I fell into bed at night, feeling like my head was pinned against a wall and there was no way out. The next day would be the same—up at 5:30 am, get the babysitter, get the kids to school, teach high schoolers, rush to a volleyball game, help kids with homework, get groceries, switch the laundry, unload the dishwasher, put kids to bed, and grade papers.
On a good day, I’d crawl into bed at 11:30, exhausted, thankful at least things went smoothly.
But most days didn’t go so smoothly. There were days when one of the kids woke up with a fever or I sent one to school with an upset stomach only to be informed by the nurse that he vomited by 9:30 a.m. and should have stayed home. Or the days I was pulled over for speeding because we were always late for something.
Cops don’t give breaks to busy moms who assume 65 in a 55 is okay. Seriously. This. Is. The. Way. We. Role.
Or it’s the nights when my Kindergartner wanted me to read just one more story before I turned out the lights. I tried not to let him see the tears stream down my face because all I wanted to do was snuggle, but I was devoured with mom guilt.
Guilt that I didn’t have more time to sit and read. Grief that I didn’t have more time to interact with my kids other than shouting at them to get their backpacks or go to bed.
Guilt from seeing Instagram photos of others’ lives that tell you you’re failing because you’re simply surviving.
If this is your life, you’re not alone. It’s been my life. Feeling like you can’t keep up and your life is a mess. Being exhausted from faking it so others don’t know.
It was at the “I can’t do this anymore” point that I crashed and burned. Though I held it together on the outside, I fell apart at home with the ones I loved most. I responded to stress and my internal dialogue by being excessively irritable, reactionary, and critical with my kids and husband. It was hurting our family. I was a mom-fail and things needed to change. Over the last several years of pursuing a better life balance in the season of Fledging, here are lessons I’ve learned:
No one really cares how well you do stuff. Those school forms, classroom treats, or soccer mom responsibilities? No one is going to care beyond the day you deliver how you did it, or when you did it. If they do, then they’ve got problems that are not yours to own. Whether you frost the cupcakes at 1:00 a.m. or have them done well in advance, no one really cares. Do what you need to do. Leave the mom guilt or lies about what good moms do on someone else’s door.
Be real about your needs with your husband and older kids. You can’t do everything and you’re not the family maid. Household chores should be shared by everyone once your kids are old enough to help. Tell your husband, older kids, or teens what you need so you’re not stressed doing everything for everyone else. Your job is to parent, not wait on them.
Evaluate your season of life. You don’t need to volunteer for every activity your child is in or for every church committee you’re asked to be on. Your family and other significant relationships are your first priority during this season, along with your own health and sanity. Whether you work in or out of the home, there’s only so much time for the important people in your life outside of work. “No” is a boundary that only you can set.
Take care of yourself. Contrary to Facebook memes, self-care for moms is not found in wine or vodka. It’s found by setting boundaries, speaking up for your needs, and not comparing yourself to everyone else. It’s also found by not trying to meet everyone’s expectations or doing things because you think you’re supposed to. Pedi’s and mani’s help, but real self-care is taking care of your emotional, mental, spiritual, and physical health as much as you do your family’s health.
Hold on to what’s most important. Holding on to guilt, blame, hurts, and the dream of a perfect life weighs you down in an already full life. Emotional baggage adds fear, stress, anxiety, and guilt that derails you. Let go of these. Instead, hold on to what you have right now. Your kids who are right before you. Your imperfect husband who loves you the best he knows how. The messy house because you have the health to enjoy it.
Most of all, hold on to the stage your family is in. In just two or three years your family will change as your children fledge, and then it will change again. Soon there will be no more toddlers, elementary kids, or high schoolers around you. You’ll miss the chance to read a story at bedtime. The random hugs. A house that’s full, loud, and chaotic.
I won’t tell you to enjoy every minute of your crazy life, because the chaos and exhaustion are real. But you can control how you respond and live in the mess. I had to deal with my stuff by setting boundaries, practicing self-care, letting go of expectations, and learning to say no.
Most of all, I learned the balance between what to hold on to and what to let go of. Because, as a parent, it’s the thing you’ll do for the rest of your life.
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