On Clarity, Isolation, & Vulnerability

Don't run out of coffee beans on a Saturday in a small town with one (well-stocked but way over-priced) grocery. Which is closed on Sunday, naturally.  ::eye glare::

So this past April Monday morning, with gigantic snow flakes falling from the sky ::another eye glare:: I took a little walk over to the student refectory (we live on a boarding school campus) with my thermos in hand to fill with half-caf coffee. What's available at the refectory isn't quite comparable to what I press each morning, but it'll do (that is, it staves off the caffeine headaches). Walking from the house and into the cold, something happened: I immediately experienced overwhelming amounts of clarity and incredible energy for action. Why? I'm not entirely sure, but I think it had something to do with having a little time to myself and breathing room (when usual mornings offer little of either).  

Said clarity led to resolve. I resolved, for instance, to finally tackle my chocolate addiction (full disclosure: I can see the bottom of a Ben & Jerry's "The Tonight Dough" pint as I type this -- it will be empty before I finish). Additionally, I worked out an alternating workout schedule for myself and my husband (I haven't worked out in over four years). And I experienced this clarity on these issues merely on the way there.

On the way home, I reflected for a moment on the nature of my newfound lucidity. It made me think about how I've heard some mothers say they choose to work in part because it makes them feel like better mothers when they are with their children. It made all kinds of sense to me in that moment. Here I was, outside, without my children, taking a walk. For nine minutes. Incredibly, I accomplished/processed all of that in NINE MINUTES.

Holy clarity.

I mean, if that doesn't make one realize just how little they experience life outside of the home, without their children alongside (and on back of, or latched onto by), I don't know what will. It was truly wild. I returned home nine minutes later (I still can't get over that, can you tell?!) bright eyed and bushy tailed, ready to conquer the world. 

Not two hours later I went to put my darling infant to nap. He nursed. He couldn't keep his eyes open. He also wouldn't shut them all the way. Thirty minutes of bouncing, shhhh-ing, patting, swaying, and sweating later... I had to give up.

But I didn't just give up. I felt defeated. I was frustrated. Well, I wasn't just frustrated; I was angry. I felt like I wanted to implode and explode all at once.

In the span of a morning I'd gone from wanting to take on the world to being demoralized by an eleven-month-old averse to sleep. 

But... that's how I experience this season of life. It feels very overwhelming. It feels incredibly discouraging. I feel like a failure (not all of the time by any means, but more than I'd like, that's for sure). And I feel alone in that. It's not just this one instance -- it's something small like this that happens (what seems like) daily that can bring on the feelings of defeat and despondency, even after I've experienced feelings of joy and possibility just a couple hours before. 

Now, I know other mothers struggle. I've been sharing my truth and experience on social media from day one. That's just my style. But I also see other mothers who don't seem to struggle, or at least don't seem to struggle as much as I do.

And I can't for the life of me figure out how

I've read... plenty. I try. I mean, I try really, really fucking hard. 

My first year of mothering was a beast. And by beast I mean, I had post-partum anxiety and a near mental breakdown. We didn't realize what I was dealing with until I was about six-months deep into a crippling struggle with frustration, anger, dejection, you name it. What I'd waited (what felt like) my whole life to be, to do -- to become a mother -- was crushing me.

The thing is, I realize I have it good. Really good. I choose to stay home. I have two healthy children. I live in a safe place. We have a cozy home. We have the means to pay for our simple life. Sure, there are challenges, but I'm hyper-aware just how modest those challenges are.

At the same time, however, when you put enough of those modest challenges together, it can create a pretty heavy, sometimes overwhelming environment.

I know that I'm a mindful parent; some would say exhaustingly so. I attachment parent. I'm home with my kids 24/7. We have a rhythm. We go on a daily walk, rain or shine no matter the season. We talk about everything, too much perhaps. We poop together. I mean, if it's done, it's done together -- otherwise it doesn't happen (for me, at least). And there's so much beauty in our lives.

I'm a photographer. I know how to capture beautiful images. And I'm a storyteller. I know how to share mindful reflections partnered with beautiful images. It's what I do. But oh my how it is only a fraction of my family's everyday reality. 

I'm aware of my privilege -- in so many ways we have it good. And I'm not a victim of my circumstances. But this shit is hard. And I feel like I'm doing something wrong. Are my expectations of my children or myself too high? Is it a problem of my attitude? I don't think it's that I haven't discovered the right way to solve our problems. I'm here; I'm in it; I'm committed. And there are moments where our lives are beyond magical. But in large part, it's just really, really hard.

Which brings me to the questions I ask myself constantly -- Are my struggles unique? Am I alone in what I'm experiencing? Is there anyone out there having a similarly difficult time (I'm certain there is)? 

It's hard not to feel alone in parenting struggles when said struggles are so rarely confessed in the open. I've read the "viral" blog posts that bash on the supposed fraudulent portrait of life that the various social media sites can give. I, for one, don't doubt there's a good bit of truth to that. But I also know (first hand) there's mostly just a lot of really skillful, intentional curation happening -- through pictures, through collages, through ideas put forth about other people's families. And I think many of us engaging in said curation are doing so with the knowledge and assumption that we are all doing it, and we all know that we are all doing it. And that's fine, whatever. 

So I cognitively know that everyone's life isn't entirely accurate as presented on social media. But that narrow-window of content nevertheless can be incredibly isolating when dealing with parenting struggles. Particularly when one finds themselves without sufficient local support.

It's not just social media that can be isolating when I experience parenting struggles, however. It's also the vague platitudes dished out as a gesture toward solidarity or empathy, much of which fails to really hit home, especially when it's mediated through a computer screen. You may know what I'm talking about -- someone complains or makes themselves vulnerable online, and a throng of friends comment with faint and general encouragement, a distanced attempt to sympathize. Sure, the encouragement can help at times, but it often isn't what's really and truly needed in difficult, self-doubting times. 

It's funny just how much social media plays into my experience of parental striving. We all have our preferred "styles" of social media sharing and engagement, and there's really an art to it, an art some have seemingly perfected more than others -- I'm certainly not saying I have. But what I'm advocating for, I don't see much of.

What am I advocating? Well, let me ask this -- Is there a space for mothers to be honest and vulnerable about their mothering struggles, while also maintaining a sense of dignity? A place where struggles are really heard and appreciated and not just met with one-size-fits-all responses like 'you're doing the best you can'? A place where real, meaningful conversations happen, and real, meaningful relationships and transformation follows from them? 

Maybe On Being Mom can be that space? I'd like for it to.

I'd really love to hear your thoughts, whether here in the comments, on facebook or IG (@onbeing_mom).

And when posting to IG, if you find yourself thinking, "This is really an accurate representation of what it looks like to be "mom," right now, as I know it" (whether silly, lighthearted, warm, messy, despondent or any other range of emotions that may be attached) ... I invite you to use the hashtag #onbeingmom -- I'd love to share some of those posts with the community at large.