I have a secret.
I play the piano and I’m not terrible at it.
But, most people in my life today have never heard me play. I don’t record myself. I don’t perform for others. I only play for myself. My boys have grown up hearing me play though and sometimes ask me to play.
Yesterday my family visited a large music store so my youngest could pick out a guitar for his birthday. My oldest and I wandered into the piano room and he asked me to play piano.
I instantly resisted: “No. People will hear me. I haven’t played in a while.”
Then my 14 year old said to me what I often say to my clients when their inner critic creeps in: “so what?”
What’s the worst that could happen?
How bad could it actually be?
And so I did it and I messed up but I had fun and I’m glad I let him push me out of my comfort zone.
When your inner critic steps in and tells you that you aren’t good enough, aren’t perfect enough, might make a mistake, might regret something, try asking yourself “so what?”
We all could be a bit more like this 14 year old who just sits down at a piano in public and plays because it makes him happy.
Hey mamas, I have a message for you.
You can’t do it all.
You can’t be perfect.
You are going to walk into a room and forget why you even entered it.
You are going to forget about a gymnastics class.
You are going to be late for your kid’s bus.
You are going to think you responded to that text but you actually didn’t.
And you know what, it will all still be ok.
You are human and the weight of the world is on your shoulders. Every day you wake up and hit the ground running because you have people that depend on you. Their needs and their wants fill your head each day on an endless loop. Most days fitting in a shower, brushing your teeth, or even peeing alone feels like a luxury.
And I promise you that all those Mamas you see on social media with their on point makeup, immaculately done hair, spit up free clothes, and gym fresh bodies are far from perfect too.
We all have our struggles.
We all have those things that keep us awake at night with dread and worry.
We all carry shame.
So let’s stop pretending that we can be perfect.
Let’s stop pressuring ourselves and each other to be perfect. Instead let’s meet in the middle with our beautiful imperfections and show each other and ourselves a bit more grace. Let’s remind each other that none of us are perfect. Let’s show each other our imperfections. Let’s talk about them and name them instead of feeling shameful about them and trying to hide them. Let’s light each other up with our realities instead of dimming each other with the heaviness of perfection.
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To the mama who didn’t get to have a normal childhood,
I see you.
I see your daily pain as you move through the journey of parenthood, realizing over and over again just how much you were mistreated and abused by your own caregivers.
Your heart breaks almost daily for all the things you missed or had taken away from you during what was supposed to be your childhood.
YOU NEED TO HEAR THIS:
You didn’t deserve any of the abuse, neglect, and mistreatment that happened to you.
None of it.
It was the job of your caregivers to keep you safe, make you feel loved, and allow you to be a child.
They failed you.
You didn’t fail.
None of it was your fault.
You need to believe this - in your core.
And now look at you - making the decision every day that the cycle of abuse will stop with you.
Every day you make the active choice to give your children and yourself a better life.
Each time you tell your children that you love them so they don’t go to sleep at night wondering what they have to do to earn your love - you continue to break the cycle.
Each time your child feels safe coming to you for advice after they have made a mistake instead of cowering in fear - you continue to break the cycle.
Each time you spend time with your children at their sporting events, extracurricular activities, or just snuggling on the sofa, reminding them that you not only love them but you LIKE them too - you continue to break the cycle.
Each time you apologize and take ownership for your mistakes as a parent and clarify that your child is not responsible for your emotional well-being - you continue to break the cycle.
Each time you set a boundary and protect your child from people that do not respect them or cannot be trusted - you continue to break the cycle.
Each time you seek support for yourself so that you can be a better version of yourself - you continue to break the cycle.
I see your efforts and I know that the work you are doing is hard.
You are tired.
You doubt yourself.
You fight daily to prevent those negative thoughts and messages from your own childhood from coming to the surface.
Keep going. Keep moving forward, building the life your children so deserve - the life you never got to have as a child.
But be sure to also take time to think about all the ways your children will never have to experience what you experienced.
Take time to be proud of the parent that you have chosen to be.
Your children are lucky to have you as their mama.
Love yourself just as fiercely as you love your children.
You deserve it.
You are worthy of love and compassion - especially from yourself.
