Being a mother is stressful. So is being a wife. And being a woman in general. I try so hard to be good at my many jobs and wear many hats, but most of the time I feel like I’m juggling and the joke’s on me because I can’t juggle. I put a lot of pressure on myself.
I’ve wanted to be married and be a mom for as long as I can remember. When I was in high school, I dreamed of falling in love, getting married, and having children right away. I couldn’t imagine not having children soon after getting married because I didn’t think I would be able to maintain enough conversation with a guy who would choose to be with me. I was so clueless. It sounds silly now because my favorite person to talk to is my husband, and only about half of our conversations are about our children.
When I found out I was pregnant with Drew, I kind of freaked out. I wanted to make sure I did everything right to ensure that he would be healthy. I tried to eat well but gave in to my crazy cravings and ate lots of cheese, sweet and sour sauce, and drank my own weight in cranberry juice. Parenting pressure #1 came in the form of being asked whether or not I would quit my job to be a stay-at-home mom after he was born. There was never any doubt that I would return to work eight weeks after giving birth. Then I started feeling guilty because, despite the financial necessity, I actually wanted to go back to work.
There are moms who want to stay home and moms who don’t. And that’s okay. I feel sorry for the moms who want to stay home but can’t, and those to have to stay home but don’t want to. (This same argument applies to dads.) What irritates me is when one side or the other claims that theirs is what’s best for all children. I don’t stay home because I don’t want to. I want to work. Because of that, me working outside the home is what’s best for my children. I want Meredith to see me working and know that it’s an option for her if she becomes a mother and doesn’t wish to stay at home. Now, do I still feel guilty and put pressure on myself sometimes because I can’t make every awards assembly that’s so conveniently scheduled at 9:42 a.m. or can’t go to the class parties or field trips? Damn right I do.
Some days, I feel like I’m doing a great job at parenting. My kids are respectful, well-fed, and happy. Other days I feel like the worst mother in the world. One morning last week, I’d finally had enough of Drew’s back-talking and yelled at him. (I had a calm conversation with him later during which I apologized and reminded him that grown-ups mess up too and I needed him to listen to me without complaining.) I’ve been known to curse in his presence, although I try not to. Now that he’s at that obnoxious stage where his favorite word is “fart” I doubt I’ll scar him too much with my occasional mutterings of “shit” and “son of a bitch” which I picked up from my late stepfather.
I joined a new life group at church. I’ll be meeting every two weeks with a great group of ladies to study Ruth and habits of women who don’t give up. After the first meeting, I know I am going to like getting to know these ladies. We all put so much pressure on ourselves to be perfect for everyone else that we forget to take care of ourselves. I told them something I’ve only shared with a few close friends up until now.
Sometimes I feel so stressed out that I imagine getting in my car and driving away from everything and not coming back. It’s not something I would ever actually do, and it’s not even something I would call a fantasy. (All of my fantasies now include my family.) The feeling is not something I’m proud of. In fact, I’m ashamed of myself for feeling that way. I would never run away because if I did, I could never face them when I came home—and I would have to come home. Apparently, I’m not the only person who feels this way.
I felt that way a lot when I was in college. All the pressure I felt made me want to run away from everything. The drawing featured at the top of this page is one I did during my Drawing Studio class my sophomore year in college, which I titled “Under Pressure.” It’s not my best work. I would call it mediocre—passable, maybe. It was another assignment of “Figure on a threshold” that I described as a figure on the brink of insanity. I covered up part of the drawing because a person I do not wish to identify by likeness or name is featured in the mirror’s reflection. I have to let myself off the hook for all the drawings and writing I did during that time in my life that was influenced by me being in love with that guy. Other people have felt that way. Sara Bareilles explained the feeling so well in her song “Gravity.” We can’t control our feelings, but we can control how we react to them. Coincidentally, controlling it can feel very out of control.
At the time, from August 1999—when I began college—through my graduation in May 2003, it was hard to think about anything else but that and keeping my scholarship. I put so much pressure on myself to be perfect in the classroom because I felt like my life outside the classroom was falling apart. I soon had to give up on perfect and settle for good enough to keep my scholarship. I have six Cs on my undergraduate transcript and not because I didn’t try to do better. It was tough for someone who never had a C before. I went through high school with all As and graduated 3rd in my class. I felt like a failure when I had to take those Cs but, at the same time, felt relieved when I had enough As in my drawing and writing classes to balance out my GPA enough to keep the 3.25 cumulative I needed to keep my scholarship, which covered all costs.
