Being “just a mum”: pitfalls of friendships

I find myself, quite often, in this situation where I am “just a mum”. As you have likely already read, I home educate and am a carer to my adopted children. They rely on me 24/7, and in the past 3 years I have perhaps had around 20 breaks. I don’t mean holidays (although considering how much we travel as a family…), I quite literally mean just being able to take time out from being mum. I am counting those times I have been able to have a lie in and my husband has done everything, or I have already done everything and I just go grab myself 5-10 minutes of freedom. I don’t mean breaks like “woo, night out” although there have been a few of those included in that total, not many though. Which even if I totaled up as entire days would still barely scrape 1.8 percent of my life in the last 3 years.

I mean, even when the children were at school I was rushing to and from meetings about their education, health and welfare. Often not even having enough time to shower, or even eat. I was denied basic self care through the needs my children had, and the time I was required to commit to them and the lack of support that was available (I quite genuinely mean required here… I was asking for, and fighting for help, but if I refused a meeting I was being difficult and therefore clearly didn’t need the help).

But I just keep getting told over and over, “being a mum IS hard, we all feel tired”, or “Yeah, I barely get 5 minutes to myself!”, “oh you should just do some exercise, it’ll help you feel more positive”. I don’t feel tired, my body is failing me because of how neglected it has been, and how exhausted I am. I don’t barely get 5 minutes to myself, I quite literally don’t have 5 minutes to myself most days. Exercise is unlikely to help considering that extra trip up the stairs that I didn’t need to do can sometimes wipe me out entirely; or that I am either pushing a wheelchair or carrying a 6 year old with a toddler carrier when I am out shopping or walking anywhere, not just plodding along leisurely.

It’s not that simple. I am not just a mum, doing just the mum thing and then moaning about it. I am a mum, a carer, a therapist, a teacher, a life coach, a student of experience-psychology (by that I mean, being taught by what I experience about the psychology of children who are traumatised). I provide 24 hour care, I barely get any sleep, even if I get a child free bed because I am listening out – the children CAN NOT ask for help at night time. Night time is dangerous. They must take cover and hide and await the safety of morning. If they get too scared, we could have a wet or soiled bed, or worse, we could be dealing with trying to reverse the damage of self harm. I am on high alert 24 hours a day, trying not to transfer that to the children, but also trying to be prepared for everything that’s going to happen, could happen, has happened and is causing consequences.

It’s more exhausting than just parenting. It’s like working 5 different jobs that cover the entirity of your week where you don’t get pay, personal space (not even for toileting mostly, because one child finds it that hard to separate and the other child will cause harm to self or others if out of eyeshot for literally the length of time it takes to race unrination, pull up pants as you flush and wash hands).

But also, it’s lonely. Because everyone just gets fed up of you trying to vent out your frustrations, or because you talk about the kids (when actually that’s the only goddam thing you have done and known for months). Because of isolating yourself from the people who talk you down and make you feel like crap. Of just deciding that, no matter how tired you are, you are just going to do everything you need doing yourself (on the most part) and avoid help from certain people if you can help it because help often comes at the cost of degradation. Being told you most certainly are not ill, that the person helping you is so much worse (because you are on your feet and trying). Being told you are lazy (when your husband has said “no, you have the kids to look after, take care of them, they are anxious, keep them away and let us do the physical tasks here”) so you aren’t helping people move things, dig things, build things.

My job as a mum to these two children is mentally draining, physcially overwhelming and very strenuous. I wouldn’t change it for the world. But I would happily change the people who are supposed to be there for us in a heartbeat. And that thought plays over and makes me feel physically sick, and fills me with guilt for having thought it. But it’s true. People just aren’t there for us, like we have been there for people. Because they don’t understand. They would if they just listened, but they don’t. They talk over me/the children, lessen our problems, minimise our stresses and strains and say it’s normal. I lose faith in humankind almost daily.

And before anyone says I am depressed. No, I don’t really think I am. I may be suffering with compassion fatigue somewhat. I may be overwhelmed with how much is expected of me at times. But I am not depressed. I am reacting to the experiences I am having. If you are treated like rubbish daily, you either fight back, avoid the situations in question or accept feeling like rubbish (I don’t have the energy for the first all of the time, and the latter has never been an option for someone quite as justice fighting as I). So I avoid, not in a depressed manner, but in a self preservation manner; I save my energy for what matters: me, my children, my husband, my household.

Some hope is redeemed though when I see articles, blogs, posts pop up on my news feed of people helping other’s out and changing lives. Not those “oooooo look I tricked a homeless person into giving me their money just to prove they have better morals than the rest of society, I just so happened to record it too look…” If you can’t read it in my tone, I hate those “social experiments”. No I mean, in cases where people have gone out of their way to help someone, but not posted anything for credit – instead the person who has been helped shares their side of the story. One of those I read this morning gave me hope (Scary Mommy’s post aboutĀ Sheila O’Mally).

That’s what goes on in my head. That’s how I feel.

It’s not a competition!!!

I really struggle with how competetive people seem to think life is.

The whole idea of pitting kids against each ther in school. development and achievements. The competivity between parents/carers of “oh, well ‘x’ was doing that by the age of ‘y’…”. These aren’t anything to do with ensuring your child gets credit for what they are doing. This is about the parents saying “check out my parenting skills”… “this is what I did…”. And this is bad enough, but when someone is struggling, rather than having empathy there seems to be a need to display how their problems aren’t as big as your problems.

We are human, things happen we struggle, we vent, we get down. But is that a reason to be all “well, I don’t know why you’re moaning… everyone has issues and quite frankly mine are worse”?

I don’t think it is. I think it’s about time the parenting community just stop with this idea of better and worse. Not least because it doesn’t example good behaviour to the kids, or consider that everyone is different… but also because really, what does it achieve? Do you feel better putting someone down? Does it make the person feel better? Does it solve any issues? Nope, I can’t say that it does.

When I see people going through it this is my contingency:

  1. Is there anything I can do to help?
    • Yes – offer the help
    • No – go to point 2
    • Perhaps, IĀ  am not sure – tell them you are there and ask if you can do anything to help
  2. Would it feel awkward, like you are just being nosey, if you were to tell them you are there for them?
    • No – well tell them then, don’t downplay their problems, don’t say “it’s normal” or “it’ll pass”, offer them something supportive and tell them you know you can’t help, but you are there if they need you.
    • Yes – just shut up and pass on by…

You can’t help in every circumstance, that’s for sure. But what is certain is that you have a choice to not make someone feel worse.

Even if you think you know what someone is going through, consider that you don’t and be kind. Just remember that suffering and endurance really are relative experiences. And just because you have travelled the same path, doesn’t mean you’re carrying the same weight, experiencing the same weather conditions, fighting with the same energy and motivated with the same levels of support.

Let’s stop this hate. Let’s stop this judgement, this competition, this downplay of suffering, this isolation. And let’s instead spread compassion and unity and empathy and empowerment.