Sometimes I think there should be some sort of perfunctory merit system for being a mom. This isn’t meant to be a soapbox post about how little moms are appreciated or a whiny rant fishing for praise. There are just those parenthood moments (and eternally long phases) where you take a step back and think, “Damn–someone really should give me a medal right now.” While raising a child is an extraordinarily challenging and rewarding job, there are no bosses to hand out kudos and no annual performance reviews. I have often thought back to my Girl Scout days and imagined a mommy sash full of badges for surviving the most harrowing moments: projectile vomit on a road trip, two (or more) children simultaneously melting down in a public venue, the very special tantrums of two and three year olds, entire months like this one where at least one of your children is enduring a virus every single day… I’ve been thinking about these mommy merit badges and then while stumbling around on Google, I discovered that other moms have actually acted on this idea. This woman has a real shop where she sells iron-on patches “to wear on your diaper bag.” Wow. I don’t think I would go that far, but I was intrigued that the extended metaphor had actually come to fruition…and for profit at that!
Whenever I find myself still standing after enduring a particularly chaotic adventure in parenthood, I really do feel strong and powerful. I don’t mean power in the sense of exerting force or control over small and helpless beings, but power in the ability to handle incredibly stressful situations involving the physical and mental health of both my children and myself. And to come out of it all with a fuller heart willing to do it all again one hundred times over.
The funny thing is that having children actually caused my anxiety to lessen. I know many people who say that the opposite is true for them and in reality, this fact really does seem quite paradoxical to me. Of course I experience the weight of protecting and caring for my sweet little boys, but the generalized anxiety and phobias that hounded me for most of my twenties have really slowed their gait.
I used to fear becoming violently ill in a public setting where there was no escape.
I used to fear becoming incapacitated by a mental illness… depression, schizophrenia, OCD, you name it. I probably Googled them all at some point.
I used to fear my life shattering due to this onset of mental illness, much like the tragic course of my parents’ lives.
I used to fear hurting my husband and children as I siphoned them through the vortex of despair caused by my ultimate downfall that I felt I was destined to endure.
And then I became a mom and these fears mostly dissolved. This is not to say that I don’t have anxiety flare-ups here and there, moments where my breath becomes short and quick and I begin to feel that awful out-of-control surge take over my fight-or-flight mechanisms. Or those moments when my mind races and the down comforter on my bed feels like it weighs 5o pounds as it muzzles my chest.
I haven’t really psychoanalyzed the reasons why giving birth has alleviated my anxious heart. The only lead I have in explaining this shift is that having children presented me with something bigger, something greater than myself. And this great, amazing, ultimate responsibility gives me a sense of power. Again–this is not power that reeks of control or status or even pride, but it is this internalized power that gives me confidence and security and eases my storied, anxious past. Perhaps it is a determination to protect my own children from some of the stressors that pervaded my own childhood. Or really, it could be simply that I have stamped my foot down hard on those fears, because there is no room for that weight while holding two small, amazing boys in my heart and in my arms.
Or maybe I have simply channeled that anxiety to a different place that is leaving more digestible breadcrumbs on my trail. I still worry, but now it is about whether or not my 2 year old is maintaining his nap routine or about the fact that my 8-month old is still waking up to eat in the middle of the night and that I may never sleep more than 4 hours straight again. It’s these minute (but real) day-to-day hiccups that may give me pause, but do not deliver a sense of doom like my prior perseverations. Anxiety is real. It is a real disease just like high blood pressure and arthritis and just like alcoholism. I am not naive enough to believe that my pangs of worry and dread and panic are gone forever. But for now, I am thankful for the remission and the way that my worry has mutated and adapted to this current stage of life.
So when I make it through a night where Ben is away on call and I single handedly juggle two boys with a stomach virus or drive solo across four states with my two young children throwing fit after fit in the backseat, I give myself a moment of self-congratulation and pin that imaginary badge on my backbone. My former anxious self would have crumbled at the thought of those scenarios, so the fact that I can meet those stressful streaks head-on is a huge victory for me. I’m sure this is not the case for everyone, but for me–motherhood sure beats Paxil.