Dear Childfree Friends: Thanks For Not Giving Up On Me

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a girl’s girl. Or a woman’s woman, if we’re being age-precise.

Female friendships have played an important role in my life, and I’ve always had a close-knit group of friends to rely on throughout life’s growing pains—breakups, job losses, the works. It was something I prided myself on. After all, friendships are voluntary, with no familial bond to keep us together, making them even more significant.

When I learned I was pregnant with my first, my friend circle exploded in a frenzy of baby shower planning and creating the perfect baby registry. The excitement was doubled by the fact that I was the first one to have a baby—half of my friends were living the single life, with no motherhood plans in sight, and the other half was seeing it as a distant possibility.

In my naiveté, I was looking forward to weekend brunches with the girls and evening strolls at the park with a baby in tow, only to have those dreams bulldozed by the reality of caring for a newborn.

To put it mildly, I was a hot mess. My nipples were bleeding (breastfeeding turned out to be a lot trickier than advertised), and in one moment I became aware that switching from breast milk to formula was inevitable. To top it off, I was shedding hair by the brush-full, and my mood swings were giving my hubby whiplash.

My friends—bless their hearts—helped out by bringing over hot meals and doing our laundry, but one look at my state told them everything they needed to know: There was no way I’d be joining those brunches anytime soon.

And as I changed yet another pair of nursing pads, the curse that is social media let me know about all the things I was missing out on. It wasn’t long before I felt the familiar pang of jealousy in my stomach (and no, it wasn’t my C-section scar) and panic that I’d end up friendless by the time my daughter cut her first tooth.

But trying to make plans was even worse, as I had realized that I’d rather spend my free time sleeping than socializing. Oh God, it hit me one night. So this is what everyone was talking about.

One of my friends joked that setting up a lunch date with me was like scheduling a meeting with royalty. Although I clearly wasn’t Kate Middleton, I knew that the days of spontaneous meet-ups were over. I now needed Google Calendar and an automated reminder 24 hours in advance so I wouldn’t stand anyone up because I forgot what day it was!

However, when we did finally manage to get together, it was worth all the planning in the world. Listening to my friends’ love problems and work troubles pulled me out of my mom brain fog and reminded me that, yes, there is an outside world out there that I would experience again.

Phone calls became more frequent than before, especially if I had a really bad day and needed to speak to someone who was not my husband. But I also made it clear that even though my priorities had shifted, I could still offer a friend support when she needed it. Even though I could no longer relate to the whole concept of getting ghosted by a guy you were dating for two months, I could certainly still call him a total jerk and tell you to block his ass.

Likewise, they listened to me go into every detail of my daughter’s last checkup and my breastfeeding woes, despite them having no clue about what engorgement really felt like and why in the world anyone would want to stuff cabbage leaves down their bra.

On the other hand, it took me a while to realize that my friends were hesitant to invite themselves over for a visit because they didn’t want to disturb the family peace. And no one wants to be that person who barges in when a baby is screaming her head off. After we’d settled in with our new routines, I made it clear to my friends that they were welcome to come over, as long they called first.

However, over the course of the first year of my little one’s life, I made some new friends, too. Living in a big city, it wasn’t hard to connect to other moms after I had my first child, and it felt natural to seek out friendships with women who also had a seat on the same rollercoaster. With them, I could go into all of the gross details of my baby’s last blowout and be fairly certain they weren’t internally screaming for me to shut up.

I wouldn’t blame you for thinking that making new mom friends could alienate you from your old friends, and there are many cases where this holds true. But the flip-side of the coin is that new friendships can strengthen your older ones. They balance out your need to talk about mom life to those who can’t relate to it, leading to less resentment in the long term.

Looking back, motherhood proved to be a sifter for the people in my life. Not everyone made it through to the other side, and I must admit that growing apart from some women in my life was painful.

But I am eternally grateful to those who stayed; they’re now my daughter’s favorite aunts, and the best role models any parent could wish for.

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I’m Tired AF, And No Longer Care If That Makes Me Look Like A B*tch

I have a case of the grogs every morning because I need some sort of sleep aid to get the amount of sleep I need. If I don’t take anything, and I am able to fall asleep, I wake up around 2am and the mind starts churning, begging me to stay up and have a stress party.

So, it’s either sleep or feel heavy and slightly hungover each morning until the grogginess wears off.

Going anywhere these days feels like the ultimate chore at times, but I need to get out of the damn house. When we do venture out and go grab takeout or something I have to remember to grab masks for everyone and check the level of hand sanitizer in my purse first. Another chore that has been handed over to the moms across the land.

Of-fucking-course.

The daily grind hits me hard every day, and every time I’m trying to work and one of my kids asks me an innocent question, I feel like it hits my nerves in a way that’s too extra for what’s going on.

In my mind I’m thinking, Please don’t. Please don’t give me another thing I have to think about or add to my to-do list. Just wait until my mind is free and clear.

