As a registered nurse and working mother of two young boys, I rarely get time to myself. I work long 12-hour shifts at the hospital taking care of stroke victims who cannot care for themselves. While rewarding, this often leaves me drained, emotionally and physically. Moms these days have so many demands on them to be perfect. We have to have clean and organized homes, well-behaved, intelligent children, and romantic, fantasy-worthy marriages. If it’s anything less, we are clearly not trying hard enough or something is wrong with us.
It’s utterly exhausting, and it never ends. I’m not unique in this feeling. As a matter of fact, I can wager that all moms feel this way, at least from time to time. Ironically, we are the ones that hold each other to these impossibly high standards, instead of supporting one another and letting each other off the hook. It’s ridiculous, and difficult, and can erode a person so easily.
On one particular day, after working a 12-hour shift and sleeping for most of the day, I felt like a bit of a zombie. I got my boys off the school bus, got them settled with their homework, and made dinner. My husband and I got the kitchen cleaned up after we ate and the boys had their bath. This is our weekly routine. This is what we do, this is our life during the school year. And again, this is not unique to me. What perhaps makes the situation more distinctive to me is the fact that I also struggle with depression and anxiety. Most of the time I have it well-controlled and it is not an issue. But other times, out of the blue, emotions and feelings can get away from me.
On that night, after getting the boys into bed I was exceptionally tired, and unfortunately, my anxiety kicked in. It had been one of those days where everything got done yet I felt like I failed. I felt like I didn’t give enough of myself to my boys, like I didn’t give enough of myself to my husband, and certainly didn’t give enough to my house. I remember walking through the house getting down on myself about how I needed to clean and how much of a mess things were. I felt that if I was better somehow, or more, or not so inadequate my house would be cleaner, or my relationships stronger. I constantly worry that my husband will grow weary of not getting more of my attention and leave me (of course I know that’s not true). Or that my children will look back someday and wish that I had played with them more often, or worked less, or came to more of their school functions.
I could feel myself starting to go into a downward spiral; I was all too familiar with it. I started to cry, and then to hyperventilate. I have lots of exercises I consider “go-to” mini-therapies to bring myself back down, and I definitely had to call on them this time. I managed to get myself under control, and decided to treat myself to a nice, long, relaxing bubble bath. I got my wine, my book, and my music and headed to my bathroom.
As I reached to start the water running, what did I notice? That there were dinosaurs in my tub, left over from earlier when my boys took a bath. Instinctively my head goes to a place of annoyance. I thought to myself that if I was a better mom I would have made them clean this up before they went to bed — or better yet, if I was a better mom, they would have known to clean up without me having to tell them at all. But I stopped myself.
One of the methods I learn in therapy to halt anxiety and the downward spiral is to recognize negative thoughts and turn them into something positive. While this doesn’t always work, in this instance I actually remembered to utilize this technique. I caught myself thinking these negative thoughts about myself and the situation and stopped them. Then, I turned them into something positive and beautiful. All of a sudden, I saw these dinosaurs as representations of my children. My energetic, wonderful, playful young boys who will never be younger than they are right at this moment.
We can so easily get bogged down by the day to day tasks and routines we need to complete that often we forget to just stop and look around and take things in. That messy playroom represents kids that have imagination and the ability to play freely (when so many children cannot) Those dirty dishes on the counter left over from breakfast represent those same kids getting off to a school day where they are free to learn and socialize. The pleas for “one more story” and “please lay with me for one more minute, mom” are my babies asking me to be their comfort and protector, their whole world in this moment. They are little enough to still need me, and while that can be overwhelming and burdensome at times, it is incredibly beautiful and profound.
So those dinosaurs in the tub make me think of my little boys and how they still love to take baths and play together. They make me thankful that they’re old enough to do things by themselves, yet young enough to still need me and want me to be with them. I know that all too soon this will not be the case, as they grow and mature. One day they won’t ask me to tuck them in or read one more story with them or give them a bath. That day will come and I will be sad, but for now I relish in the fact that today is not that day. Because of this, I feel happy and fulfilled and can enjoy my bath.
As for those dinosaurs? They can stay right where they are.