When 100% might be too much

I am detached and lost.

How can that be? I also feel extremely happy and grounded, and yet, I continue to have this out of body sense, too, that I'm not all here.

Is it because of Hollis' developmental stage? My own peculiar form of malaise? What is it? Am I harming my sweet little baby by feeling this way? Us? Me? My life? Our life?

Lately so many amazing things have been happening and while they register with me, I still feel separate from all of it.

Anthony got a terrific raise and promotion. Hollis' language is motoring on in leaps and bounds. My marriage is more solid than ever. I'm more certain of myself as a parent than ever before. Perhaps it's because these things are safe and taken care of that my mind has turned inward; I have more mental real estate to play with, so to speak.

I don't know.

Some moments, just mere moments, I catch myself feeling bereft. They flicker past like a blink, a twinkle in the distance, and I'm left wondering what just happened to me.

I look back on old pictures of me with Hollis and I almost don't recognize that girl for I feel so utterly different today. I was consumed with my baby and trying to figure out all that went along with caring for a helpless human being. CONSUMED. Today, I am consumed mostly with my own longings and tribulations and it feels wholly wrong. I should be concentrating on Hollis and his needs, wants, and desires more. I don't know what it may look like to the outside world, but to me I feel like I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about myself.

For example, right now I've finished eating therefore I'm writing and he's propped up in front of the TV watching The Little Mermaid and eating leftover pizza. A year ago TV didn't exist in our house and I would have been feeding him directly or eating with him, or at least waiting for him to finish.

I think it's important to make a disclaimer here. I love to hate myself. I get that. It's my thing. It's why I'm 20 lbs over-weight, why I over-spend on occasion, and why I sometimes imbibe too much. If I didn't have those things in my life, then what on earth would I hate on?? Ten years of therapy aren't all for naught. I at least know the cross I bear in great detail. No one could ever accuse me of not having insight, it's just the wherewithal to change it permanently that's my Sisyphus.

Every day I pull myself out of my reverie to look into Hollis' bright, blue eyes and feel his presence. I take him everywhere with me, I breathe in his scent as if it were the most potent drug, I listen for all his cues of need. Perhaps no one could ever tell how I'm feeling on the inside, much as Cave Mother writes about here, but I feel at war with myself practically every moment of the day. It's exhausting.

A dear friend of mine from my childhood recently called me because my note about the balancing act we mothers strive to achieve "pained" her. She's a newish mom who has a 7 month old in an attachment parenting day care full time. Her attorney duties keep her away 40 hours a week, but she's within driving distance and she often volunteers as a helper so she still feels connected. She also has a "deal" with herself that she won't do anything that will take her away from her sweet little one more than two times a week in the evenings to do errands, etc. And it seemed to me while talking to her that she was really and truly happy. No, it wasn't easy and no, it wasn't perfect, but she's clearly hammered out some things I'm only just now facing.

What pained her to read about my struggle was that she feared I was being too hard on myself. "All jobs have crap associated with them and it doesn't mean you're a jerk for thinking that about your job as a stay-at-home-mom."

Wow. What a powerful thing to hear and from another momma and I've really, really been thinking about it ever since. I've said the words, "my job is being a mother," but I've never allowed myself to let the thought, "and this job has some crap features," to ever cohabit my thoughts. I've expected absolute perfection from myself, and only pure, sweet thoughts. Otherwise, somehow I felt that I was a lesser mother and when you say "lesser mother," it doesn't just mean you suck at a job, but you suck at being a mother. Something so enormously more important than any old job that it's nearly impossible for any of us to detangle the web motherhood weaves about us.

And isn't that what this is all about? I have let my own identity and self-worth become tied to motherhood, something I set out to avoid with all the ferocity I could muster. I am careful not to over identify with Hollis and his emotions: he is entitled to push me away, swing at me, be mad at me, whatever and it's no reflection on me as a person whatsoever. I've got that nailed, but when it comes to my own perceived presence of mind I am treading dangerous, landmine-filled ground. Obviously.