But, mother to mother, we all know there is no time when our mind is free and clear.

When I’m standing in line at the grocery store or rushing into Target to get a new vacuum cleaner because my old one is broken and I really can’t wait for someone to come fix it, I’m thinking about the next thing. And the next. 

I’m in a rush to check it off my list and tend to all the other things I need to do.

Some might call it bitch mode, but I call it survival mode. I’ve gotten to the point where I’m not afraid to say “no” to anyone and I have no problem not responding to a text until I can get to it.

If don’t want to smile at you or I don’t see you wave it me it’s not because I’ve got a case of the cunts, it’s because I’m thinking about my son’s algebra homework and the fact he’s stuck and I can’t help him, but I also need to get dog food because we are out, and don’t we all have dentist appointments next week?

I’m not ignoring your call, I just can’t get it to right now because all I want to do is lie in the fetal position and take a load off but that day will never come, so something has to go.

It seems as though women are put into categories: “nice” when they are doing what everyone else wants, or “bitchy” when they are doing what they need to do, whether it means speaking up for themselves or choosing a different option than what someone else suggests. 

We are also hard-wired to make our kids’ days better — give everything we’ve got to our relationships and our careers. Then, we need to make sure everything is in working order in our homes. The daily tasks don’t get up and walk away.

If there is ever a sliver of time left, the moms of the world think, What am I missing? What did I forget? Why do I feel so uneasy right now? There must be something.

We are running on fumes. We have to keep the wheels turning because if we don’t, then who the hell will?

It’s on us: the thinking, the planning, the doing, the delegating, the noticing.

After I became a mother, my best friend (who didn’t have kids at the time) said to me, “I don’t know, Katie. Lately when I see you, you just seem different. Like really stressed out or something.”

Now she has kids of her own and I think she’s beaten herself up about saying that to me for the both of us. 

I wasn’t being a bitch, but then again, so what if I was? I was, and have been ever since, just trying to keep it all together. Trying to keep it all straight. I’ve been wondering when this tattered, weighted blanket that feels like it’s covering my whole body is going to lift.

But I know now, seventeen years into being a parent, that blanket isn’t going anywhere.

I’m exhausted. 

So, yeah, the load I carry makes me forget to do things like smile to everyone that walks by.

It’s forced me to stop saying yes and acting like things don’t inconvenience me in the least.

I no longer feel like I have to be fake and cheery, because let’s face it, that display would take a special kind of acting, and I’m in no shape to put on a performance.

I simply cannot keep up with it all, and there are times when I’m going to look like a bitch because I’m literally running into the ground and there isn’t a soul around trying to lighten my load.

If that makes me look like a grouch, so be it — because “don’t be a bitch” isn’t going to be added to my never-ending to-do list any time soon.

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It’s Okay Not To Love Every Second Of Your Life As A Mom — This Sh*t Is Hard

If you were to ask twelve-year-old me where she pictured herself in 20 years, she would have said she was going to be the most badass girl boss CEO working in a big city answering to no one but herself and loving every self-affirming minute of it. She had big hopes and dreams, and she was going to do it all on her own.

Fast forward to present day me and you’ll find me married, a stay-at-home mom to a three-year-old, living in a suburb 10 minutes from where I grew up, and giving up on any prospect of being the girl boss I wanted to be by the time I was thirty.

To say I adjusted well to motherhood would be a gross exaggeration. In fact, I did everything all the “experts” say not to do, such as co-sleeping, constantly holding my baby, and never leaving him. Much of this could be attributed to me having severe postpartum anxiety, to the point where I honestly believed my son would die if I were not right next to him. It was crippling, and even with the help of a therapist, I felt misunderstood and unsupported. Dealing with a chronic autoimmune issue on top of that furthered my isolation. I cried every single day for eighteen months, both wondering how I allowed myself to get to this position and wishing I were better and more in control. It was a complete nightmare and I wanted out.

But the other day, as I was cleaning poo smears off the floor while my son screamed about having to wash his stinky hands, while the oven timer went off and the cat was screeching to open the gate to allow her downstairs, I had a revelation – one that I had been waiting on for nearly three years: It’s okay not to love every second of your life.

Parenting is hard. Trying to deal with mental illness can feel impossible. Exclusively breastfeeding is really hard. Chronic illness, especially when undiagnosed, is hard. Trying to make a career out of writing (or any career for that matter) while raising a tiny human, prioritizing marriage – or not – and cleaning the house, making appointments, cooking, attending conferences and meetings, is really freaking hard and can be so very isolating. I have been there. I still am there and I’m here to tell you that it’s okay to not be okay. It’s okay to mess up. It’s okay to recognize that you might not be living the life you thought you would have twenty years ago. Or maybe you are, but you hate it. It’s okay.

Something I learned recently thanks to COVID-19 and needing to quarantine is how much you can’t ignore your problems. For me, my marital issues and personal issues all came to the forefront. It felt like the world was ending (jury’s still out on that one) and that my life was over. But recognizing the symptoms does not treat the disease, and ignoring your feelings doesn’t make them disappear.

