were the ones being admired for good behavior, well, it made me want to do a 'happy dance' because that's a sort of unicorn moment in parenting right there. It also made me think, though, that maybe the moms I have admired before: the ones who's kids are angels, the one who looks like she stepped off a movie set at 10am, and/or the mother who feeds her kids organic home-cooked everything - maybe she, too, shines in some moments and tarnishes in others. Maybe we're all more similar than I thought. Maybe it just depends on when, where, and how you catch us.

For example, just three nights prior to this man's very timely confession to me, I had Googled the following while laying awake in bed at 2am: "Am I screwing up my kids?" (Not completely) "Are my kids normal?" (Yes) "Is hitting common with three siblings close in age?" (Yes) "Why is my two year old so loud?" (She's "spirited") "How can I stop my kids screaming?" (!?!?) and, finally, "Am I a terrible parent?" (No). Suffice it to say, I was having a rough day for a host of reasons. Hot tears ran down my cheeks as I silently sobbed under the eerie spotlight of my iPhone. I was tired. I was overwhelmed. I felt like a failure. And I wanted answers. The day or two leading up to these tell-tale searches were chalk full of tantrums, fits, fights, screaming, hitting, back-talk, biting, tears, attitude, and whining. And that was just the girls. Me? I was doing an alarming amount of "clenched teeth talking", yelling, loosing my s***, and a few times, I even burst into tears right along with them. I was stressed. My kids were stressed. We were feeding off each other and it was positively monstrous. I was 100% certain I was a failure.

Luckily most days I don't feel like a "failure" but there are many days when I don't feel like enough. When I feel like I've dropped the ball and fallen short in areas. Most days my tank is empty by nightfall: I don't have enough time to do the things I love like writing and photography. I don't have the drive to answer the mountain of email in my neglected inbox. I lack the initiative (and the quiet time) to call the people I love and have meaningful conversations with them. I have zero energy to engage with my husband when he comes home from work. To cook food. To run errands. To market myself. To respond to inquires. To help with our business. To shower...the list goes on. Some days, I feel like I'm on autopilot, going through the motions, a shell of myself and who I want to be. And those days suck. BUT... the beauty (and one of the many gifts) of being a parent (because being a parent is an incredible gift, don't get me wrong) is that life goes on and each day is another to begin anew. After the "weekend from hell", the girls and I re-calibrated. I altered my routine. Avoided situations that caused me stress. We (Isla and I) talked about our issues. Apologized for mistakes. Hugged tears away. The demons that seemed to posses our boat jumped ship. Things got better. Much, much better. 

And I was lucky enough to have someone bear witness to it. 

The fact that a fellow parent got the impression that I had it "together" and that my kids were "great" and that I was doing something right, almost made my cry with joy because a lot of the time I'm all, "What the f*** is happening!?!" and that kind of recognition feels really, really good. But more importantly, their acknowledgment made me realize that the next time I look longingly at another mother who appears to have it all together, maybe just maybe, she doesn't. And that is totally okay. And very refreshing.

So next time you see a mom with her kids sitting quietly at a restaurant, or playing nicely at the park, or - hell - next time you see a mom doing anything that qualifies as being "good" or even "okay" in your book, go ahead and tell her. You might just make her week. You might just make her feel like enough.


Norm Walker said...

We were down in the Florida Keys last year for 10 days. On two separate days other parents commented on how good my 6 and 8 year old son were. One even said there were so polite.It is one of my proudest moments. I always tell my kids my job it to teach them manners, keep them safe, and make them a successful adult someday. It feels like we are gong in the right direction when I get comments from Strangers.

Alicia Collins said...

Lady, I had had it with ONE toddler on a boat and threw in the towel! I can't imagine what three must be like! The fact that you keep them all alive and fed, and you do it largely by yourself (!) qualifies you as a rockstar. I am the mom who feeds her kids all organic, from-scratch everything, but I get down on myself for not traveling with them more and exposing them to different cultures, so there you have it. There was a woman who touched my arm as James was tantruming outside a restaurant once, and she looked me in the eye and slowly and quietly said "you're doing a good job". I almost cried, I was so grateful to her. Now I try to do the same thing when I see other moms of kids who are going apeshit. If I could somehow also hand them a margarita, I would. You're doing a good job, Brittany!

Unknown said...

Good days or bad you're doing a great job! My husband has FINALLY admitted that being around our kids 24/7 is hard work, being a stay at home parent is just as stressful and tiring as having a full time job. I think the worst part is that there's not a lot of "reward" for being mum. You clean up only to turn around to find the same old mess. Most days I don't feel like I've accomplished much other than survival. But survival with 3 kids under 6 is an accomplishment for me :)
And we all know that beer and wine help a doubtful mind. xx

Ila said...

Hi Brittany,
Ila here.....finally!!!
Loved meeting you as we travelled west last Fall. Thank you for your kindness during and after the flight, as my daughter met me outside of SFO.
I am certainly enjoying reading about your many adventures and sometimes trying, but mostly good, times. Your photographs are striking and are a wonderful way to share your amazing journey.
Would love to keep in touch...somehow. Let me know if that I am back to being myself!!!

Anonymous said...

Thank you...

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