Eating Disorders, Alcoholism, and Motherhood

eating disorders

Whack-A-Mole

My first love was not alcohol. It was food. Starting around age 8, in response to a myriad of stressors, I started bingeing. So I did what far too many ten-year-olds do. I started a diet.

Whack!

Which led to an eating disorder.

Mole.

Then I fell in love for the first time and felt better about my body and was able to slowly learn to eat again.

Whack!

It’s purely a coincidence that I started drinking around then.

Mole.

Then I quit smoking.

Whack!

And stopped eating food, saving my calories for drinking instead.

Mole. Mole.

I tried to beat back the eating disorder and get sober at the same time.

Whack! Whack!

But was asking too much of myself at once. I couldn’t keep it up and started drinking again.

Mole.

Three and a half years ago I got sober.

Whack.

And stopped eating again.

Mole.

And started exercising 2-3 hours a day.

Mole.

Then I got pregnant and had to seriously knock that shit off.

Whack…

My arms are exhausted.  I don’t want to play this game anymore.

First Things First?

Around the rooms, this is known as “Whack-a-Mole”. You take care of one problem, and another pops up.  I have often heard the advice – work on what’s killing you fastest.  But food and alcohol are tangled up together for me, in that they both try to solve the same problem –anxiety.

The first time I went into a recovery group and was reading the Big Book, I kept saying to my sponsor, “Oh, I totally relate to that.  Only about food…”  It happened so many times, she eventually said to me, “You know, I don’t know that alcohol is your real problem.  I think it’s food.”

My reaction was twofold:

  1.  No shit, Sherlock.
  2.  Yippee!  That means I can go DRINK!
But I’m not overly excited about it…

And that’s exactly what I did. For the next five years.  It didn’t occur to me that I was using alcohol in the same way I had used dieting in the past – as a numbing device.  But because I tended to bounce back and forth between the two, it didn’t make sense to me that BOTH could be a problem until much later.

Coping mechanisms

I don’t know why I seem to ping-pong between the two.  I can’t seem to find a point of total balance. There is something in me that is overwhelmed by the daily minor messes of life. I feel too much and it’s embarrassing. I realize this sounds either terribly angsty or depressed. If it’s angst, I should just get over it, grow up, slap a smile on my face and get on with it. And that’s generally what I do every day.

If it’s depression, I ought to take meds for that. And that’s also what I do every day. In addition, I am active, take vitamins, meditate, and do the things I am supposed to do. But somehow there is something in me that wants to check. The fuck. Out. It’s not that I want to die. Not at all.  I just want a break, to not feel. That is probably the thing I miss the most that my addictions gave me – the numbness.

It also has something to do with reinvention. I have this image in my head of someone poised and cool, who doesn’t sweat the small stuff. Who doesn’t talk too much or too loudly, and isn’t weird.  I thought I could starve the loudness out of myself. If I made myself small enough, and sharp enough, then all my excess would be gone. I wouldn’t have these squishy emotions that can’t be contained. And with alcohol, I could feel like the confident easygoing girl in public. And make her disappear alone at night.

The problem with these coping mechanisms is that they eventually stop working.  I kept drinking more or eating less to try to get that old feeling back, long past the point where it stopped working.

What? I just feel my feelings

I remember talking to a friend one of the times I was trying to get better. I asked him what he did when things in life were bad, to cope. He said, “I don’t DO anything. I just live through it, do what I can, and eventually, it sucks less.” I stared at him thinking, “We are a different species.”

In early sobriety, I remember trying to put this sort of thing into action after someone at work had pulled a particularly obnoxious move. I handled it perfectly well in the moment, making sure I didn’t show any anger or point any fingers. But inside I was furious. I am not comfortable with anger. Not then, not now. I want it gone, immediately. I have some better tools now, but at the time I had no idea what to do with this when I couldn’t stun it senseless with alcohol. My sponsor told me to take a bath. I complied. 20 minutes later I texted her, “Okay, so now I’m wet and I’m mad. I don’t see how this is better.”

