A couple of years ago I got back in touch with a good friend of mine from high school via Facebook (ah, facebook, you crazy and surreal portal into my past...). We've been talking on and off, but hadn't caught up in awhile. I got a message from her today that reminded me of how universal the loneliest and most isolating experiences of motherhood are. It reminded me a lot of why I started to blog in the first place and as I thought about all we said, I wanted to post something here.
She explained that she's under a ton of stress. Her husband was laid off again and rehired to an old company, but is making less money, so finances are very tight. Her whole family is sick and her husband is under tons of stress at work, so is working his butt off and unable to help. Her baby doesn't sleep well and her toddler has become very difficult all at once. She's got some good stuff going on as well - her husband has a show for a side project soon, which sounds really exciting and, I guess, prestigious. It also may mean a chance to make some extra money, but until the show he will have to work very hard preparing - leaving her to continue to parent alone.
So there she is - struggling with finances, struggling with sanity with kids who won't sleep and struggling with balancing two kids who need a lot from her. And, while I think she generally gets a lot of joy out of being a Mom, it just sounds like it ALL feels like a struggle for her right now.
It got me thinking. The thing is - while we don't have the same immediate pressures that she has right now, many of those same stresses plague me. Both of us having left the corporate fast track (him for fire fighting, me for a part time mommy track) and taking the associated income hits while trying to live the American dream has been a struggle. I've never worried about money the way I do now. (Note - I'm totally type A. I'm a saver. Money HAS to go into my 401k. Money HAS to go into Savings for a rainy day. Money HAS to go to the monkey's 529. And truthfully, there often isn't enough to do all that and pay the mortgage, etc. Our spending seems to outpace savings a lot of months in a way that makes me ... itchy.)
But more than that, maybe I was reading into it or projecting my own feelings, but I really sensed a loneliness in her "complaints" about the current difficulties of motherhood. Her husband was too busy to help. Her mother made things worse when she tried to help (made her son nap when he was too much for her and returned her a cranky, hyper kid). Her in-laws were no help and drove her blood pressure through the roof.
Now, we're really lucky. My in-laws are a GREAT help and very often give us a break. And, while my Mom doesn't live in the area, she's usually available in a pinch (she LOVES that kid!). And, despite so often being sleep deprived and overworked himself, my husband let me nap one day recently when I was just worn out saying - 'I know that extra sleep / naps are part of your standard maintenance. I knew it when I married you and have to let you have a break to recharge sometimes.' (I've sadly ALWAYS been that way. Pathetic.) But that doesn't stop me from feeling overwhelmed and exhausted sometimes (those naps aren't an every day or every week thing!). And when I do, I ABSOLUTELY feel like I'm all alone in this. In fact, I feel like NO ONE understands (no matter how involved my husband is with the baby). And possibly that NO ONE ELSE feels this way!
(has anyone EVER felt this way before?)
Because lack of sleep (and by that I (apparently) mean less than an average of 8-9 hours!) does not make me rational.
But now, in a rational (though actually not all that well rested - why on earth did we watch that dumb movie last night instead of sleeping...?) moment, I think that maybe everyone feels this way. That maybe this is one of those secrets of motherhood.
Like the fact that I find 24 hours in the baby's company alone without playdates and errands and distractions kind of boring... I canonly stack those dang blocks so many times in between yelling "sit" when she stands on the furniture for the 1000th time while desperately praying that she'll nap today so I can nap too... Are you going to report me now?
So I started trying to think of ways to overcome it. To deal with it. Crap, let's face it, I turned into a boy listener and looked for ways to FIX it. (She lives too far away for me to offer to watch her kids for her for a few hours. As in, we live in VA and she lives in AZ.)
Well, actually, first I went to the root of what I think my greatest issue with adult (and specifically mommy) stress is. It's not finite. And because it's not finite, it feels INFINITE! (I feel like there should have been lightening and thunder on that.)
Seriously, think about it. As a kid, you can usually limit your problems to getting through this test / this class / this semester / this school year (or at worst, my time at this school?). OK, all those things FEEL incredibly long at the time (and some are!). But there's still a predictable end to them - even if that end is SO FAR away. There's a light at the end of the tunnel.
In adulthood, they tell us that light is the oncoming train...
But adult problems are not pushed into segments. Your dead end job can feel like you're stuck there forever. And your child who won't sleep? Will she EVER sleep? I mean, ok, probably, but there's no definitive timeframe on when that'll happen. It'll probably be before she goes to college. I think... But right now I can't conceive of a time when I'll be able to sleep past 7 on a weekend to make up for the deprivation now.
Oh, you parents of teenagers who you have to pry out of bed at noon, laugh at me. I know it's coming - laugh!
The well rested and well adjusted CAN laugh...
So, I thought like a boy and thought about fixes - the need for a light at the end of the tunnel / something to look forward to. I suggested that after her husband's show was done, she should get an afternoon "off" where he and/or her mother watched the kids and she napped or had a small luxury (a pedicure, coffee with friends, a haircut, a bath with a glass of wine); that maybe she could be specific with her Mom on what EXACTLY she needs from her or could drop one or both kids to her Mom with a very specific activity for them (so she doesn't make them nap. BTW - dude, IF ONLY I knew how to "make" my daughter nap...); that maybe if the side business made some money a small amount could be set aside for a babysitter for a few hours so she could have a little me time (or if not, maybe she could do a babysitting co-op). Finally, I thought maybe she could come up with some activities that were low stress and fun for her kids, so that she had a good back up plan on the worst days (and to give herself a break on letting a little TV slip in on the really really worst days).
But after saying all this - I don't know if it's helpful. I mean, I don't know if she wanted advice. And, if so, if it was at all good. But, just in case it is, I throw it out to you - what are some of your best coping strategies on those overwhelming days?
By the way, also, do you think that the stress / loneliness / alone and I'm the only one who ever felt this way feelings are universal? Or am I REALLY the only one who ever felt this way?!?!?! Maybe I'm whormonal*.
*Note - awesome spelling of hormonal SHAMELESSLY stolen from The Single Girl. After the insuing lawsuits, she will most likely own me and therefore also this blog, but worry not - she's way funnier than me, so it'll be an improvement.