Because my blog is not writing-prompt driven, it's the experiences, antics and conversations of my life that inspire my writing. Lucky you, right? But I feel like I need to put a little note here: Today's post is not directed at anyone specifically who has Facebook commented, verbally commented or sent videos my way recently. It's more of a culmination of a thought that's been rolling around in my head and things I've been reading on the interwebs. Just wanted to get that out there. So without further wait...
Me and My First World Problems...
As most of you know, when I began this blog 3+ years ago (man, I missed another anniversary!) I was seeing a therapist. I know, I know. Who isn't seeing a therapist these days, right? PSA: I am a HUGE believer in therapy. No matter how much we attempt to be impartial observers in our own lives and circumstances, it's impossible. An unbiased, professional opinion and guidance is invaluable.
In spite of all my rainbow feelings about therapy, it was difficult for me to go. I felt terrible for needing help when my life was pretty much a cake walk compared to what's going on in the world. I felt like a failure for not being able to just get my shit together and be happy!
The reasons for going to therapy were simple: I was lost. Totally and completely lost. And for a Type-A-project-manager-control-over-thinker like myself, feeling lost felt like drowning. I was well into my second year as a full time stay at home mom of 2 kids. I'd cleaned, organized, painted, redecorated and labeled everything I could get my hands on. I'd joined the gym, participated in the book club, volunteered in the classroom and spent enough Moms Night Outs to be considered a professional escort.
But in the end, in the quiet of my bed at night or the silence of nap time, I was drowning. I cried. I got angry. I worried. But more than anything, I guilted. And after a long night of snotting and hiccuping and spewing my guts to Hubs, we decided I just couldn't get a handle on this myself and if I ever wanted my husband to stop staring at me with wide, shocked eyes, I'd needed to see someone.
And so I met A Wise Woman. I'm not kidding, that's her name. Well, in my head that's her name. At 7:00 a.m. on a cold Tuesday morning I cried and snotted and verbally spewed yet again. I spilled my proverbial maternal guts and admitted everything I had been so afraid to give voice to. "I'm bored at home. I'm going insane. I miss my job. I love my kids but it's not enough. I want to go back to work. I dont' want to go back to work. I feel guilty for wanting to go back to work. I feel guilty for having these negative feelings when all I should feel is grateful. I feel guilty for not recognizing all my blessings. I feel guilty for not doing a better job as a wife and appreciating the fact that my husband works and I don't have to work. I feel guilty for not being more humbled by the fact that I get a choice. I feel guilty that a lot of my friends would give anything to have that choice. I feel guilty that my kids drive me crazy and I yell too much, and have no patience and wish they'd go to school. And I feel guilty that women in Africa have it so much harder than me, yet you don't see them sitting on a therapist's couch talking about their feelings."
When I was done, A Wise Woman just stared at me- long and hard, politely ignoring the snot and less than lady-like sleeve wiping, took a deep breath and said, "Wow. Is there anything you don't feel guilty about? And the thing about women in Africa? That might be the dumbest thing I've ever heard. And I've been doing this a long time."
Clearly this is not a one day seminar.
Shall I pack for 2 weeks or 3?
Needless to say, I knew this woman was going to save me. And save me, she did. Slowly but surely we unpacked all the guilt and all these feelings and put each away where they belonged. It was no small task, let me tell you. Giving life to your fears is painful and scary. But I eventually I learned that keeping them hidden was worse- it allows them to grow into inaccurately-sized monsters. Shining a light on them shows you they are nothing more than a distorted version of something much small and more manageable. Like a shadow they shrink when called into the light.
And the most important lesson I learned in those months was this:
Your problems don't have to be the biggest ones in the room to have merit.
Not rocket science. No big, fancy words. Just a whole lot of truth.
Recently, I've read and heard an awful lot about First World Problems. It's a phrase that's flying around. But in all honesty, all "First World Problems" seems to do is shame people. I even find myself saying it in a self-deprecating "I know my feelings are silly and my problems are no where near as big as someone else's and I should be ashamed of myself for even feeling this way" kind of way.
And it's pissing me off. You're absolutely right- my problems are First World Problems. But guess what? I live in a First World Life. I'm eternally grateful for that. I'm blessed to know my life story was written on the pages of a free country, an unbroken family history and a lifestyle where I have no idea what it's like to suffer or go without. I thank My God every night for those blessings and ask for peace and comfort for those who do not live in My First World.
So does that mean that my problems don't have value because they aren't the biggest in the room? Of course they pale in comparison to the real problems our fellow humans experience. And of course we all need a healthy dose of perspective. But should I be ashamed for wanting to wring my husband's neck when he leaves wet towels and dirty dishes around AGAIN? Should I feel guilty for wanting the weekend to be over so my kids would just go back to school and stop arguing and asking me for stuff? Am I ungrateful for being irritated that I have to complete 4 errands in a one hour window of time? Perhaps I'm a spoiled brat when I want to scream over the fact that the laundry has piled up- yet again?
Amen to that!
The answer, in my opinion, is no. I'm human. Humans have feelings- the good, the bad, and the completely irrational. One of the biggest crimes mothers commit is the way we "One Up" each other. You're overwhelmed because your husband has been working late all week? Well my husband has been working 7 days a week for months! Frustrated because your 2 kids keep leaving their stuff around? My 4 kids leave twice as much. Your son has woken up and climbed in your bed every night this week? I haven't slept through the night in years with all my kid's sleep issues. What is that? Why do we do that to one another? Don't we see that in order to One Up, we must One Down someone else?
In this crazy journey that is parenthood we should be encouraging, empathising and supporting one another. Sure, we need to give one another a swift kick in the ass when we're wallowing. But a good friend gives you an appropriate Window of Wallow, and then help you snap out of it! As moms it's easy to feel guilty about everything we do. And second nature to feel guilty for everything we don't do. We hold ourselves to ridiculous standards that are founded on perceived realities and unachievable expectations. Then we punish ourselves for not living up to them. It's silly really. And destructive.
I knew I forgot something on my To Feel Guilty About list today:
Skipping my workout!
Now I feel guilty for having time to workout.
Being annoyed with your kids is light years better than mourning them. Shaking your fists and releasing a silent scream at the back of your husband's head as he walks out of the room pales in comparison to having him halfway around the world and in harm's way. And if the worst problem I have to tackle today is how to get all my errands done, and not how to feed my kids, I'm one of the lucky ones.
But I'm still allowed to feel what I feel without adding a helping of guilt on top. I need empathy. I need understanding and grace and mercy and gratitude. And I definitely need a healthy dose of perspective. But I certainly don't need guilt. I've got plenty of that to go around.
I may not have the biggest problems in the room, but they're still my problems and they're legit.
That's just my normal.