Momming on a good day isn’t easy. Momming when you feel like garbage can be an excruciating form of nurture. There have been many days in my six years of parenting that I wish I could have called in sick, riddled by exhaustion, fever, or flu.
But moms often can’t call in sick. Especially when their spouse works all day. Especially when their parents and in-laws live another province away. Especially when all their friends have kids or jobs themselves. Even if their kids are sick too.
So we power through the day, the only reward being able to do it all (often thanklessly) again tomorrow.
I have held in my puke, so the toilet could become unoccupied by my little charge, and then console all three of them that mama is okay while wiping the leftover bile from my lips. I have existed through exhaustion, waking up to the cries or happy noises (or a trail of chocolate and candy canes) of the children who know nothing other than a mom making them breakfast as she simultaneously brews coffee, peering through my lethargy with enough consistency that they don’t questions their centrality to my universe. I have spent more than one late night/ early morning in the ER with a child sick or in need of stitches, quieting my own to-do list or fatigue or fear of the unspeakable germs on those plastic chairs to normalize the situation enough for their comfort (middle-of-the-night Hero Ice Cream always makes the experience more palatable).
Mom who is lost in the overwhelm and the exhaustion and feeling like garbage, you can do it. Here are a few tips I’ve learned to make the day a little more bearable until you’re better.
Tip #1 – Be real to yourself about how you are doing
Moms are heroic in their own right, but we aren’t heros. We are humans riddled with Achilles heels. It does not good to ignore the severity of your sickness. It’s in not adjusting your expectations of the day based on Sick Mom rather than Normal- Functioning Mom that you feel like a constant failure.
Yes, we do have to ignore a lot of our pain and discomfort to make grilled cheese and read stories (being a parent has a unique way of grinding the selfishness out of you). But to deny completely how you are doing breeds discontent and longer-term illness.
Be honest. You feel like trash. And then be okay with a jammie, movie, laying on the floor kind of non-exciting day for your kids.
Tip #2 – Adjust your expectations
After you have come to grips with not being supermom, let go of the need to provide the perfect day for your kids. Are they fed? Toileted? Generally happy? Have you initiated hugs? This is the basic standard of truly, really good care for your kids. Give up the outing you had planned, or the crafts, and embrace the modern wonder of TV.
Tip #3 – Try to alter your environment
This is huge for emotional well-being in general. Moms can easily ignore how stuffy a house can get in the monotony of daily routine.
We forget the power of our auditory and olfactory senses.
Turn on music. Not for the kids, turn on what you like. Change the sound of your home.
Open a window if it’s nice out. Or turn on the diffuser. Light a candle. Change the smell of your home.
Truly, adjusting these two things when you feel like garbage can give you that last push until naptime. Or bedtime. Or relief in the form of another adult comes.
If possible, go for a walk or just get outside. Puking kids is just easier outside than in. (Except when they puke in the stroller. That’s something else.)
Tip #4 – Give your kids help and affection when they ask
Your kids aren’t going to remember your bad day. They won’t remember how bad you felt, because generally, they won’t clue in to how garbage-y you are. They can’t read your mind, and I know you are doing your best to cover up all your weakness.
What they will remember is whether you lean in to them when they lean in to you.
All a kid really needs is the security that when they need you, you’ll respond.
Do they fall down? Comfort them. Get a bandaid. Does their sister hurt their feelings? Give them a hug. Do they go hide? Go find them. Do they ask for help with a puzzle? Talk them through it if you can’t get up.
And if they’re really little, being down on the floor with them as they play, handing them toys and talking once in a while goes a long way.
What goes even farther, is you initiating a hug and an “I love you” when they don’t expect.
Your kids don’t feel the day the same way that you do. You aren’t going to scar them by being a less-than-your-ideal mom for as long as your sickness requires. Lean in to them when they lean in to you, and I promise they won’t be wrecked.
Tip #5 – Ask for help if you can
The reality is that moms were not meant to be an island. Our culture just unfortunately worships the dialogue that we’re supposed to be strong enough to be everying; it’s the historically-recent dissolving of communities and family units that has left moms alone to bear the entire load of caring for the next generation no matter our physical or mental state.
The rural house our kids spent five years in lent to me asking for help being slightly unrealistic. It sucked. But it didn’t kill me – just so you know if you don’t have the option like I didn’t for many long years.
But if it’s realistic, call somebody to come look after your lovelies for even two hours so you can sleep. Your design is for community, not to make it alone.
And here is my little plug for inter-generational community. If you don’t have at least one person your own mom’s age or older in your life, someone who is mostly retired and is maybe a grandma herself, I pray you find that kind of relationship. Especially if your kids’ grandparents live far away. This cross-generational relationship is so key to gaining wisdom, reality and relief as a young mom. You’ll find the relationship is as much a joy for them as for you.
Mom who is barely holding on, I see you. You are doing well. You are enough. Your kids love you, and you are not failing.
Mom who is momming when you feel like garbage, boy you deserve a reward. Something more than a sticky honey kiss or a little mischievous grin. I hope somebody brings you a latte or a flat of chocolate today.