“You’re only job is to vacuum the couch so I’m not itchy.”
I heard this recently during a cleanfest at my home due to Hurricane Dorian. I was not amused, as I assume some other moms wouldn’t be.
Taking care of everyone else, without caring for yourself, can wear you down.
As a mom, you don’t deal with one person’s needs. It’s everyone’s needs — the dogs who need baths, the husband who needs a reminder of when to pick up kids from sports practice, and the last-minute load of laundry so your kid can wear his favorite shirt to school the next day.
In Viktor Frankl’s book “Man’s Search for Meaning,” he brings up a story of a patient who wanted to commit suicide. She lost a son at a young age, and her other child was disabled. Taking care of her disabled son got to be too much for her.
When Frankl began working with the patient, he asked what would have happened if she didn’t have kids. She imagines a life of luxury, but an empty life.
She prayed to have children. And despite his disabilities, her child was full of life and love. In the end, she realized that God had given her what she wanted and that the good times come with the bad ones.
“You just have to do this one thing.”
For moms it’s always more than one thing. Each person and pet in the house has a unique need which has to fit within the family’s overall needs. If a kid wants a pony for Christmas and you live in the city, they may not get their horse. But if a kid wants an extra hot dog at the football game and they’re 2 for 1, then yeah, why not?
Frankl was a psychologist who was sent to the concentration camps during World War II. In his book, he talks about how he felt that many of those who died, did so because they lost hope, a feeling that their life still had meaning and would have meaning after the camps were liberated.
In his book, he notes that the prisoners had to give each other, and sometimes themselves, a why — an aim — for their lives, “in order to strengthen them to bear the terrible how of their existence.”
His description of life in the concentration camps says it “tore open the human soul and exposed its depths. Is it surprising that in those depths we again found only human qualities which in their very nature were a mixture of good and evil? The rift dividing good from evil, which goes through all human beings, reaches into the lowest depths and become apparent even on the bottom of the abyss which is laid open by the concentration camp.”
As a mother, I found this book invaluable. At times, many times, my kids drive me nuts. Sometimes I feel that I’m the worst parent ever. There are also times when I feel like my tasks are just too much for me to handle.
But we are all humans. Some smaller than others in my house. We all add something to the family collective, but each have a separate and unique path.
Moms tend to get stuck on the motherhood path and just sit there. I will always worry about my kids and try to take care of them. But, I have my own places to go. My journey is farther along, but it isn’t done yet.
At times I feel sucked in, swallowed by the collective. This book shows how we can be together, but because of our uniqueness, have to find our own path guiding us through the trials and triumphs that come our way.
Frankl specialized in logotherapy, which focuses on the meaning of human existence as well as on man’s search for such meaning. According to this school of psychotherapy, this striving to find a meaning in one’s life is the primary motivational force in man.
Frankl notes how he and other prisoners appreciated little things — sunsets during dinner breaks, a smuggled piece of bread, an impromptu serenade before heading to bed.
There is no magic, one-size-fits-all meaning of life, Frankl writes. It differs from person to person, from day to day and from hour to hour. What matters is the specific meaning of a person’s life at a given moment.
Frankl notes to achieve personal meaning, a person has to transcend subjective pleasures by doing something that “points, and is directed, to something, or someone, other than oneself … by giving himself to a cause to search or another person to love.”
In the end, it is about mentally pushing through the hard times. Find that “why” that makes you look forward to the future.
The bad is part of the good. For example, the goal of running a 5k race requires you to train by practicing. You may have some crappy runs, but remember why you’re there — to accomplish a goal. Then go for it.
If it doesn’t work out try again.
It is important to plan beyond that main goal, Frankl demonstrates in one of his stories. In the book, a prisoner has a dream of when he’ll be liberated. As the date in his dream draws near, he gets sick and eventually dies on the date he predicted as the liberation date.
Frankl points out that the prisoner didn’t look beyond the date, he became so obsessed that when he eventually got sick, he stopped taking care of himself. The prisoner thought his liberators would take care of him.
Mothers, as well as many other adults, have a lot on our plates. We are the keepers of the family calendar, the keepers of the home inventory (if I hear my family complain about not having popsicles again I’m going to scream), the keepers who meet everyone’s needs.
We do all these things because it has to be done. And maybe we should continue to do so, but don’t do it at the expense of loosing yourself, getting physically sick because of all that is on your plate.
Fight for your why.
Remember why you are here. In the end, it’s not for your children’s life, it is yours. You will raise your kids and they’ll move out (hopefully, cross my fingers and whatnot). You’ll have grandkids to fret after eventually. But in the end, you will have to do you. Will you be brave and try new things? Will you just relax on the beach with your spouse? Will your lack of foresight leave you totally dependent on others? That’s really up to you.
All of what you are doing now will lead you to your destination. When times get bad, remember your why that will get you through the how. The when times are good, let them open your heart and carry you through the darkness.
Maybe I’ll vacuum the sofa. Maybe I won’t. But I know that the many things I’ve done until now, got me to this point and will carry me to wherever the future takes me. If I’m to survive, I need to get everyone involved in making my one job less of an all-encompassing role in the family structure.