I have made a good amount of progress in the three years between then and now. I’ve gotten better at doing things the way my alien friend does, trying to go the acceptance route, and for the most part, I’m successful. But I am also aware that nothing particularly bad has happened to me in those three years. (Coincidence?) I did go through a period of being unemployed that was no treat, but I knew there would be an end to it. I don’t know how I’ll deal though when I lose anyone important to me or if there’s a natural disaster. But the program gives me tools, for which I am thankful – meetings, fellowship, prayer…It has a  general direction which is helpful.

The food issues have been harder to part ways with than alcohol.  I am an all-or-nothing person. With alcohol, it is a great relief to know it’s off the table completely.  I don’t have to think about it.  But it doesn’t work that way with food.  I am uneasy with having to find a middle ground and I still struggle with it. Another big difference is that I never miss my alcoholism. I don’t miss being drunk or hungover. But I miss my eating disorder.   I don’t know why.  I hated it. But it made me feel powerful. The mental obsession has never been lifted for me. I don’t go a day without getting on the scale. I record everything I eat. I constantly wish I ate less and weighed less. I hate that I want food. I know I need it, but I hate that it is more than a necessity. These thoughts float through my head in the same way I remember, “Oh, I should pick up the dry cleaning.” They have become mundane.  My body has been cured.  My brain has not.

Recovery communities

While this might not make sense to anyone who hasn’t struggled with eating disorders, this thought is far from unusual. I had to stop going to message boards for eating disorder recovery because too much of it was women talking about how they “wanted their self-control (aka the eating disorder) back”.

Alcoholism recovery is a chummy experience. People drink coffee together and eat doughnuts and laugh about their shared history of disaster. There is just a sense that we are all in it together — relying on and helping each other.

Eating disorder recovery meetings always have a thread of competition running through them. There is always the very immediate yardstick of who is the thinnest in the room. If it’s you, you have to stay that way. If it’s not you, you aren’t working hard enough. This is not really helpful in changing your thinking.

She’s thinner than I am. Something must be done.

Why I am afraid to fully recover

The thing I don’t want to admit is that I know I probably could be better, but I’m terrified that if I don’t think this way, then I will gain weight.  A lot of it. I’ve been overweight, and I’ve been underweight and it’s ridiculous how different I was treated.   Not by everyone, but by a lot of people.  When I was underweight I was treated better than I ever have been by both men and women.   When overweight, I frequently either invisible or a punchline. I couldn’t bear to live that way. I don’t have thick skin. There are those who are body positive and healthy at a higher weight, but I don’t have that kind of self-confidence. I want to be admired, but if I can’t be admired, I want to blend in.

Everything about my recovery from alcoholism tells me this is bullshit. But it has been my brain since I was eight years old.  It’s how I understand the world.  That’s hard to rewire.

Culture

You couldn’t have ordered a burger?

Nearly every woman I know who is in recovery from an eating disorder has also had a problem with alcohol.  Not exactly the scientific method, though there have been numerous studies that seem to suggest this.  It makes sense to me. There is an unspoken battle between many women for who can eat the least at a given meal. When I go out to lunch, I can’t help but notice all the women with tiny salads and large glasses of white wine. I remember how the alcohol killed the hunger pangs and the lack of food made the buzz stronger. It’s a very powerful combination.  In my early days of recovery, I confided to a friend that I had stopped eating again, “It feels like being drunk.  I can’t feel anything else.”

It’s also socially sanctioned. No one ever asked me for tips on how to become a drunk.  But I have lost count of the people who pulled me aside and whispered conspiratorially, “What EXACTLY do you eat?”  As if they could make a meal plan out of a mental illness.  Though I get it.  I often miss being that thin because of how oddly revered it is in our culture.  I have to remind myself daily that it’s better to be happy and normal than skinny and miserable.

