I have a friend going through a rough patch. She is physically sick with a back to back virus. This is no fun for anyone but brutal for a single mother with young children.
Saturday, she somehow got herself and the kids bundled up and out for a full fall day outdoors. Sunday left her utterly depleted and unable to do much of anything.
So she was sick, exhausted but deflated and feeling guilty for not being a better mom, for her kids having a boring day, for not being more fun or active.
Is this what all parents feel when they are sick and the kids are stuck at home, safe but bored?
Do parents with a history of adverse childhood experiences or post-traumatic stress struggle even more?
The truth is I don’t know that answer.
I know I struggled like she is struggling.
Luckily, for much of my parenting I’ve had a best friend Mom mentor (thanks Kathy). She was a decade older than me and her three kids had already been through most anything I was facing.
I called her all the time.
Today, quite often, I find myself repeating what she shared with me. I say it to other moms, survivor parents, who like me are often filled with uncertainty about parenting.
These are the nuggets shared:
- You matter. You, as you are, in this moment, actually matter.
- You are allowed to rest.
- You can be a good mother even if you don’t entertain your child every second.
- You need to be a rock but that does not mean you are 100% in service and should ignore all your own needs.
- Your child will not die of boredom. In fact, boredom is good for your child.
- You are doing your child a favor if they see you reading or having a cup of tea with a neighbor or taking care of yourself when sick.
My mother mentor would have to tell me these things over and over and I’d be like, “I don’t have to feel wrong, bad or guilty?” “It’s o.k. if I’m off or tired or just here?”
She’d have to tell me how much her kid did or didn’t watch t.v. or what a normal amount of teen time in the bedroom might be. She’d talk it through with me and ask pointed questions to me.
“Do you like to sometimes be alone while others are in the house?”
“Do you like to relax knowing someone is there if you need them?”
“Do you want to be entertained 24/7?”
I’d think about what humans need. My kids. Me. Even me as a kid.
Although I lived with abuse and chaos not everything was awful all of the time. I’d remember, “Oh yeah, I loved seeing my mother read on the couch after work.” I’d think, “I love the way my mother devoured books before bed even when she was busy.” I didn’t think she was selfish. These are some of my favorite memories.
So now, when I hear a woman heavy with the weight of her own expectations I sometimes basically beg her to take care of herself. I try to write her permission slips to be gentle and make it specific saying, “Make sandwiches for dinner or eat frozen pizza without apology,” “Put yourself on the couch under a blanket and turn to a book.” I have to remind her not to beat up on herself for not making salad or lasagna or scrapbooks.
I say, “Stay in your pj’s,” and “Even if you don’t color or craft you are a worthwhile and wonderful human being.”
My friend doesn’t have someone to take over and nurture her. Some people do. they are lucky. But she has herself.
She doesn’t have a sick day she can call in. Her job is 24/7 on the home front.
All I could offer is the reminder that she is not failing at parenting this day because she is sick, unable to direct activities or be outside.
I struggled with that too – the belief that I mattered, as a person, outside of my role as a parent.
I told her taking care of herself is not selfish and that it is, in fact, good mothering. Her kids will be sick and need to learn that adults do self-care because adults are not children and they might have help and support but they also take care of themselves.
How did it get that we feel so useless or worthless or uncertain if we aren’t in “on all the time” parent mode?
Adults neglected as children don’t have a clear vision of what is normal, healthy and allowed.
We know what a bad parent is but not necessarily what a good parent is.
It’s the most important job we don’t get a job description for and so we keep trying to make sure we don’t screw up. The stakes are high. We know how bad it can get when parents fall down on the job because we have experienced that.
We don’t know what balance is or how to allow our own selves to be sick, tired or vulnerable. We might not even know those things are not flaws, failures or something we must make amends for.
Those are things that just prove we are 100% human.
We don’t know how to stop, rest and be.
We don’t know we have a right to exist even when we are not doing something pro-active (parenting, work, working out, helping others. We don’t trust that we have a right to be.
We didn’t learn it’s o.k. for us to exist even if all we do is breathe.
We didn’t learn it is more than o.k. to self-nurture.
I’m sure all parents feel this and some of us just feel it more acutely.
I wish I knew earlier what I know now.
That are allowed to receive our own kindness and that even if we can’t muster that up maybe we can just cut ourselves some slack.
It’s hard to do though.
I’m not sure my friend took my advice. It seemed she didn’t completely believe my words and I got that, too. I know I didn’t believe my friend’s words until maybe the hundredth time.
You matter. You have a right to exist. You are doing a good job. Really, you are.
So I’ll keep saying these things to myself and other moms.
There are exhausted and struggling moms who dig so deep, sometimes providing even more than they have, and they are in need of respite, relief and recognition.
I wish I could sprinkle all the wisdom and give all the mother love these women shower on to others, their kids and their communities, and give it back to them.
Mama love matters. It’s magical, powerful and transforms lives. It’s o.k. to give it to ourselves and others. It’s not selfish.
You Matter Mantras
- Trauma sucks. You don't.
- Write to express not to impress.
- It's not trauma informed if it's not informed by trauma survivors.
- Breathing isn't optional.