Hi, I'm Heather - I am a TV/movie junkie, music enthusiast, pop culture freak, and an aspiring writer. I became a wife at nineteen then a mother two years later. Because I'm naturally a multi-tasker, I spent my pregnancies in college and a few years of motherhood working part-time. Now I'm back home full-time and let me tell you, it's not enough. Stir crazy is a real thing and I am a much happier individual the more productive I am.
Eventually that daily routine of doing laundry, dishes, vacuuming and living your life around nap time becomes pretty damn miserable.
I wish there was a cookie-cutter survival guide but as most mothers know, what works one day won't work the next and what works with one child doesn't work with the other.
Three kids later and all I've learned is that I'll never know what I'm doing. I barely know how to survive the madness and cherish motherhood just for what it is - bittersweet. But somehow I manage with the support of my own pep-talks, those moments of enlightment from empathetic friends, and a husband who hugs me till I'm done crying.
Trust me when I say that as I write this, I am smiling, because regardless of our forever-changing circumstances, I feel blessed.
Would you do it all over again? A common but taboo topic for us moms, a stigma that no mother wants to openly discuss or even admit.
But I'm here to talk about the elephant in the room and that's not always loving this life - the one you literally created when you volunteered for motherhood. Let's stop acting as if being a mother is all one needs to feel fulfilled, and stop dismissing the very real emotions we face as parents. Some days I am super-fun mom and we're chasing each other in the cul de sac with light sabers. Other days I'm just begging for them to leave me alone. B-E-G-G-I-N-G to pee, eat, and sleep WITHOUT the mini-squad asking me what, why, and "can I please have a snack?" I don't know, can I please wipe and wash my hands before you come to me with MORE of what YOU NEED? "Well you wanted to have kids." Yes, I did, but then the new parent bliss wore off and I realized my babies were not the actual answers to my depression. In fact, sometimes they make it worse.
Parenthood is a lifelong commitment to self-improvement; something both myself and my husband work hard at every day. Otherwise you're failing yourself, which means you're also failing your children. Whether you're aware or not, we all put that pressure on ourselves as parents. Children bring many, many moments of happiness; their cuteness saving them from EVERYTHING they disrupt - HOW can you stay mad when you LOVE them so damn much?
When I met my husband, we were teenagers and we were long distance - a dramatic, hormonal, romanticized relationship. After 5 years and a wedding, we became parents for the first time. It was pure bliss. I like to call that our 'golden year' because being in love and welcoming our first child together is an incomparable feeling. New parent bliss is being happy with how exhausted you are, joking about the explosive diaper that had you running into Target for fresh clothes, or when you realized your 6 month old ate an entire cardboard coaster at Red Lobster because you were too busy looking at the menu. These memorable incidents were funny and exciting - they were stories to tell and you just didn't mind the mess that came with a baby. Now we're going on a total of twelve years together and have welcomed two more baby boys to the mix. It is NOT pure bliss anymore. We have our moments, but at the end of the day, these constant mishaps can become tiring. And naturally there have been hardships in life. Children can bring you all this joy but they don't prevent life; shit still hits the fan, inducing emotional & psychological trauma.
Life goes on, good or bad. Like most parents, any negativity in my life came with 'mom guilt'. That guilt is isolating and maintaining my mental health becomes near impossible. Although I was diagnosed with depression before I even had children, the anxiety disorder came after. How many others started to struggle with panicking after entering parenthood? Maintaining a healthy marriage on top of it? Forget about it. Once my day-to-day revolved around keeping small, irrational humans happy, I had no energy to spare. My cup was always half empty. Time didn't even exist; I never had any. My husband, the provider, was more burnt out and he'd still come home to fill my cup back up. He'd spend the remainder of his energy on me and our three boys. Being in the military did not make it remotely easy, but he did it every day. Eventually that work-life balance, the spouse-kid balance ... stopped. There was no balance anymore.
So now what? How do you overcome your mental illness to restore any level of happiness or self-care without completely abandoning this life you created for yourself? Have you found yourself stuck in this vicious cycle? I know I have numerous times, even more so when I started to experience life with Post-Partum Depression. It's a challenge I'll face for the rest of my life, like many other mothers, but here's some of what I advise on how to manage the chaos that is now your life.
First, ditch the guilt. Moving forward is not realistic if you use any of your energy toward feeling guilty. You're not going to keep your children satisfied all the time. Their worries are as big to them as yours actually are. And while we're being honest, they are the unreasonable ones. If you think you're going crazy, it's because kids ARE crazy. Learn to laugh it off. The best way to parent is to remove the stick. Be crazy by choice. Don't completely dismiss what's left of your sanity because you still are the 'responsible adult' but being a mother with a mental illness is a little easier when you embrace it. Things will be loud and messy, and that's the BEAUTY of raising kids. It's all about having the mindset to get you through parenting. If you chose to birth babies, if you went through the adoption process, if you've married into your children's lives, let's face it ... you're insane. Be okay with it. Nothing will bring you out from the darkness better than retraining your brain to just go with it. Depression who? It's a characteristic that has taught my children to be okay with their own emotions, to not beat themselves up for feeling sad. It's OKAY to be sad.
