The one where I realize that I’m a judgmental taskmaster who doesn’t ever let up

I got a massage yesterday and it was actually very instructive.  I knew I needed one badly when a tension headache developed and would not go away despite stretching or Advil.  After I woke up with the pounding at 4am, I called to make an appointment.

The first thing I realized: I am judging myself constantly, literally several times a minute.  I started by feeling guilty that I even need a massage.  The stark contrast between the therapist (who is working hard at two jobs to support a family) and me just seemed ridiculous.  Sure, everyone deals with life in different ways.  But why on earth do I have such large knots of stress when I have ONE child and NO “work” work (you know what I mean… a demanding boss, a long commute, frequent travel, performance reviews, etc.)?  So I was judging myself first for my lack of a valid reason to be so stressed and second for not being able to deal with said stress myself.  What’s so stressful about going to a music class and then having a playdate? (The kind version of myself reminds me of the child who woke up at 11:45pm and didn’t go to sleep until 1:45am, the cranky pants I dealt with in the morning because of that, the mad dash to get out the door to be at music class on time, pulling over en route to go potty, the clinginess in class, the upset girl who didn’t want to rush home for her playdate, and the whininess all afternoon.  Come ON, who wouldn’t be a bit frazzled after all that???)  But I judge myself anyway.

Here is a common thought process in the course of one minute: “Crud, I forgot to buy floor cleaner for the housekeeper and she’s coming tomorrow.  Maybe I could run out after bedtime.  I hope my daughter sleeps better tonight.  What are we going to have for dinner? Maybe I’ll just get sandwiches from the sub shop and give my daughter chicken nuggets yet again.  It’s probably not so good for her.  She should be eating more fruit and vegetables.  How could I sneak them into her diet? If only I were the type to buy spinach and make smoothies with it.  I should care more.  She is eating too much sugar.  I think the cat just peed on the floor.  I’d better call the vet to make sure he doesn’t have an infection or something.  Probably just that he’s 10 years old already.  Oh no, I didn’t give them their medicine at the beginning of the month.  Sigh.  I am always forgetting to feed them too.  They probably feel neglected.  I’ve got to get the crumbs out of my car before we get bugs in here.  I hate it when the other car at the red light is pumping the base so loud and my seats vibrate.  There is visual noise everywhere… signs, cars, ugly buildings, advertisements, road construction.  I wish this day were over.”

This leads me to the second thing I realized: I NEVER slow down my body or my mind.  When the end of the massage came and I was loose and mellow, the therapist tapped me a few times on my leg (it seemed to me he was feeling sorry for me) and said something along the lines of “you have to take better care of yourself” before leaving the room and giving me a chance to let a few tears slide out of the corners of my eyes.  I am such a taskmaster… I KNOW that I absolutely NEED quiet, space, and time for myself.  Why wouldn’t I allow myself that nourishment? After I told my doctor the other day that I always feel guilty (there’s the g-word yet again) in “just” sitting and allowing myself any sort of peace when I “should” be paying bills, preparing our taxes paperwork, buying random housewares, taking out the trash, etc., she told me that self-care is not an option.  She said I require it more than most and she has seen what happens when I don’t listen.

Throughout the massage, I heard my phone buzz over and over again in my purse with texts and e-mails.  Unless it’s the babysitter, there’s nothing that is that important and I feel annoyed every time it buzzes.  After a while, I want to literally scream, “LEAVE ME THE F… ALONE!!!!!” I feel attacked and anxious.  I’m juggling too many balls in the air, I think.