There are so many more women suffering with these issues than the numbers tell us. It is incredibly common to have an eating disorder and be a “normal” weight.  The scariest thing about writing this is doing so at a normal weight.  I worry that people will sneer or roll their eyes and think I’m pretending to be something I’m not.   Even at my worst, I never felt like I was a good enough anorexic.

Pregnancy and Eating Disorders

There is one time in life where many of us feel free from these shackles and that time is pregnancy.  For once we are EXPECTED to eat!  We are praised for it! “Oh don’t mind if I do have that Twix bar… It’s for the baby!”

Baby loves KitKats too.

Though circumstance dictated that I quit beforehand, I always figured I’d get a handle on the drinking when I got pregnant and had to stop for nine months.  I just needed a hard reset, I thought.  Now that I have spoken with so many women who have quit through pregnancy, only to ramp right back up to their prior consumption once the baby is born, I’m so grateful that I was lucky enough to get sober beforehand.   But I did sort of do that with my eating.

While some women struggle to gain enough weight due to their eating disorders, I found it to be an oasis. Beyond being culturally “allowed” to eat, my body no longer seemed like an unwanted appendage that I had to drag around everywhere. It was actually doing something. It was making a person. That was amazing to me.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommend that women gain 25-35 pounds during pregnancy, but most women I know with a history of eating disorders tended to gain closer to 50 or 60.  Sometimes more. This is not because we “pig out” but because we are never really sure what an appropriate amount of food is supposed to be. And even if we are getting the correct amount of calories for pregnancy, our bodies aren’t used to processing a normal amount of food.

Motherhood

Becoming a mother can be a double-edged sword.  I have friends who have started drinking again in order to feel like they belong in today’s wine-soaked mommy culture.  But I have a lot more friends who have gone back to their eating disorder soon after the baby is born.

I narrowly avoided it but definitely felt the temptation.  Aside from the insanity of postpartum hormones, and the panic to lose the weight, there was an intense pull to have something of myself that wasn’t “mommy”.  I felt consumed by motherhood and wished for some part of myself that was just mine.  With all its secrecy and manipulation, my eating disorder seemed to fit the bill.  But I resisted.

I have learned enough over time to know that it has nothing to do with me.  Like alcohol, it slowly takes away who I really am.  Something had already taken over my life, and it was a more positive force.  I’m not saying in any way that motherhood has cured me, or that I am cured in general.

True, whenever I’m tempted to go back to my old ways, I look at my son and think about how he needs me to be here for him.  I can’t give him the focus he deserves when I am sick.  But isn’t that a little unfair?  That’s a lot of pressure to put on a two-year-old.

There are questions though that hold promise.  Like why am I only willing to treat my body kindly when it affects another body?  What if I treated my body with the same respect I gave my growing baby?  When I was pregnant I certainly didn’t get five hours sleep a night, drink a pot of coffee a day and live on crackers and Swedish fish (aka my average weekday). Of course not! I wanted this kid to be as healthy and happy as possible. I wanted to give him a chance.  But don’t I deserve one too?

My ultimate goal is to have that same attitude towards myself all the time, not just when I’m pregnant. To insist on my own wellbeing, and to nourish myself. Because even though I’m not a growing child, I’m also not dead yet. My body isn’t a hopeless wreck that I am barely keeping going on caffeine, though it feels like it some days. It deserves a chance too. I sometimes wonder what my body could do if I let it.

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How to parent when the world seems awful

It was supposed to be different. Growing up, I was told a woman could do anything a man could do. That our mothers had marched and protested and burned perfectly good undergarments all to create a world in which women and girls wouldn’t feel like they should expect less.

Take that underwire!

This past year has been a harsh wakeup call. While I became more aware of it over the years, this year shone a spotlight on how bad it really is.

The first time I realized what I was dealing with was my first job in corporate America around twelve years ago. I had a boss who would rub my shoulders daily while telling me, “You drive me crazy, you know that? Did you tell him? Did you tell your boyfriend that if he messes up just once, I am all over that shit?”

Outraged, I told the other women in my office. They all were experiencing the same thing.

when the world seems awful
See if you could just get your measurements to be like hers…

Why doesn’t anyone say anything?” I demanded.

