Being a parent is not easy. Being a mom is pretty rough too. I recently watched a show called “Better Things” about a single mother (working in Hollywood) raising her 3 daughters. At some point in the show, one of the daughters made a comment about single mothers. Another character said, “All mothers are single mothers.” That hit me hard. As supportive as my husband is, and as an amazing father he is to our two perfect little children, it wasn’t always like that. Today I can confidently say that I do not feel like a single mother. I feel like my partner contributes many things he once did not, whether it be with the children or with household responsibilities. At some point in my life with children, I felt like if I had to leave the house, I had to set my husband up like a babysitter and have diapers, wipes, cream, outfits, bottles, blankets, etc., all ready for him so he would have no hiccups during those times with the baby/toddler.
That and along with the million other tasks I was responsible for, it became exhausting to say the least. I felt like I was on autopilot and not enjoying my life anymore. At that time, I was craving for my husband to just do and not be asked. It took a lot of therapy (individual and couples) for me to feel confident enough to communicate what I needed from him, and it took effort on his part to meet me halfway. We tell our children that we are a team, and everyone must do their part for each of us to feel happy and safe. My husband and I forgot what it meant to be a team to each other for a long time, and thankfully, today, I do feel like I have a trustworthy team member when raising our children. I do not leave my house with instructions for him like I would for a babysitter. I just leave knowing that he’s got this, and he does. In fact, he always was capable given the chance.
We often feel overwhelmed and burnout because we feel like the only one on the team who is participating. We plan most things, we are the ones packing for more than just ourselves for vacations. In the mornings, we get ourselves and 1,2, or 3+ people ready for the day, and then ready for bedtime at night. Learning and practicing ways to effectively communicate with confidence can help alleviate this feeling of burnout and make more time for us to be ourselves.
The Mental Load
Kelly Gonsalves from mindbodygreen.com writes about The Mental Load that women typically go through in which she defines as: “The mental load is a term for the invisible labor involved in managing a household and family, which typically falls on women’s shoulders. Also sometimes referred to as “worry work” or “cognitive labor,” the mental load is about not the physical tasks but rather the overseeing of those tasks.” This comic explains it the best: https://english.emmaclit.com/2017/05/20/you-shouldve-asked/
Breaking the Cycle
It’s easier said than done- for sure I’ve lived this life. But putting in the work I promise is worth it. Here are some tips that have helped me to improve communication with my spouse.
Listening to what the other person is trying to say. As well as listening, not only to my children and my partner, but to myself. Listening to your feelings, triggers, warning signs, body sensations, or anything that might tell you that you need a break. Tips to Help You Actively Listen:
Focus fully on who is talking. This means not multitasking mama. Put the phone down, stop doing the laundry, stop thinking of the 20 other things you need to do. Engage. Make eye contact and be fully present with that person. If you find it hard to concentrate on what they are saying, repeating their words in your head it’ll reinforce them. Or check in on yourself- maybe you are not in the best emotional state to be having this conversation. If that’s the case take a break and tell them you will talk in an hour when your calm so you can be really present for them
Avoid interrupting or trying to redirect the conversation to your concerns. If you are coming up with a rebuttal or how to get the conversation back to your main concern- you’re not really listening to them. You cannot listen fully and be thinking about what you will say next. If your doing this it can show through your non-verbal cues like your body language and facial expressions.
Show you understand what they are saying. Ask clarifying questions. Repeat a summary of what you heard so they can clarify for you. A lot of time miscommunication is what happens when we think another person is inferring something or we get fixated on the words they use- losing the message behind the words. Clarify. Some examples: “when you said ‘x’ are you saying that you feel ‘xyz’”.”what do you mean when you say…” “is this what you mean..” “Sounds like you are saying…”
Focus on understanding not judging. When we judge others there are a lot of value statements about what is right and wrong. Understanding is trying to see why they think the way they do, even if we don’t agree with it. It’s about empathizing with their position and understanding their pain-points- that’s how you find solutions. NOT the blame and shame game.
2. Paying attention to the non-verbal cues.
Both your body language and theirs. Make sure you are “open” with your body language. No crossing of arms or legs. Face should be understanding or neutral and your tone is important. If either of you are showing non-verbal cues that you’re angry or anxious- table the conversation till you are both calm.
3. Managing your emotions
Being a mother means repeating yourself, having tiny voices repeat themselves around you, making messes everywhere, and invading your personal space all day everyday. It is easy to feel as though you might explode with frustration. Learning how to manage those explosive feelings and reactions can not only help you to feel sane, but can teach your children by example how to control themselves. Learning how to manage your emotions may come in the form of daily meditation, individual/couples therapy, or even with medication as prescribed and monitored by a psychiatrist. This also means paying attention to your triggers and warning signs and “tapping out” when you need a break. Walking away and taking space, even if it’s in the bathroom for 5 minutes, can help you to recenter yourself so you are not losing it on the family.
4. Be assertive
Being assertive to get what you want is not always easy, especially if you feel the burden of being the primary caregiver/housekeeper/shopper/activity planner, you know the be-all-end-all? Learning how to and practicing how to be assertive can change your life for the better and alleviate some of the pressures in life. It can also instill self-confidence in your children when you hold your boundaries and empower them to learn how to do for themselves! Honestly- same goes for the spouse.
5. Surround yourself with positive people that lift you up!
Having the right circle of support is key to really beginning to make these changes! Let’s be honest, for most of us we have been conditioned from childhood to help and please others. To neglect ourselves, our feelings and our needs. If you don’t get some people around you who are cheering you on to break the cycle- so that your kids don’t have that inner voice that says “my feelings and needs don’t matter”- it’s just going to be constant criticism from the people around you who instilled that value! And that coupled with change being so uncomfortable to begin with is not a good recipe for success.
Sound Like You?
It takes a lot of work and consistency for oneself to feel confident and empowered enough to set boundaries and expectations that are reasonable for everyone involved (including you momma!!). Joining a support group with people going through similar struggles can be a helpful way to join forces and empower each other to take back our voice, our alone time, our self-care, our guilty pleasures, and most importantly, the confidence to achieve these things in an appropriate and reasonable way. We all deserve this, and the saying “it takes a village” doesn’t just mean to raise a family, it also means to support the caregivers and mothers in our lives in different ways. If you are interested in receiving individual therapy from a woman who has truly been there, schedule with me today. If you feel you need a support group of like minded-woman join inquire about our “Don’t Know How She Does It Group”. I would love to help you become the woman you were born to be!
Kristy Casper, LCSW