Please note: Today’s post is a continuation of A Mediocre Mom, Part 1.
I suppose I shouldn’t have been shocked by my post-partum depression diagnosis, considering what had been going on in our lives over the past year—what with raising an infant, both of us undergoing job changes, moving twice, experiencing another high-risk pregnancy, learning of Drew’s Dad’s cancer diagnosis and Lily’s hip dysplasia diagnosis—in retrospect (oh, that beautiful hindsight!), I should’ve been expecting it.
I recognized that I had been feeling overwhelmed in general by life, and that even though I loved my daughters so much my heart hurt, I was having a hard time just…settling down and enjoying them. The days felt long and never-ending, and Drew was left with the brunt of my pent-up frustration.
He would call to tell me that he’d be an hour late getting home from work one day, for instance, and it felt as if my entire world had come crashing down around me.
Still, I was actually surprised that my OB-GYN was so serious about my “condition”.
And I was ashamed. Because post-partum depression—in my mind, at that time—meant another “failure”.
It meant I couldn’t handle being a mother.
These self-deprecating thoughts came before I began to understand, of course, that motherhood isn’t something to be graded: that Mom over there gets an “A” because she volunteered in the classroom! Oh, and that one…she totally gets an “F” because she didn’t sign up to bring treats even once this year!”
Like most things in life, motherhood isn’t black and white—success or failure.
(I know there are exceptions to this generalization. There are, in fact, neglectful—or worse—Moms out there that are certainly not putting their children first.)
But I’m talking about the majority of the population. I’m talking about you, and me, and our friends and family members—most of the people we know—Moms who love their kids more than anything, more than we ever thought it was possible to love someone.
We strive to do the next right thing, but we sometimes make mistakes. We sometimes yell. We sometimes hand our kids our iPads or turn on the TV instead of getting down there on the floor with them to play a game. We sometimes go through that McDonald’s drive-thru for Happy Meals because making dinner with the ambiance of screaming and fighting in the background seems like just a little more than we can handle right now.
We do our best. Even if our best isn’t always the best.
We show up for the job.
Even when we don’t want to.
Or feel like we can’t.
We do it anyway.
And what starts out as just doing the next right thing to get through your day is often transformed into moments of pure joy when those little arms circle around your neck and their tiny lips kiss your cheek.
The anti-depressant my OB-GYN prescribed did help, eventually, as it built up in my system. There came a point in time when just emptying the dishwasher didn’t feel completely overwhelming. A point in time when I didn’t direct every ounce of my anger and frustration at my husband. A point in time when I didn’t cry when Lucy dumped out the entire toybox for the third time that day.
A point in time when it felt like a fog had lifted. When I could breathe again.
I never pictured myself as someone who’d experience post-partum depression (then again, who does?), but when I saw the look in my doctor’s eyes that day in the exam room, I knew something wasn’t right. She knew me too well. She’d been my doctor through the nearly four years of infertility, and now through two-high risk pregnancies.
She knew. She knew the road I’d been traveling, and she recognized my weariness. She knew that just one. more. thing. on top of ALL THE THINGS that had happened would probably be my undoing.
Thank God for her.
And thank God for Prozac.
In January, when Lily was 3 months old, I went back to work full-time. A friend and former colleague of mine had approached me about an interaction design position, and I was really excited to be a part of the design team.
I worked at that gig for about 2 years…until the product launched and the design work began to wind down.
Even though that time was quite rewarding on a professional level, I was working so much that I felt I was missing out on a lot of things going on with my still-so-young daughters. We’d have to leave the house not long after they awoke just to get to the office on time, and by the time we got home at night, everyone (adults included) was cranky.
That was the trade-off.
Elizabeth Gilbert, the world-renowned author of Eat, Pray, Love, argues against that word that I called a fallacy in Part 1 of my Mediocre Mom post—against the quest for so-called “balance” in our lives. I’ll quote her exactly here because she states her point so much more eloquently than I could ever hope to:
“We are constantly being told that we should be achieving balance — that we should somehow exquisitely be negotiating the relationships between our work lives, our home lives, our romantic lives, our health and well-being, our spiritual selves. You can’t read an interview with a famous woman these days that the journalist does not applaud her for having achieved BALANCE….and then if you turn the pages of that magazine, you will find ten more articles showing how you can achieve balance. too!
Be careful. The word BALANCE has tilted dangerously close, I fear, to the word PERFECT — another word that women use as weapons against themselves and each other. To say that someone has found the secret to a balanced life is to suggest that they have solved life, and that they now float through their days in a constant state of grace and ease, never suffering stress, ambivalence, confusion, exhaustion, anger, fear, or regret. Which is a wonderful description of nobody, ever.”
I share this quote with you for a reason. To demonstrate that the grass isn’t necessarily greener in someone else’s configuration of motherhood.
I feel pretty lucky that I’ve gotten to “try out” a few different motherhood configurations, mostly because of the education it’s given me (though I am obviously still a fledgling) regarding the universal struggles of mothers.
What I’d like to share with you about what I’ve learned so far—you, the Mom lamenting not being able to stay home with your child for a snow day because of that really important work meeting you can’t miss today…or you, the Mom still feeling bad about not signing up to bring treats for the Halloween party at school because everyone at your house was sick the week leading up to it— is that in every configuration of motherhood I’ve tried, I’ve always, always felt like I was failing at this “job” in some way or another.
Whether it was not contributing “enough” financially to our family, or spending less time with my kids, or being unable to find the right rhythm to that irregular schedule.
I’ve likely tried that configuration of motherhood you’re yearning so much for. The one you think that—once you get there—you’ll finally feel balanced.
Here’s something that all motherhood configurations have in common: none of them—not one—leaves you feeling that way: balanced. Each configuration has trade-offs, and something will always be lacking.
In fact, balance is, by nature, at odds with the very concept of motherhood.
You start your day—disoriented and fuzzy-headed—with the demands of your three-year-old who “wants Cheerios in the red bowl with the drinky-straw right NOW!” or with the unpleasant task of trying to awaken your pre-teen SEVEN times before they’ll actually get up and get moving already.
Your very day—your EVERY day—begins off-kilter, off-BALANCE, as you try to get those little soldiers regimented, to FALL IN, the way they’re supposed to.
And that sought-after balance is never quite achieved, because life can’t be predicted.
As soon as you think you’ve gotten into that groove—like the one I confided in Kate about several weeks ago—LIFE HAPPENS, and something knocks you off-kilter again.
Pop quiz time!
Q. What’s the one thing that all mothers have in common?
A. Guilt! Loads and loads of internal, soul-anguishing, keep-you-up-at-night guilt surrounding whether or not each minuscule decision you make is in the best interest of your child(ren).
Guilt. It’s an inherently Mom thing. We can’t escape it.
But let’s try not to embrace it, either.
I want to remind myself that I will have those days (or perhaps only hours, minutes…) where I totally feel “in the groove” as a Mom. And then I’ll have those days (or perhaps only hours, minutes…) where I’m flailing around like a freakin’ maniac…struggling to figure out how to “make it work”.
I will have days where I’ll feel like a Mediocre Mom…and that’s okay.
Let’s re-visit the word mediocre for a second. Although some definitions or synonyms of the word may differ slightly, the one below is what I’m going to try to embrace more often—rather than guilt—during moments when motherhood seems to be totally kicking my ass.
(adjective) of only ordinary or moderate quality; neither good nor bad
synonyms: undistinguished, passable, commonplace, everyday, run-of-the-mill
Because some days, even “passable” is pretty darn good.