I've always been a bit tightly-wound, something of a perfectionist who relied on the approval of those in authority for my sense of value. I watched people carefully, and I figured out that teachers and parents praised those who made good grades, were quiet, and did what they were supposed to.
As you might imagine, this didn't change much as I grew up, except that I got things like awards, prizes, and scholarships for doing well. It wasn't that I was brilliant or anything, it was just that I understood how to figure out what a teacher wanted, and produce it.
When I got married and began having children my thinking was no different--I knew what a "good" wife should look like, as well as a "good" mother, and a "good" family, so I set out to be and do those things. But it was much harder; other people were involved, not just skills or subjects.
One challenge was that I didn't understand that conflict in marriage is normal; I'd never seen my parents fight, so I was worried when disagreements arose in my marriage. I tried very hard to deal with things that bothered me on my own, because I was afraid of conflict; I was also afraid to admit problems, even in my journal. That would mean I'd failed.
Because I wanted to be that "good" mom, I joined the multitudes of women embracing "natural" childbirth--it was considered more virtuous than using "chemicals". My husband and I went through the classes, and I was ready to rip, which is exactly what happened after a long and exhausting labor. This was followed by a long and painful recovery, a colicky baby, and lots of crying--that is, my own crying--from happiness, from stress and fatigue, and sometimes with sadness when my husband left the house for anything, without me.
I didn't realize it at the time but this was probably post-partum depression; however, when my doctor asked if I'd felt the 'baby blues' I said no. I mean, I really loved being a mother, loved my baby, loved caring for her, and loved watching her grow and change. I'd never felt more fulfilled and happy in my life! How could I be depressed?
As I had more children, and as they grew, they got louder. They also started bickering, whining, and disobeying. I'd thought I had this figured out, but clearly I did not. Even so, it was important to me to be on top of things, or at least to look like I was.
At that time, there was no internet (can you imagine?) so I couldn't Google the experts for the latest child-training tips, or subscribe to somebody's blog. I was always worried--was I being too harsh, or too lenient? Was I doing enough? Would the things I did or said, or failed to do, cause some kind of psychological damage?
That was what scared me most--long-term psychological damage. We've all read the stories. Mothers have wrestled with this ever since Freud attributed almost every sort of problem to bad mothering. Did you know there was even a term in vogue for awhile--"schizophrenogenic mothering"--which implied bad mothering leads to the development of schizophrenia in children? Mothers were even capable of messing a child up with the wrong kind of toilet training, for goodness sake!
Unfortunately, this way of thinking has become part of our "mother-DNA", by which I mean, the fear that at any moment we could unknowingly ruin our children's lives forever is practically in the air we breathe. And now with the internet, on top of our hyper-vigilance about damaging our kids' psyches, we have to make sure their food is organic and non-GMO, their clothing is of all-natural fibers, they are only breast-fed as infants (that was definitely a thing in the 80's, too), and that we teach them to be environmentally aware and actively anti-racist, (with a healthy understanding of mindfulness). And let's not forget masking/not-masking, vaxx/anti-vaxx, plastic/anti-plastic, etc.
Gone are the days when my pediatrician told me to pretend I was on a desert island, and just use my best judgment and common sense. I'm sure some moms can relax and go with the flow, but not all of us. Too often we veer more towards depression and OCD.
In one of my recent posts, I shared some of my struggles with handling my "momxiety". I'll add here that fairly often I went to the bathroom, locked the door, and silently screamed, then came back out smiling because I knew it wouldn't be good for my kids to see me really upset. I found myself wishing alcoholism wasn't so destructive, because I wanted to enter some kind of altered state. And I think I already wrote about actually feeling some sympathy for murder-suicides; that's a very, very low place to be.
Nobody knew any of this at the time. I was far too ashamed of the way I felt to tell anyone. That's really part of the problem--it's really not ok for moms to feel like this, so we do our best to manage it and hide it, sometimes even denying it to ourselves, as I did until I came to the end of my rope.
So what kind of "tips" could I possibly give someone in this situation? And is there a way to prevent it? I'll tell you in my next post. Stay tuned . . .