The vision of an overwhelmed parent is a common sight in media. Advertisers sell dozens of products to the bumbling, busy, burnt out parent who has way too much to do. Quick fixes and Band-Aids show up everywhere in the form of paper towels, stain removers, instant dinners, book clubs, giant glasses of wine, cupcakes and spa days.
While the quick fixes get attention, it feels like we never actually see the overwhelmed parent in all their muck and rawness. We get a brief glimpse, perhaps, then everything is glazed over.
But I want to talk about being an overwhelmed parent.
When my daughter was born, I expected everything to be chaos. But the things I expected to be hard, weren't. She was one of those kids I felt like I couldn't tell other parents about. She wasn't fussy. She slept well. As she got older she was independent and could easily entertain herself.
My wife started a new business. I changed my work to be a nanny so that I could bring my daughter along while still earning money. So many things in our life seemed ideal. It seemed like it should be the perfect situation.
While it seemed like everything should be easy—every little thing felt so hard. My brain became consumed with this never-ending list of everyone and everything that needed something from me. My child, my spouse, our dog, our chickens, our garden, my job, our extended family, our community.
I used to love cooking. I used to love gardening. I used to love our dog. I used to love hanging out with the chickens in the coop. But, suddenly everything just felt like an endless chore. It all piled up and felt like yet another thing that needed something from me. I truly believed everyone's health and happiness rested on me—and that I kept coming up short.
I kept not being able to deliver what they needed. It seemed that everyone needed more. I couldn't give enough. I wasn't enough. I kept failing to be there for everyone.
The feeling was relentless.
During this time I had a sense that I was descending into a deep, dark cavern. It was jagged, damp and terrifying. The feeling of the cavern wasn't new, but I used to be able to ignore the pain by numbing it. A few glasses of wine, an ongoing flow of carbs, and Facebook scrolling were my methods of escape. A way of building a rope bridge over the cavern to skim over the darkness.
However, my self-made rope bridges were fraying. My escapism strategy wasn't working anymore. I knew I was going to descend into it.
The descent was terrifying. I felt like an empty shell. Everything I was trying to do and be was for my daughter. But I was crashing and burning.
I struggled to muster the energy to play and laugh with her. Laughter felt like it echoed off of tin when I heard it emerge from my mouth. It felt hollow, metallic. During this time my daughter developed a strong preference for my wife which made my heart ache. I know it's a natural thing for kids to trade off preferences between parents, but it was difficult watching my wife with my kid. She would play and giggle and have fun with our daughter. She had energy and smiles to give her. I didn't.
I've never been someone who thinks in words. I see things. I feel things. But, I don't actually think in language. Which is sort of weird because I like to write. But language isn't my first territory of experiencing something. However, while journaling one day I found myself writing over and over again: I am enough. I am enough.
I had been telling myself this story that I wasn't enough, that nothing I did was enough. And, I needed to change the story. I wrote it over and over again on the lines of the page. I am enough. I. Am. Enough. I AM ENOUGH.
Our stress, our experiences, our self-talk, our feelings, our culture—are all part of a story. It's a story of how we contain ourselves, what paths we take, what sort of lives we lead. And sometimes there are little elements that we can introduce which shift the story a bit. I desperately needed a new story. I couldn't go on in the experience I was having. The cavern was too dark and too lonely. Something needed to poke through the darkness.
When I started to embrace the mantra of I am enough, something changed. It wasn't a huge change—I wasn't suddenly not depressed anymore—but, the darkness was perforated. Tiny holes of light shone through—just enough to see where I was going.
Enough to recognize that the dark, slimy walls of the cavern were part of a story. The pressure to do everything. The feeling of never being enough. The constant sense of failure. All of it was part of a story that I heard from our culture, societal pressure, the media, etc. It wasn't real. And it was malleable. I could change the story. What I thought was rock was actually clay that I could sculpt.
It took almost a year before I felt like I had my feet under me again. The struggle was difficult and felt isolating which is why I now I turn to you, fellow mom.
I have this simple message to pass along: You aren't an invincible superhero. You are something much more dazzling, tender, terrifying, and awe-inspiring. You are a human doing one of the most human things of all. Taking care of another.
Best of luck. Best of love. I'm rooting for you.