Motherhood is tough. Comparing yourself with others on social media, something I hate to admit I’ve been doing during quarantine, is damaging. Especially when I wonder why everyone else seems to be happy and have their life together except me. But they don’t!

This season of life feels never-ending, and it’s been so important for me to be mindful of the things that make me happy. The hugs and kisses make up for it. The snuggles and laughs make up or it. Watching the wonder in my son’s eyes as he discovers new bugs or runs without abandon across open fields invigorates me and brings me life.

It can be so easy to get caught up in the negative day to day – especially in a pandemic. Especially in a crumbling marriage. Especially when living in the past. This isn’t the life I planned, but that’s okay – because it is mine and because it’s shaping me into the person I am meant to me. A mother. A wife. A teacher. A writer. And even the badass bitch girl CEO I wanted to be – completely and totally in charge of my life.

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I’m Sorry I Didn’t Answer Your Text—I’m Just Burned Out

My phone has always been, and will always be, a mess of untouched notifications. There exists an entire contingent of people who immediately clear their phone notifications. Those people have a visceral reaction to seeing all the little red circles with the too-high numbers beside too many of the apps on my phone screen. But messy phones are like messy rooms, and they (whoever they are) always say that messy rooms are the sign of a creative mind, right?

I like to tell myself that anyway. And I have no intention of becoming a person who instantly deals with her notifications. It’s probably not that difficult, but also, my to-do list is long enough, and my general feeling about it is “eh.” I’m ambivalent, at minimum, about the ignored notifications.

But there is one notification bubble that doesn’t feel like “eh,” and that I am more than ambivalent about. Yet it remains, the number inside the red circle swelling, as I continue to avoid doing anything about the red circle at all.

It’s the notification for a new text message.

There are so many reasons I forget to answer text messages. Sometimes I read a new message, and if I can’t instantly answer, I forget to respond because it’s pushed out of my head by a thousand subsequent things that I need to do. (In that case, it doesn’t add to the high number in the red circle, of course, but the text message has still gone unanswered.)

Other times I forget because the answer requires more than an emoji and two words, and I don’t have the mental bandwidth at the moment to compile the words the response needs, or my brain is otherwise occupied focusing on other words.

And sometimes I simply forget because I’m tired of pandemic parenting and COVID living and it’s taking all my energy to just do both. Because I’m burned out and tired and having nothing left to give, even to a few words on a screen.

At this moment, there are a handful of text messages sitting on my phone from June. I never opened the messages to read them, though I know what they say. I had a chance to read them as they appeared on my locked phone screen and then I made the conscious choice not to open any of them. Because the notification, the red bubble with the high number, was going to “remind” me to later answer the text message. It did not. It has not. And as a result, I haven’t spoken to the particular friends who sent those messages since June.

To those friends, I’m sorry I didn’t answer your message. Your messages weren’t about logistics—I respond fast to questions like: Does the local supermarket have paper towels today? Your messages weren’t memes that needed nothing more than a “haha” reaction, and they weren’t messages that required immediate attention for another reason. They were messages that spoke to the heart of this life, of solo parenting and pandemic parenting and grieving while living—even if that’s not what they were meant to speak to. They were largely innocent messages that asked how things were going or what the kids thought about distance learning. They were messages that if I wanted to answer honestly—which is the kind of answer you deserve—would require cracking open the walls I’ve built these last six months and admitting to myself how hard this all is. Admitting the same to you.

The truth is that I can’t admit that. If I do, the floodgates will open, and I’ll have to admit to the simmering guilt constantly telling me I’m not doing enough for my kids, and the weight I’m carrying as my to-do list grows exponentially despite my best efforts. I’d have to admit to the undercurrent of fear I wake up with every morning, hoping today isn’t the day I learn that the choices I’ve made to keep my family healthy and reasonably happy have been wrong. You see, I couldn’t answer your text messages, because then I’d have to admit to you, and to myself, exactly how burned out I am. So I’m sorry I didn’t answer your text message. As they say in the movies: it’s not you, it’s me.

I know there are phones out there where my text messages are sitting unanswered, waiting as little numbers in red reminder bubbles, and I forgive you for forgetting or overlooking or being too burned out to answer my text.

Because I’m sure your reasons for not answering are the same. Your reasons may be identical to mine or they may be reasons that I can’t even begin to imagine. We’re all living through a pandemic and we’re all trying our best.

Most importantly, when you do text me, I won’t ask why my original text went unanswered for so long. I won’t make you feel guilty for holding me as a number in a little red bubble for so long. I’ll know you’re doing your best to be everything for everyone. Instead, I’ll be grateful to see the message from you, because maybe it means that, for the moment, you’re feeling a little less burned out. And I hope that’s true.

