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:
oh.my.GOSH.youareTHREEYEARSOLDERthanMarissaMayer! 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.
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.