A couple of weeks ago, I snapped at my daughter. I was watching a television show while folding laundry, and I had to pause my show no less than 3 times in a ten-minute period because she kept coming in to talk to me. I was frustrated that she kept interrupting, and I yelled, only to be chastised by my husband, that it was “just a TV show.” While his reprimand was enough to shame me into apologizing to my daughter, I also pointed out to him that it was in fact NOT just a TV show. I had been trying to take some time to myself. The best I could manage was to multitask by folding laundry while trying to watch a little bit of TV, and I couldn’t even manage that without constant demands and interruptions from my family. I was left feeling guilty for getting upset with my daughter for wanting my time and attention and guilty for having the audacity to want some time for myself.
More recently, I was short with a co-worker. She had been sent as a messenger to ask me to give up my planning period (again) to help with some school-wide need. I later apologized for taking my frustration out on her, but I wasn’t sorry for saying “no.” I felt like had been given a huge to-do list and short deadlines, but I wasn’t being given the time to complete the tasks that were required of me. That inevitably meant bringing more work home with me, where my husband would help keep the kids out of my hair by reminding them that “it’s the school year, so Mommy’s always working!” Once again, I was left feeling guilty: guilty for daring to ask for time to do my job and guilty for allowing that job to impact my family time.
That same week, I found myself tripping over my youngest while trying to make dinner. She was hanging on my leg and asking to cuddle. When I asked her to leave the kitchen, she threw a tantrum. She had just started kindergarten, and while she seemed to be adjusting well, I understood that this was her way of telling me that she was feeling overwhelmed and uncertain, so I took a deep breath, pulled on my gentle-parenting gloves, got down on her level, and explained to her that I understood she needed some quality time and attention but that I could not give it to her while I was trying to cook dinner. I promised her that if she got ready for bed immediately after dinner, I would take some time to snuggle with her, and I followed through. The whole time we snuggled, though I was worried about the PPT that was still unfinished for the next day’s lesson.
I could have let the guilt creep in again.
I could have felt guilty about not being mentally present with my child, or even angry that work consumed so much of my time that I couldn’t enjoy quality time with my child, but instead, I started to feel slightly resentful. I had taken the time to acknowledge and validate my daughter’s feelings, and just a few minutes of quality time was all she needed to feel better, but I rarely get the same sort of acknowledgment and validation from those around me. I recognized that her behavior was a sign of her unmet needs, but no one sees my mom-rage or my teacher-angst as anything more than anger. While I appreciate the arguments that parents need to control their own emotions in order to teach children to regulate theirs and that adults need to behave professionally, I’m curious at what age we are suddenly expected to bottle it all up and stop expressing our emotions at all.
When I’m feeling overwhelmed, or anxious, or angry, I don’t need someone to remind me that I am an adult and that I need to put the needs of others before myself. I don’t need people to reframe my concerns in an attempt to minimize them. I don’t need people sending me articles on self-care or reminding me to slow down before I burn out.
I don’t need to be left feeling guilty for having feelings.
Sometimes, I just need someone to take a few minutes to listen and to acknowledge and validate my feelings. I just need those around me to give me the time to express how I’m feeling, and maybe a little bit of time to process them on my own. Getting older doesn’t reduce the need for emotional validation, and giving moms the right and space to express their emotions may go a lot farther in helping to address the unmet needs that can overcome us than placing the onus of self-care on their shoulders on top of everything else they are responsible for.