“A thing seen cannot be unseen.”
This has been the thought running through my head at repeating intervals over the past few weeks. I came into this childfree month with expectations about changes to my career, changes to the unpacking status of our new rental, changes to my social life during this very unique time where there is no need to line up babysitters for $20/hour when I want to have a night out.
I saw all of those changes, but the starkest unfurling was the enormous shift I saw to my temperament, attitude, and general happiness levels. I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but TH told me last week “I see the woman I fell in love with all over again. I haven’t seen you like this in years.”
He calls me The Martyr. When I take a position I dig in with all I’ve got to hold the fort and make my intentions a reality. Of course I adapt with new information, my departure from Mormonism made that clear, but if I don’t see an alternative option that feels better than my current approach I keep my heels planted firmly in place no matter how my holding might affect those around me. And because I like to be right I’m often not good at objectively weighing the alternatives in search of something better. That’s what was happening with my life, my parenting, my marriage. We got married with a 1950s dynamic, he works and she does the house and the kids, and I was hell-bent on making that doable for us (even at the expense of my well-being and the well-being of those close to me).
It obviously wasn’t working, I had plenty of data points to tell me that. One of those points was the time a close friend said she would describe me as “cynical.” She was being genuine and honest and true to what our friendship is, but it hurt me so much I cried for days. I had become a version of myself I didn’t recognize, and when she said that I realized for the first time that she wasn’t the only one who saw me that way. I don’t agree with it, but I get why there is so much hostility directed my way whenever I share something that revealed a part of my inner turmoil. The problem was not in the sharing, it was in my acceptance that there were no alternatives to what I was doing and how I was doing it. TH and I would have one of those deep and difficult conversations married people have, I would vow to do better, and then I would dive right back into the same situation once again.
I’m not opposed to calling it postpartum depression, having a name helps launch the beginning stage of finding a resolution to the problem. I couldn’t see how that could be an option though, because my belief was that a depressed person is someone who spends a lot of time in bed, productivity dwindles, they cry a lot and aren’t sure why. I was still getting stuff done and I knew why I was crying, felt positive that the issue was my inadequacy as a mother and caretaker, not realizing that a significant shift to my (and my co-parent’s) approach could bridge the gap between my children’s needs and my inadequacies.
The teachings of Mormonism had polished up the State of Motherhood to an impossible shine. It was the ultimate, the pinnacle, my greatest achievement in life. I left the church, realized no one was singing my praises anymore, and I ran into a brick wall of insecurity and frustration. Was this really something I should be doing? Why didn’t I think this decision through at an individual level before jumping in, believing without question the messages assuring “are we not all mothers.”
About a week into my childfree month I FaceTimed with my kids while they were living with my parents. Enough time had passed for me to have the space necessary to see and feel and be and define. Their little faces popped up and I felt… something. It was so unfamiliar to me (of late) that I didn’t recognize it at first, but as I felt the tightness and heat behind my eyes start to build I recognized that it was pure love and excitement about seeing them. The fog of my anxiety and depression and insecurity had lifted, and I could really see them and their magnificence for the first time in a long time, maybe years. I made these tiny little humans and it was heartbreaking-in-a-good-way to look into their eyes and see their unfettered love and acceptance of me. I needed that touch of heartbreak to face up to the truth about myself.
How did this happen? A variety of reasons, because people and life are complicated and messy. My ability to cope with mess and disorganization is weak, and young children are hurricanes of mess and disorganization. I struggle to stop a task once I’ve started on it and having little kids in the house often means completing tasks in fits and starts. I never defined myself as an individual before giving all of myself to Mormonism, labeled myself as That Wife the moment I snagged my man, abandoned my education and moved right into motherhood. I was lost in a sea of former expectations and paths set long ago, and the more I felt like I was drowning the harder I resisted leaving the water altogether.
I had fallen into several negative patterns. Constantly citing being “too busy” when the kids tried to engage with me. Loading my plate down with too many things for one person to accomplish in a single day, always trying to clean the bathroom when the kids are bathing or put laundry away when they are getting ready for bed or tackle the dishes while they are laughing together in the other room. I am looking for fulfillment and thought I would find that by trying to accomplish more, focusing on quantity over quality. I stretched myself too thin floundering for fulfillment and my mood would unpredictably shift from baseline to irritable with even the slightest provocation. I didn’t like myself this way, but we had implemented all sorts of adjustments to no avail. This is where a lot of our childcare outsourcing came from, desperate attempts to curb the uncontrollable sobbing spells I would have on the living room floor after long stretches with the kids. I wanted to drink, I wanted to escape, I wanted to not be consumed by the feelings of anxiety and fear and defeat any longer.
July 2015 has been a life raft, with me sprawled out naked on the boards, shivering and confused and lost, initially unable to do anything past figuring how to be present once again. After some time had passed I looked up and saw the sun, looked down and saw myself, and truly owned up to what I had become. I stretched my arms out and felt the air cutting between my fingers and began the painful process of self-reflection and critical analysis. I went away to Carmel with TH and we had the time to really talk, in a frank way we haven’t done in years. We both owned up to the ways we were lacking, and I saw in his eyes a deep desire to change and do better. I knew that the same sentiment was reflected back at him in my own.
The problem is not my beautiful, vivacious, kind, forgiving, full-of-incredible-potential children. The problem was in my inability to embrace that there’s more than one way to live a happy life. I needed to let go of some of my selfish desires. The problem is this solo-parent dynamic and the way I was prioritizing marriage-relationship maintenance (out of fear that the relationship couldn’t handle a significant overhaul to our approach to life/work/time) instead of embracing the Lean In path (no more wives-holding-down-the-forth while husbands have free reign to work whatever hours they see fit) . The problem was my inability to let go of my resentment toward persons and systems that guilted and dominated me into skipping crucial periods of self-definition and growth. I’m frustrated, maybe even a bit bitter, that I chose belief and obedience over being true to myself. This is life. It is hard for me to accept that there are some choices I made in the past that preclude me from things I want in the present but I see the importance of moving beyond that in order to move forward toward the kind of person I want to be.
One thing I know deep down to my core is that I get once chance to raise my children, and if I screw it up I’ll regret it more than I would any other past/present/future failure in my lifetime. I chose my husband, chose this life, chose to have kids, but my kids did not choose me. I’ll always be honest with them, they’ll certainly never think I’m perfect, but I always want them to know that I recognize and cherish their goodness. If they read this someday I want them to say “I love my mom because she tried. She wasn’t always good at it, but what really matters to me is that she wanted to grow and be better.”
I do really want to be better. Tomorrow I fly up to Washington to reunite with T1 and T2 and spend a week with my family. My focus will be on relaxing, reveling, and renewing. When we come home I’ll be implementing a plan I’ve been developing with TH since we first caught our breath and realized we wanted to make a major change in our lives. I’ll keep you updated on the way the changes are affecting me and my family, here, and on Instagram. Thank you to all of those who have supported me through all this, and helped me be in a place where I could recognize the necessity of a change in course. You’re my village.