If I don't keep a perfect house (something which has nothing to do with mothering per se), then I am a bad person. If I am not 100% present with Hollis, or come up with good ideas for play, or tune him out I am also a bad person.

I've taken the negative space of the chair and beaten myself with it.

My friend was also concerned with my line of thoughts regarding what a "good mother" was. Did I think she was less of a mother because she was willing to go back to work and put her son in daycare when I so clearly feel I don't have that option because I want to be a "good mother"?

I was so keen to not over-identify with mothering itself and burden Hollis with a mother whose emotions were ensnared with his own that I have caught myself in a different kind of net. A net of utter mothering and wifing perfection which includes 100% round the clock attendance by me and no one else. No wonder I can't seem to bring myself to be "100%" available these days, I was giving more than I should have all along. Maybe 75% is still really fucking good, you know??

I dunno.

I know a lot of you have already gone through this and figured it all out. I appreciate everyone's thoughts and advice on this.

PS: I've been trying to get pregnant for over a year. I'm pretty certain this has something to do with all of this: I'm ready for the next level of parenthood and I've been unable to attain it. I am so effing ready to add to my family. Soon, hopefully, I'll look back on the last six months of boredom and frustration with a laugh at my simpering, brooding mood. Wish me luck.


  1. Dear Jessica. What an incredible post. And you're right, you are being too hard on yourself, but that doesn't make it any easier or present an immediate solution, does it? I have been in your position. At times I am still very much in your position. I don't feel I do anything particularly well these days and sometimes my parenting style is much more 'here in body, but not in mind'. This issue was also raised by Sleep Is for The Weak this week - you might like to read her post here: http://sleepisfortheweak.org.uk/2009/11/19/so-emm-what-am-i-supposed-to-be-doing-again/

    And also I was at a women's group this week (LIFELINE!) and we were discussing self-sabotage. One of the women said she had been told by her therapist this week (again) that 80% is okay. In fact, anything more than 80% is too much.

    You are doing great. This stage is really normal. Your conscious of it and that's a good thing. And it will change.


  2. I don't even know where to start.

    I hear you and I have been there and struggled with that. I have the tendency to invest too much of myself in whatever I do - school, work, being a mom. That is just my personality. But I am trying to relax and give myself space. To feel like I don't have to be perfect all the time, that it is okay to fail, or feel like you are failing.

    Because I'm not. And neither are you. As much as we think we are. We haven't met, but you are a good mom. Not perfect. No one is. But a good mom.

    It is easier with the second not to feel as guilty about taking time to yourself. I never did that the first time. Neither did my husband when he was at home with our daughter. He totally burnt and crashed. That made me realize the issue isn't about being a good mom, but the worry of any primary caregiver about the responsibility of caring for this child you love so much.

    The second time I know that if I don't take care of me and he doesn't take care of himself then we are useless. That doesn't mean we are great at stepping away from our roles as parents but we try.

    For me some days I am a good mom if we had fun. Other days I am a good mom if they are still alive by dinnertime. I am now all about low expectations. If I expect nothing I am always pleasently surprised.

    I wish you luck trying for a second.

  3. You definitely need another kid to keep you busy enough so you don't have time for all theis thinking and analyzing and undeserved self-flellation!

  4. Not sure if you this will sound trite but just felt compelled to say that I experience this feeling you talk about too, even with two kids (3 and 1)-not to scare you!

    I do believe it's a symptom of perfectionism and not being willing to accept one breathe sub par. What we (moms, dads, caretakers in general) have to remember is that we are flesh, blood, and neurons in addition to our identities as parents/spouses. I'm not saying it's all going to be "fixed" if you find your mojo outside of caring for Hollis or your husband. In fact, I don't know what the answer is b/c I identify SO much w/your issue here.

    It's perhaps a common thing that happens w/all the pressure we put on ourselves to do everything so well. It's okay to suck at things sometimes and probably necessary to suck at being a mom/wife sometimes.