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This Is What ‘Mom Burnout’ Feels Like

You are probably a lot like me. As a mother, you’ve had days when you slump down the wall and feel like you cannot function, no matter what you try to do or how you try to change your mindset. You cry. You tell yourself you can do better and you are lucky to have kids in your life. Every little thing bugs you and you want to scream and slam your fists on the counter. And as soon as you see a break in the clouds — a moment of silence or a second away — something else happens.

Maybe it’s a spill. Perhaps it’s a tattling child. It could be another dirty diaper that sends you over the edge. Whatever it is, you can’t seem to pull it together and these are the days you know with your entire being that you need a damn break.

But then there are the days your burnout isn’t so obvious. You just feel a little off, a bit tired despite a good night’s rest. You feel forgetful and short tempered even though everything is going as smoothly as it can. 

These are the days we mentally take ourselves down pretty hard because we think, Things aren’t that bad. What’s my problem?

Just because a wound isn’t obviously bruised or throbbing doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt. Burnout in moms seems to be the same way. It’s not always blaring. We can’t always put our finger on it. There are days when it’s hard to recognize, so we keep plugging away because we are ignoring it or we literally don’t have a choice in the matter. 

We are the ones who see when something needs to be taken care of like no one else can. My ex-husband once told me I could be in a deep sleep and wake up the minute one of our kids moved in bed, or he forgot to lock the door before he went to bed.

Moms don’t get a day off, ever. Even on the rare occasion when we’re out of the house and have someone taking care of all the things (let’s face it, when the hell does this ever really happen?) our minds are spinning non-stop. 

It’s exhausting, and yeah, it’s gonna cause some burnout.

Scary Mommy polled some of our readers to tell us what their mom burnout felt like, and this is what they said:

Sharon S. says that when she’s suffering from burnout, “I have no energy to stay focused and it’s too easy to react.”

Oh yes, I’ve been there a few times already today and it’s not even noon yet.

Gretchen K. reports how different burnout can feel, which may make it hard to recognize. “Can’t focus. At all. And it depends on which type of burnout. When the kids were young, I remember wishing for a non serious type of medical emergency (like appendicitis) that would put me in the hospital for a few days to catch up on sleep. Now it’s more the worry of teens/college students. SO MANY WORRIES.”

Aleksei Morozov/Getty

And the mind just goes and goes which is so exhausting.

Katie K. feels her burnout physically, saying, “It’s physical pain in my neck and shoulders, crying at the drop of a hat and a hair trigger temper.”

So many mental struggles show up in physical ways, and we blame it on lack of sleep without realizing we just need a break.

Scary Mommy also talked via email with Dr. Pavan Madan, M.D., a child and adolescent psychiatrist with Community Psychiatry, the largest outpatient mental health organization in California. 

Madan says, “There are three main symptoms of burnout — feeling physically or emotionally exhausted, not being able to handle usual tasks, and feeling annoyed easily.”

Hello, this is why your shoulders are tense, your head hurts, and you feel like you can’t focus. 

A 2018 survey found half of all parents suffer from burnout — and those results were pre-pandemic. I think now we all feel more burned out than ever.

So, now that we are aware we have it and we know what it can feel like, what can we do about it?

Dr. Madan says, “Burnout can be prevented by having a better balance between family time vs. ‘me’ time for moms, and between hands-on activities vs. screen activities for all family members.”

Having a routine for our kids as far as sleep, meals, and study time “can help children feel prepared for the next activity and avoid some conflicts,” he says.

If you feel like you don’t have time to take a few minutes for yourself and get some breathing room as we so often do, Dr. Madan reminds us it’s important — as it will result in better health and that means we will be better parents. 

Burnout is a serious thing that can impact our lives in many ways. But the truth is, moms don’t get the time needed away unless they are proactive about it.

Ask for help if you need it. Set a routine for your children. Don’t forget to schedule some time for yourself. Even a little bit may go a long way. If you find yourself thinking, I really don’t need to go for that walk today, or I really should say yes even though I don’t want to, remember you are worth it — and your family would cosign. You really are doing a service for all involved, so don’t gloss over it and tell yourself you can wait. 

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Why Do Moms Think It’s Okay To Break The Commitments We Make To Ourselves?

Last week, I told myself before I went to bed that I’d rise early and get my run out of the way before it got too hot. We’ve been having a rare heatwave where I live and if you don’t get out and get it done, it’s hard (not to mention unsafe) to exercise in 90-degree temperatures with high humidity.

When I woke up, my kids were still sleeping soundly and would be for a few hours according to their teenage sleep schedules. I’d promised my daughter we’d go get a slushie later in the afternoon when I was done with work, before she went to her father’s house for the night.

I lay in bed and tried to think of all the reasons why I shouldn’t go for a run. I wasn’t really feeling it although I was awake at the perfect time. 

I tried to talk myself out of a goal I’d set for myself even though I’ve never, ever regretted a workout. 

