The danger of “it’s not that bad”

the anonymous mommy

it’s not that bad

          My heart is feeling weird and fluttery. But I’ve never been hospitalized for my weight. It’s not that bad.

          I can’t remember the last time I went a day without a drink. But I mean I’m never drunk at work or anything. It’s not that bad.

          He punched through the wall.  I mean, it’s not like I got hurt or anything. He didn’t hit me. So it’s not that bad.

          I am crying a lot and really don’t want to leave the house.  I’m not suicidal or anything. It’s not that bad.

          My boss says gross things to me. But he doesn’t touch me, so whatever. It’s not that bad.

These are all things I’ve said in the past, either out loud or to myself. It didn’t register that anything was wrong with it. In my twisted logic, it was about respect and self-protection. I didn’t want people to think I was being too much of a drama queen. I knew that there were people out there dealing with much worse situations than I was. And I should be grateful that I wasn’t.

But that isn’t’ gratitude. That is settling for scraps.

cupcake crumbs
Yeah, that should be plenty 

It’s not that good

Okay, so maybe you are handling the situation for now. It’s not that bad, but it’s certainly not that good! The whole reason for saying something in the first place is because there is an internal alarm system going off saying, “Bad! Bad! Bad!” But you’re afraid you will be judged for it so you qualify it. Then no one can get mad at you.

But why are we so willing to tolerate what is admittedly not so good?  Your life should be more than “not bad”.  When you think about the hopes you have for your children, is it that their lives will be “not miserable”?  Of course not.  You want them to be happy and fulfilled.

Somewhere along the way, we stopped believing we can have nice things.

dog ate bed
This could be why

There are a number of times in life when we are slapped across the face with reality.  That some things don’t always work out. Good doesn’t always win.  You can do all the right things, and still end up with what you consider to be less than your share of happiness.  The lesson of “Life isn’t fair” is a very difficult one to accept.  Part of me still wants to stomp my foot at it like a three-year-old.

Serenity

serenity now

The Serenity Prayer is some advanced shit.  It sounds simple enough:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;

Courage, to change the things I can;

And the wisdom to know the difference.

But damn if it’s not hard to carry out.  Yes, there are things that are simply out of your hands.  Cancer.  Natural disasters.  Who is currently in power. Other people’s will.  The fact that it’s raining…  It feels like if we just point out to others, or to the universe that it’s just not fucking fair, that life will somehow “get it” and resolve things to put them back in balance. We all wish it worked this way.  It feels like it should.  But it doesn’t.

Accepting things does not mean you have to like them and it doesn’t mean they don’t hurt.  It just means that you stop throwing so much energy at them.

Then there are the things you can change, and this is sometimes harder because the onus is on you.  (Hee hee, onus.)  This is where “It’s not that bad” comes in.  That is the sound of someone realizing this is something that they should probably change – and then chickening out.  It’s scary to rearrange things in your life.  But we can’t sit there and rail about the world being unfair, and then not do our part to make it as fair as we possibly can.  Sometimes it’s about baby steps.  Just giving yourself the leeway to think “What are the GOOD things that might happen if I take action?” – instead of just imagining all the bad ones.

Being able to pick through what’s yours to change can be tricky.  Sometimes we need outside perspective.  And that’s another thing “It’s not that bad” is a placeholder for.  A request for perspective.

Sending out an S.O.S

I’ve noticed over time that it seems like message boards (or Facebook groups and their ilk) have made it a bit more possible to reach out for help. Because it’s a space on social media where we have a degree of anonymity, it allows us to show something other than the glossy highlight reel reserved for most of social media. It’s a place where people can ask each other tentatively – is this normal?

scissors in head
It looks worse than it is

I am on a few different Facebook groups for mothers and have found them very honest and useful. But “it’s not that bad” is rampant on them. Thankfully, whenever there is one of those posts, other mothers usually rally around the poster, letting her know that she doesn’t have to stand for whatever it is. But in equal measure, there is often a chorus of “yeah, same here.”

Fear and Change

Whether it’s a friend confiding in you, or someone posting on a message board, one of the reasons for downplaying the problem is that it’s scary to admit that your life isn’t perfect. We spend so much time and energy trying to convince everyone that we are happy and everything is great – even those we are closest to. Because if we admit there is something really wrong, we might actually have to do something about it. Having to “hit bottom” doesn’t only apply to addictions. If something is hurting us, most people are so afraid of change that it takes something pretty dramatic to jolt them out of their everyday routine. We’ll take the hell we have right now because we know we can survive it. We’d rather have pain than chaos.

This is another reason why sharing these things seems to happen more often online. No matter how close you feel to your online tribe, they aren’t likely to follow up with you on what you need to change. Your best friend will.

One-upping

We are all guilty of going to town with our war stories. This is another reason women tend to downplay what they are going through.

          “My child is in the NICU”

          “Oh, yeah, mine was in the NICU for two weeks and on oxygen. We couldn’t even touch him!”

not helpful
Thanks Melissa. That’s helpful.

Often this is done in a bid to connect, not belittle. But a more effective way to do this is to acknowledge them. You can say “I’m sorry. I’ve been through that. How are you doing with it today?” (Today is key here.  How they’re doing overall is too overwhelming.)  Let them lead the way in terms of asking for your story. Most likely they just need to talk.

That said, sometimes when you have a worse situation going on, it can be tempting to one-up. Because you’re not complaining, so why the hell is she? Back away from the keyboard my friend. More than one person can be in pain at a time. You don’t need to play tug of war with something you don’t want in the first place. But together you can hold it a little more lightly.

Do you know your enemy?

We are at a turning point for women right now. Can you feel it? We have the opportunity of a generation to become more powerful. To level the playing field. To say it IS that bad and we won’t accept that for ourselves. But when you listen to the voice that invalidates your pain, you accept pain as the status quo. As something acceptable.

Men aren’t the enemy here. They almost never are. Overgeneralization is never positive or helpful. The enemy is our culture. Men have their own pain and their own stories. Most just don’t talk about them because they are shamed out of it. “It’s not that bad” is translated to “don’t be a pussy”. And don’t get me started on what’s wrong with that.

The only way to change a culture is to

1) Talk about it. Say it is that bad.

2) Change ourselves.

It’s not enough to want it to be different for your daughter. You need to want it to be different for yourself.  When you hear it” It’s not that bad” come out of your mouth, it should serve as a warning sign that something is wrong in your life.  And that you matter enough to change it.

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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