    This has recently helped me a little...maybe it will help you too. I give myself one day a week to be a total selfish mom. By this I mean I still care for the children but I give myself multiple "time outs" while they play without me alongside to navigate (I'll flip through a magazine or just zone out). I will allow a little too much TV for the toddler just so I can get more computer time to write. I take the kids to places I want to go instead of the park. Basically, I am a suckass mom for a day so I don't resent the other days I try to give 120%. Does this make sense? Hope it helps. If not, at least you know you're certainly not alone out there.

  5. what do they say about motherhood? the days are long, but the years fly by? i don't know if anyone would dare say this out loud, but i'm going to...being a mom is sometimes...boring. there i said it. not that they aren't miracles and we don't love them and they aren't the most important people in our lives. but, shit, moms are human beings too. we're not robots programmed to just be happy doing one thing over and over again, everyday. it can get tedious -- just like any other job. so, yes, i understand completely where you are coming from. and you are not crazy, a bad mother, etc. for having the thoughts you are having. in fact, i give you credit for acknowledging them and putting it out there. bravo. now get back to work. ;-)

  6. You know what? It took me 9 months to conceive my second child, and it totally added to my malaise. Obviously that isn't over a year, but once I passed the 6 month mark or so I was just DONE. I wanted to move out of the horrible waiting room. I absolutely believe that it's adding to your general lack of enthusiasm and being in the doldrums.

    I hope that you find some peace and contentment soon, whatever that looks like for you.

  7. "I know a lot of you have already gone through this and figured it all out. I appreciate everyone's thoughts and advice on this."

    I think this is hilarious! Really...who has figured it all out? And I don't mean to be snarky. I face similar challenges, but get quite distracted by our financial struggle. Still..the need to be and develop self will always exist. A child shouldn't take that away, but enhance it.

  8. I love you my perfect wabi sabi mamma friend. Hollis is one blessed baby. - D

  9. Amazing, beautiful post.

    Perfect doesn't exist. I am more and more convinced of this all the time.

    If "perfect" means giving to others 100% of the time, then there is nothing left for me, and I will eventually burn out and have less and less for others.

    I am also part of the equation.

    I used to work in a home visiting program for new moms and prenatal women (perfect job for an infertile, no?). Something I would tell my girls (because most of them WERE girls--teens) is that taking care of yourself is one way of being a good mom. When you take care of yourself, I would tell them, you are able to have more energy to be a better mom, more energy to give to the others in your life. It's not selfish. It's smart.

    Hope that wasn't too "assvicey" for you. I appreciate your comment on my blog. Very insightful and totally spot-on.

  10. I remember feeling very much like you. I wish I could lay my hands on my journals from back then and send them to you so that you would see that you're not alone in beating yourself up, that feeling this way does not make you a "bad" anything, and that this will eventually pass. (Actually, it will probably come and go in various forms, so be prepared.) For me, a big part of my problem was the incredibly long wait to get pregnant (again), and the many miscarriages that occurred along the way. Despite the happy marriage, despite being a fully involved mom, despite all assurances from friends and family -- all the what-if's and why-not's just ate into my being.

    Everyone's experience is different. And we all have to figure our way for ourselves. Just know that you really aren't alone.

  11. No one is perfect at anything. No one loves anything all of the time. I don't think that it means you are less of a mother or that you love your child less if you hate mothering some of the time. I think that is completely normal and healthy.

    Generally, I like my job because I'm only there part of the day. I love being a mother because I get a break from that. I love blogging because it is an outlet, but if I tried to turn it into a profession I might hate it.

    I think we all need balance...not necessarily perfect balance. But at least changes of scenery or something different that will help to use other parts of our body/brain and give the mothering parts of our body/brain a break.

  12. It's like you got inside my head and described my every thougth, feeling...and flaw. I have nothing but solidarity to offer you. And perhaps a little comfort knowing that this stuff seems pretty universal.