I was lying on the exam table during my six-week postpartum checkup after my third child was born. My midwife was giving me a breast exam while making comments about my huge cans.
“Oh my god, your boobs are huge. Can you drive? I mean, how do you reach the steering wheel with these things?” I looked at her and burst out crying, not because she couldn’t get over my engorged breasts, but because it had been the first moment I did not have my three kids in tow since my youngest was born. I had looked forward to this appointment and had just realized how sad that was.
I was maxed out to the point of looking forward to being felt up by the woman who just watched me give birth. I couldn’t wait to lay on the exam table alone — I didn’t care if I was going to be pried open with something that resembled a car jack. This was my relaxation time.
One look at me and she knew what was wrong. “You are in the trenches. It is so hard, I know. It will get better.”
I wanted to grab her shoulders, shake her, and scream, “When? When will it get better?” But I didn’t. I was afraid she was going to respond by telling me I had to wait 18 years for it to get better. I could not handle that answer so I didn’t ask. I got out of there and took my huge knockers to get an oversized caffeinated bevy (my first one in six weeks) instead. And damn, it was good.
That was almost 10 years ago, and I got better at caring a little less about things. I want you to know if you are in the trenches, it gets better. You get better. If you are feeling maxed out, it won’t be like this every day. If you have cried while having a breast exam because you are feeling pathetic, you are not alone. Go get yourself a treat after. If you feel taken for granted, resentful, and snap at everyone in your house faster than you can eat a handful of cake while trying to hide in the fridge, well, that might not change for a while, but trust me, it gets better because you get better at this rat race also known as parenting. You get better at loving the hell out of your kids while trying to still love yourself. You can do both. It just takes practice.
Mothers are spread very thin. It doesn’t matter how many kids you have. It doesn’t matter if you work outside the home or have decided to be a stay-at-home mom. We all feel maxed out. We feel it often.
It helped me tremendously to give less — and by that, I mean give fewer shits and have more relaxed expectations of myself.
It is okay to be late sometimes. It is fine to let the kids stay in their jammies if they scream every time you try to dress them. Stop feeling like you can’t ask for help. If you need it, ask. I don’t care if we are talking about getting a prescription for an antidepressant or asking a friend to watch your kids so you can go to the grocery store. You need to be healthy. You need to be all right. Don’t compromise that because you weren’t expecting to feel this way.
If you don’t make dinner every night, your family will live. If you don’t clean up that epic mess your kids made while you were trying to shower, nobody will notice. If you can’t manage a shower for four days, it won’t matter. If you need caffeine to get through the day so you can function for those endless games of Candy Land and the thousands of questions you will be asked and the hundreds of miles you will be driving, go ahead and suck it back.
It can be hard to put this stuff into perspective when you are mothering your ass off, when you are exhausted, and when you have nothing left. Sometimes the only thing you can do is give yourself permission to walk away and deal with it later. So schedule less, say “no” more, and embrace the fact you can do so without an apology attached to it. It is so freeing that you will want to swing from the chandelier.
You do what you need to in order to get through the times when feeling maxed out is the only feeling you have. You will have days when you are so done, and the next day might not be much better, but you get better at coping and better at realizing chaos is your new normal. Your whole life, you will have messes to clean up — but when those kids are gone, it is not going to matter if the laundry was folded, if they ate hot dogs four nights in a row, or if you said no to another playdate.
What’s going to matter is that you took care of yourself during the times it felt really hard so you could be present for your family. What’s going to make the difference is letting some things go down the shitter so you can handle the chaos that parenting brings. We all know motherhood is not a race, nor should it be treated like one, but it is really easy to forget that sometimes, especially when we are feeling overextended. Just remember we have all been there — so call a friend, ask for help, and order take out tonight and the next if you need to. Remember that it won’t be like this every day. It does get better.