The few times that I’ve really let go and relaxed, it just wasn’t enough.  The first time I left my daughter was on a trip to Hawaii when she was 5 months old.  It was a business trip for my husband, so it wasn’t all sun and fun like you are probably thinking.  I developed two ear infections there and had many trips to the doctor for shots of penicillin, etc.  I was also pumping and dumping milk every two hours so it was like there was an ever-present stopwatch limiting what I could and couldn’t do.  Also, my daughter also got an ear infection so I was hearing about that from my mom via phone and feeling, you guessed it… guilty.  AND, our drive up a mountain caused something awful to pop in my ear, making the ear infection much worse and causing me to not be able to hear out of that ear for a few days.  Anyway, the very last day of the trip I felt better and really enjoyed the break from new mommyhood.  I cried huge huge HUGE tears of sadness and regret when I had to return home, still out of it, temporarily half deaf, and lacking in recharge.  We could have stayed longer but I had busted my butt to leave my daughter 7 days of breastmilk and she was running out.  I was not ready to resume the helm of the mothership but yet I did and have every day since, whether sick or tired or sick and tired.

I don’t ever show my daughter that I’m feeling this way, which I realize is causing more internal strain because I’m not being authentic… I’m putting on an act of a patient, calm, soothing mommy with lots of fun projects up her sleeve.  At the end of the day, I am wiped out from my role as June Cleaver.  If I actually were June Cleaver, it’d be no problem, but I’m really more of a Lucille Ball whirlwind.

I feel absolutely terrible because at the end of my massage, it hit me that as much as I enjoy my sweet girl, I am constantly trying to escape her.  I know these days are fleeting and I know I should cherish it all, but I have built up such a large deficit of self-care that I am starving for it.   I give all my patience to my daughter and leave none for myself.  That makes me so sad.  I am literally trying to schedule preschool and babysitters so that I have a break every day.  Yet, thus far, when I have a break, I am not using the time very well.  See above.

So.  What to do? How can I make this blog post inspiring and upbeat? Lol.

I’ve stopped comparing my desires to what I am experiencing in the present.  It’s all about expectations, right? I learned recently that if I stopped expecting to wake up every morning and sit quietly with a cup of coffee, I’d be a much happier person! I mean, who doesn’t enjoy shifting immediately from deep sleep to a racing heartbeat at the cry of “Mommy, Mommy,” hopping out of bed immediately to tend to someone else, and starting their day with a Max and Ruby episode? Ha ha.

I am going to be more conscious of balancing quiet time with the active chaos that is my motherhood experience.  A loud playgroup with crying, kids in various states of neediness, conflicting adult conversations, etc. should lead to an afternoon cup of tea and a magazine (and that magazine does not need to end in a pile of torn out pages that require action steps in themselves – file this for later, see if the library has that book, ooh maybe do this decorative idea in the office).  I MUST stop trying to justify it to myself and just do it until it becomes a habit.  (I’m judging myself again right now… comparing myself to others who would laugh at me for being such a wimp… I’m thinking of classrooms in Africa without books, families without heat or with a soldier overseas.  There’s that guilt AGAIN.  Sigh.)  It would be much better if I would cut myself some slack.

I really don’t want to fight crowds and noise to run to Target for My Little Pony toothpaste.  I don’t want to try to look ok a the preschool morning dropoff so nobody will think I look either 15 years old (no makeup) or sloppy (shorts and t-shirt).  I don’t want to have to think of what to make for dinner each night.  I don’t want to listen to my own thoughts telling me to call the vet, schedule the tree doctor, make that doctor appointment, mail that book, add to the grocery list, post those pictures, and on and on.

So that’s what I’m going to do.  Cut myself some slack.  I hereby give myself permission to let the dry clothes sit in the drier for a couple days and live with the wrinkles.  To order pizza for dinner two nights in a row and not care.  To let the library charge us 10 cents for a late book.  To stop feeling sloppy just wearing plain t-shirts when my friends look thin and beautifully dressed.  To go to bed at 8pm without catching up on emails or the budget or even some nights saying hi to my hubby.  To stop stressing about what my photography business (or lack thereof really) should be and just forget it for awhile.  I am going to relax and see what happens.

I am going to let myself off the hook.  Let the negative judgements go.  Let’s see what happens.  Let’s see how long I can do it!


