I wasn’t a “good mom” yesterday.
I woke up with my kids at 7:30. I changed my son’s diaper, let the dogs out to pee, and got everyone food. But then I turned on Netflix for the kids and chose to go back to bed. I could’ve stayed up with them since I wasn’t any more tired than I usually am. But I still chose to retreat back to my room.
My kids then watched about 4.5 hours straight of television while I tossed and turned in bed, never really falling asleep and listening to my kids giggle and fight. I opened any treat they brought to me without monitoring what time it was or if it was healthy. Other than these simple interactions, I stayed cuddled up in bed, feeling like I just couldn’t, and didn’t want to, function.
I got up to feed the kids a thrown-together lunch and to take my daughter to school. I knew the kids would want my devoted attention once I emerged from my room, since they had spent all morning technically without me. But as hard as I tried, I still just wanted to zone them out. I couldn’t push away my obsessive, intrusive thoughts about how life was so much easier (and quieter) before they existed. So after some half-hearted responses to their endless questions and “look at me’s,” I pulled out my phone, and we all ate lunch in (relative) silence.
Once my son was down for rest time, I went back to my bed. Again, I just couldn’t function beyond the basics. I ignored the dishes, piles of laundry, our empty fridge, calls and texts from friends and family members, and my extreme need for a shower. I ignored everything I possibly could and went back to bed.
I picked my daughter up from school, hoping I wouldn’t have to get out of the car since I was in a nightgown and no bra. And by this point, finally, I could manage mustering up some encouragement as I listened to her tell me about her day. But as soon as my husband was home from work, I left him to make dinner and I retreated to my room once more. Even with all the alone time I chose to take today, I still couldn’t wait for my kids’ bedtime.
This doesn’t make me sound like a “good mom.” In fact, I’m sure many are reading this assuming I’m a very selfish mom who shouldn’t have had kids if I wasn’t going to enjoy the responsibility. Maybe you’re right, on some level, but I can’t put them back in now! Today sounds like a throwaway day; a day when I should have been accomplishing things and cherishing my young kids while they’re little. I know this, which is why today ended with even more mom guilt than I usually have.
But this is the reality of parenting through mental illness. Sometimes, this is what parenting looks like to someone who doesn’t even have mental illness because this type of day is one that happens to us all. But it’s a day that is rarely ever admitted so publicly because we all want to be the Good Mom. We want every day of our kids’ lives to be smooth and fun, and we want them to look back on these years with fond memories. We’re terrified they might remember the off day(s) we had. We’re terrified other moms will know our failures and not be able to (or choose not to) relate.
But off-days are part of the human reality, especially if we suffer from mental illnesses like Depression, Anxiety, Bipolar Disorder, OCD, or many others. So isn’t it a mother’s responsibility to also model to our kids the off days, or the “bad mom” days, and how to get ourselves out of it? They will inevitably have these kinds of days where they won’t want to attend their college classes or go out with friends or do their chores. They, also, will have days where they buckle under their pressures and spend too much time in bed. We hope they won’t; we hope our kids will have better lives than we do. But life isn’t all butterflies and “good mom” days. Shouldn’t they see their mother having real days, too? Days where we have a hard time with our responsibilities because we are human.
I’m not excusing my off days. While I took care of my kids on a basic level, I spent yesterday almost ignoring their emotional needs in favor of catering to my own. None of us want to have days like this and I am working with my doctor to decrease these types of days. But sometimes, after weeks and months and years of giving, giving, giving, it all becomes too much. So can we redefine what the label of “good mom” really looks like? A good mom will allow herself some wiggle room to figure out what her individual self-care looks like.
Maybe a day or two (or three) in bed while the kids eat snacks and watch TV is what true self-care looks like to a struggling mother. Maybe the rare Saturday getting a massage and our nails done, though amazing, is more of a band-aid fix. Maybe self-care, the gateway to being our version of a “good mom,” is allowing ourselves to be human, in order to progress and do better the next day. Maybe it’s talking to our doctor or therapist. Maybe it’s cutting ourselves some slack. Because then we will be more capable of using these off-days as an opportunity to show our kids how to get out of the funk and how to move on.
Yesterday I wasn’t what society would deem a “good mom,” but today, I was proud of what I accomplished for my kids and myself. I have no idea if tomorrow will be an energetic, productive day or an off-day. But I’m willing to forgive myself when I feel like I’ve cracked and failed. Because we all crack sometimes. And I know tomorrow is a new day.