I wanted to share something deeply personal today. It’s not something I talk about much, because, supposedly, you’re not a good mother if you don’t “enjoy every minute!” But this story has a moral that is applicable to these strange times we’re living in, so I will share.
When my twins were born, they had two phases: asleep or screaming, phases which they alternated between every hour, all day. You can call it what you want, “high needs,” or “colicky,” or “prolonged witching hour.” The reality was that my husband and I were frantically trying to calm, feed, or soothe a baby for… forever? I’m really not sure. Between the lack of sleep, the lack of being able to prepare food, the lack of feeling like a person, everything kind of blurred together.
We hired a nanny so my husband could go back to work… because taking care of both of them was a two person job. The first nanny quit. I felt like a complete and utter failure, because other moms could take care of their own children and didn’t need to pay someone to help them, but here I was. With a nanny. So I could make it through the day.
I was so sleep deprived, I didn’t remember parts of the night. I would wake up nursing a different baby than I had before and not know how it happened. I felt like an empty shell, floating from one duty to the next. Everything was pins and needles to my nervous system, and it seemed like a baby was always crying.
Did I mention our precious babies hated the car seat? They would scream bloody murder if they were in the car seat for more than 5 minutes, complete with purple faces and writhing against the straps. So we didn’t go anywhere. It was too much to sit in the car and hear it. I resigned myself to staying home all day, every day. No mommy and me classes, no shopping trips, no visits to relatives. All those things I had imagined I would do with my babies were just. not. possible.
I mourned that sweet time of bonding I was promised. I mourned the sweet cooing babes I thought I would have, but I had to do so quietly. The few people I confided in tried to “fix” it. “They’re so cute though!” “They’ll grow out of it!” “You’ll miss this time when it’s gone!” “You’re just lucky you get to stay home with them!”
Can I tell you something? Each of those “positive” phrases did nothing but heap guilt and frustration on my exhausted head. I felt like I was barely surviving, but everyone else spoke like what I was going through was normal… no big deal… NOT traumatic. I have since learned that it’s called toxic positivity: an insistence on positivity that minimizes or denies human emotion or experience. It certainly feels toxic when you’re on the receiving end, let me tell you.
So here we all are, 6 years later, trapped in the house (all day, every day) with a vague anxiety looming over the world, expected to be parents, teachers, employees, business owners in our 16 waking hours. And then the “positive phrases” start showing up! Hooray!
“You’re not STUCK at home, you’re SAFE at home!”
“If you come out of quarantine without a sparkling house or a new skill, you never lacked time, just discipline.”
“Use this time as a reset to focus on what’s important.”
“This is a chance to be present for your child! Teach them how to do laundry or fix something!”
UM OK. LET ME GET RIGHT ON ALL OF THAT. If these have inspired you to make the best of your situation, or helped you reframe your perspective, that’s great. But when you’re on the struggle bus, these phrases can make you feel like… You’re the only one struggling? Your emotions are selfish? You’re not doing a crisis right?
Guys, can we allow people to mourn what they’ve lost? It might not seem like much in the grand scheme of things, but to that person, it is a deeply felt loss. Brides have postponed weddings. High schoolers will not get to cross the stage at graduation Expectant mothers have cancelled their baby showers. New parents are even more isolated than before. Moms with school-aged children are figuring out how to become teachers AND how to work from home overnight. It’s not life-threatening, but it’s HARD. And hard is hard, it’s not a competition over what’s the hardest, where the winner is the only one who gets to feel their feelings.
Instead of trying to cheer someone up, say it with me:
That sucks. I’m sorry. How can I help?
And if you’re one of those folks mourning the loss of something, no matter how small, those words above are for you. Shoot me a message. Vent, rant, or if you don’t want to get into it, just send a heart my way. Know I’ll be thinking of you and praying for you.
The thing I want to get across from all this is that it’s OK to not be OK. There’s no playbook for how to handle a pandemic, so there’s no “doing it wrong” because nobody knows how to do it right! If you’re struggling, feeling isolated, feeling anxious, feeling overwhelmed, I feel like that’s a pretty normal human reaction. So can we please stop spreading this toxic positivity and just support the heck out of each other? Stay safe, care for each other (from 6ft away, of course) and wash your hands.