I remember reaching a point in my Junior year of high school where so many of my assignments were either missing or late that I just gave up.
You know that kid where everyone’s always like, “Wow, you’re so smart, you could really go places if you would just focus and have some discipline?” That wasn’t me. No one thought I was smart. Just really, really absentminded. Like, I left my housekeys at home on a regular basis, and would have to sit outside our apartment for hours until my mom got home from work. And I once answered a teacher’s science question in Shakespearean English because I’d been reading MacBeth instead of listening to the lesson.
Now I’m a mommy. Now I have Real Responsibilities.
Did all these absentminded tendencies just disappear upon the birth of my first child?
Wouldn’t that be nice.
I don’t know if it’s a result of my anxiety issues, or something else, but getting through a day without a mishap caused by my lack of focus (or too much focus on the wrong thing) is a cause for self-congratulation.
Today was a pretty good day.
:pats self on back:
On bad days, I get overwhelmed and nothing gets done. The kids manage to get into the most insane messes. Sometimes I know something is up, and I can’t tear myself away from what I’m doing in order to address the problem, even though I know that those clinking noises coming from the kitchen-which I thought was gated shut-can’t possibly be a good sign. I get wound tighter and tighter, which winds the kids up tighter and tighter, until we’re in a vicious spinning circle of tight-windingness with yelling and kicking and doors slamming all around.
If the house is spectacularly wrecked and Pixie is still covered in her last meal, it’s not because I’m lazy. It’s because I don’t know how to snap out of it, whatever it is. It’s because I can’t manage to just start by doing a little thing, so I get flattened by the prospect of doing it all. Days like this have become fewer and fewer as I’ve worked on controlling my anxiety and maintaining realistic expectations for myself, but they still happen.
But you know, my problems aren’t actually that severe. I mostly have my anxiety under control. What about a SAHP who doesn’t? What about a mom or dad with depression? Bipolar disorder? What about a parent with a condition like Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or Fibromyalgia that can just make them tired and in pain for days or weeks on end, with no apparent explanation or cure? I remember a lady in our neighborhood back in Utah. Nice, kind of distant, and with a house coated on the inside with layer after layer of dirty dishes, trash, papers, books, you name it. Sometimes I’d hear people guess what weakness in her character could let her stand to live in such a place. I knew from experience that chaos outside a person frequently reflects chaos inside. Her house was a clue to what was going on inside her head, and what goes on inside our heads is in many ways beyond our control.
This is not to say that there are not ways for those suffering to get better. Not at all. Take this story from a mom I spoke with online:
“I was starting to really beat myself up for my ‘laziness’ in housewifery and motherhood . . . then I discovered I had dangerously low iron, shockingly low vitamin D and ridiculously low B-12 — I wasn’t so much lazy as barely functioning. This is why I try to give people the benefit of the doubt — I thought I had the ‘whole story’ about, at least, myself — and it turns out I still didn’t see the whole picture and was being harder on myself than was fair.”1
There are a host of medical problems that can make life difficult for a stay at home parent. Vitamin deficiency was not one I’d heard of before, but I can see how it would make chasing the kids around more draining than average. Depression is possibly the most frequent. “Depression has been called the most significant mental health risk for women, especially younger women of childbearing and childrearing age.”2 Gee, I wonder if there might be a connection there. It’s hard enough to listen to the same episode of Spongebob Squarepants for the fourth day in a row when you don’t already feel like crap. Add in a chemical imbalance in your brain, and you just might feel like shutting yourself in your bedroom, crawling in bed, and staying there-screw the laundry and the sticky floors.
I found plenty of people in chat rooms complaining about moms with dirty houses-I mean really dirty houses-calling them lazy. Perhaps if mental sicknesses were seen as we see physical ones, rather than as something people needed to just “get over”, this wouldn’t be an issue. If you had a liver disorder, would you tell yourself you just needed to snap out of it? If your neighbor had the flu, would you think, “That lazy woman just needs to get her face out of the toilet and make dinner?” Parents with mental illness, or physical problems that are less obvious to outsiders (like Chronic Fatigue Syndrome), need to be afforded the same understanding we would give to that mom with her face in the toilet. “Lazy” is just not the first reaction we should be having to a parent who is having a hard time keeping their house or taking care of their children, even if that parent is you.
1 Personal correspondance, Jan 17, 2013. Anonymous.
2 American Psychological Association, retrieved Feb 5 2013. http://www.apa.org/about/gr/issues/women/depression.aspx