A  Meme That Changed My Life?

Scrolling through Instagram, to escape my kids and my brain (both of which were driving me crazy), I saw a meme that changed my life.

Hold up. Say whaaaat? Yep, I’m for real. I might be exaggerating a wee bit, but it was still important. A friend had posted a meme that was a quote by Mooji, a “spiritual teacher” from Jamaica. It said:

“Feelings are just visitors. Let them come and go.”

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My own version of that meme

Those words just happened to hit me at the right moment. I could use any cliché here to describe what happened: it clicked, lightbulb moment, “aha” moment. What happened was a profound and real paradigm shift in my thinking.

I am not my thoughts. I am not my feelings. I am not my guilt.

These things are actually separate from me. And they are temporary. If they are visitors (maybe not the more favorable word choice of “guests”), that means they will leave. Eventually.

It’s not as if I’d never done my homework before. I know about retraining your brain by changing your thoughts. I know about cognitive distortions. I know about cognitive behavioral therapy. I have a Bachelors’ degree in Psychology (granted, it’s old); I have listened to professionals; I have read books. I have even read books on this very topic. I have probably even seen almost identical doofy self-help quotes on social media every day for years. I had thought I understood what my brain was doing and how to change it. But somehow, somehow, despite all of that, my brain didn’t actually accept that “feelings are just visitors” until this one stupid (or amazing) meme.

A mom with depression, anxiety, or simply a guilt-prone personality, might see a children’s book lying on the floor at night after the children are in bed. This kind of self-deprecating mom will have some or all of the following thoughts:

“I promised my child I would read that book to him, and I didn’t. He will never trust me if I don’t mean what I say.”

“I don’t read to my children enough. I’m a former teacher; I KNOW how important reading is. What is wrong with me?”

“I can’t keep this house clean to save my life. My husband will think I’m lazy.”

“Why are there always books on the floor? Haven’t I taught my children to respect books? Maybe they never actually see me reading books myself. I’m on my phone too much. Have they even seen me pick up a novel?”

“My husband will be stressed by this mess when he comes home. Why can’t I get it together?”

A mom with a healthier line of thinking – or (let’s be honest) A DAD – will look at that same book and think:

“There is a book on the floor.”

And that’s it. A fact with no blame. Maybe that person would go so far as to put the book away, or make plans to read it to his child tomorrow, but there would be no judgment attached to the thought.

Mr. Okayest is so very good at simply seeing that there is a dang book on the floor. I say that with awe and respect. It’s one of the things I love best about him. He’s factual (so he adds no blame to anything), but simultaneously so loving (because he can factually see where I differ from him, and he can see it without blame). He’s a good example to me, and a huge help to me.

I’m fairly certain I’m a non-judgy person. The older I get, the more gray area I see. The more wiggle room. I am pretty sure I follow “live and let live” and “love your neighbor” and “meet people where they are.” I think I almost always remember that everyone is fighting invisible battles and will do things differently than I will. (I even consulted with my husband to be sure that I really am that kind of person.)

So WHY OH WHY do I judge myself so harshly? I’m realizing that every single thought and feeling about myself comes with 1) judgment, and 2) directing it inward. Making it a part of my personality.

Instead of saying “I’m so anxious”, I’m now going to say, “I have a temporary feeling of anxiety.” It is not me, and it is not permanent. Instead of telling myself “I am a bad mother”, I will try to reframe it and think, “I have a feeling of inadequacy that will pass.” It is not me, and it is not permanent.

Now that my brain had finally assimilated all that, I began my research anew. With new lenses on. I went back to the books, information from professionals, journals, articles, and read many of them again, with a new understanding of how to really apply it to my own self. While reading an article about how to help children with their anxiety, I learned that you can teach your children that thoughts are like a train. Each thought or feeling or emotion is a train car. They are not actually YOU. They are passing by. You can watch them pass, and you can do so without putting any blame on those train cars.

I have actually been applying this simplistic children’s advice to myself. I had to start practicing when the children were in bed, or in preschool. I was not able to retain the self-control, or time, to practice it when they were around and demanding things in triplicate – and I didn’t want to set myself up for failure. I am not a visual person (I like words – duh), so imagining a train passing by whenever I recognized a negative or anxious feeling is not natural for me. It takes a lot of effort. But, to my surprise, it was actually working. I found that often I had to picture my stupid negative train slowing to a stop at my station, because the feelings wouldn’t budge for a while. But remembering that those feelings were separate from me, no matter how long they parked there, was a revelation.

I practiced this visualization and thought retraining (oh, semi-nice pun!) for about two weeks before I was actually able to stop a full-blown anxiety attack in its tracks. (Ohhh, super nice pun!) I left the kids to their Legos and went to my room and shut the door. (I could not have done this two years ago. I am able to steal moments away now that the twins are four and not constantly in mortal danger.) I sat in my happy papasan chair and stared out my window. I slowed my breathing and pictured my stupid train. I repeated my stupid meme quote. “Feelings are just visitors. Let them come and go.” I did it. I de-escalated myself. I waited until I was really sure of that fact, and then I went back to my children.