“Oh someone did once. Upper management didn’t believe her, so she got fired. She sued but didn’t win. Now she still doesn’t have a job. She can’t get one anywhere because companies think she’s just looking for a payday.”

“Oh.” I thought. “This isn’t how I was told it works.” No one had mentioned in the PSAs, or the mandatory employee training videos that the bad guy sometimes wins. Quite often, actually.

I waited until my exit interview with the company to say anything. I was terrified when telling the company.  I kept thinking,“You’re burning a powerful bridge. This is a small industry.” But also, “Oh sure. You waited until it wouldn’t inconvenience you to come forward. Real brave.”

It got back to me that he was shocked and angry that I “ratted him out”.   He got a slap on the wrist.

Hashtag revolution?

Fast forward to today. The headlines are full of the Harvey Weinstein scandal. People are shocked and appalled as they should be. All my friends are writing #metoo on their Facebook pages, some including their stories. I tell a truncated version of mine, and immediately take it down, for the safer “#metoo.” I feel the same way I did as when I told HR with a slightly different twist.

“Who asked you?” my brain taunts. “Don’t be so attention seeking. People have had it so much worse.  You’re one of the lucky ones.”

When I took it down I was disappointed in myself. “Real brave. Post the least controversial thing you can about it. That’s going to make a difference. I’m sure hashtags start revolutions all the time.” Some days my head is not a friendly place to be.

I hate that I’m so cynical. This year’s election was the plot twist I didn’t see coming. I believed that my son’s experience of the presidency in this country would be that he would know that was born under the presidency of a black man, and then the first president he would be fully aware of would be a woman. How would the world be different for him? Would he see people who are different from him — be it their skin or their gender – as equal without question? Probably a little starry-eyed and optimistic of me, but I hoped. It didn’t seem possible that Trump could be elected after all the racism, sexism, and generally disgusting behavior he’d exhibited.

And then he won. And all the times I’d been harassed, or mommy-tracked, or ignored were cast in a different light. “Wow,” I thought. “You really hate us, don’t you? I didn’t realize how much you hate us.” Suddenly it wasn’t just a few bad apples. We were in a bad orchard.

I know for a fact not all men hate women. Not even a majority. But maybe more than I thought. I look at my husband and my male friends whom I’ve known my whole life, and I know they are on my side. But I just didn’t quite realize what I was up against.

For a long while, it got me down. I was depressed and felt completely powerless. I have never felt like the ways my parents fought for change – protests, rallies, sit-ins, were particularly effective in this day and age. I don’t know why it worked then and doesn’t work now.  “How am I supposed to raise a good man in this midst of all this?” I wondered.  “How do I help him be different when the voices telling him that women are things are so loud right now?”  What I have come to in these past months is somewhat simple.  I do what I can.  I try and walk the walk.  Small children pick up on energy and I don’t want to be in a constant funk.  So here is what I do when it feels like this world is a horrible and scary place to be:

Turn off the news

I used to be a news junkie. I had CNN or 1010 Wins on all the time in the background listening for developments as if current affairs were part of my job. I needed to be fully briefed so that I could spring into action at any moment! In reality, springing into action generally meant being outraged and getting into stupid battles in the comments section of Facebook.  There was just one problem with this – I was getting angrier but nothing was changing! Imagine that.

via xkcd

I found I was getting anxious whenever I saw the news feed on my phone, so decided to try a week without it. I haven’t looked back. The important stuff finds its way to me whether I want it to or not.

Turn it over

The moment I admit to myself that this is not something in my control, the load lightens a little. I don’t personally have to sit down and figure out the solution to all the world’s problems. This doesn’t mean I should stand idly by and hope for the best. But I can change my perspective. What if my purpose in going to a march wasn’t to try to change the minds of anyone in power? What if it was just to show up so that a woman who is suffering sees that I am with her? That there are hundreds or thousands with her? What if I just make a difference for one person?

me too

Focus inward

I need there to be good in the world and I need to see it. But I often feel like I have neither time nor money to donate to a worthy cause. But right now that’s okay. Sometimes your service is your family or your community. I need to teach my son to be someone who respects his fellow humans regardless of their packaging. He is two and not up for the big conversations yet, so the best I can do is model behavior for him. And that means taking a look at the ways in which I’m not so perfect.

