There’s a popular Southern expression, and I’m paraphrasing, but here it is.
I get it. I get that in many families, mine included, Mama is wearing a lot of hats and balancing several of the daily responsibilities that keep the family running smoothly. Some days Mama is doing it well. Other days … well we all manage to stay afloat those days. So I appreciate the sentiment.
But is it true? Or should it be?
This morning my daughter slept in, which is rare. When I was pregnant I didn’t care about having a boy or girl, I just wanted a healthy child … and oh yeah please don’t make them morning children. You know that expression if you want to make God laugh say your plans out loud? Oh yeah. God laughed hard. My boy is up at the crack of dawn and happy to be so. My daughter is also up at the crack of dawn. But she’s definitely not a morning person.
So when I say she “slept in,” I mean it was 7:30 and she hadn’t stirred. Finally, around 7:45, she stumbled out of bed. She came to me for snuggles, bleary-eyed and crazy haired, mumbling about still being tired. As we chatted I casually mentioned that I had slept in, too (meaning the boy hadn’t screamed for second breakfast until almost 7:00). I said, “usually I get up when I hear your door open.”
I should clarify that, since I’m not a morning person, I do all my “stuff” at night. I don’t wake up until it is absolutely necessary and even then I’d rather not. My husband takes the early shift with the boy, since it’s his fault he’s a morning person (they both are … how else does that happen???) Her room is directly across from ours (our house is not big), so the sound of her door is usually my signal to get moving as well. But I suppose she hadn’t made that connection.
As soon as she heard me say that she got very upset. She began to apologize for waking me up each morning. “I will be quieter.” She promised, “Daddy can take care of me I promise I won’t wake you up again.” Part of this is her anxiety. She is, by nature, a people pleaser and the thought she is putting someone out devastates her. It’s kindness to a fault, a trait she inherited from me.
But my heart sank because I knew a lot of that response was because of me. Mamas, by design, tend to get tired. And when Mama’s not happy …. You guessed it. For me, however, fatigue is a way of life. I suffer from Multiple Sclerosis, an auto-immune disease that affects the brain and spine. On my best days, I’m only kind of tired. On my worst days, Mama ain’t happy.
So when Mama isn’t happy, I realized, no one else could be. In part because we are family. We move as one unit and when one of the cogs in our familial machine is out of whack, it affects us all. For my daughter though, for whom I am the rock due to her severe anxiety and depression, we have a mantra. We can’t control the world … we can control how we respond to it.
Manage your emotions, I teach her. Feel the “big feelings,” because they are valid and it’s normal to have them but remember that you can reign them in. Most importantly, don’t take those big feelings and throw them at others, even those we love the most.
That’s right. Here I am teaching my daughter that it’s ok and understandable to feel angry, irritable and frustrated at times but it’s never OK to take those emotions and use them to yell at her brother or a friend. Yet in the next step, I’m snapping at her because her clothes are on the floor, again, and I’m too tired to pick them up.
Do what Mama says. Not what Mama does. Be angry. But not really. It’s OK to be unhappy … but watch out. Because if Mama isn’t happy …
I immediately became aware of my own hypocrisy, however unintentional, and the confusing message it provided my children. I wondered how many other times I had created duality in their lives – for example by monitoring their sugar while eating a too big piece of cake. We work hard to raise good, strong, healthy children. In this family we also focus on emotional health and well-being. Yet the example I provide speaks volumes louder than the words I use.
So we discussed it, right then and there, that our happiness does not have to be tied together. That she was not responsible for when I sleep or how I wake. That, while consideration for others is important, she does not have to walk on eggshells to keep Mama happy. I came out of our morning cuddle slightly ashamed, gratefully aware, and with a new goal:
If Mama isn’t happy … that’s OK. We all are unhappy sometimes. But we love one another and respect each other enough not to take it out on them.
It doesn’t fit on a plaque as cute, but I like it all the same.