At a recent adoption conference, I heard an adult adoptee (who is also a rapper) say that if we are caring for foster children, traumatized children, adopted children, special needs children, then we have a responsibility to get it together mentally in order to help them. He, of course, mentioned the ubiquitous oxygen mask analogy, which I have often heard and thought I had understood. But, for some reason, the way he phrased it changed everything. He said something like, “If you are the kind of person who is willing to care for children of trauma, then you are probably the kind of person who doesn’t think about herself. Who doesn’t put herself first. So I’m going to frame this from that perspective. Taking care of yourself and your own mental health IS being selfless, because it enables you to care for the needs of your child. You have to get it together yourself in order to BE SELFLESS enough to care for that kid.”

Straight into my heart and leaking out my eyes.

The oxygen mask analogy never really sat well with me, because, seriously, I don’t know if I can even FIND my oxygen mask. (Also, I am wary of the “saviorism” mentality that many white adoptive parents have without knowing it. I do not believe I am “selfless” for having adopted. Nor do I assume that my child is “better off with me.” I benefited from this man’s words because he was helping me figure out how to best help my child.) But this adult Black male adoptee who had been to prison and to college was telling me that taking the time to work out my own sh!t was for the good of my child. … And somehow it sunk in this time. Somehow, even though I may have heard it a hundred different times in a hundred different ways, and even though I had thought I had understood it, my brain and heart were actually finally ready to assimilate it.

Why am I ready now? Why is years of already-gathered information suddenly resonating? Maybe it’s because the kids are older, and I am actually able to take those five minutes to myself in my bedroom while they play Legos. Maybe it’s because my anxiety is already more controlled with professional help. Maybe it’s because I’m not in emergency mode anymore. Maybe it’s because I am being blessed by a higher power. Maybe because I can see, as my kids get older, how my mental health does – and will – affect them. Maybe it’s because I’m freaking sick of living like that.

***

The man who spoke to us was SaulPaul (who has given TED talks before). When he was done making me cry, he got out his guitar and sang all of us adoptive parents a song he wrote about his grandmother who adopted him. It’s called “Mama” and you can hear it here. 

 

 

And a heartfelt thank you to the friend who originally posted that meme… you know who you are and I love you.

Enjoy Every Moment? Bah.

We spent eight years childless. We went through 15 (!) rounds of fertility treatments (including two IVF procedures), a miscarriage, an adoption, and a high-risk twin pregnancy that nearly bested me. After all that, you can bet your whatever that I am grateful for my children. Does this mean that I “enjoy every moment”? No, it does not.

I hear that phrase often. A lot of us young (young-ish?) mothers hear it. We hear it in the grocery store, in the check-out line during a tantrum. We hear it at church, when our kids are going three different directions and one of them is saying, “Don’t sing, Momma!” We hear it. Often, the woman who is saying it is a little older than us and has a dreamy look in her eyes. I can tell that she has forgotten what it’s like to be in the trenches every day. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe she’s just realized that the trenches don’t matter and that time passes quickly. (Insert any overused cliché here!) She might be right.

I have heard other moms complain about this “enjoy every moment” thing on blogs and in person and in articles. I am not the first to write about it. Of course we don’t enjoy being up to our elbows (literally?) in poop. Of course we don’t enjoy multiple tantrums in one day (or hour). Of course we don’t enjoy fixing dinner/showering/facebooking while three children cry. Of course we don’t enjoy seeing our husband’s stress and disappointment when he opens the door after work to chaos, dirt, no dinner plan and a wife with dead eyes. So, no, we don’t enjoy every moment.

I used to feel guilty about that. But Okayest Mom is setting the bar lower. Okayest Mom has had an epiphany.

I went to the LDS temple, which is a peaceful place that we Mormons go without our children. It is not church or Sunday services – it is special. I was there for the first time in two years, after the IVF/bedrest/birth/recovery (I need an acronym for that). I was pondering my Mommy Guilt, and I knew it was not a spiritual feeling. I wondered how to deal with it. This scripture came to mind: “Men [& women] are that they might have joy.” (2 Nephi 2:25)

“Have joy” was the phrase that warmed my heart. It doesn’t say that we are supposed to be giddy at all hours of the day. “Have joy” maybe means that we feel the joyous moments, that we find joy in our moments. “Have joy” is a thing you can DO, not an emotion that you are supposed to feel. Does that make sense?

For those of you who are not religious, the other phrase that came to mind was from Bob Dylan’s song “Most of the Time”: “I’m halfway content most of the time.” That sums it up pretty well too. He isn’t doing cartwheels either.

If we can be “halfway content most of the time” and find moments that “have joy”, then we can drop the guilt for not “enjoying every moment”. It’s my new goal to REALIZE when I have joy, and appreciate it. I want to notice that moment when I have that momma-gushy-feeling where I feel like I could eat my kids. I want to notice that moment when they squeeze me and I want to die. I want to notice that moment when I know I would take a bullet for them. I want to notice that moment when they say “I love you” or “I’m sorry” or “I like your underwears”.