Second, declutter your safe space, your circle... Often enough we find ourselves prioritizing what's left of our time to spend with other moms. With having kids and loneliness in common, we assume we're compatible when in reality, you don't exactly feel like you belong within this tribe. Be honest with yourself, maybe it's not YOUR tribe. As a military spouse, I clung to the first friends I could find. BAD IDEA. I compromised my identity in order to feel accepted. Doing so heightened my mental illness - social anxiety is a REAL problem for many of us moms. Remember when I mentioned isolating myself? DON'T do that. Take time to yourself when necessary but don't let bad seeds in your circle keep you from getting out. Making friends IS dating. Know your worth, know what you need and what you can give, and be honest about it with your circle. If their reaction is anything less than understanding and supportive, you've found a bad seed. You are NOT obligated to maintain those types of relationships. Period. This lifestyle isn't easy and dating mom friends kinda sucks, but once you've found them, the dynamic of "sister-wife-hood" is EVERYTHING. Your energy will be matched and you'll thrive as a family.
Last but not least, and this one is TOP priority - love your spouse no more and no less than you love yourself. Love is fighting for each other after fighting with each other. My husband and I make a great team, but we never seem to learn one thing ... NOTHING ever goes as planned. Obstacles, trials, bumps in the road ... whatever you want to call it, we've faced it, we've aged from it, and it's not always so easy to keep going. You don't need children to figure that out but adding them to the mix tends to present more opportunity for things to go astray. We are responsible for our own happiness but being committed in any relationship means adding to each other's happiness. Marriage is about putting your spouse first, prioritizing them daily, with gestures big or small. Some days you'll have to fill your own cup and meet your spouse in the middle after they've filled theirs, too. Realistically though, most days you're relying on each other, finding ways to work together to survive your little gremlins. Either way, don't shame yourself for doing what you NEED to in order to take care of yourself. We like to call it selfish but loving yourself enough to maintain a healthy brain is NOT selfish. You may be doing it for you, but at the end of your everyday, it's for them.
"Your kids don't need a perfect mom. They need a happy one."
So be selfless. Take a 45 minute shower so you can wash your face, body, hair, and shave EVERYTHING. Lock the door and take your time. Go grocery shopping alone and buy YOURSELF a candy bar at check out. Eat it before you leave the parking lot. What's the rush? Sneak outside and smoke something - we all have a vice and should take those breaks shamelessly. Treat YOURSELF to 5 Below. They have comfy leggings, socks, slippers, and more candy. It doesn't have to be about the kids - I promise it's okay.
Dedicate yourself to a hobby(s), something you thoroughly enjoy and that can provide you an escape from your mental stress. This one may be hard to understand for some but .. take a part-time position. I am a happier ME when I am not spending every day, all day, catering to my kids.
Overall, don't shame yourself out of self-care. You need attention, too. For the sake of your motherhood, your marriage, and your mental illness ... do these things unapologetically. In fact, I hope after reading this, you DEMAND it for yourself.
Below you will see quotes from more moms, real friends of mine that are all different ages with children of all ages. I hope their words bring you more comfort & maybe make you feel less alone in your motherhood.
"Don’t read the baby books, especially don’t read them after your child has been diagnosed. Your child, regardless of whether they have a disability or not, will most likely NOT follow those guidelines. They’re not a book; they are a tiny human who will do things at their own pace." - Sherry McDowell, Mother of 1; Pennsylvania.
"The most important piece of advice I can give is to pick your battles. My mental illness often makes me feel out of control, so it's easy to fall into a routine of trying to force my kids to do things my way and then arguing with them when they don't." - Amanda Koepp, Mother of 2; Indiana.
"Once you make a decision, stick with it. Choose carefully - if you say no, mean it and stand by that answer." - Debbie Gilbert, Mother of 3; Illinois.
"Cherish every single day. Even the ones where you feel most defeated. Tomorrow is never promised. Hug your babies a little tighter, because somewhere there is a mother wishing she could hug her baby just one more time." - Stacey Kramer, Mother of 2; Illinois.
"In the grand scheme of dinners, bedtimes, oil changes, groceries and life tragedies.. people not liking you, it's irrelevant. We still have to keep going." - Sarah Spreng, Mother of 1; Illinois.
"If there was something I wish I did when I first became a mom, it would be to take the fucking help. Take the drink. Take the drive. Take the break." - Sky Dilmore, Mother of 4; Missouri.
"The best advice that I can give to a mom who has a mental illness is this - take your meds and take time for you. I know that at times it seems impossible, but you NEED it. Got an extra ten minutes? Read a chapter. Meditate. BREATHE. We can do this." - Jillian Johnson, Mother of 3; Georgia.