Know where you are part of the problem


It’s hard to see your own part in these things. Yesterday I was having a conversation with a friend about the whole Weinstein grossness. She said she was glad his wife picked up and left immediately.

“Yeah, but everyone knew about this before in the industry. Do you really think that she didn’t know before? Just now it’s embarrassing to stay.”

Almost instantly I wanted to slap myself.  Yes, she probably knew. And I’d imagine that’s a fairly humiliating situation. She also probably saw that everyone in the industry was turning a blind eye and that people didn’t want to piss off her husband. How well would it have gone for her if she had left before the public outcry?

I don’t think of myself as someone who blames the victim. I had to catch myself and correct it. I’m surprised when friends of mine do as I did and take down their detailed stories about this issue on social media. I guess I figure they’re braver than I am, but why should they be?

Children pick up on all of our prejudices, even those about ourselves. If I want to raise a man who respects women, then I need to respect women, including myself.

Be kind

Isn’t that what all of this is really about? Not tearing down another human being for any reason. Disagree with them, fine. Yell if you must, but don’t belittle. They will never be any more or less human than you are. Being able to listen with an open ear and an open heart has helped me change more minds than I ever could have with my debating skills.

And I cannot say this enough – no other woman is your competition. You are living your life and she is living hers. You do not need to try to be better, smarter, richer or thinner.

I’m a great believer in the butterfly effect, but I’ve always thought of it more as ripples in a pond. The idea is that when you throw a rock into a pond, it isn’t just the spot where it lands that is affected. You can see the ripples spread outward, far past the point where the impact was made. It carries on.


We don’t ever fully know the influence we have on other people and their lives. The only time people tend to reveal how much someone has shaped their lives, it tends to be at the influencer’s funeral. Which is nice and all, but just goes to show — you don’t get feedback on this in real time. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing. We can’t wait for someone else to make the world a kinder place.

So tune out the noise. Turn off the tv and Facebook. Look around you and do some small good things. And be kind to each other.

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Why you should ask for help from your partner

 

I don’t like to ask for help.  I practically have an allergy to it.   I never mind when someone else asks me to help them.  That seems justified.  But when I do it, I feel like it’s too ballsy to go around outsourcing things to people.  I should be able to handle my own life.  But what about my husband’s and my son’s lives?  I manage theirs too to different degrees.  It’s taken me time to realize that I can ask my husband for help and that he’ll gladly take on some of the 5,000 tasks constantly flying through my head.  But asking people to do things that they haven’t been handling previously can be tricky.

The concepts of The Mental Load and Emotional Labor have been getting a lot of press lately.  The gist is that the reason moms are always so exhausted is that they take on more work than others notice or appreciate.   We manage work, the household, and pretty much all the chores necessary to keep everything on track and where it needs to be. And we handle the laundry, the cooking, the bathing, the cleaning, but even if our partners help out with that stuff (and that’s a big if), we are still left with all the other intangibles.

We task ourselves with making sure everyone’s been to the doctor, buying presents, remembering birthdays, buying more clothes for the kids, planning family outings, and keeping the social calendar. It adds countless tasks to the day when we are already balancing taking care of the needs of others for about fifteen hours a day. That’s the approximate time per day spent where we AREN’T handling those things.   And then we try to cram all of those into the hour or two left in our day, and it’s no wonder our heads are perpetually about to explode.

A friend of mine put it this way: “I feel like I have all these plates I’m supposed to be spinning, and I have just figured out how to balance them all, but that’s when everything’s perfect. If one thing goes wrong in our lives, I’m going to drop it all.”

