Even when we’re at our best, most mentally alert, emotionally stable and well rested (as if), parenting is a challenge. But when pain has moved into the realm of constant, parenting is a crushing bag of shame and disappointment.
For me, it has been a month-long migraine.
I don’t have the panacea to make it all better. But I know how to make things worse. Sadly, that’s how I learn.
This is my six-step plan on how to make yourself feel worse when you already feel horrible:
1. Fail to manage expectations
Seems so obvious. Scale back, waaaaay back, when in pain, right? But there’s a breed of us moms that still think we should do it all. And should. All the time. No matter how we feel. We neglect self-care in the name of a clean house and crossed-off to-do lists and a full-scale dinner. Sometimes popcorn and ice cream for dinner and nonstop Netflix streaming or electronics play for the kids is OK. Better than OK from their point of view.
2. Wallow in guilt
I’m in bed, in a darkened room. But I feel guilty. I should be DOING something. Maybe wash last night’s popcorn and ice cream bowls. Here’s what I learned about that. Guilt doesn’t do anybody any good. I wouldn’t try and make a sick friend feel guilty when her house is a minefield of scattered toys or her kid has a face smeared with last night’s ice cream. At least I hope I wouldn’t be such a jerk, although I have no problem being one to myself.
3. Play the blame game
We may blame our current state of pain on a job where we work too much or a spouse who isn’t stepping up. I think it’s part of the process. But here’s the thing: It’s not helpful. That’s not to say later I can’t reflect on where things went sideways and if there was any contributing factor that brought about or worsened my pain. But if you’re like me, the person you most blame is yourself. That has zero to do with feeling better in the moment.
4. Refuse to delegate
Recently, I was off the grid for a few days after a run-on bout of pain. The house and the kids appeared as if they were looking after themselves. Which they were. The moment the pain fog began to clear, I rolled up my sleeves and readied to get everything and everyone in order. Myself. Instead, we cranked the disco and I started handing out job assignments to my three girls. An hour later, everything and everyone sparkled. Said my 10-year-old, “This was actually fun.” It’s so damn hard for me to delegate and so damn stupid that I don’t do it more.
5. Not take sick time
I always feel bad about missing work. It’s a blue-collar work ethic I adopted from my parents. But in my case, failing to take a sick day actually leads to more sick days. The most frustrating thing about chronic pain is the feeling of lack of control. But sometimes, we do have some control — like deciding to take care of ourselves — we just don’t think anything needs to change to exercise it.
6. Suffer in silence
No one wants to be around a negative nelly. But refusing to tell our loved ones when we are in real pain only hurts ourselves. It took a couple days of near constant pain before I finally admitted to my family I was in pain. And my husband asked — wait until you hear this — what he could do to help. What could he do to help! By not telling my girls, ages 9 to 12, I missed out on their own endearing efforts: the whispering (instead of yelling); the foot rubs, which has nothing to do with my aching head but still; and the glasses of overflowing ice water brought to my bedside.
A sobering thought
We want to be the best parents we can be. Attentive. Active. Engaged. Our children need us. But I’ve learned that our kids manage just fine without a lot of what we think they need and what we (as mothers) need to specifically provide for them. Here’s a sobering thought. How can I expect my daughters to know how to take care of themselves when they’re older if I can’t model it myself?
Writer/curator for AlltheMoms.com. Mom to three girls. Married to a sports writer who travels a lot. This will be a good thing when I hit menopause at the same time his girls enter puberty. Weird fact: I’ve watched “The Young & the Restless” for 38 years and I feel no shame. Known to ramble about latest teen sci-fi/fantasy read.