Every now and then I’ll read a blog post where a mom is sharing about a difficult time in her life. Maybe she’s going through some kind of trauma, maybe she’s dealing with depression or exhaustion or a difficult discipline issue or just the small, numerous ways kids can (metaphorically speaking, of course) get under your skin and then slowwwwwly peel it back until you’re just a big open nerve.
When I read those posts I often feel compelled to give some words of encouragement or empathy in the comments section…and then feel kind of like a jerk when it comes time to fill in my URL. I can just hear the posters’ and commenters’ thoughts: The Happiest Mom? Oh, shut up already.
Even though I feel like I’m pretty open on here, it’s hard to get past my “Happiest Mom” moniker sometimes. Because if there’s one thing moms don’t like, it’s the fabled “mom who has it all together” and making everyone else feel bad about themselves. And if there’s anything else moms love, it’s a good vent.
Let me just get this out of the way: I so do not have everything together.
On the other hand, I do believe that we have a part in creating our realities. And I’m no longer convinced that venting is all that good for me, as a mom or a woman or a functional member of society.
Recently I commented at Momalom–a blog I really like, written by two sisters who both have three kids each and who also both happen to be great writers. In her response to my comment, Sarah wrote this: “It’s a fine balance between griping about motherhood when you need the release and reveling in it because you realize how lucky you are. In the end I have to believe that as long as I am honest about it – in good times AND bad, that I’m doing okay. If I focus on one or the other too much, I’m not honest. And if I subscribe to any one of these posts any more than the next, I’m also limiting myself.”
I agree with Sarah that if we subscribe any more to one moment of our lives than another, we are limiting ourselves. Very true. I am more than my latest blog post, mood, or parenting experience.
On the other hand, don’t I have a choice about which one I focus on?
And don’t I have a hand in creating the kind of life I want…partly by choosing which feelings and experiences I want to have going forward?
I absolutely have bad moments. Sometimes I vent. Sometimes I rant. Occasionally I even rant and rave. I gripe about minor things, I play the martyr, I feel sorry for myself, I sometimes collapse under the always-growing pile of other people’s needs and wants and find myself sniveling at the bottom of the heap, chanting “it’s not FAIR it’s not FAIR it’s not FAIR.”
But for the most part, I’ve found that venting is not the relief or release I hope it’ll be. Often quite the opposite, in fact.
There are days that I live inside a vent, and they are—for the most part—really bad days. I groan when I look at the alarm clock, then shuffle out to the kitchen and think about how much I need some caffeine before I break a pencil over somebody’s head. I feel anxious that the baby might wake up before I get in my cup of tea and a few moments of quiet. I look out the window and utter another sigh when I consider bringing all the kids out into the cold or slush or wind. I take a look at my to-do list for the day and consider how I never seem to have a day just to hang out and relax and oh my God did the big boys really forget to start the dishwasher again, and what is it with the pee on the toilet seat, and how come I’m out of my favorite tea and NO NO NO WHAT IS THAT SOUND IS THE BABY UP ALREADY?
See what I mean? One little injustice or annoyance stacking on top of another. And the days that I really hone in on this part of the truth; the days I dig my claws into that vent and hold on for dear life…those are the days I end up so full of the unfairness of this hot steaming pile of crud sandwich that life can be that I can barely stand it. The vent starts to write itself. All the unfairness of it. The messes and indignities. The drama. The boredom.
So I’ve learned to reframe my truth. Because the kids that peed on the seat and dirtied the bowls are sitting there in rumpled jammies and the baby is smiling expectantly at me with her flushed morning cheeks and everybody is waiting for my cue to start the day…and what else am I gonna do? I could remind them all how much it stinks to sit in their pee (which, yes, I sometimes do) and I could tell the baby that I really don’t appreciate it when she doesn’t let me finish my tea. But that wouldn’t change the fact that the day has to start, that I’m in charge, and that we’ll all be a lot happier (yes, me included) if I can just let it go. And if I can do that, if I can let all that bad stuff go even just for a moment..well, there’s not much of a point bringing it back up later, is there?
Is my approach less honest? Maybe. But I prefer to think of it as self-preservation. In every person’s life there is more than one truth. And there is a lot of room for creating your own truth, a truth you can live with and a truth that the people around you can live with. My kids raise my blood pressure, ask too much of me, make a mess and behave like uncivilized monkeys. Their existence brings a long list of needs: groceries, doctors’ appointments, notes from school, dinners to be made, laundry to do, fights to referee and floors to clean. But those things are not going to stop happening no matter how unfair they are, no matter how hard I vent. And they’re only part of the truth.
For me it’s not about pretending everything is wonderful or glossing over the hard parts of parenting. I love a good one-line gripe on Twitter. When I get together with my mom friends we share good-natured jabs at our kids and spouses and responsibilities and lives. And when there’s a problem that has an actual potential solution (a relationship issue, or a discipline problem, for example) it can be really helpful to talk it over with other people who’ve been there. Venting has a place in my life, for sure.
But I just can’t live inside a vent anymore. I did once upon a time, when my children were younger and I was more shell-shocked by how HARD and NEVER-ENDING it all is and just needed somebody, anybody, to relate to what I was going through. And the more I wrote and the more they related the more I crawled into my vent and lived and breathed it and it became my life.
At some point, though, I realized that the venting never brought me as much satisfaction as I’d hoped for. Instead it just made the bad parts seem to last longer, because I was still talking about them days later. Even commiseration, I realized, was cold comfort. Turns out I didn’t really need others to agree with me that life stunk. I just wanted to no longer feel as though my life stunk. And the only way I could make that happen was by writing my own motherhood story—one I actually wanted to live inside.
Maybe that’s not true for you. Maybe for you venting is more like sticking a fork in that potato in the microwave: safer for everybody involved than risking an explosion. But if you see yourself at all in my words, I invite you to spend a week or two not venting. Just see what happens if you “act as if” life isn’t so bad. Look at life not as a series of bad and annoying things that happen to you without your permission, but instead experiences you can choose to participate in on your own terms.
Just give it a try. You can always go back to venting. Believe me, I sometimes do. I just prefer not to. Not because I’m the Happiest Mom in the World, but because for me, too much venting is a sure way to think I never could even come close.