23 thoughts on “The one where I realize that I’m a judgmental taskmaster who doesn’t ever let up

  1. Naomi,

    I love how you are going to let yourself off the hook. The thought of that makes me so happy that I think I might just do the same for myself. It’s been a long time since I’ve “let myself off the hook”. I really do love how that sounds.

    As I was reading your words, I so related to the chattering of the mind … my constant reminders to myself of all the things I allow to lurk in my mind … why is my grout getting so dirty. I wish I could find the time, energy and creativity to blog more ofter (so many of my friends find the time), why couldn’t I have been more patient with my mom the last time we were together? I really should be eating healthier. Why am I not using quotes here? …

    Yes, today I am going to let myself off the hook. Thanks so much for the gentle reminder.

    Enjoy this bonus day today. Happy Leap Year.

  2. Hey Na –

    First, I give you a TON of credit and respect for taking this inner monologue, which goes through your mind – I’m sure – daily and sharing it. We all have some version of this, to some degree, happening with us as well. It’s really hard to admit it and share it with others.

    I do think parts of this are part of being a concerned parent a little. But I also think that the stress we put on ourselves is always considerably more than the stress others put on us. Let’s face it, our expectations of ourselves are always pretty high. Especially if we’ve been hard wired to “be” certain things (by our parents, society, etc.)

    But ‘m also sure that if you talked with your lovely husband and, together, made decisions about what NEEDED to get done and what each of your roles was in the family dynamic, that you are taking on a large number of things that aren’t necessary or he would be happy to help with. (Will you let him might be the question…)

    In the end, feeling guilty about all of the things you’re NOT getting done as you try to keep your head above water is a losing battle. You’re just going to have to be okay with and accept that you’re not a superwoman and you can’t do everything. If that’s true, then it becomes an issue of doing what you can do well by letting go of the stuff you can’t control or can’t achieve because of limited resources (time, energy, money). You clearly find ways to live in the moment – your pictures show that clearly. And you do them (and write) exquisitely. You also have a loving husband and adorable, loving, kind daughter. Focus on those things.

    Coming from someone who used to organize his sock drawer by color and only eat an apple if it was cut a certain way, I can tell you that allowing the world to get a little messy is a much easier way to enjoy it and the people around you.

    Of course, I still struggle with it every day and some days are easier than others. I hope you can find a way to let go a little. It’s hard at first, but if you work at it, over time, it can become more of a norm.

    BTW – I LOVE the way you juxtaposed some truly beautiful pictures with your incredible, but difficult, writing.

    Thanks for sharing.


      • One other thought – I have spent, and continue to spend, a lot of time considering what I want my kids to see and know. My mother was quite anal – to the point of impacting family routines and flow. As a kid, it was just the way it was and I knew no different, but when I got out of the house i learned it was not that way all over (and was probably a little extreme…) and it certainly had an impact on my own personality and coping mechanisms.

        I try very hard to be aware of how and what i do and how I respond, or even go about daily tasks, so that I am modeling for my kids a balanced behavior which can help them in the long run. When i think about it this way I am better able to determine which of my worries and behaviors are extreme or unnecessary and also start to let certain things go.

        Bottom line – if I wouldn’t want my kid doing or reacting a certain way to the same situation, I try to drop it and not do it myself.

  3. In the words of Maezen: you’re always doing your best, you just don’t think it’s your best. I feel ya, kiddo. Thanks for being so honest with yourself & with us.

    • I know you know, Fanny. Thanks for your support. I was thinking of Maezen when I wrote about escaping my daughter. Remember she said if she gave her daughter some amount of time of full focus it helped her learn to lay by herself? I think she set a timer. I may try that.

