It has been a very difficult year for my family. As a family and individually, we have faced some very tough challenges, changes, and painful experiences. Usually, when I write about my children, I point out how wonderful they are, the things they have accomplished, and that I think they are the best kids a mother could ask for. And yet I realize my children aren’t perfect. Neither are they the most wonderful kids in the world. My husband isn’t perfect or the most wonderful husband and father in the world. And I’m certainly not the perfect, most wonderful wife and mother in the world. Truth be told, none of us are!
As I reflect on this past year, I remember the mistakes we’ve made, the choices that weren’t so great, and the things that happened to us that, simply put, really sucked. We hurt each other and sometimes messed up badly. Sometimes our mistakes not only hurt us, as a family, but others. We failed at some things and we excelled at others. We pushed through some challenges that we thought were going to knock us out. As the holiday season snuck up on me, the old negative thinking patterns I have worked hard to erase started to play in my head, “This is awful.” “I haven’t had time to do anything.” “I’m going to disappoint the kids.” “I haven’t planned anything fun to do with my friends and family.” “My house is a mess.” “When will I get it all done?” “I’m failing as a mother, wife, sister, friend, etc.”
I have been working 16-hour days pretty much seven days a week for several months to get my new business started. While it has been exciting, it has also been scary and exhausting and has taken precious time away from my family and friends. I keep trying to tell myself that it’s only temporary, that I am a good mother, wife, sister, and friend and that everyone understands. But there is another part of me that keeps saying, “You are being a terrible mother.” “You are not present enough for your family and friends.” “You are failing miserably.”
I hit my lowest point two weeks ago as I was sitting at work trying to finish something I had to get done before the next day. It was 7:00 p.m. and I had been there since 8:30 a.m. I had seen nine patients that day, been on seemingly endless phone calls with insurance companies, and tried to squeeze in additional, important phone calls in the three to five minutes I have between sessions. It was a Thursday night and I was completely exhausted. Near the breaking point, I received a text from my youngest daughter who has just started high school and is on the school’s Pom team. It read, “Mom will you be at the pom’s Toys for Tot’s party? Are you on your way? It’s starting.” I could feel my heart start racing, my stomach drop, and the exhaustion overwhelm me. “Of course!” I texted back. “Ofcourse honey, on my way! See you soon!” I had completely forgotten. I didn’t have anything to bring and was a complete mess. I looked exhausted, wasn’t wearing anything festive, and wanted to crawl into a hole to hide. I nearly burst into tears.
All of the mothers were there with their daughters, looking fresh and dressed for the occasion. (At least that’s what I saw. But in thinking back, I’m sure I wasn’t the only exhausted, overwhelmed mom there.) I walked in empty handed, late, looking like I was hit by a truck. I immediately scan the room looking for the closest, friendly face I could find. I walk up to a mom, look at her and say, “I’m late, I totally forgot about this, I didn’t bring anything, I’m a mess, and I’m the worst mother in the world.” I will be forever grateful for her, because she responded in the best way possible. If she was too kind and hugged me and said something like, “It’s ok, you’re a great mom. I know it’s hard.” I definitely would have burst into tears. Instead, she grabbed my arm, squeezed it and said with a knowing smile and look of total assurance, “You are just fine. You are fine. Let’s get you some food and a drink. It’s all good. You are just fine.”
In that moment, I realized that while I was imperfect, and I messed up, it really was just fine. I am certain that every single mother there that night has had a time when she felt the same way. Whether a working-out-of-the-house mom or a working-in-the-house mom, we all have had times when we have felt overwhelmed and assumed that everyone else has it together except us.
As a therapist, I know better. But in that moment, I was sent back to an old place in my heart and in my mind that insisted, “I have to be a great mom. I don’t ever want my daughter to feel neglected or embarrassed by me.” Because I lost my mother at a very young age, it’s always been very important to me to be the best mom in the world. The problem is, I can’t be. None of us can be. There is no such person!
It’s okay when we mess up; it’s okay that we aren’t perfect. Sometimes, we are going to disappoint our children, spouses, and friends. We are human and, for the most part, I believe we all do the best we can. We are going to make big and small mistakes, but we are also going to accomplish some great and wonderful things.
I haven’t made cookies, sent out cards or even decorated the way I normally do, but that’s just fine. It’s better than fine. As I sat watching my youngest and her friends at their pom competition today, I realized something: She is happy. She is so joyful in this moment with her friends, the music, and the camaraderie. I also thought about my older two children. They are growing up. They are adults. They enjoy life sometimes and sometimes they don’t. Isn’t that what we all do? Sometimes things are great and sometimes they are just horrible. What I have learned though is that the horrible things are just as much a part of our lives as the great things. The mess is just as much a part of us as the beauty.
I love my imperfect family that makes mistakes, messes things up sometimes, and doesn’t always look like what we assume is a normal, happy family. I’m going to love my imperfect holiday with my imperfect family and my imperfect self. We have gotten through a very tough year and I am very proud of each of us for the wonderful things we’ve accomplished and how we’ve handled the tough things.
The therapist me sees how difficult the holidays can be for some people. They may have experienced a recent loss, struggle with financial problems, be in the middle of a divorce, or be dealing with illness. Perhaps they have children who are experiencing difficult challenges. It’s so hard to see other people happy and celebrating when you feel like your world is upside down. For anyone who may be experiencing a difficult, imperfect holiday season, please remember: It is okay that it is not perfect. It is okay to be sad. I realize that in some situations there is nothing anyone can say to make it any better. In those cases, I will just add that you are not alone. Take it one moment at a time, and remember to breathe.
I wish you the best holiday season you can have. I hope that the New Year brings you the wonderful, happy things you desire and the strength and hope to manage any difficult things that may arise.
Please remember that the team at Flourish is here to help you in any way we can.
Happy New Year!