Missed the intro? Read Part One Here
In the last few years I’ve learned a lot about how my anxiety became so hardwired into my being, and how it shows up in so many places in my life today. Places I never had considered anxiety could live. Behaviors I never had the language to a name as such. It’s not that I now find pathologizing my behavior useful per se, but insomuch as it provides me a framework to understand it, naming it provides a pathway to a reroute.
I grew up in an anxious household. My mother worried about everything, and it wasn’t until I was well into my 20s that I started to realize the effect that level of worry had had on my own behavior and thinking patterns. I am still, at 40 years old, trying to unlearn it. That fear, coupled with a parenting style that I can only call Dissapointarian, left me constantly on my toes as a child and adolescent.
Trying to win love and attention by doing only things that “make” your parent happy requires a constant anticipation of what might make them unhappy, and an ongoing modification of behavior in order to meet their needs. There is essentially no stasis, because any change in behavior might mean disappointment, and I worked to avoid that at all costs.
This isn’t just a place from where anxiety stems, it’s how codependency is born.
When I reflect back at the sheltered, fragile bubble I grew up in and remember all the moments I was too big, too loud, too opposite, too wild, too . . . much for it and the people in it, I remember why I was so desperate to leave. I didn’t feel like I belonged there. Being me in that space meant disappointing my parents, and being who my parents wanted me to be meant disappointing me.
Promptly upon leaving home I then chose a career that not only requires me to know a lot about a lot, it also literally required my brain to be on high alert continuously for an entire work day. Don’t believe me? Have you ever been in a kindergarten classroom? You don’t get to chill in a room of 35 five and six year olds. You get to be “on.” All the time. All.the.time. You think we have eyes in the backs of our heads? No. We just have brains that don’t shut down. Not for one second.
Our senses are heightened because they have to be. We hear it all, we see it all, and we are also expected to know it all. As a teacher, you get to be in a constant cycle of inquiry. That’s not just rhetoric, it’s part of the standards for our profession. It’s how we are trained, how we operate, and how we are evaluated. Plan, teach, reflect, modify, repeat.
The question of the day, every day is- how can I do this even better?
Do you know what that does to a person’s brain? It tells it that relaxing is bad and that doing better is not just suggested, but required. Because it is, frankly. Being responsible for the education of small humans means choosing to show up as a better you than you were yesterday, every day. Every.Single.Fucking.Day. And all day.
Teachers are absolute masters of adaptation. We change approaches, we scaffold, we pivot, we modify, we replan our entire carefully crafted lesson plans the moment the fire alarm goes off and ten minutes into a lesson we realize isn’t landing for everyone. We pull magic out of our literal and metaphorical pockets to make sure students are engaged and learning, and that we have evidence for that engagement, all day.
It is amazing.
And oh my dear God it is exhausting.
Can you imagine what this is like during distance learning when classroom teachers also have to relearn how to teach on brand new platforms?
I left classroom based teaching three years ago due to severe burnout but my brain still hasn’t recovered. I am still tired. I am still spinning. I still operate on an evidence based adaptive production model. Everywhere.
And then there’s modern day motherhood. And lately, modern day motherhood in a pandemic.
From the minute I knew I had a child growing in me my anxiety grew. Now I had a life, an actual life, inside my body to care for, and it made me question everything. Every.thing. And nothing that I read, no one that I talked to, no medical professionals, no magazines, no media, no mom friends made it better. They just reinforced it.
Do you know what modern day motherhood asks of us?
Every last bit.
I focus my attention specifically on mothers, meaning those who identify as female primary caregivers, because I see and experience a different kind of pressure for mothers than for other parents. All primary caregivers struggle with society’s parental expectations, but the mother figure gets especially penalized in America and it uniquely sets us up both for failure, and anxiety.
Shoulding on mothers is the subject of memes, blogs, and unfortunately, real life. It’s part of the fabric of parenthood.
To be a mother is to be wrong. Full stop.
Nothing you do will ever be correct or good enough. For every suggestion there is a warning. For every warning there is an expert. For every one of those experts, there is another one who disagrees. Not only can you never make the right decision, every decision you do make is highlighted, researched, and thrown in your face.
You can never be perfect but you must try anyway.
How do you try? You keep looking for threats and eliminating them. Those threats might be other people, they might be things in the environment, they are definitely you. So educate yourself. Take the class, read the book, sign up for the seminar, monitor your children’s activity like a hawk, teach them how to have a balanced life by lying and pretending that yours is.
Memorize every number, every schedule, every wish list item, and the birthday of every extended family member and friend. Know where everything is kept in case someone needs it. Keep the cupboards stocked and the activity library replenished. Make sure the various nutritional needs and dietary preferences are met for each family member. Remember whose teeth need cleaning, who has a well child exam due, who needs a tDap booster, and make sure you register them for a sport to hate six months later when the season finally starts and they don’t like it anymore. Try to plan for that better next time. Get better at anticipating change. Please.
Y’all- some days I am so overwhelmed with decision fatigue that being asked what I want for dinner- even when I don’t have to cook that dinner- brings me to tears.
I am so tired of holding it all and pretending it’s just not that heavy. It is heavy. It is so, so heavy. And I am tired.
I need to note here that I say this all again, as a white, cisgendered, straight, middle class woman, for whom many, many privileges are granted and much grace is still offered, and I am struggling. My struggle is nothing in comparison to the struggle of BIPOC mothers. I hold at the forefront of my mind every day how much more infinitely difficult this is for mothers of color in this oppressive world we white people have created, and I feel absolutely broken about it.
This feeling of brokenness and this burden of motherhood, though, is no excuse for white apathy. I am not here to complain that I need a white lady break from my hard white lady life, or that my kids are too hard and I don’t like being a mom.
I am simply unpacking some of the reasons my brain cannot calm the fuck down and thinking that those may very likely be true for you too. Especially if you are a mother. Especially if you are also a teacher. Especially if you also grew up in a household that asked you to be responsible for other people’s feelings.
I see you. We will figure this out.
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