I stood at my kitchen island, wiping spilled food off my to-do list, staring at my weekly meal plan, and feeling the biggest case of déjà vu ever. Hadn’t I just been standing here, frantically stirring something on the stove and scanning my list to identify the latest “thing I forgot to do”? Wasn’t I just simultaneously cleaning up the kitchen while making a brand new dinnertime mess? Was it yesterday? The day before? Or had I really been standing in my kitchen, multi-tasking to the point of madness, for like two hours or maybe forever?
Is this stage of life a Groundhog’s Day-like series of lunch-packing, breakfast-making, floor-sweeping, laundry-sorting, permission slip-signing mind-numbing adrenaline rush? I’m pretty sure I’m not the only who feels like they are spinning their wheels, never really getting ahead of things.
“Does anyone else feel like they are drowning?”
I put out the SOS call on my blog’s Facebook page. I needed a lifeline. And I got one. Within seconds, people were commenting, raising hands, sharing their own stories of chaos and overwhelm. I even got private message from people whose stories were too personal to share in public.
We are all so stressed out.
The good news is, we are talking about it, at least on a surface level. The bad news is, we don’t really know what to do about it.
Further complicating matters, we know how good we have it, how lucky we are, what a privilege it is to be raising kids and making food and maintaining a home, working for some parents, staying home with kids for others, sending them off to decent schools, shuttling them around to enriching activities. We are (I refuse to say blessed) grateful.
And yet it’s just so much. The after-school activities—each of which plays a significant role in our kids’ lives—make evenings a rat race. The school pressures—be they fees, field trips, fundraisers, freaking homework, forms to sign, papers to file (or lose)—are out of control.
And the errands, grocery shopping, cooking, housework, MotherGothel laundry . . . it just doesn’t stop. And we are tired.
But we feel guilty about these problems, because they feel like invisible, insignificant problems of privilege. And they are, to a degree. But they feel real, they cause real stress, real anxiety, and they are preventing us from fully embracing our daily lives with our kids, jobs, messy kitchens, and road trip weekends.
The past month or two I have felt the pressure of the daily grind more than usual, and I’m not sure why. Is it the age of my kids: six and eleven? Because you would think this was when things would be easier, since they both, you know, wipe themselves and mostly sleep all night. But yet I still feel frantic and flustered, like there’s something I’m constantly forgetting to do, like I just can’t get ahead no matter what I do.
And I know that I’m not alone. Thanks to you, to everyone who chimed in with words of solidarity, support, and even some practical advice to make life flow more smoothly, on my Facebook page last week. So for that, I say a humble, genuine, grateful THANK YOU. I really felt like my community saved me that night.
Lately I’ve been periodically fantasizing about just getting out of all the crazy. Like, homeschooling, quitting everything, pack the kids into an RV and go off the grid for a year, maybe just reinvent our entire lives on some Caribbean island where I could teach music class to all the tourists’ and locals’ kids. But that would be insanity, right?
From the smallest scale example to the most outrageous, extracting oneself from the crazy suburban school-age scene seems impossible, or at the very least, inadvisable. After all, we are doers, yes? We must be productive, follow the rules, refrain from marching to the beat of our own drum! I mean, hell, as strongly as I feel that elementary school homework is a bad idea, it takes extreme circumstances for me to stand up and refuse to do it, even for a night or two. I hardly ever decide to skip an after-school or evening obligation, because after all, we made a commitment and we are sticking to it. Even when we are drowning.
Drowning feels different to everyone.
It might be that sense of failure that comes from an uneven work-family balance. (And you time? Please.)
Drowning might be sitting at your kitchen table after the rest of the family has been asleep for hours, trying to catch up on the work you are so behind on.
It might be sending off a crazed parking lot email to the band teacher apologizing because you missed a rehearsal because your kid had rehearsal for something else.
Maybe you are literally drowning in the two weeks’ worth of laundry piled in your bedroom.
Drowning might be having to choose between doing something fun with your partner like having sex or binge-watching Stranger Things versus having a long talk about allthethings like needing new tires and health insurance and when that damn band concert even is.
Or maybe you are preoccupied with your health, your kids’ health, your spouse’s health, and even your parents’ or grandparents’ health.
Drowning to you might mean trying so hard to focus on making your grocery list and meal plan and to-do list but your kids are fighting and your husband is out of town and all you want to do is read a book.
A month or so ago, I read the most incredible article. “The New Midlife Crisis for Women,” on O Magazine. It blew my mind, for real. Go ahead and read it: it’s long, I’ll wait.
In particular, these lines resonated:
For a while, I thought it was just Type A strivers, but then I started hearing the same sort of thing even from my low-key friends. When I reached out to strangers for this story, I heard the same toxic brew of fear, anxiety and anger.
Nearly 60 percent of Gen Xers describe themselves as stressed out. A 2009 analysis of General Social Survey data showed that women’s happiness “declined both absolutely and relative to men” from the early ’70s to the mid-2000s. More than one in five women are on antidepressants. An awful lot of middle-aged women are furious and overwhelmed. What we don’t talk about enough is how the deck is stacked against them feeling any other way.
Read more: http://oprah.com/new-midlife-crisis.html#ixzz4xyWeeib6
It’s pretty sobering stuff, yes? And here’s another problem:
When we are stressed, our kids are stressed.
My eleven-year-old has been feeling it lately, I can tell. I even allowed an ill-advised “mental health day” off of school because I could tell she just needed it. Tonight I let both kids watch two hours of TV on a school night because they were both fried and why not? Our kids shouldn’t be stressed. It isn’t right. Were we stressed, growing up in the 70s and 80s? For that matter, how stressed were our parents in comparison to today’s parents? I can’t help but wonder if the pressures of raising kids, working, or just existing in the digital age exponentially multiplies the stress we all faced decades ago.
I guess the best we can do is keep talking about it, and keep sharing our ideas with one another. On the surface it seems like just complaining about “first world problems,” but this type of stress takes a very real toll on our health, mental and physical.
Our bodies were built to run from the danger of bears chasing us, but instead we are bombarded with the constant low-grade anxiety of “Oh, crap, I forgot to sign up for dance class,” and “Which school should I choose for my child?” and “How are we supposed to pay all our bills this month after last month’s school fees and doctors’ appointments?” But our body doesn’t know that we aren’t in actual danger, and it ramps up our stress hormones nonetheless.
And so we perpetuate the cycle of stress, physical to mental, mental to physical. Yet we are still compelled to be present with our kids, to allow ourselves to sink into the richness of our lives, to enjoy as many moments as we possibly can. We don’t want to feel like we are drowning.
I don’t have the answers, and I know you don’t either. But let’s keep talking about it, ok? Let’s keep being honest. The best way to take care of ourselves is to help take care of each other.
**When my HerStories Project partner and I shared the midlife crisis article and others like it, we got such a huge response from our readers. Women, and moms of younger kids in particular, are burned out. We are exhausted and flustered and discouraged. (Not all the time, of course. OK, phew, I got in that “I still love my life and I’m so grateful!” disclaimer.)
We are relaunching our website with brand new content and courses after the new year, and it seems clear to us that there is a very real need for women to talk about this stuff, come together, support each other, and find solutions. And we want to help, but first, we want more feedback from people. What is it that you are struggling with? What issues seem the most pressing to you? We would love to have you take this quick survey sharing your thoughts, and sign up to receive our newsletter so you’ll be the first to know when we relaunch!
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