Looking back at my transcript, and considering everything that was going on in my life at the time, I don’t know how I kept my grades up enough to keep my scholarship, especially the fall semester of 2002 when I was hospitalized for a week and missed two weeks of classes due to ulcerative colitis. All of my professors were understanding and let me make up my missed work except my drawing professor. I got a C in that class because I missed my self-set deadlines and honestly, my work wasn’t up to my usual standards and didn’t even reach the mediocrity I would have settled for. At the time, the combination of steroids and anti-anxiety meds I was taking zapped my creativity. I was messed up. Sadly, I let the whole thing break my spirits, and that was my last art class. I haven’t drawn or painted anything since then. It’s been almost fifteen years.
One of my goals for this year is to draw and paint again, but I don’t know if I still can. Baby steps. I didn’t know if I could still write either when I picked up Caroline’s Lighthouse and began a rewrite one year ago, but I did it. Getting a novel published was one of my biggest dreams, and I did it. I can hold that book in my hand, and I feel so proud when I look at it and see my name and my drawing from high school on the cover. Now the pressure is to keep selling copies of it and to make sure my next novel is just as good or better.
Aging has me stressed out lately. I’ll be thirty-six in June. I have reached the point where the traditional incoming freshmen in the fall at ATU will have birthdates that match the year I graduated high school. That’s right—eighteen years ago. How did I get so old? And how is it that hearing a song or reading a poem can instantly erase all the years and make me remember how I felt when I was eighteen? Maybe it’s all the pressure I put on myself back then to survive the pain that I never allowed myself to get over it. I know I spend way too much time thinking about the past, but everything that I am now goes back to it. All the best parts of me that got scarred and maimed. Eve 6 said it best with their song “Inside Out” which was popular my senior year in high school. I got through it. I moved on. I succeeded and even became happy again, but I never got over it. So that’s another goal for this year: To stop beating myself up over the past and get over it—for real this time.
My husband, Jonathan, is amazing. I played Edwin McCain’s cover of “I Could Not Ask For More” at my wedding. My hubby tells me all the time that I put too much pressure on myself to be perfect. I want to be perfect for him. I think I still have this fear inside that he’ll stop loving me someday, which I know is ridiculous. He said it was not possible when I talked to him about this blog post last night. I think he loves my imperfections the most. Drawing on another song, Rachel Platten’s “Better Place.” He shows me that he loves me every day. When it’s real love, the feeling never goes away, no matter what. This I know with absolute certainty. I’ll love him for the rest of my life. We have a great relationship full of respect and laughter. If anyone read a transcript of our conversations out of context, they might think we hated each other with all of our joking around, but it works for us. Stuff like “Woman! Go make me a sandwich!” to which I reply, “I’d be happy to, babe, but you’ll never leave the bathroom again if I do.”
Jonathan has been helpful in getting me to let go of some of the pressure at home. He reminds me that no one is going to die if I don’t get all the laundry done or the dishes put away. We both work to keep our house clean, but it’s never perfect. We focus on things for health and safety, but our kids won’t remember that when they’re older; they’ll remember that we played with them. I remember my mom playing with me. I don’t remember how many days passed between floor sweepings or dusting.
Another part of relieving the pressure I put on myself is to seek a better relationship with God. So, I am actively seeking and praying for peace, health, forgiveness, understanding, contentment, and happiness. Notice how I am not praying for or seeking perfection. Perfection isn’t possible on earth.
So, I am a soon-to-be late-thirties woman who is now about ten to fifteen pounds over my ideal weight. I curse too much. I take medication to help me sleep because, without it, I can’t sleep at all. Because my mind won’t shut up and let me. I worry too much about what other people think of me and other things I can’t control. I have always put way too much pressure on myself.
I am not now, nor will I ever be perfect. I have to accept that. I will focus, instead, on being the best “enough” I can be without all the pressure for perfection. I will be enough for work, be enough for my children, be enough for my husband, and be enough for me. I wish the same for anyone reading my crazy rambling. Be enough. Most likely, you already are.
-Brandi Easterling Collins