I’m gonna realize those moments, feel them and appreciate them, and move on.

 

bono

(Okay, okay, here’s me actually ENJOYING EVERY MOMENT. Me + Bono!)

A Survival Guide to Three Kids in Diapers

Let’s all just relax, take a deep breath, and stop competing to be Mom of the Year. Let’s just settle for World’s Okayest Mom sometimes.

I am posting this list because I often hear “How do you do it?” Well, I set the bar low, for starters. I know my kids won’t have a “normal” life right now, and I’m okay with that. I figured that admitting to some of my survival tips would help free other moms from some guilt. Sometimes other moms will “confess” something to me that I don’t think is bad at all. Please,  don’t be so hard on yourselves.

Conversely, unless you have spent 24 hours in my size-tens, don’t judge.

PS, I have come to the conclusion that I would have far more creative energy if I hadn’t spent of all it teaching five years of kindergarten. Those 100+ kids got my best. My kids, eh, not so much.

Here is a list of things I do that make me more sane.

1)      I don’t do chores during afternoon nap. I only allow myself to read, nap, watch TV, or blog. That’s it. Just four choices for me.

2)      I do not really play with the kids much. Seriously, I rarely do.

3)      I only do one big chore per day – and it’s during morning nap. Don’t ask me what I’m going to do when they drop down to one nap per day in a few months.

4)      I only go one place per week – at least right now while we are on a twice/day nap schedule. That means I can take my kids to storytime at the library, or the playground, but not both.

5)      I hire an 11-year old mother’s helper from church for a mere pittance for three hours a week, so I can do some other chores. She entertains the kids while I work. I don’t leave her alone and she doesn’t have to change diapers or anything. She is super happy to be making some money and getting “babysitting” experience. I am super happy to have some extra hands, but not pay an exorbitant rate.

6)      My mother-in-law comes  here for an entire day, once a week. I consider myself extremely fortunate for this one. That day is the day that I take my older son for a date to the pool, or get bigger chores/ shopping trips done.

7)      I let my 3-year-old play outside by himself (but he only goes if the dog comes too- otherwise he says he’s “wone-wee”). However, I do live in a private spot in the woods and I have a huge back deck that serves as a playpen. It’s so big that he can ride his big wheel – and every other wheel –while I watch him through big glass doors. Also, I have a very careful 3-year-old and I understand that not all kids are created equal.

playing on deck alone

8)      I have friends come over to our house for a playdate while the babies are having morning  nap and my older son is awake – rather than going to their house.

9)      I feel really really happy when they go to bed!

10)   I put them in their own rooms from a young age. And I am not the devil for doing it.

11)   We did cry-it-out. And I am not the devil for doing it.

sharing room again

12)   I do not go to them at night unless they’re sick.

13)   I have my husband do the grocery shopping. During a really hard week,  when it is more important to have my husband home than it is to have food right away, I have been known to use a grocery delivery service (which was not as expensive as I feared).

14)   I completely childproofed one room, so that we have somewhere to go in the house where I can completely relax.

15)   Our LDS church service is three hours long, and it’s during naptime. We have a system now that isn’t perfect, but it allows us to get there. We take two cars and go to sacrament meeting as a family. Then, Mr. Okayest takes the babies home for nap, while I stay with the older one. It’s not ideal, but we are doing our best.

16)   As for laundry, I do 1-2 loads of kid laundry every day. Kid laundry doesn’t have to be taken out of the dryer immediately because, well, it’s kid laundry. Who cares about wrinkles? I do the adult laundry, including my husband’s button-downs, on the weekends when we have two adults.

17)   My kids never get bathed enough.

18)   I don’t do chores after they go to bed. My husband goes to bed very early because of his work schedule, so the 1-2 hours between their bedtime and our bedtime is sacred couples’ time. Or sacred TV time. Or whatever floats your boat time.

Now, lest you think I have got it all together, let me assure you that I do not. I have been known to burst into tears as soon as Mr. Okayest walks in the door, for any of the following reasons:

  • Migraine
  • PMS
  • Lack of sleep
  • Stomach viruses
  • The dog
  • My toddler crying for two hours at the playground because “he wants to go home” and then crying all the way home because “he doesn’t want to go home”
  • Seeing a book that I used to read to my oldest when he was a baby and then sobbing because I can’t remember the last time I read a book to my current babies and now they’re going to have low IQ’s
  • Realizing that my 3 ½ year old doesn’t know how to play hide-and-seek and, therefore, has a lot of huge holes in his childhood from my bedrest/ recovery period
  • A mean librarian
  • A kid at the playground making fun of something my kid can’t help
  • There was more than one suspicious fluid to mop up that day
  • My babies aren’t cuddling me anymore because they are simply getting too big to cuddle
  • Not showering that day
  • It was the day of the week that Mr. Okayest went to grad school and was gone from 5AM until 9PM
  • All three crying at the same time (PS, I am now accepting applications for what to name this particular phenomenon.)

I don’t have this mothering thing all figured out at all. I just want mothers to relax and let go of the guilt and do what works for them. World’s Okayest Mom says it’s okay.