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Surviving Survival Mode: My Farewell to Being Everything

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by Rachel Kiser


Only three more hours until the end of the day. Then Daddy comes home and I can escape. Turn off in front of some Gilmore Girls while he takes over.

It’s Wednesday- that’s almost Friday! The weekend! I can make it!

How many more years until Kindergarten, again?

These are all thoughts that, if left unchecked, can creep into my mind (and, sometimes, out of my mouth). As a mom to two little ones, I have a decent amount of interaction with a vast array of parents who have different work and familial arrangements. Within the stay-at-home camp, of which I am a part, there is one mentality that seems relatively prolific: survival mode. The idea that the week spent at home caring for children is something to be weathered; carried through, sometimes kicking and screaming.

“Just make it to the finish line, when help arrives and I don’t have to do this anymore.”

What I’m about to write may be wildly unpopular in today’s parenting culture. Mainly, in stay-at-home mom culture.

It’s not healthy, or okay, to be perpetually stuck within the web of survival mode.

As someone who stays home with my three-year-old and six-month-old, I understand the tension. I speak, and have spoken, this to myself for almost four years. I am deeply ingrained in the day-to-day goings on of our family. I have a vested interest in their sleep schedules, their behavior both at home and in public, and their all-around well-being. We are solely responsible for helping to mold the way they see the world and interact with it. That’s weighty! When there are teeth coming in, or weeks where they won’t eat anything but goldfish crackers; When there is budding attitude and sass; When husbands are out of town on business and working second jobs, we are there, around the clock. It can be incredibly draining. Redundant. Hard.

There is pressure, spoken and unspoken, to do everything. To be everything. Feed your children wholesome meals and snacks all day. Limit (or eliminate) screen time. Keep them engaged. Get your pre-pregnancy shape back. Have meaningful and well-maintained relationships. Nurture your marriage. Have interests that aren’t Daniel Tiger, finger painting, and who has meat on sale this week. Make sure your two-year-old knows all of her numbers, letters, and can properly pronounce ‘quinoa’ before she gets to preschool. The list goes on and on.

But we can’t. And when we try, we find ourselves stretched to our limits and fraying at the edges. The idea of survival mode certainly stems from this be everything mentality, and because we cannot possibly, we revert back to sharing our horror stories and donning our battle scars as badges of honor. We become almost content defining our lives this way. And you know what I’ve noticed? When I find myself in this vicious cycle of hanging by a thread, anything and everything can set me off. I have less patience, less grace, and less enjoyment in this precious stage of life.

Don’t get me wrong. There are some days where it is entirely appropriate to feel like we’re just barely making it. Raising children, while rewarding, is hard work. It’s physically and emotionally draining in a way I can’t imagine anything else could be. We’re giving our entire day to ensuring the health and relative happiness of our little humans. There is often sparse time to pause and consider ourselves when we’re in the trenches of infancy and toddlerhood. And, sometimes, there are unforeseen life circumstances that make walking through this stage of life feel like trudging.

But you know what? It’s important to fight our way out of these pockets- to fight for joy. When I choose to lay aside my desire to do it all, I am able to see beauty in this role, be what it may. In my short time as a mother, I have learned that there are certain things that are vital to my health, both as Rachel and as Mommy.

  1. Mom Friends. I often laugh to my friends about my husband having to nearly force me, physically, out of the door when my first-born was three months old. We were in a new state, and I was finding myself swallowed up by our apartment, deeply entrenched in the eat, play, sleep cycle of newborn life. The relief I felt after spending a morning over coffee with a handful of moms my daughter’s age was tangible. There was such a thick air of Me, too hanging, that I knew everyone else there needed this just as I did. I’m not close with all of the same moms that were there that morning, but a number of them are, over three years later, still in our lives. I often refer to them as my lifelines. We offer each other sympathy, encouragement, and sanity-saving playdates.
  2. Small indulgences. I realized early-on that there were certain things I could do for myself in a short amount of time that made me feel like “Me” again. Things like keeping my toenails polished. Grabbing a nap time cup of coffee and watching an episode of something that makes me laugh out loud. Lighting my favorite eucalyptus and sage candle. a short nap time phone call to my mom. All of these things are doable in a small window of opportunity, and they refresh my spirit.
  3. Clear communication with my husband. There have been periods where I have not communicated my needs well to my husband, and those are times I look back on and realize I was running on fumes. Before it gets to the point that I want to run away from home, I try to reach out and let him know that I need to retreat to our room for a breather, or a night out with a girlfriend, to recharge.
  4. Sometimes the bare minimum is okay. If you walk away from reading this thinking that it’s not okay to struggle, then I have erred. When I was walking through a year and a half of pregnancy loss and ongoing fertility issues, I often felt like getting out of bed, dressing myself and my daughter, and feeding us was enough. And you know what? Sometimes it is. Cut yourself some slack, please, Mama. Putting a movie on for the kids is OK. Letting the dishes sit for a while is acceptable. Staying in your pajamas and feeding the kids PB&J again is fine. Being kind to yourself is just as important as whatever duties you feel need to be accomplished at any given time.

These are all things that, personally, fill me up and strengthen me when I sense my life becoming overwhelming. They may not calm down the crazy, but it’s refreshing to have some go-to methods to let rest and sanity seep back into my day. When I purposefully find, or make, time for these things, I am better able to joyfully and gratefully love and care for my family. And that is why we do what we do, isn’t it?

I’d love to hear- in what areas of your life and motherhood do you feel pressure to be everything? What are some ways you actively care for yourself when you feel like you’re just simply surviving?

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