By: Emily Allen
Those of you who know The Office likely remember the cold opening when Jim faxes messages to Dwight… from himself… from the future. Cue Dwight running to smack the “poisoned” coffee from Stanley’s hand.
Five years into this motherhood gig, I wish I could have sent faxes to first-time mom Emily. What would they say? I’ll get to that.
In those first moments, I truly wondered how the human race still existed. Why doesn’t my child eat or sleep? Why am I unable to console him? Why can’t anyone else console him? Why don’t his doctors have answers? Why is breastfeeding so hard? What did I do wrong?
While he had medical conditions that eventually explained some of that, it took a while to determine. It was excruciating. And even with that knowledge, I blamed myself. The feelings of inadequacy and failure were nearly insurmountable. As someone with a masters degree, I was used to being graded and prided myself in taking constructive feedback well. I excelled at assigned tasks.
But motherhood? I cracked with nearly every offer of advice or help. I perceived them as a backhanded way of telling me I was failing. I would politely smile as I was conditioned to do from childhood, and internalized nearly all feelings of inadequacy. It was not healthy for me, my son, my husband. Initially I confided in friends who were also moms, but after exhausting their knowledge to no avail, I slowly withdrew. I didn’t want to burden them with my issues. While my husband is incredibly supportive, I felt isolated. I felt like a failure. I had panic attacks, but sought no help. I tried to conquer it alone.
Fast forward 5 years, add two children. My son eventually slept (7 months later, waking every two hours versus literally not sleeping). We eventually figured out the breastfeeding thing. He’s developing just fine into a sassy, smart, imaginative little boy.
Now, don’t let this fool you. I still feel like I have no clue what I’m doing. Right when I feel I have it figured out, these precious monkeys change and I’m forced to adapt. But, the past informs the future.
What would I fax? BE HONEST.
Be honest with your partner. For better or worse means just that. My husband wants to help me, and I’ve learned to give myself permission to open up. Being vulnerable with each other has fostered a stronger relationship and helped with my confidence as a mother.
Be honest with your support systems. When I finally really opened up to my mom a few months ago, she told me something that really resonated. She said, “This is a really hard stage. You’re going from mom, to professional, to mom every single day with little time for your many other roles.” Had I been more open and honest with her earlier, perhaps I would have been more forgiving of myself for my evolving friendships, marriage, etc. Perhaps I would have taken more “me time” without seeing it as a sacrifice of “mom time” but rather an enhancement of it. An emotionally recharged mom.
Be honest with your children. Kids are darn smart. They pick up on lies and they model the behavior they see. While this is something I’m far from an expert in, I try to model the attributes I wish to see in them. I allow them to see me fail, and in turn, how I deal with it. I apologize for overreacting or not keeping a promise, and ask for their forgiveness. And it is powerful.
Be honest with your friends and other mamas. Those who are sincere will be unconditionally supportive. I’m fortunate to have a few of those friends. Without such honesty, we are just perpetuating a cycle of unrealistic expectations and promoting isolation. Being honest about everything from my emotions to my messy home to my clean laundry that rests for a week on the couch has been empowering. It has helped me realize I’m not alone.
Be honest with your healthcare provider or providers. They want to help you and they have invaluable tools to do just that. It was healing to talk to my OB/GYN about the “baby blues” after my second child and have her empathetic support and care.
Most importantly, be honest with yourself. I still deal with negative self-talk and feel overwhelmed with responsibility. But, I try hard to focus on the solution, not the problem. I will not be able to accomplish all that I could in a day before kids. They will make two messes while I’m cleaning up one. I will feel lost when faced with tough parenting decisions. So, I control what I can and manage realistic expectations of myself, my kids, and my husband. With that, I ask for help and accept help more readily than I did in the past.
Ralph Waldo Emerson was right: Life is a journey, not a destination. Motherhood is the same. A journey filled with smiles, tears, joy, tragedy, (and lots of bodily fluid), best understood and appreciated in it’s honest entirety.