As I reached for my phone to scroll instead, I realized if I didn’t get my butt in action and get out there soon, time would run out. Sure, I’d have the day to get my work done so I could still take my daughter to get her treat before she left for the night.

I always make good on my promises to everyone else — my kids, my editors, my friends and other family members. If I say I’m going to do something, I come through, except for those rare times when circumstances are out of my control.

Why, then, is it so easy to blow myself off? Why do I find it acceptable to give up my time so I can fulfill commitments to others, only to put the ones I make to myself last? And why do I do this when I know full well it leaves me angry and resentful every damn time?

It’s no one else’s fault when we break appointments with ourselves. There wouldn’t be anyone to blame but me had I put myself on the back burner, skipped something I really did want to do because the reward goes a long way, and carried on with my day fulfilling all other responsibilities.

It’s all part of being a mom — I get it. We feel like we have to sacrifice ourselves first so we can be this or that for everyone else.

Whether we admit it or not, we don’t want to appear selfish by telling a friend “no” when we know we don’t have the energy for them.

We dig back into the depths of our childhood and want to make up for all the wrongs our parents doled out, and we hate saying “no” to our children or letting them know we’ve changed our mind about making their favorite dinner.

We buy them new things before we replace our own ten-year-old underwear.

We make sure their appointments are up to date, all while neglecting our own because we think, “I can wait. I can do it later.”

When we have kids, we go from being on our own schedules — able to come and go as we please, and prioritize ourselves — to learning how to do that with little human beings being dependent on us. And damn, it’s hard to do both.

We say we don’t have time for self-care. We claim we are too busy to read any more, even though we desperately miss it.

We make excuses and break promises to ourselves without even thinking about it. Then, we suffer for it.

I’ve learned this the hard way. Since becoming a mom seventeen years ago, this is what I thought a good mother did. I figured I’d put everyone first — and if there was something that had to go or give, well, it would be me and my plans and my hobbies.

It’s taken me a long time to learn that you can be a great mom and not break your promises to yourself. The two aren’t mutually exclusive.

I spent years being resentful, throwing up my arms and saying, Fine, I just won’t do it, so everyone could have a piece of me. I got really good at it and was a bitter martyr.

Then, I realized all I had to do was stay true to most of the commitments I made to myself that were important: Getting to bed early if I needed more sleep, even if it meant canceling sexy time or a prior commitment. Staying true to my goals with work and my health. Trying to recognize when I was forgetting about me, even if I felt selfish for speaking up about it.

The truth is, no one is going to advocate for us but us. No one is going to stand on the sidelines and watch to make sure we keep the silent promises we’ve made to ourselves, whether they were made last year, last week, or last night.

So, the next time you think about giving something up, or telling yourself “no” when you really want to say yes, think about the hoops you would go through to meet these commitments to your kids, your partner, your work, or your loved ones.

Then ask yourself why you feel it’s okay to blow yourself off if you wouldn’t do it to others.

When you ask yourself that question, you’ll find it harder and harder to make excuses. Once you do this, you’ll never go back — because you’ll discover exactly how much better you feel when you honor yourself just as much as you would honor your family.

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Multi-Tasking May Not Be As Productive As It Feels

As I open the document to start on this essay, I’m supervising my eight-year-old who is working on his summer review math problems (yes, I’m “that” mom, but distance learning threw me for a loop, and I’m trying to make up for that over the summer), I’m texting a friend who is worried about the realities of distance learning, I’m keeping an eye on the pot simmering on the stove, and I’m listening for the chime of the dryer signifying that the load of laundry I threw in has finished.

I am a proud, self-proclaimed multi-tasker. As a solo parent, I have to be. How else can I possibly do all the things that need to be done? As it is, I’m doing all the things I listed above, and still didn’t get around to calling the plumber or returning the emails that keep getting pushed to that “do-tomorrow” list.

But also, I’ve re-read the same sentence a few dozen times in an effort to get this essay going. The clothes currently drying had been sitting in the washer, forgotten about, for more than a few hours. The dinner cooking on the stove was supposed to have been for yesterday, but I got distracted, ran out of time to throw the ingredients together, and ordered in instead.

So, I’m a proud, self-proclaimed multi-tasker, and I’m half unfocused and disorganized at all times. If I’m giving myself a little grace, I could say: it’s a pandemic and I’m solo parenting through it. But, to be honest, I’ve been half unfocused and disorganized for a long time.

Which is fine—the laundry can sit for a few extra hours, and the ingredients for dinner didn’t spoil in one day, and being half-unfocused isn’t that bad (although the plumber actually should have been called but that’s a story for another day.) Maybe that’s just life in the twenty-first century.

Or maybe I’m trying to do too much all at once. Maybe, in an effort to multi-task in order to save time, I’m wasting precious minutes.

A study from the American Psychological Association suggests that rather than making us more productive, multi-tasking, or more accurately task-switching (because we’re actually just jumping from task to task rather than doing tasks simultaneously) coupled with distractions caused by technology can cost up to 40% of someone’s productive time.