Oh shit, I have to sneeze

And God forbid you drop one. You forget to sell the PTA wrapping paper, or you tank a presentation at work. The kids are out of clean underwear, or you forgot to pay the credit card bill and now your interest rates resemble something you would expect from your friendly neighborhood loan shark. Some things you can afford to drop. Others you can’t. But when we are this fried, we don’t always get to choose what to drop, it just happens.

It’s clear here that something has got to give. Since the article on the mental load went viral, I have heard several of my friends say that they broached the topic with their husbands, and it did not go over well. They felt attacked, and confused. They were, after all, doing more than their fathers did! Hell, they would even pick up tampons at the store if you wanted them to, so feminist and egalitarian is their viewpoint!

The whole argument in the above articles is that “You should’ve asked” shouldn’t be the answer. That they should already see that if there are dishes in the sink, they should be washed and just DO it – because that’s the logical adult thing to do. It can feel like a slight when they SEE the dishes but don’t DO the dishes. We interpret it as their registering it and thinking, “Eh, she’ll take care of it.” But I don’t think that’s the case. They haven’t been taught to see it there and make the connection. If his mother always did the dishes, then his experience of a sink full of dishes is not to look at it as a task that needs to be completed. He’s not doing it to be a dick. It’s a blind spot.

I’m invisible!

Your partner has stresses too.  To imagine he is happily going about an easy life while you toil away is a recipe for resentment on both sides.  In AA one of the most useful (and uncomfortable) parts of the steps is learning to see your part in situations where you are feeling resentment. Your partner wants to make you happy.  They just need a roadmap sometimes.  Here are the things that sometimes keep me from asking for a hand.

I don’t ask for help.

Now I realize the point of the articles above is that we shouldn’t have to ask, but I can sit here on my high horse talking about how things should be in an ideal world, but that won’t poof it into existence. There are steps between our current society and our ideal. One of those is letting my partner know when something is bothering me.

And I want breakfast in bed every Sunday.

Sometimes I don’t ask because what is bugging me is kind of stupid.   Like when my husband leaves empty soda cans next to the sink. WHY!?! It remains a mystery. Does he intend to wash them out? Has he washed them out? Why not just throw them in the recycling? And then I realize I’ve been glaring at a can for fifteen seconds instead of just throwing it out. So my logic isn’t flawless either. And bottom line, he’s a great guy and this is a piece of tin we are talking about. I realize this means I will continue to have to throw out these cans but I’m not overly bothered by it.  (That said, if he puts it on top of the garbage instead of IN the garbage, then I’m going to say something because that is an act of war.) Ahem, I mean it bothers me. Honey.

It will be faster if I just do it myself

Technically it’s true, but it’s also incredibly short-sighted. Asking someone to do something that they don’t normally do, and then explaining how you’d like it done does take some time. And it won’t come out perfectly. So when you have a million plates spinning, it’s easy to say,

Today is not the day. I have too much going on for this.”

This sentence is the thing that bars us from what we want most in life. Yes, today. Do it today. Because even though it might cause some short-term annoyance or discomfort, or it might make you late, you are prioritizing something important – the happiness of your relationship. No one wants to be seething all the time, and in return, no one wants to feel like they can’t do anything right. Give a man a fish and he will expect dinner every night. Teach a man to fish and you might be surprised to find out he’s actually a really good cook. (You will probably also end up with 25 new cooking gadgets, but that’s a separate issue.)

If I don’t do it, it doesn’t get done right

This is a corollary to the one above. The actual fact is that if you don’t do it, it doesn’t get done your way which is something else entirely. If you want other people to help out and do things, you have to let go of the idea of your definition of done “right”. If your husband cleans the bathroom and misses a corner of the shower, it’s okay to let it go. You’re a mom and your house isn’t going to be perfect anyway. If you are trying to get someone to do something for you consistently, telling them they suck at it is not a terribly effective way of doing it. If everything has to be to your standards, it will have to be you who does everything.

not impressed
Why aren’t you doing that thing you suck at???

