The following is excerpted from The Mom Babes: A Motherhood Anthology.
My daughter called me Mad Mommy. Again. I was filled with rage. I had the same dragon fire eyes that I had seen before, in my childhood. I learned at a young age that noise was unwelcomed. Crying, complaining, or high-pitched laughter was enough to get a flash of dragon eyes, and I was perpetuating this cycle.
I was a mad mommy. All of it made me mad. Cooking for the children and cleaning up after them. I was mad that I had to put on jackets and even more mad that I had to zip them up. My life felt so uncomfortable. Like those oversized–deli sausages at the supermarket, I was about to burst. I didn’t have control over my anger. I thought if I only had a few more hours in the week or a bit more money, I could make my life and my schedule a bit more comfortable, and I would stop exploding so easily.
The routine had become mundane. Playing, chasing, feeding, cleaning, organizing activities, and preparing backpacks and snacks, but after all of that was done I found myself drowning. I was working evenings from my home office to make up for the items I didn’t tick off the days or weeks before. I was frustrated that I couldn’t do exactly what I wanted, when I wanted. I was emotionally exhausted; my performance at work was slipping, and I started having digestion issues.
I thrived on the organized chaos. When someone would tell me, “I don’t know how you do it all,” it would fuel me. Because it meant they could see how much I was doing and if I showed any signs of overwhelm or fatigue then I was weak, there was a crack in the system.
My fear and anxiety drove me to be more controlling. Controlling everything in my environment so I could anticipate what emotions I would have to deal with next. These were the coping tactics I was using to overshadow the internal shame I had been living with since my childhood.
I thought a midlife crisis meant driving a car that couldn’t fit baby seats, wearing bejewelled jeans, and travelling the world while my kids were off on their own. But my kids were still in elementary school, I hadn’t had my fortieth birthday bash in Vegas yet, and I was coming apart at the seams.
This was no longer a bad month, or a phase, like in my twenties when hair crimping and elastic belts made a short reappearance. I was being confronted from within and the uncertainty of my well–being was here to stay.
That summer we took a week-long road trip. Finally, a break. An extra set of hands to help as my husband is great at keeping the kids smiling and blanketing us with a sense of calm. I was a spectator when Daddy was around. I sat quietly on the beach while he got the kids ready for the water and I would be on standby when one of them needed comfort. If I could sense the day unstitching, it was permission to day-drink. I mean, it was vacation, the rule of five o’clock somewhere was in full effect. The unfortunate thing about numbing fear and shame, is that I was also numbing happiness and joy.
My husband had a front row seat to the destruction, he had seen me frantically picking up the pieces in the months leading up to this trip. My birthday was coming up and one night around the campfire he asked, “Is next year going to look different?” He was done watching me spiral out of control. We have a beautiful partnership and I knew what he meant. He had the courage to say it to me. He had the courage to be kind to me and it was time for me to be kind to myself.
It took thirty-six trips around the sun for me to realize what I feared more than being a shitty mom was the fear of losing the closest people in my life. I took a booze break and I got started.
I called in the big dogs. The professionals. We all know what that means. There is no shame in talking to someone and having support outside your marriage, outside your family, or friendship circle. My therapist became another lifeline for me and like a scene from a divine film, I opened my arms, my chest, tilted my head back, eyes closed, heart open and said, “Just take me.” I nourished myself from the inside out.
I dug into the dirty work. I reflected hard. I discovered that the burnout with work and life had awakened a cycle of shame that was deeply rooted in my parenting tactics. I revisited my childhood, reconnected with my inner child, and re-parented her. It was tough to remember “Little me,” being unduly disciplined or receiving excessive punishment at a young age. The same age as my daughter. “Little me” needed more love, validation and safety. By re-parenting my inner child, I was immediately able to dial in my reactive parenting style. I started mothering like I wanted to.
I replayed all the major and minor events in my life that were taking up valuable real estate in my subconscious. I learned about connection, empathy and patience. I realized that fear and shame provided me with little time to open my schedule or my heart. I was told some harsh truths about reality. I was pretending I was fine. I was over-promising and under-delivering. I was meeting my children’s struggles with impatience rather than empathy. I understood that over-responsibility is a trauma response. I empathized, knowing that people hurt you because they are trying to heal themselves. After a few months of bi-weekly therapy visits, I felt like I had just got off a carnival ride called The Salad Spinner.
I had figured out the parenting piece but my work was still a big trigger for me. I evaluated my worth based on the amount I was accomplishing, and this was easily fed because work always wanted more. One night I was sitting at the kitchen counter with my laptop and I dropped my head into my hands and cried. I knew I wasn’t going to get anything done. I wiped my face, lifted my head, and told my husband I was releasing all of my clients, and we would figure it out along the way. It was that simple. I was done.
With my newfound freedom, I joined a book club. I got together with women on a weekly basis and found other ways to connect. I started answering my phone. I found less demanding clients and spoke positively, becoming fun to work with again. I answered the call that would be the solution to my immediate need for a new opportunity. I gained the confidence to reach for a business partnership. I started saying yes to invitations, claiming my free time in the mountains.
It turns out, a new car or twenty-something jeans doesn’t even begin to measure up to the gift of claiming a more authentic version of yourself.
My life of adversity had provided courage for this inevitable awakening, and for the first time I am proud of myself. Initially it felt uncomfortable and I would blush when no one was looking. But now I am in love with the character I have built, the resilience I have stacked, and the mother I am transforming myself into.
There are always things to work on but my head and my heart are in tune and they have become more forgiving by embracing a bit of self-compassion. I am pleased to have my daughter talk back to me and roll her eyes. She isn’t afraid of my reactions and no longer calls me Mad Mommy.