My husband is a mental health therapist. Though he obviously can’t ethically offer me counseling on the side, nor would I want him to (hello, half of the problems I need to discuss come from sharing my house with him), I do get the benefit of someone who knows me intimately being trained in matters of mental health. Without bogging you down with too much detail, let me explain that in the type of therapy my husband specializes in, Internal Family Systems, clients are encouraged to explore the various thoughts and impulses they have as different parts of themselves.
During a recent breakdown caused by all the things I feel are always competing for my time and attention, (otherwise known as a fairly typical weekday night), my husband helped me identify a few parts of myself that kept coming up in my blubbering ramblings. I was mentioning a self-care part who felt frustrated that I can’t seem to quit binging on treats and staying up late in failed attempts at making myself feel better which result in me ultimately feeling worse. I also talked a lot about how out of control another part felt when I couldn’t keep the homeschooling schedule I’d set for us and because I am struggling to figure out a good balance between helping my second grader with school and giving my younger kids the time they need. Another LOUD part is angry — angry with the state of the world, angry at people who aren’t making the same choices I’m making, and angry at all of the things outside my control.
After some more discussion, I realized that all of these parts had a common goal, however inappropriately or ineffectively they were going about it. They all wanted to help me be the best mom I can be. That’s really what all of it was about. The self-care part is trying to help me get through an unprecedented time of stress, anxiety and grief so that I can help my kids get through it. The controlling, neurotic scheduler is trying to make time for the things each of my kids need in the only way it knows how. The angry part is my mama bear, hurt by the injustice of all of this and casting about for a way to protect my kids from the brunt of it.
Identifying what matters most to me during this unbearably stressful time in all our lives has helped to give me a lens through which to filter everything else.
If what I want above all else is to be a good mom, then I can start letting some things go, if even just for a time, which aren’t helping me achieve that. I love to bake and it is typically a stress reliever for me, but lately it has felt like just another thing on the to-do list. So I’ve given myself permission to just NOT if I don’t feel like it, realizing that having some time to watch a show and decompress might help me feel more rested for being creative with my kids the next day. I’ve started weighing the potential benefits of staying up late working on lesson plans against using a bit less elaborate of an activity so I’m not snapping at my kids because I’m overly tired. I can give myself grace that I’m using some less than healthy coping mechanisms right now (hello stress eating) because I know it won’t last forever and taking the hits of oxytocin where I can get them help me be a better mom.
We are all struggling right now, handling everything on our plates the best we know how, and I hope there can be solace in knowing that you’re not alone. This isn’t actually groundbreaking stuff but it has been eye-opening and freeing for me. I can focus my energies on the one thing that has the highest value to me, my role as a mother, and filter all the other things flying at me through that. I choose what to let in while protecting what makes me feel happiest and most fulfilled.