Before I became a parent, I had some basic parenting expectations for myself. For example, I was quite positive that my children:
Once I became a parent, however, that list quickly got tossed into the garbage. Parenting, it turns out, is something that you can never fully prepare for or predict. I am often making things up as I go along, course correcting and adjusting as I evaluate how I am handling the monumental task of parenting. Most days I feel like a total failure but sometimes, every once in a while, everything falls into place and often, when it does, it's because I listened to that little feeling in my gut - my intuition.
Two nights ago, after a weekend full of sports game, field clean up, work, errands and kitchen painting, my 8 year old laid in his bed and sobbed in my arms about how all he wants is "one day to just do nothing." He was tired of school, tired of sports, tired of running errands, tired of having to clean his room. He was tired. His gas tank was empty.
I talk about this concept a lot with my patients - the notion that we are like cars (crude comparison, I know) and if we don't take care of our cars and fill them with fuel, eventually they will sputter and leave us stranded on the side of the road. My little guy was very quickly running out of fuel and was close to breaking down on the side of the road. With my patients, we brainstorm ways to refuel ourselves. For some of us, it's exercise, for others it's time with friends, for others it's time alone. For my insightful 8 year old, he had identified that what would refuel him was a day to just be a kid.
My initial reaction was to validate his feelings and commit to finding a time to take a day off together but as we talked, I felt that feeling. You know the one: that intuitive, instinctive feeling in our bellies or our chests that is left over from evolution. Usually it tells us what we need to know in critical moments - like when we are in danger. But, if we listen, it can also help guide us in our decision making process and let us know which decision is the "right" one. My gut was telling me that I needed to make time now.
I tucked him in to bed and then set to work rearranging my schedule so I could be home the next day. When he woke in the morning, I invited him to stay home with me and have his day off. He smiled bigger than I had seen in a few weeks, hugged me and ran into the living room. I also invited his older brother, who had been fighting off a virus, to stay home as well. It took him a good 30 minutes to make his decision but he also ultimately decided that he could use a day off too.
You read that right. I let my children miss school and neither of them were physically sick. But, I would argue, both of them were mentally and emotionally running out of fuel and needed some time off. After all, mental health and emotional health are just as important as physical health. In fact, they could be MORE important than physical health as it has often been suggested that when we are emotionally and mentally run down, we are more susceptible to illness.
The rules of the day off were quite simple - there were no rules. Also, there had to be fresh baked banana bread (per my 8 year's old request.) We stayed in our pajamas and sweat pants for the day, ate fresh banana bread and just "were." The boys played games, watched tv, played video games, drew, colored and played outside. It was like a snow day, the blizzard kind, where the roads get closed down and everything pauses. Except there was no snow and no need to shovel.
As dinner time rolled around, I found myself reflecting a lot on the day. My boys were smiling and their fuel tanks were refilled. I also noticed that my fuel tank was much more full. Hearing my children just be children and do the work of children - play - was a beautiful thing. If we, as adults, can take a breath and really evaluate our lives, we probably will find that we could benefit from more snow days, minus the snow, in our lives.
No matter how busy our lives are, I strongly believe we all can find a way to fit some snow days into our schedule. Sometimes the laundry, dishes, phone calls, bills, errands and work can wait. Sometimes it is ok to ask others for help. None of my hospice patients have ever looked at me while approaching their final days on Earth and admitted that they wished they had worked more, kept a cleaner house or spent less time with their loved ones. No. It's the opposite. Almost everyone I have been with at the end of their lives shares the same sentiments - it's the small things that matter in the end - time with children doing nothing, time with friends over coffee, tea or wine, lazy mornings with their partner. It turns out that often the things that refuel us are also the things that we treasure and need the most.
So, my challenge to all of you is to tune everything out for 5 minutes. Really. Do it. Let the dishes pile up. Leave the stack of bills on the counter. Leave the laundry in the baskets. Let those calls you need to return wait a few moments. Look around at your life. What is truly most important? What fills your tank? How can you make room in your schedule this week to fit in some of these activities?
I suspect that for many of you, you are running on fumes now. You are flying down the highway at 90 miles an hour, seeing your gas needle nearing closer and closer to "E." Yet, you are ignoring it, hoping that you can run on fumes, "just" a bit longer. Pull over now and fill that tank. Stop putting you and your own needs last. Make your own snow day!
Parenting is one of life's greatest challenges and greatest rewards. Here we explore all aspects of parenting from pregnancy onward, highlighting both the struggles and the triumphs.