Someone very dear to me is celebrating her birthday today. She is a mother of two beautiful boys and she is tired. Her boys are two years old and six months. She is in the thick of it. The “dark days” as many of us who are on the other side of the baby/toddler season of life refer to it. (Do we? Just me? That’s fine. I fully admit that they were dark, indeed.) She is a working mother (aren’t we all?) who is raising two, very small, young humans during a global pandemic. Calling it “uncertain times” seems to be vastly understating this experience. This brave mother is nurturing her children, giving it all she has, every. damn. day. Today is her birthday and I found myself wondering, what would she want? What could I possibly give her that could help her during this immensely challenging season of her life? I can make a joke and say, “hope the baby gives you an extra hour or two of of sleep for your birthday!” <chuckle, chuckle> But, that definitely feels flat and, honestly, absurd. The one thing I wish I had had when I was in my “dark days” was grace. Grace for myself was definitely not at the top of my whirling mind. It’s so easy to forget yourself amid the constant demands of motherhood and ignore your own basic needs.
Maybe, if we look at life like a three act story, childhood and young adulthood are Act 1, where we learn about the characters and what experiences shaped their identity. Act 2 is the dark night of the soul. The low point of the whole production. You know, that Ted Lasso Season 2 feeling. What makes it so hard is that we forget there is going to be an Act 3. That final season when we can see how the characters come out of the dark days and into the light with their new knowing. Forever changed. That is parenthood. You go into it so excited and giddy to have a sweet cuddly baby you have been longing for. You’re then immediately rocked to your core as you experience sleepless nights, trips to the ER, emotional meltdowns, and food ending up everywhere but in that growing human’s body. You’re bleary eyed and feel confused and alone because we don’t talk enough about how normal this is. Yes, our IG feeds are full of the cute outfits and posed photos with the loveliest filters. There should be a RealGram for parents to join in solidarity. Images of spit up covered shirts, messy rooms with the floor strewn with brightly colored plastic, sinks overflowing with breakfast and lunch dishes, dust bunnies, under eye circles, sticky hands, and tears.
Self-Compassion involves recognizing that suffering and personal inadequacy are part of the shared human experience – something that we all go through rather than being something that happens to “me” alone.”–Kristen Neff
Kristen Neff has done research on self-compassion and lists the following as necessary elements: self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness. I think my RealGram app might not be as pretty as your regular IG feed, but it would allow us to connect through the shared humanity of the messiness of parenting. And, wow, is it ever messy. If there is one universal experience of motherhood, I’d put money on it being this: “I am so bad at this.” So, maybe it would hit a little different, scrolling through everyone else’s mess, but I do think sharing it out loud more often would help us all feel less alone and maybe more lovable and worthy. Just letting go of the need to always make it look easy and breezy. We all know it is not breezy. There is power in the vulnerability of speaking truth to not feeling like an amazing mother. I don’t think there has ever, in the history of motherhood, been a mother who just flips her hair and says, “Oh, motherhood? Easy, right? I’m totally crushing it. My kids are so well-adjusted, it’s almost boring.”
Motherhood is hard and beautiful. It is both. Always. Maybe that is because life is hard and beautiful. It is a shared human experience.
My birthday wish for you is that you can look into your beautiful heart where you keep all that amazing love for those tiny boys and their father and find some reserved just for you. I promise there is enough. You have an enormous heart with a capacity to give so much. For your birthday, and all the days you tread this earth, give yourself permission to give yourself as much love as you think your boys are worth. You are worth the same. Being a mother doesn’t make your value less, in fact it multiplies. For all those sweet people you love so dearly, they love you just as much, if not more. They might not be able to fully express it yet, but those sweet eyes look at you like you hung the moon and the stars and, as far as they are concerned, you most certainly did. They need you. A full you, all that you are, exactly as you are because you are exactly the mother they were meant to have. So when you feel like you just don’t have any more to give, don’t. Pause and give yourself back the same love you would give to them if they were feeling as you are in that moment. Love you as much as they love you and you love them. Fiercely, unapologetically, and with armfuls of grace.
We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known, and when we honor the spiritual connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness, and affection.”–Brené Brown
I love you and I wish for you a beautiful day filled with all that you love. Especially you.
With love from this mother’s heart to yours,