A few days ago, I was sitting alone at the dinner table, preparing to eat my dinner. It was barbecue meatballs and mixed vegetables. My children and husband had already had their meals so I was fully ready to enjoy mine alone.
All of a sudden, I felt a great sensation fall over my entire being. I’m still not sure if it was sadness, anger, anxiety, depression or a combination of them all. I instantly stood up from the table, walked out onto the back patio, sat down on the couch and began crying. It was a very scary, yet eye-opening experience for me. I mean, of course, I cry…we all do, right? But I had never done this…stopped in the middle of my meal and cried, aloud, outside, in plain view for my three children, husband and even neighbors to see. For the first…or maybe second time in my life, I felt hopeless and useless.
Now, let’s rewind…maybe I should shed a little more light on the events that I believe led up to this “outburst.” First and foremost, I had worked a semi-full day and had come home to serve my already-prepared dinner. My husband had also worked (a ten hour day) and come home starving and tired. I plated everyone’s meals (except my own) and got busy doing my normal prep work for the next day. For me, that includes pouring cereal into baggies with vitamins for the kids’ quick breakfast, packing my oldest daughter’s lunch into her lunch bag, signing off on her behavior chart in her school binder, logging our reading from the night before and collecting her worksheets to review; also laying the kids’ pajamas out for the night, ensuring clothes are set out for the next day and tidying up any lingering messes (with the help of my family of course). While “multi-tasking” all of these items, I was also intermittently helping to feed my one year-old.
When the kids were finally finished and I’d gotten everything prepped and ready for the night and following day, we sent the kids off to play and that’s when I sat down to eat. No more than two minutes after I sat down, each child came into the kitchen requesting SOMETHING of me…my food, their water bottle, to kiss a “boo boo,” to get dessert or a snack, to go outside, to do ANY FREAKING THING other than LET MOMMY EAT. Meanwhile, back at the ranch (our living room), my husband is laid back on the couch with an empty plate and full stomach, resting and letting his food digest…which he absolutely deserved (no, this isn’t a post to bash my husband because while he’s not perfect, he’s a great husband, father and provider…and to be honest, I learned something from him this day, despite his imperfections…but I’ll get to that in a second). It was at that moment, that I completely fell apart inside. I could no longer take the STRESS (yes, that’s what it was) that was filling my body, mind and spirit. I had to step outside.
Now, in hindsight, maybe I should’ve gotten in my car and taken a drive…because within minutes of stepping out, my husband and oldest daughter had followed behind me. I expressed to them through a tear-stained face that I needed some time alone. My husband asked a few questions then finally gave me my space. My daughter being the empathetic, sweet girl that she is, could not. She stayed with me, laid on my chest, rubbed my face, wiped my tears and told me that she was sorry if she did anything to make me sad. Obviously, this did NOT help my crying situation…lol. But I was able to tell her that she didn’t do anything, but that it was sometimes “hard to be a wife, mommy and business woman” and sometimes “Mommy just gets tired.” Her response was something I never expected…though I don’t know why, considering she has ALWAYS been an old, sweet soul. She said to me “Mommy, I know it’s hard. I see you everyday do so much things for us all. And that’s why I want to help you do stuff, because I don’t want you to do things by yourself.” I nearly collapsed (from a seated position). Who was this small child preaching to me like this? I thanked her, kissed her and told her how very much I appreciated all of her help.
At the time, I was simply overtaken with her thoughtfulness and I didn’t really give the situation very much thought…but a few days later, the light bulb went off. God had literally used my family to speak directly to me. That fact for me is humbling and amazing all at the same time. Essentially, I had hit my maximum peak of stress at that moment and I was overwhelmed at the fact that my children would walk right past my husband to ask me for things that he could easily and obviously do. It was as if, they saw it as my job ALWAYS and their dad’s job SOMETIMES (but mostly when mom is not home). So I had to figure out why they clearly felt that way and what I could do (if anything) to change that perspective.
