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Confessions of a harried mom

July 25, 2011 - Betsy Bethel
Yes, I am a harried mom. No, that doesn't mean I haven't shaved my legs in three weeks, although check back with me when shorts weather is over and I may tell you a different story.

Harried, for the record, means "persistently harassed." Who's harassing me? If you have to ask, you're obviously single and/or childless. Or else you're in that blissful state we call grandparenthood. Grandparents, after all, once were harried parents who have since blocked all the unpleasantness of that time of their lives. This gives them free rein to dote mercilessly on their grandchildren without a shred of guilt for the havoc they are wreaking on parents' attempts to impart discipline, healthy eating habits, etc. to their children. And you wonder why we're harried ...

Being a harried mom has its down sides, of course — persistent guilt, constant exhaustion, digestive complaints, stress headaches, forgetfulness and the nagging suspicion that people are making fun of you behind your back, to name a few. It does have its perks, though. Harried moms have the perfect excuse not to volunteer for the church bake sale or civic club steak fry. People tend to back off from a woman who hasn't washed her hair in three days and is covered in crusty spit-up stains. A harried mom can let her eyebrows grow to resemble Bert's from Sesame Street. (I mean, who has the time or money for a salon wax? And forget about trying to locate a pair of tweezers in the house, although she knows she has three.) She can go to Wal-Mart in her slippers, as long as she's OK with her picture being posted on some hater's Facebook page. She can serve macaroni and cheese or pizza every day of the week — in fact, it'll make her a hero to her kids.

Not all of these examples are autobiographical — my daughter, for instance, hails from some alien species that detests macaroni and cheese. But I know enough harried moms to know these scenarios are far from fiction.

I also can tell you from experience what harried moms need most. First, they need a break. And not just from the kids, although I don't know one stretched-to-the-limits mom who wouldn't relish the chance to snap back to her natural parameters while someone else took the little darlings to the park or a movie.

But we also need a break from the constant pressure we put on ourselves. And we are in control of that. Let's let the child abusers and absentee parents take the guilt trips, ladies! Trying to parent from a place of perpetual guilt is like trying to climb Mount Everest carrying a moose on our backs. It's grueling enough without that extra ton weighing us down!

We also could use a break from societal pressures. If you're not a parent, I'll let you in on a dirty little secret of 21st-century parenthood: Moms can be downright brutal to each other. I mean, I haven't experienced this caliber of peer pressure since that nasty little episode called "7th grade." It seems among parents today that the adage, "If you don't have something nice to say, don't say anything," is moot when kids' supposed welfare is at stake. In certain circles, for example, you could be ostracized for letting your kid drink Kool-Aid. In others, you're considered a nut job if you don't feed your baby rice cereal at age 4 months. Can we please get a break from the hating!? When you are busting your butt at what seems at the time like a thankless job, I know it's a whole lot easier to be nasty than kind. The words just fly out, propelled sometimes by self-defense, other times by exasperation and other times by sheer exhaustion. And we know from what we learned in middle school that saying something mean can actually make you feel better about yourself and rally others around you — at least for a time. But we also know it doesn't last. Nasty words damage others and ultimately ourselves.

What I think we all need are kind words. I propose we all make the effort today to encourage an exhausted mom who really is trying her best. Note: It has to be sincere because a harried mom can spot a suck-up from 20 paces. Your statement could be the prop that keeps her walls from crumbling that day. It could give her the energy to read her children a bedtime story that night rather than just collapsing into her own bed. It could seal her frayed edges so she can get back in the game of nurturing and loving those little monsters, uh, darlings. It could cause her to smile and, even for a moment, give her the feeling she is not alone.

And finally, for good measure, a couple other things harried moms could use, if any of you are so inclined to invent them: ride-on vacuums, mute buttons for their kids, drive-thru EVERYTHING, lightweight and easy-to-carry baby carriers, car seats that are simple to buckle and family members who do what they are asked, the first time, without complaint.


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