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The chant I constantly hear in my head goes something like this: "I'm not enough for my children. I'm not enough at work. I'm not enough for my husband, my aging parents, or my huge extended family."
How did this happen? I had my first baby in 2012 – and found out I was pregnant again just one year later. I remember thinking, "Wait, I'm just figuring this whole parenting and work/life balance thing out – and now I'm going to have to divide myself again??"
I worried I didn't have enough to give a second child. But, after years of infertility, miscarriage, and surgeries, we knew another pregnancy so soon was a blessing. Our second child – my sweet boy – was born when my daughter was just 21 months old. My heart grew immediately, but sadly, the number of hours in the day didn't. Still, I managed to balance work, two babies, and some minor health problems, and we found our groove by the time my son was 18 months old and my daughter had just turned 3.
Then that summer: Surprise! I was pregnant with my third child. By that point, I believed my heart could accommodate as many kids as my body would give me. But I wasn't so sure about my ability to divide my time between them.
Panic set in. On the outside, I held it all together. Inside was another story.
To most people, it probably seemed like I had it all: three beautiful children, an amazing husband who worked full-time from home, the best nanny in the world, and a career I absolutely loved. But inside, I felt like the Trivial Pursuit pie wheel – divided into so many pieces that I was nothing but slivers. I was falling apart inside … eroding with guilt that I wasn't giving anyone or any part of my life the attention it deserved.
My kids wanted more from me than I could give; I was getting increasingly frustrated with the career and job I adored; and I was convinced I was the worst wife on the planet.
One night in bed, I looked at my husband and asked him if he was miserable. He looked at me like I was crazy and said, "What do I have to be miserable about?" That was when I realized two essential truths:
- Maternal guilt and self-doubt are the root of all evil.
- For the most part, fathers are largely free from this lifelong burden.
After that revelation, my husband told me that if I was truly miserable, we had to do something to fix it. He picked up more of my slack at home so I could spend more time with the kids. But, even with his help, by the end of each day, I felt completely spent and unfulfilled.
"I'm not enough," continued to be my chant.
When my youngest was 2, I made the tough decision to quit my job and start my own freelance business. Today, I have more flexibility, less rushing around, and more time with the kids – even though I'm still working full-time. I take breakfast to my children's teachers at school. I attend every school function. I try to carve out time to spend with each child individually.
Guess what? I still feel like I'm not doing enough: My kids still cry when I head to the coffee shop to get work done.They fight to determine who gets to sit on my lap. (I REALLY wish I had three legs.)They all want to talk to me at the same time, and try to coerce me to stay in their beds for hours before the lights go out.They still start most days asking if it's a "mommy and daddy day" (which is what they call weekends) and whine when I tell them it's not.
They want more and more and more snuggles.
But I have learned that not only will children take as much as we will give them, they will always want more. I think it's only natural, but setting boundaries is healthy for them and for their parents.
So, I'm trying to quiet the mantra inside my head that tells me I'm not enough. Slowly, I'm making peace with the fact that while I may not feel like I am doing enough for my family and in my life, that's my issue. My hope is that my kids have no idea I feel this way and that I truly am ENOUGH. Because it's all I can be.
Opinions expressed by parent contributors are their own.