 

If it’s something seriously wrong, and now all your clothes are pink, that is generally a mistake that does not get made twice. You have to leave some room for people to make mistakes and learn on their own.

You are asking someone to take responsibility for things they didn’t have to before. Unless they are two years old, most people don’t really want more responsibilities. They are doing this for you, as they should, but don’t expect them to do cartwheels the whole time over how great it is to do chores. I’m not saying they should be surly, just that everyone should try to take it easy and have a sense of humor in the beginning. Easier said than done, I know, but at least keep the idea in mind.

The F*!&ing Morning Routine


Not necessarily related to your partner, but one of the most insidious ways overdoing it can creep into our lives is through things that SOUND like they are designed to help us be more efficient. The “morning routine” is one such albatross. Apparently you are supposed to get up an hour before everyone else (in my house this would be 4 am) and do things like exercise and meditate and read and figure out your top 3 most important things for the day.  This is supposed to make you happier and more productive.   “Successful people” whoever they are, apparently all do this. The very thought of it makes me want to weep with exhaustion. As I’ve said before, I’m a fan of meditation and exercise. But instead of being a helpful tool, I feel like these have turned into things we use to scold ourselves. If you are unhappy, and you don’t exercise or meditate because you don’t want to, that doesn’t mean there is no hope for you, or that your unhappiness is your own fault. As much as Tom Cruise was mocked for saying Brooke Shields could have cured her postpartum depression with exercise and vitamins, our society still implies that if you are depressed, maybe you’re just not trying hard enough. This is bullshit. If you are a morning person and enjoy it, go for a morning routine. But we only have a finite amount of energy. You need to decide where you can spend it.

Taking on more than is necessary 

You saw the cutest birthday party on Pinterest and now you really think you could pull off the perfect afternoon tea party theme for your three-year-old.  Kids like crumpets, right?  Homemade ones?

ask for help
Totally doable!

You have recently heard of a capsule wardrobe and think it’s a great way to save money and finally become more stylish. This will require an entirely new wardrobe mind you, but you will somehow save money in the long run. This must be thoroughly researched. There should be a workbook involved.

You want to get involved in working with at-risk kids in your area through a local program.

Sometimes we take on more than we can handle. One of the tricky things about the mental load is that some of the things we genuinely enjoy doing. I love planning the holidays at my house and getting everything set up for it, and I like planning most of our weekends. But I also know that in seasons where I have a lot of this kind of planning and errands, I am going to have less patience for other minutiae. I would love to plan an elaborate birthday party, but I know that the level of detail involved is a recipe for me being VERY cranky at the end of the day for about a month, and honestly is probably not worth it. Toddlers are happy with invisible tea.

Even worthy causes like community service sound great, but only if you are able to manage it without going berserk. I have volunteered my whole life, but I realize that now, while I have a small child and a job, is not the season for it. I will get back to it. And neither the world nor my living room will fall apart if I am not personally holding it up.

Not saying thank you

You make my life better

I can already hear you thinking, “I shouldn’t have to thank him for picking up his goddam socks!” No, that might be a bit much. But recognizing what the other person does is good too. I thank my husband whenever he takes out the garbage. Why? Because I hate doing it. It’s heavy and smelly and I find it delightful that there is someone in my life who will consistently do it for me. He does the same for me when I make something for dinner or organize an event.

I think so much of this is about being seen and appreciated. I really don’t mind doing a lot of work if I’m recognized for it. It’s when it’s taken for granted that it’s easy to get resentful. Just like a gratitude list, what you appreciate appreciates. The more you say thank you, the more things you notice that are worth saying thank you for.

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Are you messing up your kid?

messing-up-your-kid

What to do when you’ve lost it to prevent messing up your kid

I don’t know whether it’s being an alcoholic or just being a mother, but so many nights I look at my son’s little face and think, “Dear God, please don’t let me mess him up too badly.”

