I read the Mother.ly article from April 19, 2019 titled 'Self-care' is not enough to fix how much moms are burnt out'and found it to add to the load that I experience as a mom. I know it has a lot of us raising our fists and going, "Yes, sister! I feel this!" But after reading the article and raising our fists what do we do with the built up tension stacked on the burnt out exhaustion?!
The article takes a few sentences at the end to suggest that vulnerability is the antidote to "mom burn out":
"But by being vulnerable—by putting it all out there, owning your story, and supporting other mothers as they claim their worthiness, we start to make it better. Being vulnerable is incredibly uncomfortable. The good news is that no one on this planet is braver than a mother."
I look at it differently: Self care and vulnerability are one in the same. Yes, mothers are burnt out but how does ranting about it serve us? Does this feel like an act of courage? Does this in some way feel vulnerable?
The article quotes Brene Brown and reminds us that she says that vulnerability is "showing up and being seen." But who the hell knows how to do that? Where do we learn this well-kept life secret?
Most people walk through their lives with a strong armor just like Brene talks about in her Special. She shares that she went through most of her life with her academic armor and that she was always afraid of experiencing shame and exposure. Right there was our little hint from the researcher/storyteller herself that points to an actual tool that guides us in how to “show up and be seen”. In order to start to show up and be seen in our true selves we need to recognize what armor we are dealing with. If we are not real even with ourselves and can't look ourselves in the mirror and recognize and name to ourselves what image we have knowingly or unknowingly been preserving...we haven’t begun the journey. This is the first step to accessing a raw state, our own vulnerability.
When I ask myself this question I realize that in essence for me personally the choice to start a family has been shape shifting. The armor that I have carried all my life is the dream of being a successful musician and performer. The fantasy that I am going to be at the cutting edge of some artistic scene. My armor has been that I think I am special in some way. That I deserve fame and fortune without doing the work that it takes to reach very concrete goals. The illusion that my only obligation is to take care of my artistic expression and that it is the only thing guiding my life.
For me showing up as a mother has been the most vulnerable experience of my life. Everything that I thought I was, has fallen away. All of my dreams have faded into the background. My sense of self has changed so drastically that I have had trouble recognizing myself. I had only ever felt that I truly knew myself when I was a raw and alone in the depths of my own soul searching. As a mother I am hardly ever alone nor do I have the time and space to be raw or soul search. (I am writing this article sitting in my car outside of my house on a Sunday evening. My husband thinks I am casing the place...) I trust that motherhood is the challenge I was meant for, that it is the most difficult thing I could do with my life, the only thing that would break down some of my ego and armor and act as the most vital reminder of my humanness. Most of all motherhood reminds me every minute of the day how vulnerable I truly am. How little control I have over my life or my children's lives. How human I truly am.
I believe that the burn out that mothers feel is precisely because of our holding on so tightly to our armoring. It takes up so much energy we aren’t even aware of. And in order to show up and be seen we need every ounce of strength and courage to be present. Moms burn out when we continue to hold on to the armor of past dreams, future desires, idealistic visions of perfect homes, work and partnership. The burnout is disconnection with our partners and our families and our communities. The burnout is disconnection with ourselves and a misunderstanding of what it is we are doing with our time and our lives. For me the moments where I let go of the ideals and the dreams of who I thought I was going to be and who I think I should be, the moments when I actually breathe into the experience with my son and my family - these are the moments when everything becomes So. Much. Easier.
So yes, self care is not enough. It must start with self-awareness. With asking ourselves the hard questions: What are we holding on to? What do we need to let go of in order to show up? Being seen is the easy part once we have recognized our own armor and are willing to loosen it a little bit at a time.
For me this has become a lot simpler now that I have shifted gears. I have come to terms with the fact that it is time to dissolve the armor. It is not an easy thing to let go of my dreams, but ironically they are becoming more and more realized with less effort now that I am less attached. I am finally recognizing that my creative expression and music is a way that I feel connected to myself. It is not the way I am going to make a living or find fame and fortune. I know that taking space from my son and my family nourishes me so that I can come back and feel connected to them. I have joined a musical project where I am ‘just’ a singer and I don't do any songwriting or leading of the project. This is different than my artistic expression before where I would spend hours on end alone in my bedroom crafting songs and recording music. Now I get 4 hours a week to leave the house and sing for fun in a local band. Whether we become locally, regionally or nationally known is not of any concern. What is of concern to me is that I make time for this and I don't apologize for it. This has become a known routine to my husband and son and it is hopefully an inspiration to other mothers. It allows me to ask for help and have clearer boundaries because I am committed to other people in the band as well. I see many other mothers around me finding space for their passions within the context of their family role.
Focusing on ourselves, knowing ourselves and holding ourselves accountable to our own authenticity only gives us more strength. It only gives us more capacity to bear greater burdens. It only gives us the awareness to become better humans. It only gives us the courage to know ourselves well enough to make good choices, and to choose health and wellness for ourselves, our children, our families & our communities.
Mamas, have you faced yourself and recognized your own armor? Have you found an outlet for yourself that supports your sense of authenticity in a new light - without the armor? How has this affected your family life, motherhood and partnership?
I want to know that I'm not alone in shedding the armor and feeling good about it. Being raw and exposed on top of being a mom is exhausting and wonderful. I no longer have a sense of self, no longer know what my future holds, don’t know who is on my team or how I am going to pay the bills. Self care is my way of letting go of control, being open to the unknown, tolerating discomfort and being imperfect and human. Self care is my way of being vulnerable. I feel vulnerable every goddamn day and I'm gonna do as much self care as I can just to prove it.
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Yonat Piva, MA, LMFT
I write about navigating the challenges of prenatal, postpartum, parenting & relationships. I believe we can inhabit our bodies with a renewed sense of fulfillment in being a human woman.