The #1 Reason I was a Lonely Mama
Several years ago we had some friends who were a few months away from welcoming their third baby. They came to us and very seriously asked us if we could go to dinner so they could talk to us about how to manage three children. It seems they were feeling a litttle overwhelmed by the prospect of welcoming their new bundle of joy. I was caught so unaware I actually laughed at them. You know one of those startled laughs that slips out before you can stop it? Fortunately I am pretty quick on my feet and I said, “You might want to meet with a family that successfully manages three children.” Then we all laughed together and set a date for dinner.
That made me think, what do I present to the world that would make anyone think that I, of all people, had it all together? Inside I felt like a mess. I always felt like I should be doing more. My house was a wreck, our nutrition was pathetic, we didn’t do “enough” educational things, my kids were even dirty sometimes. What a failure I was! I even hated to play with my kids. The world of tea parties and Barbie was like being tortured. I was better with Legos and trains where I could build things but not the things my little girls often wanted to play. (Maybe there is a reason this is the first Christmas my 23-year-old married daughter didn’t ask for Legos?)
But I was very, very good at doing one thing -- the “public face,” I’ll call it. I could pull us together for a public appearance quicker than a Cobra can strike. I was a pro. My kids fell into line because no one wanted to see mom lose her stuff. That was a scary road for sure. So, we all rushed and hurried and smiled as if sure this is how we lived all the time. Thank goodness no one ever looked under the sofas and saw all the toys we shoved under there or in the oven and saw the stack of dirty dishes. I could put on the public face in miracle time.
However, this conversation with our friends triggered something more visceral in me. A need to really look at how I was living and why I felt the need for others to think I had it all together. After some serious reflection, I discovered that I felt alone. I thought I was the only one who was failing. I thought that I was a bad wife and mother because I couldn’t do it all, and to be honest, didn’t even want to.
I thought all my friends and family and peers worked harder and loved better than I did because look how perfect they all were. Surely I was the only loser who couldn’t figure this out. I must be lazy and horrid to not plan elaborate meals and not go to bed each night until my house was sparkling.
But wait, our friends asked us for advice so maybe they didn’t have it all together either? It gave me the courage to start feeling out other moms. I’d fess up to what I thought was something shameful and see if they would reciprocate. The game went something like this, “I can’t believe I gave the kids PB&J for dinner again last night.” Then I wait to see what they offered up. Often they would tentatively offer something in return.
This sharing would go back and forth until a real dialogue of our perceived failures was out there. We would laugh and sometimes cry and sometimes tell even the worst secrets, like the one where I hate to play with my kids. That one still stings a little.
The thing I learned from that season of my life was that none of us have it all together. Some do have cleaner homes because that helps center their minds. Some plan great meals because cooking feeds their soul as well as their stomach. Some play Barbie because it reminds them of fun times from their own childhood. But none of them did it all well all the time. And that was ok.
So, I chose to focus on the things that brought me joy. Trips to the library and time spent reading books together. Visits to museums and the park. Walks with our dog. Movies with popcorn snuggled in my bed.
I am so grateful that the internet was not as expansive when my children were small as it is today. I think that I would have been crushed completely by the added stress of living up to the Pintrest mentality.
So, my advice is, log off, sit quietly and determine what you value and enjoy. Talk with your partner and decide what is important to your family. Then, make a plan together to divide and conquer. Plan to fail and to laugh and accept that doing it all is impossible and will just steal your joy. Live YOUR best life because you only get to do it once, and living with a miserable version of you is not what was ever intended.
Thanks to Angie for being the first storyteller in our new series: Story Time.
Mama Stories that prove we're all in this together without having it all together.
Angie Harris is mother of four, wife of one, and boy is that plenty. She's a nurse, a daughter, a sister and a Christian. She's been seeking the perfect family for 23 years. Someone please contact her if you find them.