40%! That means nearly half of our productive time could be lost to the in-between. Or, more accurately, nearly half of our productive time is spent on (wasted on?) the time it takes to switch between tasks, also called the cost of switching, or switch costs.

There are two parts to the switch cost—“one attributable to the time taken to adjust the mental control settings (which can be done in advance if there is time), and another part due to competition due to carry-over of the control settings from the previous trial (apparently immune to preparation).” Essentially, the switch cost is the time it takes to adjust from one task to another, and the time it takes to reset your brain from one set of rules to another set.

What does that mean in mom-life terms? The switch cost is the time it takes for my brain to adjust from setting the water to boil for the mac n’ cheese to re-reading the last sentence I wrote, and switching from the rules of cooking to the rules of writing.

That mental switch might seem to happen instantly, (and I would swear that it does). But, in reality, it does take time—maybe even one tenth of a second. But those microscopic tenths of seconds add up, especially if you’re spending your whole day jumping from task to task…to task to task.

So if multi-tasking isn’t as productive as I’d always believed, what’s the alternative? The answer may be as simple as single tasking, or focusing on one thing at a time and being wholly and completely present in that singular task, completing it, and then moving on to the next task.

There may be some exceptions. Psychology Today reports that “The only exception that the research has uncovered is that if you are doing a physical task that you have done very very often and you are very good at, then you can do that physical task while you are doing a mental task. So if you are an adult and you have learned to walk then you can walk and talk at the same time.” For me, I’m fairly sure I could fold laundry while also cooking mac n’ cheese.

But in other situations, maybe it’s time to admit multi-tasking isn’t working out.

To finish writing this essay, I made sure the kids were fed and dressed and sent them to the playroom to play. (They are old enough where they don’t need me to facilitate play at all times.) I turned my phone onto airplane mode and enabled the “do not disturb” function. And then I wrote.

It certainly took some retraining. My mind wandered and I stood up to water my plants. I reached for my phone—though found the self-control not to disable “do not disturb.” But I wrote. And I completed my essay. And then I called the plumber.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve toiled under the belief that multi-tasking is synonymous with productivity. I’ve been sure that if I’m not doing a few dozen things at once, then I’m not doing all that I could do. Even though it seems almost counter-intuitive—to do only one thing when I could be doing four—maybe it’s finally time to re-examine that long held belief. Maybe it’s finally time to admit that multi-tasking isn’t working out for me as well as I’d like. And maybe, more than that, it’s time to admit productivity isn’t the measure of success I’d always believed it needed to be.

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If Your Wife Starts Engaging In Self Care, Support The Hell Out Of Her

My wife Mel has been running lately, and I’ve noticed a few things. She looks pretty hot in running pants. But what I’ve noticed more than any physical stuff is that she’s taking more time for herself, and I couldn’t be happier about it.

She talks about her running goals. She fusses about her running shoes and her gear, and to be honest, this is the most I’ve seen her talk about herself and her own self-care since we had kids. She’s even suckered me into joining her on one of those social distancing 5Ks where everyone runs wherever they are on the same day and tracks themselves with an app.

Now listen, this is not a post where some husband talks about how his wife is working out and you all need to get in shape, children be damned. This is me saying that moms don’t take a lot of time to do things for themselves, and 90% of the reason they don’t is because they feel guilty about it, so when they do, it’s on us to make sure they feel supported.

There’s this notion built into most mothers’ DNA that tells them if they are not fussing over their children 24/7, they are doing it wrong. Then there is the judgment factor, and every mom wants to judge other moms for this or that, so it causes moms to burn the candle at both ends, never pausing for a moment to realize that their own needs are not being met.

I’m sure every mom reading this post can relate to those feelings.

A few years ago, Mel and I came up with an arrangement. We each would get three hours a week to ourselves, to do whatever we wanted. On Sunday afternoons, I’d usually go for a bike ride or work on writing. But when it was Mel’s turn, I usually had to fight her to break away from the family so she could go in the backyard and garden or go in our bedroom and read a book. For a long time, I didn’t understand this. Until one day when she mentioned that she has a difficult time breaking away, and taking time to herself didn’t feel as relaxing unless she had everything in order.

Naturally, with three kids, nothing will ever be in order, and she didn’t need to worry one bit about dropping her obligations to have some Mel time. But that didn’t matter, and every time Mel’s weekly time to herself came around, I had to remind her to take it. Only recently has it begun to sink in that she deserves this time.

I think most mothers struggle with these same feelings, and it doesn’t take much for them to feel guilty about taking time to themselves. One snide comment from their husband, one quid pro quo, one phone call to ask where something is, and they are shoved right back into the motherhood madness. And the reality is, mothers need time to not be mothers. They need time to be who they were before children, and one of the best things a husband can do to help them with that time is to be supportive of it.

