It’s school drop off and kids are running with excitement, parents are chatting together, a friend comes to me and starts talking about how amazing it is that the kids are finally at school, I smile and nod because all I can hear in my mind is Do you think she can tell you’re anxious? Does she think you’re weird?
I dismiss the idea and start talking and just ignore all those signs my anxiety keeps raising up in my head, your heart is beating fast Do you think it’s time to go? Your stomach hurts and you’re dizzy, of course, if you dash now, they’ll think you’re crazy!
And red flags start to pop up in my head, my anxiety raises up one after the other, and then the neon flashes start and the sirens and here comes the sweats and fast breathing. I start to focus on my breathing and remember every single exercise I learned in therapy. I keep telling myself This will pass, you’re not in danger!
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Finally, I just say goodbye and head to my car, and the gates of hell are set loose—I start crying because I’m struggling with my emotions.
I hate this feeling. I hate being not in control.
I just want to curl up in bed and do nothing all day, but I can’t—my to-do list is long, my kids have activities, the house needs to be cleaned, emails need to be sent, and work needs to be done.
I get overwhelmed and consider canceling everything, and just doing nothing, but I’m a mother, and mothers need to be strong, happy, and busy, right? That what society deems from us, that’s what’s expected.
I started to experience anxiety shortly after I gave birth to my firstborn. I read a lot during my pregnancy about post-partum depression and knew what to expect and what signs to look for, but nothing prepared me for post-partum anxiety.
I didn’t understand why my heart raced a lot and I sweat excessively whenever I planned anything. I didn’t understand why I was almost always overthinking and jumping to what-if situations.
And although my kids are older now, my mind somehow still sees and feels danger all the time.
Therapy, mindfulness, and CBT helped me tremendously, yet I still do get those false alarms when I feel stuck, but now I tell myself it’s OK, you’re a human, those feelings are temporary, and tomorrow is another day.
I think one of the reasons why many mothers are anxious nowadays is due to unattainable societal standards.
You need to be a Pinterest mom, you need to volunteer at every event at school, or at least show up, you need to have your kids in activities all week or at least during weekends, you need to set up playdates and be social, and you have to always smile and maybe sing to birds while vacuuming.
Mothers are the most attacked people in the world, you’re doomed if you work and doomed if you don’t. If you buy store-bought cupcakes for your kids’ school events, you’re being lazy especially if you’re a stay-at-home mother because you have lots of time on your hand, couldn’t you bake something?
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But what if we started practicing empathy towards ourselves like we do toward others? What if we began to be kinder to other mothers because we never know how much she is struggling or what her life is like?
I stopped dealing with the societal expectations of what a mother should be; instead, I started to be the mother I want to be—what I can be, to be precise.
People do bucket lists about the things they want to do in their life to feel fulfilled or happy, so I started to do the same regarding how I want to parent while taking my anxiety into consideration.
My list included: I want happy kids. I want my kids to be kind to others because this world is a harsh place. I want my kids to follow their passion and do what they want in life. I want them to feel comfortable around me and have a good relationship with me even when they have kids of their own. To know how much I love them. And last but not least, I want them to have their own personalities not what society wants them to be.
Having this list helped me on days when I felt anxious and my mind started wandering to all the what-if scenarios and I started going down the rabbit hole and beating myself up. Now I tell myself they have the things they need, they’re loved, they’re kind and passionate, and most importantly, they know I love them and love seeing them smile and laugh every day—and this is all the reward I need.
I also learned not to overschedule my list. To say no to things I feel will just exhaust me mentally without any gain to my family or myself. To have some weekends just to rest and take it easy and just enjoy simple things like watching a movie with my kids, going on a walk with them, and using our imagination To have a day for myself to do the things I love doing without feeling guilty, which helps me fill my cup in order to be able to give more to others.
Motherhood is hard but this quote by Jill Churchill sums it all, “There’s no way to be a perfect mother and a million ways to be a good one.”