When Motherhood is Traumatic (You’re not crazy and you’re not alone)
Recently I was asked if I would watch a friends kiddos for a half a day plus an over night – an 11 year old, 9 year old, 7 year old, 3 year old, and a one year old. Plus my kids.
I thought back to my desperate days and told them I would do it. I knew they needed a break. But after saying yes I began feeling extreme anxiety. It crept up my shoulders and latched into my heart and all I could think about is how much I was dreading watching all their kids plus mine plus an overnight.
Why was I so fearful and anxious about helping my friend? What was wrong with me? I kept thinking, I’m so stupid, this is silly, people watch kids all the time and don’t panic about it! I’m just being ridiculous.
As I went to bed with all this on my mind, I asked the Lord to untangle my anxiety and help me understand my physical reaction to the upcoming situation. And as I thought and prayed, the Lord spoke to my spirit and I remembered.
I immediately was back to the days when I had two toddlers and a baby and felt so alone. I was desperate for a break, for some help, for something and I didn’t think I could face my days. I was jealous of others who had a mom to help them. I was envious of people who had help period. I felt like I was drowning and I didn’t know how to catch my breath.
Perhaps I had some postpartum stuff going on, I don’t know, maybe I’m just prone to depression and anxiety, but there were days I didn’t think I was going to make it.
Yet, here I am. I’m through those desperate days and I’m delighting in my children. But it’s interesting to me that just knowing I was going to be back with a toddler and a baby plus other kids, alone, overnight, triggered all my anxiety. I mean I physically felt it. Is there such thing as post traumatic stress disorder for those who had babies and toddlers? I’m thinking yes, because I can’t explain the fear and stress one babysitting job gave me. I’ll tell you what I do know: mothering can be traumatic.
Just recently I received an email from a mom who is carrying the weight of guilt that she is failing her kids because she is so overwhelmed. Here’s a portion:
“I feel like I can barely keep my head above water most of the time. I am angry, short-tempered, anxious, depressed, and completely overwhelmed… I just find that I don’t even have the energy or willpower to love them, at least in ways that seem tangible to them, most days. How’s that for terrible? I just feel like I’m screwing them up for life. I don’t even know what to do…I’m feeling heartbroken and awful, but it seems like I feel this way every evening, and then the morning comes, and all the ugly and awful just starts all over again.”
These are the kinds of letters I get and they bring me to tears. Because I know how hard and lonely motherhood can be. I know how you can feel so boxed in and heavy and you’re scratching for a way out just so you can breathe and then you feel guilty all the while because you think you’re ruining your kids. It’s an awful burden to carry.
And as your sweet kiddos grow up (time will actually move on and they will grow up), you’ll be surprised at the triggers.
So for all the moms out there who are drowning, for all the moms who don’t know why they have anxiety around small children or RUN LIKE CRAZY when they are asked to watch the toddler room at church, I have some words for you.
First of all, you’re not crazy and you’re not a bad mom.
You are (or were) an overworked, legitimately exhausted woman who is caring for little people who are uncivilized. Yes, uncivilized sin-natured sweet-as-pie-but-also-crazy little people who don’t even have their brains formed yet. Cut yourself some slack in the guilt department unless you are abusing your children. If you are, you need to send out an SOS stat. Call someone. Tell your husband. Reach out to your doctor. GET HELP. If you’re not abusive but just feeling so overwhelmed and confused (you want these kids!) and depressed, CALL SOMEONE. Tell your husband. Reach out to your friends. Get out of the house (library, Fast food kids area, etc. – free or cheap). Read encouraging articles and books and blogs. I heard of a woman who kept her bible open on the counter just so she could get snippets in the throes of motherhood. TALK TO GOD. He hears your cry. And also, snuggle and kiss and smell their little heads because I promise you, they will grow up. And those sweet little feet that you kiss now will be so stinky there will be no kissing them.
Here’s another thing: You can face this.
A counselor friend of mine told me that anxiety is believing that you can’t face reality, like it’s just too much. You can’t handle it. You won’t make it. You feel like you might die.
That is pretty much how I’ve felt as the approaching date for my babysitting loomed and that’s how many of you feel right now, like you just can’t do it.
But then she told me that you actually can face reality and you aren’t going to die. And that’s the truth: You can handle it. You will be okay. You’re going to make it. You have what it takes because God made you a mother, and when you don’t have it, He will help you.
One day at a time. Slow and steady. Deep breath.
My friend Amy says that when you get anxious feelings, don’t push them away, but listen to them for they are a window into the deeper parts of your heart. What is going on in there? Say to those feelings and anxious thoughts:
I won’t push you away, I will get curious.
I won’t say my feelings are stupid, I will ask why I have them.
I will listen to the Lord and take into account my life and pay attention to what my body is telling me.
I will bring the truth to the light, honor it, and not stuff it.
I will not let my anxiety rule me. I will go forward in the truth.
How you are feeling as a mom is real and valid. Listen to it. And then wash your face (as a dear older woman once told me), and go forward.
And one more thing, tell your husband how you’re feeling. Tell him all of it. Tell him you’re drowning and need him to throw you a rope instead of you swimming harder. Work something out so you can get out or stay in while he takes his kiddos out for awhile. You’re in this together, so tell him your needs.
By the way, that babysitting job for my friends, it happened, and I was fine. I didn’t die.
We can do hard things, and we can keep on and we can know we aren’t alone.
Much love, Sarah Mae