I read that sentence when I was just shy of 3 months postpartum. I was still experiencing the major ups and downs of that sleepless, hormone imbalanced, milk-stained period of time. When I had my first child I went through the same phase, but if I wanted to snuggle her and stare at her and cry all day long, I could.
In sharp contrast now with baby #2, I have this overwhelming need to constantly hold everything together. And I’m not just talking about emotions. I want the house clean, the laundry done, the groceries bought, the dinner made. But one afternoon this summer, I’d had it. Everything felt like it was too much. My ears were ringing from a colicky baby screaming all day. My back was on fire from bouncing him around to get him to sleep long enough that I could attempt to feed our toddler lunch. I was hot and sweaty, I was beyond exhausted, I was hungry, and I needed a shower. I had the baby in a front pack and a toddler pulling at my pant leg while I begrudgingly tried to get dinner in the oven.
When my husband got home from work, I couldn’t hold back the tears. I took the baby out of the front pack, handed him to my husband, and stomped back to our bedroom. It took more than an hour in there before I felt composed enough to come out.
When I finally emerged I found my husband sitting on the back deck, sleeping baby in his lap, and I’ll never forget how our sweet daughter looked. She was standing next to her sandbox, wearing cowboy boots and a diaper with a small shovel in her hand, head hanging and a frown on her face. According to my husband, she’d been sulking around like that the whole time I was in the bedroom. It was pretty clear that my attitude was the reason for her sulking, but I still had this storm cloud following me the rest of the evening.
That night, our normally great sleeper woke up 3 different times. I have no doubt that my demeanor that day was behind all of it. Did she get over it? Yes. Does she even remember that day now? Maybe, maybe not. Probably the more important question though is, were my actions and my attitude fully understood by her? Or did she internalize my bad attitude and interpret my behaviors as a reflection on her? Quite possibly. Fortunately, this was just one day in a sea of many.
I can still hear my grandma saying “children are little people with big feelings.” She knew what she was talking about. When you’re little, your world is pretty small, too. Just a handful of people serve as the lens through which those little eyes see themselves and the world. I would bet money that as you read this, you could think back on a childhood memory when you felt like someone’s actions, words, or attitude were a direct reflection on you. And I’d also bet that the other person in this memory has no recollection of it, even though it still occupies space in your brain, decades later.
Look, I’m a mom. I’m far from perfect. I DO want my house to be clean, I want dinner to be made, I want the laundry to be done. But above ALL of that, I want my kids to feel secure and happy and loved. I don’t want them to feel guilt because I’m tired or hungry or overworked. I’m going to have bad days, and unfortunately there will be times when it will affect my kids day, too, but there are three things I took away from reflecting on this experience.
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#1: When there’s too much pressure, something has to give.
Don’t let that thing be yourself and your well being, because YOU are worth it, and those little ones who look to you as a gauge for our world are worth it, too. Scrap the homemade dinner and get take-out, make sure you get a shower, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.
#2: I can choose to use my weakest moments to teach my kids to be resilient.
It’s not about pretending that life is always 100% perfect. It’s about using my reaction to a bad day to teach my kids that they can push past it, while providing reassurance that it’s not because of something they did wrong.
#3: Our kids are watching.
Despite the days when it feels like my toddler only listens to 50% of what I say, she’s really quite observant. Those little ones can pick up on even subtle changes in tone and expression. When I celebrate with her when she yells “hooray!!!!” as we pull up to swim lessons, it shows her that it’s fun to get excited about the things we enjoy doing. When I show them how happy I am to get them out of bed in the morning, their day starts with joy.
I want my kids to look back at their childhood with happiness in their hearts. Take the time to be silly with them while they’re little. I want them to feel loved, appreciated, and accepted at home. I want to turn bad days and negative experiences into the moments that teach my children about healthy coping mechanisms.
My kids are so excited about life, and they are SO happy when I share in their excitement for the world around them with a big, genuine smile on my face. If I have to scratch a few things off of my to-do list to lighten my load and give my family the breathing room they need to feel happy and free, I’m going to do it. I’m beyond thrilled to be a mom, but there will be days that get the best of me, of all of us. And when those days happen, lean on your spouse, your parents, your siblings and friends. Do something nice for yourself. Look at old pictures. Have a big glass of wine or lock yourself in the bathroom for an hour. Do it, because our happiness is worth it, and I think our kids would agree.