We are experiencing a real treat of sunshine right now in Seattle and my Facebook feed is filled with friends paddle-boarding and tailgating. Their kid’s back-to-school pictures are perfectly posed and their lunchboxes are bursting with organic salads and cartoon-shaped cheese slices. I am happy for them, really I am.
But does happy for them mean sad for me? Does their success as a super-parent highlight my failure to keep up?
The enlightened response is no, of course not. But, in all reality, it depends on the day.
On some days, I am proud that I have packed a healthy-enough, satisfying lunch for my kids. I have made sure they have clean clothes in their closets and encouraged them to pack their school work in their bag the night before so they can start off their day with ease. We hug in the morning and wish each other a great day.
Maybe the argument with my husband hit my heart deeper than I thought and I can’t focus on anything else but anger or guilt. Maybe the zinger from my daughter stung too much when I popped into her room and she launched an attack the way only a 13-year old girl can do.
Motherhood is truly one of life’s greatest gifts and from the first breath of each child, people said to me that from now on everything will be filled with love and joy and bright moments. Sure, I heard about some breastfeeding bumps, the terrible two’s and the teen years, but it was always with a wink and a smile.
No one tells you about the dark moments, though, and how they hover and wait and block all light when you least expect it. No one told me that I would feel so much pain from loving my kids, but that pain is real.
Like when life is going along relatively smoothly and then, boom, conflict erupts and all of a sudden you don’t even recognize the child raging in front of you. Yes, I know in my thinking mind that this is straight up frustration or teen angst or hormonal. But in my heart, I am absolutely crushed. This is part of the darkness, the flip side of motherhood’s big smiles and joyous moments and somehow I just didn’t know this was a part of the package. Call me naïve, but I really didn’t think about the heart-splitting pain of raising children until they stood in front of me full of rage and sliced me into pieces.
For too long, my children’s outbursts fueled my insecurities and fears about my mothering. Immediately, I would jump on myself with blame and retribution. ‘See? You weren’t complete or perfect when you had kids, so of course they are an emotional mess – it’s your fault!’ That voice was loud and crystal clear and drove me to work harder and ‘mother’ better. My burning desire to create and maintain the ‘fairytale family’ completely burned me out.
Motherhood is not for the weak.
It has pushed me to places I didn’t even know I could go. It brings out the deepest love, yes, but also the burning rage, the complete isolation, and my own triggers that had been buried deep since I was a child. There have been times that I felt my only way out was to surrender to the chaos swirling around and retreat from everyone. I didn’t want to hurt and I didn’t want to get hurt so I would sit in the emotional darkness until I craved the light again. The explanation. The compromise. The forgiveness.
What does darkness look like for you? And what do you do to pull yourself out of it, whether it is because of conflict, illness, fear, poverty, or isolation?
For me, the ways that I climb out of the darkness have changed over time. I have been in the darkness thousands of times over the course of my children’s lives but through sharing with other parents, reading parenting books, listening to some of MamaCon’s amazing parenting experts, I have quieted the insecurity in my head and I am a better parent now than I have ever been. My kids might lash out, but I am not in the ring with them boxing it out. I stand with love and offer them some of my light when they fall down. Right now, I am on a mission to live life to its fullest because I am so grateful to be alive. My life’s goal to visit 50 countries by 50 years old keeps me looking far in front of me and prevents me from getting stuck in the here and now. I make plans. I form dreams.
Of course there are still some times when I fall into those dark moments, but I just flip through hundreds of my favorite family pictures to remember what light looks like for us when we are sharing and growing and laughing and appreciating each other and very quickly I come back with a happy spirit and positivity that spreads joy.
I have two teens in my house now and there is a tendency for darkness to stay too long. I remind them that they can sit there for awhile, but when they are ready they can hold out their hand and ask me to hold tight, and I will.