When I made the decision to leave my career to be at home with my first child at the time, I didn’t have the slightest clue of the contract I was signing. I mean, why can’t it be like all of the magazines they slip into your purse at the OBGYN office that feature freshly manicured mothers with their coordinated maternity wardrobe? Where the extent of your stress is illustrated in the task of choosing which bouncer you want? What I’ve come to realize is that no one and nothing can possibly prepare you for what staying home is really like. This is not to exclude the working or single mothers either. I believe the only separation is a matter of circumstances, preferences and choices. For me, there wasn’t a loud siren warning me and for us women battling chronic illness, the siren comes but when you least expect it.
My decision to stay at home full-time was a choice, but it wasn’t an easy one that came without consequential considerations. Like the student loans that will likely be in deferment when I am too fragile to work and pay them off. Heck, I might be paying my student loans at the same time I’m paying for three children who will be in college all within two years of one another. Or the decision to stay in a modest sized home that is in serious need of a paint job so that we could sustain an affordable mortgage. Or the many times we have had to sit in a panicked state of relying on mere faith to fill our oil tank in the frigid season of winter. These considerations are daily and for us, they result from choices we made.
When strangers approach me to assert how “lucky” I am to be at home with my children, I don’t begrudge them. Well, sometimes I don’t. It all depends on the day, my mood and if my children have gnawed at my patience. I usually reply with the expected pleasantry of “Yes, I am,” but what those strangers don’t know is how their assertion that I am “lucky,” hits a deeper and more personal nerve. They’re not aware of all the ways I reconcile with loving my role while trying to come to terms with how triggering it can be for someone with depression and anxiety.
It’s not just about the consequential decisions for those of us parents who decide to have a stay at home parent or even parenting with a chronic illness. The part no one really talks about is just how isolating and lonely it can be at times. The irony is that despite the expected noise of having children relying on you all day, the silent loneliness can be deafening. One might think the silence is refuge, but for us the silence can become paralyzing with the daily struggle to muster up the energy to repeat the monotonous routine all over again. Complaining to the ones who find you “lucky,” proves costly and your partners don’t care to validate your inability to use the restroom all day when they just put in a 12-hour shift.
So many of us mothers try to seek out what we believe to be support in play dates or mothers groups. In the past five years, I have witnessed so many mothers burnt out and with good reason. Except I don’t believe they’re just burnt out. I believe they’re alone and hiding their truth silently. I believe women can see the exhaustion in one another without even exchanging a hello. We see them at the park when they’re sitting on a bench because it may be the only time they have sat down all day. We see them on their phone assuming their retreating to social media, when they’re actually paying bills in between errands. It’s like a secret insane asylum that nobody dares to speak of, but we’ve all stepped foot into. When we do come together, it’s a select few who are daringly willing to talk about how difficult the job really is. No one wants to be the one to sound “unlucky” anymore than they want to admit they’re suffering.
Sometimes I can spot the mothers who are suffering in silence, but I am fighting to remain invisible just as I believe they are. There isn’t time or energy to withdraw from motherhood, so most of us retreat but in silence. We travel deep inside ourselves and learn to bury what is erupting at the surface. We don’t trust being seen anymore than we give ourselves permission to find worth in caring for ourselves first. It wasn’t until I had my third child, that I began to take inventory with how many times I put my health last. I believe this is true for so many of us mothers, but for those of us struggling with mental wellness, this can be deadly.
I was feeling anxious for weeks. I felt like I was treading water and I was going to drown. I had a few weeks where it seemed as if everything and everyone was tugging at me all at once. I was drowning, but did what I felt was expected of me and just stayed silent. I decided to schedule uninterrupted time with my husband so we could talk. I sat in front of him and sobbed uncontrollably. I needed a break and not the kind where I went out for a cup of coffee or retreated to my bedroom to finish another chapter of a book. It was hard to explain that I needed a break from the kids that also included a break from him.
You see, there is this unwritten rule where mothers are not allowed to leave our children; especially (especially) when you have a 5 month old baby. I was suffocating with the guilt of spending money, the inevitable judgment, disappointment and even the fear of what the silence might tell me if given the rare opportunity. He held me and said, “Go.” Turns out I wasn’t hiding it as well as I thought I was.
It took me nearly a week to actually build up the courage to find a place to retreat to for a weekend. I only told a few people I was going and even they didn’t know the real reasons why. What I am coming to accept about myself is that I not only need those breaks as a mother, but my health relies on it. What I also learned is that there is tremendous value in honoring your need for emotional health when you’re responsible for ensuring that for dependent children. Making the choice to be a stay at home parent doesn’t mean I have to make my needs one of the many consequential compromises.
Going away for a weekend may sound awful lucky. Trust me, I get it. Waking up to a beautiful lake with nothing but the stillness of crashing waves, my favorite scented candle and my laptop to write what was erupting, made me feel pretty darn thankful. However, it was also a choice and it’s one many of us mothers will have to make in order to maintain this blessed; yet exhausting ride.
I returned home and immediately embraced my two adorably excited children waiting for me with their outstretched arms. My husband was sitting there with our infant son on the floor with smiles that my happiness rests with. I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to make it a full weekend, but I’m glad I did. It made me come to terms with the reality that I will likely need those breaks in order to be the best version of myself for my family. The best part? I returned home with a grateful husband who validated just how tough wrangling three children under the age of 4 really is.
Oh and the next time anyone approaches me to say how “lucky,” I am, my response will be a different one. “Yes, I am lucky and so are they. I made a brave choice and so did they for choosing me.”
In love & truth,