The #1 tip for getting through a mid-life-mom-crisis

I’ve been kind of nervous about a follow-up from last Sunday night’s post all week.

Because, once you let it all hang out there like that, you kind of HAVE to follow up, right?

I feel compelled to do so.

Mostly because I like forward momentum.

But, I’m hesitant to write because I’m certainly not at a point where I can come back and tie up my mess all up in a neat little bow.

Beyond the immediate chaos, I’m clearly grappling with some fundamental issues of work/life identity that aren’t going to be solved overnight, if at all.

What I can say is that writing it all down was tremendously cathartic.

In fact, if I were writing a tips column on how to handle a mid-life-work-life-mom-stress-out, writing it down would be at the top of my list.

I’ve come back to those words on the page more than a few times this past week. And your incredible comments, too — thank you for those. Truly.

You know what was really interesting? Practically the minute many of those words left the quiet confines of my brain and hit the public page, they lost much of their power over me. Mental constructs that had taunted the emotional me mercilessly were reduced to mere words. Words that could be poked and prodded by a more rational, distanced me.

Let’s take the mile-high pile of clean laundry on top of my dryer, for example. The one that filled me with guilt and dread every time I passed it.

Once it was on paper, I was able to look at it differently.

It no longer was a statement about my own failures, but just something to be done. On Monday and Tuesday each time I passed it, I felt my guilt dissipate. I’d say to myself, “Okay, I have a lot of clean laundry that eventually needs to be put away.”

By Wednesday morning, I started wondering just how long it would take me to fold everything. 30 minutes? 45 minutes? 60 minutes? Later that day, I took that on as a challenge. I had five minutes, so I set the timer on my clock and folded.

I made a little dent (probably not visible to anyone else but me). It felt good.

I found 20 more minutes that night.

By Thursday evening, the mile-high pile was gone. And I took a deep breath.

By Saturday I had a clean house again (with much help from Angelica, the world’s best cleaning woman).

On our drive up to our in-laws on Saturday night my husband and I had the first of what I assume will be many conversations about how we split parental and household chores (especially dinner!!) given our new world order. Because I was able to look at my thoughts on paper and reflect on what was really behind some of them, I was able to be semi-articulate about the swirl of guilt that was driving my inability to delegate or ask for help around the house.

By sermon time on Sunday I was able to see that many of the harsh judgements I leveled at myself on a daily basis were stemming from what I’ll call compulsive comparison (job, income, dress size, blog stats, you name it).

Here’s an example of a mental comparison that pops up involuntarily and with an alarming frequency in my addled brain, “I’m 3 years older than Marissa Mayer.”

I can see you thinking, “wait a minute…”

I know, I know. On the surface it looks like a simple data point, probably gleaned from the pages of Fortune or the WSJ. But for me, the small sentence packs a major punch. Because this is where my (clearly insane) brain takes it:! And pray tell, what do you have to show for yourself? Hmmmmmm? Oh, you’re punting the ball on that question? Let me answer it for you then. NOTHING. No. thing. Your business is nowhere near a billion dollars (Seriously? My brain thinks that kind of thing!?!). You aren’t doing the stay-at-home mom thing well. You’re not doing the work thing well. And just LOOK at that Marissa, will you? There she is juggling an infant and running kabillion-dollar Yahoo! with a zillion employees without missing a beat. She has no visible outward signs of having just had a baby. She still looks fabulous in her sheath dresses. Her hair’s never out of place and is perfectly highlighted. And you? well, Mrs. my-pants-are-too-tight-&-I-have-horribly-grown-out-highlights, what do you have to say for yourself? I mean, here you are three years older and, by comparison, you’re floundering around like a little college kid.

Pish posh.

The sane, conscious me actually snorted as I was typing that up because it is so utterly preposterous.

Not only does that cray-cray thought stream stop me from cheering on a female executive I think is actually a pretty amazing trailblazer, it also makes me desperately unhappy for absolutely NO reason. You see, not only could I NOT do what she does, I have no desire to do what she does!

Zero. Zip. Nada.

Intellectually I know comparison is the thief of joy. But my subconscious mind clearly has not gotten the message.

My conscious mind isn’t perfect either.

One of the boot campers gently pointed out a comparison I consciously make. While the intentions behind it are good, it might not be serving as much as I think it is…

“One of the things you mentioned to me when we spoke was that it is important for you to cook for your family every night as your mother did. My mother always says to me (when I compare myself to how she kept a home, cooked, etc.) that I have a completely different life than she did and not to compare myself to her — that I am doing great for the responsibilities I have, etc. I hope that I am not overstepping, but I think your mother would feel the same way whether you are ordering take-out some nights or have laundry piled sky high (sometimes, you can’t even tell I have a couch under the clean laundry, and it is just my husband and me!).”

Thank you, Amy. You are SO very right.

I think I need a mechanism for becoming more aware of the comparisons I’m making every day. Kind of like a rubber band that I can wear around my wrist that I snap each time I catch myself doing it.

