How to let go of the anxiety of parenting and live in the moment
I was trying to get two toddlers into one of those shopping carts with the single seat at the grocery store. So you have to put one of them in the seat and one in the basket leaving zero space for your food. If you have played this particular game of Tetris you know what I mean. While I struggled to get the two kids arranged, a woman came up and studied me seriously.
You get a lot of unsolicited advice when you are a new parent. Aren’t you still breastfeeding? That child is too old for a pacifier. He isn’t potty trained yet? I just looked at her and thought, here it comes.
Looking at my toddlers she said “This part is physically exhausting. Then you hit the teenage years and it becomes emotionally exhausting. Then they go off to college and it becomes financially exhausting.” And then she walked away as I just stood there, staring mouth open.
Cue the panic attack. I had no idea how I was going to make it through my trip to the grocery store, let alone get these kids to college. The all consuming nature of motherhood would never, ever end. That was her point. A perfect stranger walked up to me and said, guess what? It never gets easier. You are looking at 20 more years of pain. But standing there with my kids trying to climb out of the cart, I took a deep breath and remembered something. To live in the moment.
She wanted me to take it all on today. All of it. Teenagers and driving and college and everything. Bad idea. Parenting, like everything else, happens one step at a time. The only thing I can do is put one foot in front of the other. Deal with each mini-crisis and major crisis as it comes up. Every word she said may be true, but so what? I still need to grocery shop with two toddlers.
If I stopped to talk to a young mother in a parking lot, the conversation would be different. My kids are a bit older now and I have at least some perspective. I can look back and see the mistakes I made. Some mattered, some didn’t. All were a learning experience. And my journey is far from over.
Remind yourself how amazing you are.
Being a mom doesn’t always come with the congratulations it deserves, so you better congratulate yourself. I don’t say this lightly. When you are managing diapers or teenagers or any stage in between, you are going to have good and bad moments. Your kids will touch your heart like no one else. And they will frustrate you beyond belief. As you navigate everything from diaper rash to eye rolling, you need to remember who you are. Wake up in the morning, look in the mirror and say thank you. Thank you for being an amazing woman, for maintaining your career, or for giving up your career to stay at home, for being an amazing wife and daughter and friend. Thank yourself, just in case no one else does today. You are a fucking rock star.
Find something that is just yours.
It might be a workout class with your girlfriends, a walk outside in nature, or a solo trip to the mall. Whatever you love, do it. I received that advice so many times and read articles and books that repeatedly told me not to lose myself in motherhood. But I did anyway. I know you are busy and time is precious. Even if you spend one hour a week on yourself, it will be enough. Take the time to care for yourself. It pays dividends and you deserve it.
Parenting is not going to be successful venture 100% of the time. It is more like you are traveling on the path and things seem good. Then you veer off for a while and need to correct. I shouldn’t have yelled, lost my patience, whatever. Your relationship with your children is an evolving entity, just like all relationships. Only these little people are growing up and changing, turning into adults. What worked yesterday may not work today. As parents we are struggling to keep pace with the constant change in our children. The expectation that we will handle parenthood perfectly every day is unreasonable. Forgive yourself. Constantly.
It starts so early. Parent-child classes where you sit in a circle with your baby on your lap while moms compare who is sleeping through the night. Who said their first word or holds their own bottle becomes a competition. It is no fun to go through life looking at other people for cues on where you should be or what you should be doing. My mother used to tell me, “Everyone eventually pees on the potty.” Great advice. These little milestones feel like a tragedy when we fall short of perceived expectations. Don’t look at the kid next to yours eating kale chips when yours hasn’t swallowed a vegetable all week. It is ok to fall short of perfection.
My fellow mom in the parking lot has it all wrong. It is not about the pain of the journey that defines motherhood. Projecting our fears years into the future isn’t going to help any of us get through today. That is a recipe for an anxiety attack. As parents, we have enough on our plates on any given day to keep us plenty busy. Every perfect move and every mistake are an opportunity to learn and do better next time. Just put one foot in front of the other and you will get there. And don’t listen to strangers in parking lots.