Things have been tense in my home lately. Well, not just lately, we are by no means the Brady Bunch. Not even the Kardashian's for that matter. But I won't get into that, we all have dirty laundry but I prefer to keep mine in the basement where it belongs. Graduating from high school with ever changing thoughts and emotions about college, leaving home, the beginning of an new life as it were, has turned my sweet (?) daughter into this "woman" that I can barely recognize, much less tolerate anymore. And in consideration of these major upcoming events in her life, I have been sympathetic and kind to her, ignoring her outbursts, her rudeness and her general attitude that I know nothing, that I am no more than maid, money machine and most times, a monster. My other children say, "Why do you let her treat you that way?" And I reply, "She's stressed out, that's all." To which they say, "You always let her get away with this!" To which I reply, "I always let all of you get away with that!"
So all of this has really got me thinking and pondering this constant weight of guilt and feelings of inadequacy. I think back to when all of my children were younger and their dependency on me was innate. I was the one who felt empowered. Feeling needed and fulfilling the needs of my family did a multitude of good for my self image. And then they got older. Smarter. More capable. Yet I continued to take on their needs. I needed to continue to nurture that self image I had. Well, the self image isn't so hot anymore! I feel used, used up, beat down. Confused. In Abigail's case, one minute she is an "adult," who needs no advice, input or opinions from me, and the next she is whining that I won't make her hair appointments or go to her graduation practice with her. Lately I have just been the "bad mom," and crazy as it sounds, I often wonder if I am. And yet, I still wonder what will I do when they are gone?. Now that is crazy.
Which brings me to this. The other day I was sitting in the waiting room of my doctor's office reading a magazine called WebMD. I came across an article that resonated so much with me that I stuck the magazine in my purse. Okay, it was free. The article was written by Rebecca Adams, PhD, associate professor of family studies in the Department of Family and Consumer Services at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. The following is a portion of that piece.
"Working mothers and stay~at~home mothers have one thing in common: guilt. Traditional mothers may feel like, since they're home, they have to be supermoms," says Adams. "so they try to be perfect, overcompensating and taking on every one's needs while ignoring their own. And some of these moms inadvertently encourage dependence over independence because satisfying their family member's every need makes them feel needed. Conversely, working moms sometimes rush home, feeling guilty for missing out on so much and don't set limits, thus setting themselves up to be used. Neither approach is healthy for anyone."
I have been both a stay~at~home mom and a working mom and as much as I would like to say that I was happy and fulfilled in both roles, I can't. At work I stressed out about what was going on at home, and at home I stressed about work. Neither was an ideal situation. After a long day at the office, I came home to meals and laundry and scrubbing out the tub. Sunday was never a day of rest. When I was in the stay~at~home role, I felt I was living my children's lives, not my own. If I were a teenager, I could have used the ultimate put down towards them, "It's all about you!".
Adams says, "So often once children come, both men and women slip back into traditional roles. Women need to say 'Yes, I'm staying home, but my expectation is that we are both involved' Even if familial roles have come to feel cemented, the first step is acknowledging things are out of balance and specifically setting out to make a change."
Which leads me drag The Husband into the mix. Let me first say that he is an extraordinary father. Let me say that he is a wonderful husband (look at all the dishes he has bought me). But when Dr. Adams uses the term "cemented," The Husband's way of thinking comes to mind. He has very specific ideas of what my role is and I have very specific disagreements with his ideas. However, I have had a long term battle with being defensive. By now I should be sure of myself. I should be a confident, centered "together" person. But I'm not. In spite of how sure I am about my role in this family, I manage to ramble on in my own defense of that knowledge until he has long left the room. Been there? Humbling experience.
"Even if you have been married 10 years," Adams says, "it's never too late to start talking. Explain to your spouse why you need to say 'no' sometimes, why you need more time to yourself or simply can't take on a specific chore or responsibility...and tell your kids that mom can't be on call 24/7."
But there is a flip side to all of this. I won't be on call 24/7 forever. In a few short months I will be living in the proverbial "empty nest". And it won't be particularly the loss of my children, I think, than it is who I was with them. The flight my children are now taking is supposed to liberate me and yet I feel I am being demoted from a professional job. Will I feel lost, lonely, old, irrelevant? Or will I be capable, rested, focused and occasionally even well groomed? And how will my relationship with The Husband be? Will I start making all the vegetables that my children refused to eat at dinner? Will I skulk out of my comfy bed at 8:00 at night where I usually am, curled up with a good book and a stack on my nightstand, to spend the evening in the same room with him even if it is to watch National Geographic on television?
So these are my days. I want to sit out under a tree, magazine and iced tea in hand, watching my flowers in the garden wave in the warm breeze. But I can only imagine these flowers fading and the leaves changing colors, first vivid reds and yellows, then turning brown and brittle, only to fall away. Could this be my rebirth perhaps? The first bold snap of cold reddening my cheeks. The first white snowflake caught on my warm tongue. Will I be wrapping Abigail up in my arms as tight as I can while she drops her laundry bag at the door and squirms? I think I know this as well as i know that soon these rooms will be empty, full of ghosts of my very best self. Because Mom is my real name.