Hey, wouldn’t that make a cool product idea? A rubber “Comparison Is the Thief of Joy” bracelet (similar in spirit to the yellow Livestrong one) that you could wear as a reminder to cut it out. You could share knowing glances and smiles of support with others you saw in the street who were wearing it too. Proceeds could go to a self esteem fund for weary moms.

I’m only half joking.

Do you compare yourself to others frequently? What do the comparisons look like for you? Do they help or hurt?

{feature photo via Etsy}
  • Angie Leonard-Garbark

    I would love that bracelet! I am constantly finding myself in comparison mode. We are made unique. It is crazy that we compare ourselves to others. Glad I am not alone in that battle.

  • LiveYourLoveOutLoud

    Truly, you should have a jillion comments here. THANK YOU for catching my eye, as I sit amid my clutter feeling so many of these same things. May I suggest you check out ALex & Ani bracelets instead of a rubber one? I jsut got “Let Creativity Rule!” and want several others. My sweet cousins were wearing them and I bought one for myself. Creative in my work, housekeeping, parenting, love life! I just started follerin’ your blog b/c I loved a few things I found online from it….so YOU are someone I look up to…you might be looking up to some jajillionaire, well I look up to you, So there.

  • Kim

    We dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by
    themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise. II Corinthians 10:12 ~ I was asked to memorize this verse in college by a very wise professor. ;)

  • Diane

    Thank you for this. If I didn’t know better, I would think you have stepped into my home and my mind. I make so many comparisons that I don’t even realize it but it is stealing my joy. Another habit to break free from!

  • Sonic Piano

    Do I make comparisons? Let me count the ways…

    I’m 50 years old and post-menopausal. I was diagnosed with celiac disease in October 2012 after being sick for the better part of a year. It’s finally under control through a strict gluten-free diet, healthy whole foods and supplements. I gained back the 11 lbs. I lost, plus a few more. Although I’m happy to have gained back the weight I’m not pleased with the resulting soft middle and know that at my age it’s going to take an awful lot of hard work to tone it up.

    I run a fairly successful private piano studio. I’m happily married to my best friend for 15 years; we’ve been together for 19 years. Our 14-year-old daughter is a bright, mature, academically gifted young lady who so far has given us no trouble.

    So why am I so unhappy? Because I’m 50 years old and haven’t accomplished a third of what I set out to accomplish way back when I was a young, energetic and optimistic college graduate. I compare myself unfavorably to the 20-somethings who have their lives ahead of them, who are full of life and energy and have already accomplished more in two decades than I have in five. I compare my soft midsection and flabby arms/thighs to the naturally tight nubile figures of women half my age.

    I go out to eat, which can be a minefield for a celiac, and see everyone around me happily ordering whatever they like while I’m stuck with a limited menu and worry that the kitchen won’t take the proper precautions to prevent cross-contamination. And I sometimes throw myself a pity party because I often feel like a freak and want that old freedom back.

    I see my daughter’s application to a prestigious magnet high school rejected twice (the second time on appeal) while less-deserving kids sail past her and get in, and I blame myself for not being aggressive enough or better-connected.

    My mother had dinner from scratch on the table every night. Because my piano students are school-age, I have to teach after school and evenings. This seriously cuts into dinner prep and eating time, so I’m lucky I manage to throw an onion into the microwave and serve it on a plate and call it a meal. And I feel so guilty.

    I can go on, but you get the gist. People look at me and think I’ve so put together but inside I’m a roiling mess of hormones and insecurity. Oddly enough I think everyone around me has their stuff together while I’m floundering.

  • Emily

    The comparison thing is the reason I’m pondering logging off of FB for good. If I see one more beach vacation when my husband and I are stuck in work-your-butt-off-summer, I’m going to throw in the towel. If you, too, fall into that trap I’m curious to know if you are able to remind yourself that comparing your everyday to someone else’s highlight reel isn’t fair. Yeah, I can’t do it either. I compare, I judge myself harshly and I’m so emotionally drained because of it.

  • Stacey Vulakh

    First, I’d buy that bracelet!

    Second, snort. Ha!

    Third. You hit the nail on the head – our comparisons mean no.thing. when we continuously compare apples to orangutans, forget about oranges. We compare two vastly and utterly different things and end up feeling worse than ever.

    Get off the comparison train. Even the #6 on a summer Friday is a more pleasant experience!

  • Sonic Piano

    Emily, a good friend once remarked that Facebook is “your life, edited”. The image most people show on FB isn’t real, and if you can remind yourself of that every time you log in you’ll feel much better. Of course, logging off FB isn’t a bad idea; we’re all better off doing something productive. :-)

  • Novella

    Hello! oh how you spoke to my heart!
    Comparison has a been a long struggle for me, it had strong hold over me until I got tired of being tired & drained from the self inflicting painful thoughts.
    I still struggle daily but I find myself stopping the comparison before I get too deep into them.
    Thank you for shining light on the subject

    I would buy a bracelet for myself & as gifts to give out.

  • Kimberly

    I would wear that bracelet all the time. You should make one up on (I think that’s the site you create stuff and sell it — anyone???).

  • Samantha

    I’d wear that bracelet. :) I’m glad you are working through your comparison guilt. We all do it. I’m trying to be better about it myself.

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