I recently read an article that stated what many of us already know --that being a mom is the equivalent of 2.5 full-time jobs. A mother’s working week totals 98 hours of work and the average mom gets just 1 hour and seven minutes of time to herself every day (I wonder how much of that includes going to the bathroom escorted by toddlers!). I love how the universe (or Facebook) can eavesdrop on my thoughts. I have been thinking lately about the whirlwind called motherhood.
For me, the last 18 years have been a roller coaster of survival. It began with the call congratulating me on being pregnant. Excitement, worry, preparation, little did I know what was about to happen. Labor and delivery, all 20 plus hours, began what was to be the real (and arguably traumatic) birth, the birth of Mom and Dad. Emma had a lot of work to do, transforming two “experienced” humans into parents. I recall holding little Emma, and looking at my husband and seriously asking, “Did you have any idea THIS was going to happen?” THIS was the lobotomy that someone performed sometime during pushing. That new found sense that I no longer matter. Someone flipped a switch in the brain where a seemingly large chunk would always be consumed with her and then her sister Abby’s survival, success, happiness and well-being.
As newborns, keeping them warm, fed and happy is a 24/7 job for which nothing can quite prepare you. Can anyone else admit to a two-minute shower with a baby in a carrier on the bathroom floor? Each stage, and its demands, quickly morphing into the next. Walking, talking, running, playing, schooling, scouting, volunteering, traveling, exploring, driving, working. What a intense, wonderful and scary ride!
In our current modern western culture, surviving these demands almost universally requires us to trade our health for theirs. It often seems that the more you sacrifice, the more you are acknowledged as a good parent. What begins with not sleeping to take care of a newborn becomes not sleeping in order to do one more load of laundry, then not sleeping worrying about the teen who is not yet home. Gourmet meals quickly devolve into unfinished mac and cheese, or an extra serving of chicken nuggets through the drive-thru. Once we stop having to chase a toddler to ensure their safety, our own movement becomes composed of the pumping of gas as we run our children to their sports activities, or the laps around the grocery store (even that is being replaced by curb-side or home delivery).
And then there are relationships. They change. Many go away. No malice, just the grace that things change and often the understanding that they too are surviving their own ride. There are the wonderful new relationships formed along the way with those at a similar point in their journey. There is the new relationship with your spouse. Never could we imagined the joy of the shared accomplishment of getting all of the dishes and laundry done, as well as the intense pride of seeing your babies grow into really neat adults. There is the often confusing relationship with your ever changing child -- parent, friend, mentor, enforcer, provider, supporter. There are the mixed emotions of seeing in your child the unique reflection of your (and your spouse’s) best and worse qualities. Then you wake to see your babies going out without you and enjoying the world you have helped them create. Bittersweet.
Motherhood has always been demanding. Successfully raising an offspring to reproduction is a challenge for all species, for all of time. But modern, western motherhood—this is crazy. Overlay all of the incredible demands and expectations of parenthood, with the now societal expectations of being a 60-hour a week professional, and/or being a single-parent and having a clean house NOW. We are expected to do and be it all, and if we have difficulty, there is externals and internal shame or blame. The struggle of making it all work can be exhausting and isolating. Giving to a child, a profession, a relationship, community, job, career -- all great, except it may be at a cost. Often the cost is to ones own health and well being.
One concept I was forced to learn along my way was the concept of “TOO MUCH.” Working as a pharmacist 60 hours a week, business owner to two pharmacies, daughter to a very ill father, student completing a doctorate, mom to two girls under five found me at a sleep apnic 300 lbs. It was not the food, it was the stress. It was too much. I was oblivious. It took a dear, close friend to YELL at me, “IT’S TOO MUCH,” for me begin to hear it. Crazy western, modern demands are just too much for the primitive body to handle. Depression, anxiety, obesity, autoimmunity, pain, insomnia—all symptoms of a body unable to handle the modern demands. A body chronically neglected and depleted, maintenance deferred.
If this is familiar, it is not too late. The human body has a remarkable capacity to heal. We are not destined to a life of disease or discomfort. Unfortunately, we moms (and dads) stink at taking care of ourselves. Much of the health coaching we do includes strategy, support and encouragement in learning to listen to our bodies and respond with the care needed to thrive. Though unfamiliar and uncomfortable, taking care of YOU is often the hardest and most important part of motherhood.
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