Part of me feels like with alcoholism running in his family, the deck is stacked against him and I want to protect him from any hurt I can, just to give him a fighting chance. But what about when I’m the cause of the hurt? When I go away on business and he doesn’t understand? Or when I realize I’ve been staring at my phone for an hour instead of playing with him? When I attempt to wrestle him into a diaper because he Will. Not. Put. On. Clothes.  When I see his big eyes fill with tears because I yelled?

Does he think I don’t love him? Is he afraid of me? What kind of monster am I if I yell at a small child?

Unsurprisingly it’s not when I am going through this that I find any answers. It’s when my friends go through the same thing that I suddenly have pearls of wisdom about it. I can give them the grace I can’t give myself. But in turn, I can try and remember it for next time. Because as much as I hate it, there will be a next time. And I promise you: You are not messing up your kid as badly as you think.

messing up your kid
Why didn’t I just let him wear his pajamas to school?

We are doing better than our parents

This isn’t to say they did a bad job. I still consider my mother to be one of the best role models around for me or anyone else for that matter, but we learn things as a society from one generation to the next. If you look at parenting just a generation or two ago, it’s pretty crazy to realize the extent to which things have changed. Just as my son rides in a car seat instead of on my lap, we take the information available at the time and we do the best we can with what we know.

rickety playground
Sure, that looks totally safe for a two-year-old!

These are teachable moments

Okay so you yelled at your kid and they cried and now you kind of wish the ground would swallow you up. As tempting as it is to ignore it and figure things will go back to normal when they see you aren’t mad anymore, you are missing an opportunity here.

You aren’t perfect and that’s okay. No one is. It’s important for them to learn how to have humility about their own flaws, and to learn to forgive them in others. I’m not saying to go into a big speech about it, but when you are both calm, find an age-appropriate way of saying, “Hey, I’m sorry I yelled at you. Yelling isn’t a good way to solve problems. We all make mistakes, and then we say we’re sorry.” Don’t give excuses for why you were yelling. You can absolutely discuss their behavior separately. But they are more likely to hear you if you don’t seem mad anymore. And justifying the yelling will just get their back up whether they are two or twenty.

Do Better

Now unfortunately along with the apology, you do actually have to try to do better in the future. I’m not saying you will never yell at your kid again because that’s a joke. But if it’s happening every day, then maybe it’s time to research ways to keep your temper better. Whatever the issue is that’s the problem, look at your part of it.  Your child is going to be on every fourth step you do.  This is the best chance you have at minimizing the extent to which you mess your kid up.

Please let him turn out better than me…

Keep it in perspective

One of my favorite ways to keep things in perspective is to ask myself, “Have I ever heard anyone use this as part of their ‘before’ story in an AA meeting?” 99% of the time, the answer is no. You don’t hear things like, “My mom never gave me the toys I wanted,” or “she yelled at me to put on my clothes every morning”.   A kid isn’t a soufflé. It’s not something where you do one thing wrong and they are ruined. And when you do something truly awful? They love you so much and they will give you a thousand chances to get it right.

(That said, if you are hurting your children, or you are worried about your behavior, talk to a therapist, stat.  They can help you.  If you’re not coping on your own, it won’t magically happen.  Insurance covers some of it and a lot of them work on a sliding scale. )

Make sure your child goes to bed knowing they are loved

There are days that are just awful and the two of you seem to butt heads. You are exasperated and just want them to go to sleep so you can have some peace. (Hey, sometimes I wish for that on a good day too.) I’m not trotting out the old adage of “never go to bed angry” because you can’t always change a feeling on a dime. What you do have the power to do is to say,

“I’m still very upset. But I love you very much. No matter what.”

Having that sense of security and being loved is a huge part of the mental health of a person at any size.

Worse comes to Worst

All this aside, you will mess your kid up at least a little. Everyone does, it’s unavoidable. As they get older, I think it is important to share our stories with them. Perhaps not the gory details, but the general message of, “You can turn it around.” There is a genetic element to this, and what they become is not all down to you and your actions. And if they ever do end up at the wrong end of too many bottles, they have you as living proof that there is a way out.

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