A comment on facebook, made by a mother with young children about my Stop Yelling post, caught my attention. The feelings of frustration and desperation, combined with the feeling that there was no answer to the situation, were painfully familiar. I was reminded of how desperate, trapped and depleted I felt for years when my girls were young. If you are a mother living in survival mode right now please know, you are not alone. It does get less intense, you will get more sleep, and you will get to go to the bathroom alone. If you are a parent or grandparent or guardian of any kind who is feeling over whelmed by the needs of the children in your life and you cannot see a light at the end of the tunnel please hold on. Tell yourself you only have to get through this one moment at this time, and then you can face the next moment. You are not alone.
When I was living in survival mode, see Personal Lack for the story of what my life was like then, I couldn't see a way out. I did not feel that there were any resources, that I had any options, that I could do anything to change the situation. When you are parenting three children ages 4, 16 months and 1 month, just nursing and changing diapers consumes the day. I did not have a single friend who was inclined to come over for a visit, much less help. My husband was gone all day and several nights a week for work and classes. Our only car went with him. These are years of my life that I barely remember. Dishes regularly grew moldy on the counter. The laundry lived in a pile on the couch. I think I mopped our tiny kitchen floor twice in two years. Because I lived in survival mode for so many years, and was not one of those mythical Super Moms who manages to have a clean house, and children, too, I did not think I had much to share about the early years of motherhood. I was wrong, I need to share because you need to know that my family survived those years and yours will, too.
I also need to share because those of you who no longer have small children need to be reminded that mothers do not stop needing support when their baby reaches 6 weeks of age. We need to reach out because often an exhausted mother is not going to ask for help. We need to bring over a meal or take the older kids to the park, we need to stop by for a visit and wash the sink full of dishes while we chat. We need to stop thinking we are too busy with our own lives and figure out what kind of helping we do best. Do you like to cook, or clean, or cuddle a baby so mom can take a shower? Do you have the resources to send over takeout? Do you have a teen or tween who would be happy to be a mother's helper for a few hours each week?
When you are are living in survival mode, exhausted, depleted and possibly suffering from depression, all advice sounds trite, impossible or just plain insensitive. No matter how ridiculous someone's advice may sound, ask yourself if there is some small way to apply it to your life. Remember, it will get easier. Little by little, in ways so small you may not notice them at first, things will get easier. When you feel like all you do is meet other people's needs, clean up messes, wash dishes, make food, wash more dishes and wash laundry, stop for a moment. Take a deep breath, exhale just as deeply, then take another deep breath. Ask yourself what small thing you can do for yourself.
Here are some ideas:
*Ask for help: call a friend, post of facebook, text someone; be honest about how you are feeling and what you need.
*Take your vitamins.
*Buy food that only has to be heated, even if you think it is something you can't afford: frozen french fries, pizza, ravioli, desserts.
*Keep fruit frozen in the freezer so it is easy to blend up a smoothie when you realize you have forgotten to feed yourself.
*Put on music that you love.
Look for ways that you can nurture yourself and your children at the same time:
*Get everyone out of the house for a walk, even if you only make it to the corner and back.
*Grab a pile of books and some snacks and spend time reading and cuddling in a pile.
*Let your children watch movies for as long as they want.
*When your children are doing crafts get creative with them.
*Tell yourself three things you love about each of your family members.
*Remember that food is food and ice cream for breakfast is just fine, as are popcorn and apples for dinner, or pancakes for lunch.
*Use a slow cooker/crock pot so that dinner can be prepared earlier in the day when you may have more energy.
When you have dishes in the sink, laundry on the couch, toys all over the floor, and at least one mess to clean up that you would rather not mention out loud, remember, you are not alone. Take a deep breath, eat some chocolate, put on some music and go dance with your children, the mess can wait at least until the end of the song.