Have you ever noticed that when something’s not quite right with the mother of a family, the rest of the family gets thrown off balance as well?
I noticed this only to degrees over the past two years, but through my own observation at home and reading various pieces of developmental literature, the ‘If Mama ain’t Happy’ theory is stronger and more present than I ever imagined.
That’s a big burden for a mama, isn’t it? There’s a lot of pressure not to have a down day, not to overlook the third child in a row, attempting to deplete your resources, not to be distracted by the Pottery Barn catalog or a Macy’s One Day sale. It’s a lot to ask.
I’ve seen this phenomenon manifest itself, not only with my children, but also with my husband and cats. Everyone’s behavior seems to settle a little left of center when mama’s mind (heart, body, or soul) is somewhere else.
My husband and I have been on a grueling (and, thus far, fruitless) journey to find a new home for the past few months. In that time frame, we’ve had our son regress in his potty behavior, our daughter regress in general, her twin brother stop napping altogether, and one of our cats begin anxiety-scratching in the middle of the night.
Once I picked my head up long enough to actually notice all that was happening around me, I could feel the trickle-down effect of our own anxiety and mental absence from our home. I awoke one morning, after deciding to spend nearly all of the previous day just playing and being with the kids, only to realize that the defiant, attention-seeking behavior had stopped, everyone had slept according to our normal routine, and Matthew had circled back around to exceed his previous potty success.
I sat up in bed and thought, It was me. A huge wave of guilt washed over me. I felt absolutely awful, and I couldn’t tell you whether I felt more awful because I had done this to our family, or because I had no idea I had done this to my family. I was shocked. The first thing I said to my husband that morning was, “We need to hug those kids all the time, and play with them, sit with them, and give them all the love they can stand. Every day. From now on. That’s what makes everyone better.”
At that point, we decided that, no matter what, we needed to be present. We’d play with the kids in the family room instead of helplessly poring through real estate listings. We’d take the kids outside instead of circumnavigating the globe with Google Earth or pecking at a calculator to figure out closing costs. We’d be there. And, that’s when everything changed for good. Maggie again lay down to sleep at night without issue, Michael returned to Champion Napper status, and Matthew became the responsible big brother he had been just a short few months before.
I walk heavily now, in the weight of my responsibility. I tread carefully around my kids. I no longer cry, and I don’t yell. I don’t allow them to witness or experience anything that could upset the delicate system of balance in our small, but very important, universe.
I’ve developed a new level of self-restraint, both within the house and managing outside issues and projects. When we’re bummed or receive bad news, if it warrants explanation, we explain, but otherwise we remain devoted, doting parents, who have, against some odds and over a great span of time, somehow learned to avoid being pulled under by life’s riptides.
If you ever feel there’s no sun in your sky as a wife or a mother, my greatest advice to you is to remember that you’re it. The young planets you’ve created revolve solely around you, and react directly to your heat and the pull of your gravity. This is your universe. You are a literal force of nature. Your breath creates the winds and your tears create the seas. You are a goddess. You are the sun. You are the medicine.
If you have not yet, one day, not so far in the future, you will become aware of the power of your touch, your love, and your presence. And when you do, your life will never be the same.