Last weekend, my six year old son told my husband, “Mommy doesn’t know how to do anything.” Simon shouted this soul-crushing sentence to my husband as we biked around town, me with my son on a trailer bike attached to the back of my own. Apparently, my caution before turning across a lane of traffic didn’t suit him. If Simon were riding with my husband, they would already be gleefully playing at the park. And, just like that, my life with a teenager began. It goes so fast, people.
In all fairness to my son, he began kindergarten the week before, he was tired, figuring out an entirely new set of rules, testing limits, his brain on overdrive and his body unaccustomed to the 30 minute daily allotment of physical activity. His mind needed a nap and his legs needed a treadmill. And I didn’t get to the park fast enough.
Earlier that day, my daughter hit me in the face, my husband and I squabbled, and our cat scratched me when I wasn’t petting her properly.
I was a bit angry, frustrated and worried. Mostly, though, I was sad. In addition to the events of the day, the kindergarten transition was affecting me more than I thought, my 39th birthday loomed, and a friend had just announced her divorce. There were natural disasters and global inequity and Trump was still president and tweeting about football.
That night, with Roy out with friends and both kids in bed, I watched a movie guaranteed to be cathartic. I cried and cried, continuing long after the movie ended. It felt, in its own way, really good.
I’ve struggled with anxiety for most of my life. In our world, that’s more the norm than not. As is also quite normal, my first inclination is to push the “bad” feelings away and return to a blank slate of zen. And, if that worked, we’d all be walking around, basking in a universally enlightened state. Resistance, at least when it comes to feelings, doesn’t work.
Feelings While Mothering
When I found out I was pregnant with Simon, I was shocked and thrilled. Even in the most joyful of pregnancies, though, a range of emotions is guaranteed. As Alexandra wrote in her post about pms, hormones are legit. Additionally, motherhood is a huge unknown and feeling fear, anxiety and sadness in reaction to the imminent transition is normal. Postnatally, the emotional roller coaster that women ride has more twists and turns, high peaks and gut-wrenching drops than can be found in any amusement park. For the first several weeks after both of my children were born everything was foggy. I was sleep-deprived, sure, but it was more the tears leaking constantly from my eyes that made it challenging to see. Pregnancy, new motherhood, experienced motherhood – all are amazing and wonderful. All can also bring us to our knees.
Sometimes, these challenging feelings go beyond discomfort. Depression, anxiety and other mental health issues can and should be addressed.* Sometimes, though, our feelings vacillate widely from one day to the next, each week bringing its own bevy of highs and lows. More and more, as parents, we are learning that “just wanting our children to be happy” is an impossibility. We should expect no less for ourselves. Feelings like sadness and anger, fear and loneliness exist and, likely, we have all experienced each of them at different points in our lives. Generally, when we let them in, say hello and sit with them, in turn, we tire of each other at some point. It’s easier, in a sense, to let them go, after we’ve let them in.
Our Children, Their Feelings
My children feel things deeply, as most children do. They are quick to laugh and quick to anger. Smiling broadly one minute, they dissolve at the slightest personal injustice (or perceived injustice). Their emotional recovery, especially my daughter’s, is remarkable. Perhaps we can give credit to both their presence of mind and their ability to wholeheartedly embrace their feelings for that resilience. They feel deeply, and they let go.
According to Buddhist philosophy, over the course of a lifetime, we experience 10,000 joys and 10,000 sorrows. Ideally, we welcome both. In accepting sorrows, though, it’s useful to remember that joy awaits.
* Approximately 15% of women will experience postpartum depression after the birth of a child. If you suspect you or someone you know may be dealing with PPD, there are excellent resources in the Triangle area. UNC Hospital opened the first Perinatal Psychiatric Inpatient unit of its kind in the country and its resources extend far beyond this service. They offer wonderful outpatient care and support groups for expecting and new moms. For more information, please visit Perinatal Mood Disorders Clinic at UNC.