Last Fall, I was helping a friend as she went through the beginning stages of her divorce. Like me, her husband (and the father of her child) is an alcoholic. At the end of a grueling conversation about the most personal parts of her marriage, she said, “Thanks for being my ‘me too.'” And I was. I was her sounding board. Someone who understood exactly what she was going through. Almost eerily so. I got me thinking. Life is so much easier when you have a support system of people who understand your life experiences. And who aren’t afraid to say, “I’ve been there and it gets easier.” So I have become committed to being more open about my struggles, in particular my parenting struggles. My thought is that the more I “out” myself, the easier it will be to find my tribe, my support system, my “me too” mamas.
I was recently hiking with a close mama friend and our toddlers. It was cold. Much colder than we had expected. After a nearly unbearable picnic lunch with whiny, frozen toddlers (and mamas), we decided to find a short-cut back to the car rather than hike back the way we came, down a very steep mountain. A terrible chain of events unfolded. We ended up on the wrong trail and – by the time we realized this – we needed to back-track nearly a mile. My friend’s five year old “Matteo” was having a very hard time. At one point, he stopped hiking and had a full-on melt down. To try to get him moving again, his mom told him they were going to have to stay there all night with nothing but granola bars and fruit for dinner. She laid down on her back on the pavement. He eventually got moving. It was awkward. It was uncomfortable. It was so real.
We made our way back to the cars and Matteo’s behavior got steadily worse. Mom was barely keeping it together. We had planned to have a play date with cider and a fire after the hike. Instead, we parted ways. My friend texted a half hour later and was SO apologetic. I think she was worried I would judge her son’s (and later her) behavior. I cut her off. I said with honesty, “I’ve been there.” Because we all have. This proved to be a great breakthrough in our friendship. We are now so open about our bad days. We are quick to seek advice (or simple commiseration) from each other when the days are rough. We are each other’s “me too” mamas.
Openness begets openness. I have found that people rarely open up about their parenting issues. Or they gloss over them like it’s no big deal. This can be so isolating. I, for one, have had low points where I feel like I am absolutely failing and everyone else is so “together.” I spent the first two months of maternity leave with a baby who would not nap for more than 40 minutes at a time. I literally lost sleep Googling and then employing every baby sleep trick on the Internet because I was convinced my daughter would have cognitive issues if she didn’t nap for at least two hours a stretch.
Then, I made friends with a mom in my “new baby” group at the hospital. We would use our babies as a reason to get out of the house for a walk and a fancy coffee, complete with adult conversation. I was so scared to tell her about my napping woes (or any of my struggles). At the end of our first coffee date, she mentioned that she was glad her son would nap on the way home (about a 30 minute drive). I immediately told her about my daughter’s short napping. She stopped and told me that neither of her babies had napped for longer than 45 minutes, ever. Right then she became my “me too” mama.
So, I invite you to share your parenting woes. And be receptive when someone shares their struggles. Be each other’s “me too” mamas (and papas). So far, I have not had a fellow soldier judge me. Instead, I am building a parenting tribe. Because it’s cold out there. And everything is easier when you have folks you can share your troubles with. Trust me.