On Motherhood: The real answer to “How do you do it?”

Because this mama juggles three young kids (including twins) and a career, she gets asked that question all the time. Here’s the truth behind the facade…

motherhood juggle

I’ll never forget the moment I started sobbing ashamedly in my therapist’s chair during my very first session with her. I was ashamed that I needed therapy and ashamed for crying. Ashamed for not coping with motherhood. I adored being a mom, but it was HARD.

I’d had my first child eight months earlier and I’d somehow transformed from a blissed-out new mama into a sleep-deprived, skittish mess in that short time. I wasn’t having fun anymore and I wanted help.

“I keep trying to tell my friends that I’m not coping, but they don’t seem to believe me,” I cried to my psychologist. That’s when she said something that would change my outlook forever: “They don’t believe you because you say you aren’t coping, but then you go ahead and cope.”

Mind. Blown. She was so right. My life wasn’t falling apart. I was getting out of bed every morning and getting stuff done. And I was doing a pretty good job of it too. I was struggling inside, but I was showing the world that I was A-OK.

We only show our highlight reels to the world

It dawned on me that only a handful of my friends were privy to my struggles. The rest of the world only saw the highlight reel of my life on social media. Me having a babyccino with my adorable babe at a café. Smiles all around and a filter to camouflage my dark circles. Me with my baby at the beach looking fit and having fun. No one knew that the truth behind my bikini body was exhaustion and anxiety.

I looked like I was not only coping, but thriving. Then I cried because nobody “understood me”. I was doing it to myself.

Swapping the reel for the real

So, I slowly started to tell people the truth when they asked how I was doing. It was hard at first because my self-preservation reflexes made me want to chirp, “I’m great! Just dandy! Thanks for asking, Tammy!”

But the more I practiced saying small tidbits of truth such as, “I’m pretty tired today… this baby thing isn’t always easy, huh?!”, the easier it became. And you know what? Other moms looked relieved and started telling me their truths too.

I also stopped posting only the photos that had made it into my “Favorites” folder on social media. I started sharing tantrum photos. And honest status updates. I tried not to use filters anymore even though my exhausted Mom Face made me shudder. It was challenging to be more real and raw when everyone else’s lives looked so shiny and perfect, but it was also extremely liberating.

And then I had twins…

If I hadn’t already started to let go of my illusion of perfection after my first child, I would’ve been forced to when I suddenly found myself with three girls under the age of three. Life became well and truly chaotic overnight.

That’s when people started asking me the same question all the time: “How do you DO it?!” What they were asking was: How do you balance three young kids, a career, a marriage and everything else? The truth was that behind the image of “having it all together” that I clearly still projected, there were many tears, fights with my husband and days where I felt like I couldn’t do it anymore. Mama did not have anything together.

That’s when I decided to use the professional Facebook page I’d started a few months earlier to post about the ups and downs of parenting my tribe. I opened my heart and said some REAL stuff on there. And to my amazement, people really responded. One of my posts even went viral, and moms around the world wrote to me thanking me for my honesty and telling me how much they related to my struggles.

I was floored. Instead of leaving me open to criticism as I’d feared, letting my guard down had allowed me to connect deeply with both strangers and people I already knew.

Old habits die hard

I’d love to say that I’m now an open book and I say what I’m feeling without any fear of judgment. Not so. I still find myself frequently apologizing or trying to backtrack when I’ve been “too honest” about my life. I start to panic that people will think I’m not coping or that I’m – gasp! – “negative”.

Because our society places positivity on a pedestal. We’re constantly peddled the message that if you think positively good things will happen to you, but if you think negatively you’ll attract bad vibes. Well, guess what? That’s plain wrong.

There are plenty of benefits to having a positive outlook, but it’s also OK to acknowledge the hard times. It’s healthy. Life is a rollercoaster of emotions and we need to make room for the full range.

Above all, we need to teach our kids that it’s OK to be sad, mad, hurt and distressed. It’s our job to help them recognize and regulate those emotions. Imagine if we taught them that the only valid emotions are positive ones? May as well sign them up for therapy right away.

Keeping it real

So, next time you haven’t slept all night because your toddler decided to host a teddy bear picnic at midnight or you’re stressed to the gills because your fourth-grader is having learning difficulties, tell someone. When another mom asks you how your day was at school pick-up, say, “I’m pretty stressed because Sebastian has to undergo some tests.”

Her face won’t fall off. The world won’t stop turning. In fact, I’ve noticed more and more people doing it. I asked a mom of four who has a newborn how she does it the other day and you know what she told me? “I’m not really coping right now.” I gave her a sympathetic smile and told her that if she needed any help, I was there.

Let’s ditch those highlight reels and keep it real, mamas. We’re all in this together.