It's one of those days – a difficult, disheartening kind of day when the huge pressure of raising a small human creeps up on you unannounced and sucker-punches the optimism right out.
You try to get up. You know you can do it! Your training wheels of parenting are long gone. Hell, you're a pro now! You should know how to handle the situation. You keep reminding yourself over and over and over again. Yet, your legs seem unable to carry your weight today.
“What’s wrong with me?” you wonder.
“Maybe I should see a doctor. Something’s seriously wrong. Am I depressed?” You quickly dismiss this feeling.
“I am not depressed. I have hope for tomorrow,” you reason. “It’s just this day that's getting me down. Maybe it’s the weather.”
You brush aside your feelings. You drag yourself through the chores of the day, feigning a meek smile when your five-year-old shows you his magic trick. He knows your heart isn't in it today. So he cups your face in his tiny hands and stares intently into your eyes before asking you to watch his trick again.
This time, you're more present. You see his magic trick.
It’s not really a trick. He just hides a rock in his hands and says the rock has vanished. But he sure is funny. So you smile and clap. For a fleeting second, you're actually smiling. But that moment comes and goes and you're back in your dark, heavy corner, defeated. You feel guilty for not being more mindful.
This time he lets you be and gets busy with his toys.
Half the day is gone. If only you could just fast forward to bedtime, maybe you will feel better when this gloomy day is over.
“I think I'm sleep deprived. No wonder I'm feeling fatigued. I should try and get some shut eye.” Suddenly the revelation strikes you.
You decide to take the rest of the day off. If only days off in parenting would come a little easier.
You switch on the TV and put a movie for your kid to watch while you rest on the sofa. Instinctively, a sharp arrow of guilt pierces your heart. You hate that you know so many statistics about screen time and their derogatory effects.
Overwhelming guilt seems to be the theme of the day. Your sarcastic-self smiles wryly: “No wonder ignorance is bliss.”
“Knock it off.” You chide yourself. You close your eyes wondering how to shut down the chorus of self-critical voices swimming inside your head.
“Stop ruining this. He is safe. He is happy. That’s all that matters,” you remind yourself.
Thankfully, exhaustion takes over and before long you are in a dreamless half-sleep, partially aware of your five-year-old watching his movie and running round and round in circles.
“Wake up. I’m hungry.” Your picky eater tells you, trying to pry open your eyes. It takes a few seconds to register.
“What time is it?” You jump and sit up straight. Focus! You look at the clock. It is way past your child’s evening snack time.
Another bout of mom-guilt hits you where it hurts the most. “Congratulations! You succeeded in starving a child who NEVER gets hungry.” The judgmental voices in your head are back. You cower in your corner of self-defeat. No, sleep did not succeed in putting a positive spin on your day.
“But you're a mother. Happy or not, you have to do something about feeding your child.” A little voice rings true in the back of your mind.
You run to the kitchen. The fastest thing you can whip up is instant noodles and milk.
“Instant noodles? You may just as well feed him dirt. That will be more nutritious. Why don’t you have any fruits or eggs?” The guilt attacks are relentless.
Still, you power through and serve him some food. At least your five-year-old seems content. The TV is still on. You try not to calculate the number of hours it has been on so far. You look at the clock again and wonder if you would still have time to take him outside to the park after he is done eating. You don’t feel like it. Your five-year-old doesn’t seem to care one way or the other.
“I wonder what is more difficult – going outside right now or dealing with the guilt later.” You have no clue. But today you feel burned out. You can’t seem to muster enough strength to dress your child and yourself to go out. You give up on that thought. Reflexively, the guilt returns with all its vengeance.
“I just need a moment here.” You say to no one in particular.
You switch off the TV. To your surprise, your five-year-old does not protest. On the contrary, he seems relieved to be freed from the hypnotic grip of the idiot box. He starts playing with his toys again. You feel guilty that you did not switch off the TV sooner.
This is the last straw. You can no longer take it. The sheer burden of mothering in a world and time that has taught you only judgment and no kindness finally gets to you.
You no longer care if your five-year-old turns the house upside down. You go to the bedroom and lie down feeling like the worst parent of the year. Hot tears of anger, sadness, and frustration roll down your eyes.
Before long, your child is by your side. “What’s wrong?” he asks.
At that moment, you wish that your child was not so perceptive. You feign a weak smile. “I just need a minute here.” You tell him.
"Okay," he says, and lets you be. You're thankful that he still has no sense of time. A minute might as well be an hour.
Fifteen minutes later, he is back. He does not say anything. He climbs onto the bed. His rests his tiny back on your curved back as you lie still in a fetal position. He just quietly sits with his construction toys and plays. Minutes go by. He doesn’t say a word to you. You feel the need to explain, so you say “It’s nothing. I'm just not feeling well.”
“Oh, you got a fever?” he asks, touching your forehead like the many times he has seen his parents do to him. He picks up the blanket and covers you.
“Let me give you some kisses. That will make you feel much better.” He smothers you with hugs and kisses.
You smile. He smiles. The weight on your chest suddenly seems lighter. “That is KINDNESS.” A tiny hopeful voice in your head says.
Moments later, your husband is back from work.
You didn't cook any dinner. The guilt tries to stage a comeback. But this time you are stronger. You plainly say, “Sorry, did not cook dinner yet. I don’t know why but I am feeling so exhausted today.”
“Don’t worry. We’ll eat noodles. Are you "exhausted" exhausted or unwell?” Your husband wants to know.
“Not sick. Just tired,” you reply.
“Okay, you rest. Don’t worry about dinner. We boys can take over.” He replies.
“That is KINDNESS.” The hopeful voice seems to have grown bigger. The heavy feeling melts away.
When bedtime arrives, you lie wide awake rewinding the day in your head. You wonder why the hell you were feeling so awful in the first place. You can no longer remember the reason. “Thank god, the day is done. Tomorrow will be better.”
Tomorrow you will do better. You know it. You have always known it. It’s just that every once in a while you forget. So, the next time you've backed yourself into a sad corner from the relentless parenting days, remember this: YOU ARE NOT ALONE.
You were never meant to carry the guilt-ridden moments of parenting all by yourself. Because when motherhood brings you down, all you need to do is ask for a moment of kindness. And you shall receive more than you ever hoped for.
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