After thought and prayer, I realized that many of these standards had been set or defined by ME. And since it was my idea, no one bothered to challenge it (much). So, since I established them, I decided that I could also change them. Listening deeply to my daughter made me realize that I NEED and SHOULD HAVE help! Not just from her, but from my other children, my spouse and OTHERS as well. I recognized that as a wife and mother, every time we reject the help of others, we are adding an extra pinch of stress to our lives. Each time we avoid being direct with our children and spouses about our needs/wants, we are wounding ourselves deeply…wounds that we will later blame on others. Every time when lay awake at night stressing about the tasks of the next day or the day after that, we are trimming YEARS off of our lives. Simply put, we are KILLING ourselves. It’s NOT our husbands, partners, parents, children or others…IT IS US. And we HAVE to take responsibility for this. Period.
Simply put, we are KILLING ourselves. It’s NOT our husbands, partners, parents, children or others…IT IS US.
We can not (and I refuse to any longer) sit idly by while we broadcast our disdain for ourselves through constant and consistent neglect. It is our job to take care of ourselves. No one else will ever be able to do it because no one else knows you like YOU do. And the more we expect others to do our jobs, the more disappointed, unfulfilled, unhappy, depressed and broken we will be. This is no way to live ladies. The worry we carry that leads to stress is a choice. So it’s time to choose differently.
How do we do that? The reality is that the answer is multi-faceted. There is no magic pill, no one or two step program. It begins with a series of individual choices to do things (some big and some small) that bring us joy and pleasure, that ease our minds, bodies and souls. For some of us, we may not even know what those things are. In that case, I encourage you to figure it out. If you still have life left in your body, you have an opportunity to breathe, live, learn, love and walk in your purpose. Go back to school for your passion, take a small pay cut to work in your dream field, sleep in on a Saturday (or two), get your monthly spa services faithfully, take up your trustworthy neighbor or family member on their babysitting offer. Paint, draw or color, dance, run or do Yoga. Meditate, pray, binge watch TV. Have a healthy OR unhealthy snack (from time to time) and DON’T SHARE! Learn to be stingy when necessary…with your time and your energy, because if you don’t have enough of YOU for yourself, you can’t share with anyone else anyhow.
Learn to be stingy when necessary…with your time and your energy
We have to face facts here…stress is a part of life, but we MUST have strategies in place to manage it so that it doesn’t cripple us. In the story I told about myself, I initially felt annoyed with my husband for lying back on the couch like he didn’t have a care in the world. But I eventually realized that he’s had this stress thing under control for a while now. He purposely takes time to relax and care for himself via running regularly (even when I think it’s inconvenient), playing the video game for some healthy competition, watching TV, napping on his off days, hanging with his friends once weekly and other things. My list has been FAR shorter and definitely less consistent. And it’s completely my fault, because when I’ve mentioned creating more opportunities to care for myself, he’s given me the thumbs up and encouraged it. However, I find excuses to avoid doing so.
Also, I initially felt some sort of way, breaking down in front of my babies, but in hindsight, I am glad that that happened as well. My oldest is only five, but I think it’s healthy to start this conversation about the stress we as women put on ourselves and others (directly or indirectly) as early as possible. Perhaps by grasping the fact that “mommy is not perfect and can not always do it all,” she will avoid creating an image of perfection for herself that will later cause her stress, pain and depression trying to live up to and emulate. My daughters will grow up in a world much different from the one that I have, but I trust that the tools that I am instilling in them now will still be very applicable as they journey through adulthood, marriage and motherhood, God-willing.
In the end, we all have a choice…the stress of life can be manipulated to strengthen and teach us or we can allow it fully defeat us. What will you do today to seal and solidify your fate?
Dr. Lisa Folden is a Physical Therapist & Owner at Healthy PhiT PT & Wellness Consultants in Charlotte NC.