Listen folks, if your wife mentions that she’s thinking of joining a gym, or taking up running, or cycling, or doing CrossFit, tell her to spend a little more on the better workout gear, or join the closer, nicer, gym; don’t squabble over the price. She knows the budget as well as you do. Pay for the competition entry fee and don’t call it a waste of money. Vocalize your encouragement in her journey.

If she decides she wants to join a book club or have a regular girls’ night with friends or start writing a book, put together a schedule, tend to the kids, and don’t complain about it.

And definitely don’t ask for favors in return.

It could be gardening, or blogging, or fixing up old cars, or scrapbooking, or meditation, or yoga, or sewing, or knitting… whatever it might be, support the heck out of her as she engages with it.

If you notice that your wife is starting to feel suffocated by spending all her time with those kids that won’t stop clinging and asking and wanting, work out a time for her to spend a few hours by herself. Then support her when she takes it, and don’t cave when the kids only want mom. Fight with those little buggers, and let them know that mom time is sacred time.

Above all, take all that guilt a mother feels for spending time and money on herself off the table and replace it with reassurance. Make sure that she feels comfortable making this a long lasting commitment to herself, and be with her for the long haul as she engages self care. Don’t become critical of it two weeks in; rather, still be encouraging of her 10 years out. View the time and money as an investment in her, your marriage, and your family, because that’s exactly what it is.

Trust me.

She will appreciate it, and honestly, after everything a mother gives to her family, she deserves it.

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Your 40s Are When You Outgrow Who You Were, And That’s Both Glorious And Scary

I was taking a photo of my chicken coop five years ago. The red siding came into focus and I clicked. Then clicked again. I felt something deep within me: a rush of darkness, a storm taking over my brain, a hotness in my face and heart. It was 16 days after my 40th birthday. My then husband was leaving for the weekend with our oldest while I was staying home with our two younger children. 

As he pulled out of the driveway I told him I didn’t feel right. “It’s mental, not physical. I don’t know what’s wrong.

Whatever it was, I figured I’d paint and bake my way out of it that night. But, here I am five years later feeling the same rush, the same hotness. It comes and goes — this low-level anxiety that makes me stop and ask myself what’s wrong. I can’t put my finger on it, but it stirs and stirs and makes me do things, like write my truth, say “no” more, crave wild sex, and give the illusion I’m holding it together.

I’m not. 

As soon as I turned 40, I slipped out of myself and was looking at this woman I didn’t recognize. She felt incredibly dissatisfied and restless. The things that once made her comfortable and content weren’t doing it for her anymore. She asked what I was going to do next with my life, because surely there was much more.

I felt incredibly guilty about that for a long time. I tried to keep doing what I was doing — being the best mother I knew how, baking cookies, getting together with my sisters and friends to talk about motherhood, acting as if everything was fine.

Deep down, though, it wasn’t. I was burning to have more, to do more, to shed some of my old self — yet I was afraid to let her go. I talked to my husband about the way I was feeling in the middle of the kitchen one morning, which made him late for work. I could tell by the look on his face that he didn’t know what I was saying. Not even a little bit.

I know he wanted to sum it up to a midlife crisis, but he knew me well enough to not go there. 

I’d heard about the “midlife crisis” my whole life — the purchasing of the new car, the affair, the divorce, the coming undone as others thought you’d lost your damn mind. 

But I believe this is simply the time when you outgrow your old self. At least that’s what happened to me. 

I also believe it’s not losing anything when you become a different version of you. It’s more about finding your true self.  And it’s okay.

My whole life, I always have been thinking in the back of my head, Is it okay that I’m here? Is it okay that I said that? Is it okay to be wearing this? Is it okay to really do this or that if no one else is? 

And if I do those things, and it is okay, will I still be okay? Will I still be comfortable or will I fuck up so badly my inner voice will say, I told you so, bitch.

Then, you turn 40 and you feel like you have wasted time wondering if it will all be okay; if you will be able to stay in a neat little package. You lose a lot of the feelings and caring what other people think, which is glorious. So you go for it, ya know? You really go for it.

But it’s also scary as hell because you don’t know what you are doing. You’ve always played it safe. And more times than not, this happens when you have been married for a long time and may be drifting from your partner. You may have kids who are older and more independent who don’t need you unless they want food or a ride.

For this reason, your 40s can be lonely. You are faced with strange feelings you’ve never had before. You may have a bit more time on your hands. You think about all the things that you want to do, things you haven’t done, but can. It’s overwhelming and exciting. You try to squash those thoughts and go on with regular life and it’s like you can’t.

It doesn’t feel like you, but it is you.

Honestly, I’ve found only women going through the same thing have any clue as to what I’m talking about, so I stick with them. They have been my saving grace — well, my friends and the wild sex and the writing. 

This person I am is so different than the person I was when I was younger. There are times when she makes me so uncomfortable that I want nothing more than to sink back into my old life. 

