Every day, when I come home from work, from a meeting or an outing, I like to sit on the steps outside my house for five minutes to decompress after being in traffic, working, and before going into the chaos inside my house to parent.
I just..sit. I find myself reflecting on how I’m feeling, not because I want to, but because that’s how my brain is wired. I’m always thinking or overthinking. I’m worrying or over worrying. My brain rarely, if ever, shuts down, whether I’m thinking of my children, what my next move in life should be, or how I’m going to get through my never-ending to-do-list.
Like most mothers, I’m tired. Often, I feel like I’m in a mood, for a lot of reasons, or for no reason at all. Sometimes, I feel overwhelmed and just want to cry.
But, last week, as I was sitting on the steps outside, I felt odd. I didn’t have a particularly good or productive day. I was missing my two children deeply who are off with their fathers. I didn’t know how to describe it. But I felt different and had a difficult time coming up with an adjective to describe this unknown sensation that felt so weird.
Then it hit me. The “a-ha moment” of how I was actually feeling. And that feeling was…happiness! How in the world did feeling “happy” become so weird I couldn’t even describe it, or come up with a word for it?
I actually felt bad for being happy. I felt guilty for being genuinely happy, not just at that moment, but overall, in all aspects of my life. Once I realized that what I was feeling was happiness, I went with it. I realized I was smiling without knowing I was smiling. But, honestly, I did ask myself, “Am I allowed to be so happy?” “Do I deserve to be this happy?” and, “Can I actually tell people I’m happy?” Basically, I didn’t know what to do with so much happiness.
I’m going to back up for a second about happiness.
First, in my twenties and thirties, when all my friends were getting married, they would always say on their wedding day, “This is the happiest day of my life!” I’ve never been married, but I can totally see why they would describe the day they tied the knot, in their beautiful gowns, as being their happiest day. But a small part of me always wanted to dig deeper. I honestly wondered, “Really? This is the happiest day of your life?” I would wonder, “Wasn’t realizing you were in love the happiest day of your life?” Or, “Wasn’t the happiest day the day you got engaged?” I even wondered, “What about that night we went out, drank way too much, and laughed so hard that our stomach muscles hurt? You also said THAT was the happiest day of your life.”
Then came landing first dream jobs, and the days their babies were born, and those became the happiest days of their lives. But wasn’t finding out you were pregnant the happiest day of your life? Then, as their children grew up, took their first steps, or are now getting accepted into universities, or their children do something so amazingly talented that makes parents so proud, those days also become the happiest days of their lives. All these huge milestones could be described as the happiest days of a parent’s life.
Yes, like every mother, two of the happiest days in my life were holding my babies for the first time. But I think I was even happier on the day I found out I was having a girl! (Hey, I grew up with three brothers!) Or when she recently came home after being away for three weeks. Or, my son and I both agree, when I took him parasailing. Those all felt like the happiest day of my life.
I’m on Facebook a lot. The moments I post, when I’m looking happy, are real. But those are moments. There are so many mothers being completely transparent about their shitty days, run-ins with shitty people, and sometimes the consistently shitty aspects of their lives, because certain things in life are just plain bad luck, unfair, or out of their control, including losing jobs, announcing their divorce, going into a job you hate, every single day, but your children need to eat and have clothes, fighting cancer, suffering from chronic illness, constantly worrying about bills, suffering from depression or other mental illnesses, the death of a pet or a loved one, and a handful who, beyond sadly, have shared their child has passed away. And here I am being…happy?
I recently read a very candid FB post by a fantastic writer, Tara Mandarano, who basically said, she doesn’t want “to feel grateful today.” She’s sick of her chronic illness that gets in the way of her parenting and being a good spouse. The meme she posted read, “You don’t always have to be grateful that it isn’t worse.” It brought me to tears and resonated. Tara wrote in her post, “It’s hard to be grateful you don’t have cancer or some other ultra-serious, fatal condition and there’s no point comparing pain, minimizing it or creating an “I-have-it-hardest” hierarchy. She was not being “negative.” Her chronic illness was her “reality.” And, by reading the comments, it is for so, so many mothers. (Check her transparently heart-felt FB posts under Tara Mandarano!) “And yes, I know it could always be worse,” she writes. “But sometimes that sentiment doesn’t help…”
Like most mothers, I am tired, frustrated and constantly worrying. I’ve been sad, I think, since 9/11. I have been in bad relationships. I have made bad choices. I get rejection letters. I just scratched the entire side of my new car trying to park in an underground lot. I went through a terrifying stalking issue that still makes me shake. My brother has MS. I just had to shell out $500 for a new tap for my kitchen sink. I have a lot to complain about – big and small – and I often do, even though it could always be worse.
I do feel like I suffered a lot when I blended and then un-blended families, but no one died, no one was diagnosed with cancer, the dog is fine, so, yes, it could have been worse, but, when I was in the throes of my divorce, I did actually think, “This is going to be the rest of my life!” Maybe I had been unhappy for so long, read so many sad FB posts, and listened to the news so much, that now that I am actually in a consistent state of happiness, it does feel weird.
Every mother deserves to be happy, consistently, without feeling guilty, yet some of the happiest mothers I know have incredibly hard lives. Most of us are not that unique with our complaints that come with parenting – my baby was up all night! I have to leave work because my child just puked! My kid has lice! – and we find it cathartic to share and know others are just like us. I think a lot of mothers feel guilty if they are truly happy, because we see all the unhappiness and complaints from others around us, and we know it could be worse.
I also watch the 6 o’clock news and, within two minutes, I’m depressed as hell, with stabbings, shootings, cuts to education and daycare, and that idiot who constantly tweets. We all already know you can do things to make you happier, but have we been wired to focus too much on the negativity or small complaints in parenting? I’m guilty of this too – and when we find ourselves happy, for a really long stretch of time, we don’t know what to do with this “happiness” thing, and don’t appreciate it enough. Again, so many parents I know are not depressed, but are simply…not happy. Maybe, it’s because we all feel so overwhelmed, and there’s no time to reflect on how we’re really feeling.
My children are happy, healthy and thriving. I like what I do for a living. I have had many successes, won many awards, written best-selling books. I’m in the best relationship I’ve ever been in. And, yet, it still feels uncomfortable to be in a state of happiness, where everything just feels light and right.
Over the weekend, I ran into a friend I hadn’t seen in a while. When she asked how I was, I paused before answering, “I’m really happy!” It almost felt like a confession. But I’m going to enjoy this, even as I figure out how to be comfortable being in a state of happiness, while also enjoying moments of happiness as a parent. If I asked you, right now, “Are you happy?” how would you answer?
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