A couple of months ago, my husband left for a week long work trip and simply put—it broke me. It wasn't the first time he had to go away for work, and there wasn't anything extraordinary about the week's events really. In all honesty, I can't even tell you the exact moment that I felt I lost it. It just happened. Somewhere in between juggling my three young children—their daycare and school schedules, plus my full-time job—something inside me snapped.
I'll spare you the details but I will tell you this—in my six plus years as a mom, it was definitely one of my lowest moments.
I've always wanted to be a mother. Ask my 10-year-old self how many kids I wanted when I grew up, and you would have heard me say at least six. Having and raising babies has always been something that I knew I would love. And I do. More than anything else in this world. My children are, by far, the very best thing I've ever done.
But at one point during that difficult week while my husband was away, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror—in the midst of screaming at my oldest son—and I didn't even recognize myself.
Was this the same little girl who dreamed of having six babies? The same mama who knew that there was no greater privilege in this world than raising children? What brought me to this breaking point?
I'm a big believer in being authentic, and that includes sometimes losing my cool in front of my kids. I think that one of the most important things I can do for my children is be real with them. They need to see me tread through difficult times and to hear me speak my truths—even the ugly ones. I have to teach them that it's okay to have bad days and big emotions.
But you know what? I'm learning that there's a difference. A difference between losing my temper every once in awhile and taking my own issues out on my children.
My kids need for me to be real, but they don't need for me to be a bully. And that's exactly what I saw that day, a few months ago, when I caught a glimpse of the ugliness in the mirror: I was being a bully. And it scared me to death.
After a lot of self-reflection and countless sleepless nights, I came to the conclusion that I was stuck. Stuck in a paralyzing space where there was simply not enough time in the day and not enough of me to go around. I was being pulled in so many different directions and was so focused on trying to appease the outsiders: my co-workers, other parents, friends—that I simply had nothing left to give at the end of the day.
I was giving everyone else the best version of myself and my children got whatever remained.
The thing is, mothers are the ultimate multitaskers. It's part of the job. In a single day, we can accomplish what others can only dream of. We run on little sleep. We remember the small stuff. We can simultaneously soothe a crying baby, wipe a toddler's snotty nose and stir the spaghetti sauce. We are the glue that holds our families together. We manage the impossible.
Now my problem wasn't that I couldn't multitask, it was that I couldn't stop multitasking. I just couldn't seem to refrain from the temptation of saying "yes". I'm a people-pleaser, an overachiever—I always have been.
You know, the ones who can balance an unbelievably full plate without letting anything drop? Well, after having children, I just assumed I could continue with that lifestyle. Juggling was just what I did. It was part of my core identity. Needless to say, after I popped out my three babies, I went back to work and quickly became the queen of overcommitment. I said "yes" to work trips, countless volunteer positions, half marathon training—you name it.
My friends and co-workers always commented on how "together" I was. Like the outsiders, I convinced myself I was managing just fine, too. Until that one evening when I broke. When my reflection in the mirror proved otherwise.
So here's the thing. There is a line. A definite point in which you max out and spread yourself too thin. And that's when things start to unravel. If you're anything like me, then you know how it plays out… hey tell you to jump and you ask, "how high?" You over-commit. You pick up the slack. You give and give and give—until there is nothing left.
But what if we didn't allow ourselves to get to that point?
What if instead of saying "yes," we set boundaries and said "no"?
What if we stopped expending energy on the people that don't really matter?
What if we stopped caring what others think of us?
What if we chose to use our time more wisely?
What if we only gave our time to those who filled our tank, rather than those who depleted it?
What if we re-prioritized our life and cared more about how our family experienced us, instead of how "together" the rest of the world thinks we are?
I've started to take inventory of my time. Then I started walking away from things— from my volunteer positions and from the toxic people and things that drained my energy. I set boundaries. I said "no."
And I started making time for things that I love—running, coffee dates with friends, writing, and time with my babies. I've started to finally believe that it's okay to say "no" to others, so that I can say "yes" to my family. It's okay to shift my priorities and focus on motherhood. Because raising my kids is important. And how they experience me matters.
If there is one universal experience that I have encountered during my short time as a mother, it's that we are never alone. There are always other mamas walking alongside you in the trenches.
So to the mama who is spread too thin—I feel you.
To the mama who is up until midnight with guilt because of the interactions of the day—you are not alone.
To the mama who is trying SO HARD to be better—I am, too.
Keep your chin up. Just keep doing your best and try to remember that kids have an amazing ability to sense your honest effort, and they are also quick to forgive.