  4. You have a special way of writing that speaks to people, I don’t know how you get it all done each day. As a retired parent, my kids are grown now, I remember those days. Like you, even today, there is a dialoge about the things i need to do, and things that aren’t right, the things I could do better. I am learning to stay in the moment, I realized that it was important to actually sit with my kids and enjoy the time, they are gone now and I miss them, they are now busy with their own lives. I remind myself to breath and experience what is gone on, see what is in front of me, and connect with those around me, because right now is the most important time of our lives. I will let you know if I ever master calm! practise the patience you have with others with yourself.
    thanks for you writing, you are an inspiration.

  5. Wow, I have felt exactly the same way so many times. I have had the exact same inner dialogue. It is so HARD.

    I too am learning to cut myself some slack. To lose the guilt about sending my daughter to preschool full days, just so I can get some work done. And I am a much better mother for it.

    Thank you for sharing and your beautiful honesty.

  6. Thanks for the honest sharing…I’ve found that just writing about or talking about what I”m experiencing helps so much. Must be true for you as well…right? You are not alone in this struggle, in what you are feeling and in those that are here for you. Remember that French parenting article you posted? May be time to reread…

  7. I think you are very brave to write this post. My thoughts are much the same. I don’t have a child but my thoughts are full of I should have… When I catch myself thinking negatively, I have a list of things to do to try to create positive thoughts. One of the things on my list I try to see the beauty in nature around me; take a walk if I can or look out a window. Or read my favorite blogs – like yours! Maybe it would help to make a list of things that help you feel more positive and you could turn to that when the negative thoughts are driving you crazy. Now I am feeling guilty that I added one more thing to your To Do list.

    • Thank you for the laugh, Patti. 🙂 Making a list of feel-good things would be a great idea. Good luck on conquering this issue as well and thanks for saying I’m brave – don’t feel brave in the slightest!

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  9. I keep reading your great posts and not making it over here to comment but I just had to for this one – I felt like you could have crossed your name out and written mine in here as we’re clearly living the same life 🙂 Too bad we don’t live close enough to get the kids together for a playdate! I think the overwhelm (for me anyway) come from the pressure I put on myself and my own inability to turn my brain off. I feel like some switch was flipped in me though after reading The Gifts Of Imperfection (Brene Brown) and I am recommending it to everyone right now. Imagine feeling that you’re already enough, whatever you’ve gotten done or left undone, it’s enough – direct quotes from the book and they made me feel so much better. I also have to remind myself constantly that I have to stop comparing myself and my life (work, kid, you name it) to all the ones I see and read about online. I love your honesty! Keep it up and hope you are feeling better 🙂

    • Darcy, I am so extremely happy when I find kindred spirits. It seems there are not too many of us overly sensitive, never enough time to craft, poetry loving, curl up with a book, hard on ourselves type of women out there!

      I went, completely unknowingly, with a friend to a PBS talk that Brene Brown gave here in Houston and I just loved it. I bought her book and I hadn’t read it yet… going to for sure now.

      I feel better after getting a full night’s sleep, but I am going to rest as much as possible this weekend. I feel overwhelmed that I have to do everything for my daughter. My hubby was nice enough to put her to bed last night for me and she DID it, albeit not willingly. It’s wonderful to be needed so much but it sucks right now for me. I just want some breathing space and yet everyone needs me for something, you know?

  10. What an honest, honest post. I think any mother can relate. The guilt for not doing enough, the fatigue from doing everything. It’s all about balance. And I am a firm believer that you have to do whatever it takes to fill your well in order to be able to give anything at all to your children. Cutting yourself some slack is a step in the right direction. Also, just remember to have fun. Life should be fun and time with kids should be fun too. But it’s also good to take time to do things you enjoy. Sometimes as Moms we can’t even remember what we like to do. Sometimes I go on solo dates and just do whatever I like. It’s a nice getaway and then you come home a little refreshed. Go Naomi! You are definitely not alone in this.

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  12. Naomi, I hear myself in your words! Us introverts overwhelm ourselves because our inner dialogue never ends. I have to practice breathing every day. Just stare at something beautiful and breathe. You are a lovely soul : )

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