And I could do that. I could. But, if I did, I’d be throwing a lot of myself away. And my 40s are trying to tell me, Enough already, you’ve done that for too long. And you will be okay. 

It just takes some time before you believe it. 

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I’ve Been Living Like A Dude During During Quarantine

There are leaves blowing around inside my house right now. The other day, we went through the drive-through (something we’ve been doing a shit ton of lately) and my son wanted to bring his comforter with him for the car ride.

Now, normally this is something I would frown upon and tell him to leave his bedding on his bed where it will be free from grease and ketchup. But honestly, what else does this kid have to look forward to on any given afternoon right now? Not a whole hell of a lot.

I allowed it, and he did what I thought he was going to do: dragged it through the garage into the car and then back into the house, bringing some debris from outside along with it. You know, a few leaves, a couple sticks, some pine needles.

I literally don’t care. The scene on my floor reminds me of our drive on a sunny day and eating french fries in the parking lot.

The pandemic has changed my lifestyle. Maybe it’s because I’ve realized the importance of living in the moment. Maybe it’s because I’m in a house with my kids nonstop and I’m saving my energy for the battles that matter. I realize I have all the time in the world to do housekeeping or shave my legs, so there’s no rush.

But I think a bigger reason is I was so stressed in the beginning of this shitstorm that I used all my reserves, and the only way to get through this in one piece (for me) is to act more like a dude. 

My laundry is not as up-to-date as it usually is. My house is stocked with frozen pizzas, burritos, cookie-coated drumsticks, all the things to make nachos, and every kind of ramen you can imagine. 

I’ve always bought these things for my three kids on occasion, but reminded them to get some fruits, veggies, try and make a decent dinner every night, knowing it would all round out. But this is quarantine. We’re home all the time and aren’t sure when things will start getting back to normal, so if my son wants to reach for his leftover Dr. Pepper and heat up some chicken nuggets from our fast-food run last night, good for him. He deserves it. I simply cannot keep up with trying to do the right thing all the time. I’m even wondering what the hell the point is. 

My daily uniform has been a sweatshirt and a pair of underpants because it can be. Right now, I’m wearing my son’s sweatshirt because it’s the only clean one in the house. I’ve walked outside in my underwear more times than I can count since the stay-at-home order took effect in our state.

And the other day, I saw something on the news about how we should be replacing our toothbrushes every three weeks and I literally laughed. Our toothbrushes are fine since me and my kids haven’t seen another human in seven weeks and there’s no way I can begin to keep up with it all.

Oh, and when I get emails from my kids’ teachers letting me know they have missing assignments, I simply forward it to them and tell them to take care of it without breaking a sweat.

I almost don’t recognize myself, and my kids sure as fuck don’t recognize me. Gone is the uptight mom who checked up on them all the time and always felt like she had to shed light on everything by making things look shiny and new.

I simply do not have the energy to do anything except drink too much soda, belch when I want, and make more ramen because this is literally all the excitement I have right now. I do not have the bandwidth to try and make anything color-coded for my kids’ school days. I’ll be damned if I’m going to clean out a pantry and keep up with the laundry. Our wardrobe choices just expanded greatly and I’m gonna ride that wave. I’m not changing the toilet paper roll if I don’t feel like it because those things are not that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things. Whoever sits on the pot next and needs to wipe their ass can do it.

It’s liberating as fuck. 

Being a parent through this pandemic certainly doesn’t come with an instruction manual. From one day to the next, all I’m trying to do is survive my mood and do what I want in that moment, and this is what it looks like for me. 

I remind myself of my ex-husband very much, and you know what? I don’t hate it.

Somewhere along the line, society let moms know we were supposed to do it all: bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, then get it on with hubby at night to keep him happy even if we are stripped to the core. Oh, and don’t forget, taking care of the kids falls on our shoulders too.

I fell for that shit big-time, as do many women. We think someone needs to hold it together, and the heavy lifting is automatically assigned to us. Dudes don’t think that way — and, more importantly, they don’t feel the weight of judgment if they don’t come home from work and cook, clean, and get the kids ready for bed.

It’s a trend that keeps us perpetually overextended and stressed out. Bucking that trend has been fantastic even though it took a pandemic for me to see the light.

Yes, I want this to be over; yes, I care about my kids’ safety; yes, I want things to go back to normal. Maybe once this is all over, I’ll return to my anxious, uptight self — who knows? But for now, it feels good to not give a fuck about how many vegetables my kids have been eating and not double check everything they do.

I know for a fact that trying to be super productive, learn a new language, oversee all my kids’ school work, and tell my daughter that, no, her ducks cannot come in the house and walk around, will not be serving anybody in my family during this.

Right now, life looks like ice cream for dinner and microwave popcorn for a bedtime snack. It looks like an overflowing laundry basket and questionable wardrobe choices. This is me, being my best self in each moment and enjoying the freedom of not living up to anyone’s expectations but my own … and it’s working just fine.

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