Relationships are hard in general. We're all walking around with all these different ideas of what it takes to be in a relationship, what we think is normal, and what we think is healthy. Sometimes we think both are the same. We grew up with our parent's marriage being the prime example of what we think it means to be in a relationship. How do they love each other? How do they show that? How affectionate were they with each other? How do they communicate with each other? How do they handle conflict? How do they prioritize each other? How did they communicate with you? How did they handle conflict with you? How did they react to you when you were expressing your emotions? Like when you were crying a lot, when you were angry, or when you were frustrated? What about when you were happy? Were you even allowed to express your emotions outside of happiness? Personally, my parents were not comfortable with emotions. Something I believe is really common among people whose parents were immigrants.
Our emotions are so full of life lessons. If we really took the time to understand them, to allow ourselves to express ourselves fully, we’d have everything we need. But as kids, if your parents are not comfortable with their own emotions (and maybe their parents didn't allow them to express their emotions fully - beyond smiling, laughing and being the obedient child), then naturally, they're going to feel triggered when their kids or someone else exhibits intense emotions.
I don't blame my parents at all whatsoever. They did their best given what they knew and what they were equipped with. I'm coming from this place of not growing up knowing how to process my emotions or how to deal with my emotions in a healthy way. I would explode anytime I got angry. I would blame, be passive-aggressive, critical, all the things that are not very pleasant to be around when someone's angry. My thought process was “this is what I witnessed, so this is what I do.” But I have kids now and I don't want that for them. I want to be able to handle their emotions. I want to be able to hold space for their experience because anger and sadness are just as normal as happiness and joy, as are grief and guilt and shame. It's all normal and because of our upbringing, that's what really causes us to avoid and suppress certain ones and highlight other ones.
We all hear social media is just the highlight of people's lives because not everyone is open to sharing their vulnerabilities to be real in saying, "Hey, life sucks sometimes, and right now I'm going through it, or right now I'm doing healing work." I want to create this space where we all feel safe to do that because if you're here, you're likely also trying to break the generational cycle of allowing your kids to really be themselves so that when they're older, they're not like us.
It's impacted so much of my life, and it's impacting how I am as a mother, how I show up as a wife, and it's impacting how confident I feel to try new things. We're in this space where we're caught in the middle, where we don't know where to go, we don't know what to do, but we know we want something different. All of that plays a part in why relationships are hard.
Did you categorize what they did as normal? Did you like it? Or did you vow to do things vastly different because it was all kinds of messed up? We're all a reaction to how we were brought up. Even in motherhood, "oh, I'm never gonna do that. I'm never going to talk to my kids like that. I'm never going to spank them." We're all a reaction to what we experienced.
Then you've got your spouse's version of what they think relationships are like, how they work and how they move through life, the decisions they make, their opinions, their approach, all of it. As you spend time and experience life together, you start to learn about the similarities and differences between your beliefs on relationships and parenting, and form new ones that work for your relationship and grow together. And most times, the learning process isn't fun. Conflict brings out this side of us. There are so many different ways we can approach problems, but it's always stemming from experiencing frustration and being upset. There is no shortage of emotions. There's your version, their version, and then you somehow come together and ask yourselves, how do we do this? How do we want to navigate conflict? How do we want to check in with each other? How do we want to prioritize our relationship and how much time we spend with ourselves, with our friends, with our passions, with us? How effective of a communicator am I?
Relationships are complex. We as individuals are already complex, and then you add kids, and what do kids do? They need a lot. It's not like you give birth to them and all of a sudden, they can walk already, feed themselves and you can just leave. So when we have kids, something inside of us shifts, we take on this new identity, where we get tunnel vision. As soon as I had my son, I was like, “OMG, you're this helpless being I love so so much, and I just need to take care of every little thing for you, because you cannot help yourself. This is my responsibility, so I'm going to give up parts of myself, unknowingly, to take care of you to raise you how I feel like you should be raised.”
I stopped brushing my hair, I stopped caring about how I dressed, and I stopped making time for friends. I lost myself in motherhood. And I know you're probably reading this nodding your head, you're like this is exactly my life. Because this is exactly how society has told us how it works. Society has taught us that mothers carry most of the load. Society has told us that motherhood is about being a great mom. And that comes first, so when we become moms, we have less time and we have less energy.
What happens as a result of that? We're less patient, less understanding, less loving, less kind, less curious, less fun. We become this shell of a person when we enter motherhood. I feel like we should be able to do motherhood in a way that nourishes us as women while being a good role model for our kids to look up to while acknowledging that we are human, and we make mistakes.
As we have kids, our time is stretched. There's no doubt that they take up a lot of time, whether you're dealing with diapers, you're dealing with shuttling your kids around to sports stuff, or anything in between. You definitely have less time. But it doesn't mean that you have no time and it also doesn't mean that it has to look like how you think it should.
I love the phrase "stop shoulding all over yourself". We put so much expectation and pressure on ourselves because of what we've seen from our mothers, what we've learned from society, and the judgment we think other people have of us. I just want to release you from all of that and let you know that you literally get to decide what works for you and your family. That should be the only deciding factor on how you do motherhood and life. Your kids will want everything to do with you and as a parent, you need to have the foresight to know when you are at your happiest. Imagine, you take care of yourself and you eat well. You care about your health, you give yourself that alone time that you need to decompress to start off the day on a good foot. You go hang out with your friends regularly, you go on solo vacations with your partner, and you connect with them, you date them on a regular basis, and you get time to connect with your kids.
Versus, a classic version of mothers, you wake up when the kids wake you up, you take care of them all day long, and then at the end of the night, when they're in bed, you sit there tired as hell, binge-watching Netflix, scrolling on your phone on Instagram, then you go to bed, and then rinse and repeat.
Yes, read that again. Relationships are hard with kids because of a lack of prioritization. We are taught to prioritize our children. When really you should be prioritizing yourself. What makes you the best you? That's what's going to make you the best mom, the best partner. Love yourself most. That's what's going to help you experience life the best way possible. You being at your happiest is the best thing you can do for your family.
When kids come into the picture, we're so exhausted, cranky, easily irritable, easily triggered, then all of a sudden, it just feels like you hate your partner, you're annoyed and feel unsupported. You don't feel seen and all these problems seem to amplify.
As you can see, self-care and loving yourself most has such an impact on how you experience your life, marriage, and motherhood. I'm not exempt from feeling all this, just because I do things differently. I still feel it, and that's when you have push through the temporary discomfort and know that your long-term goal supersedes this temporary discomfort. It's kind of like when you're working out. You really want to get stronger at the time, but when you're trying to build your strength, it sucks, it hurts, it's uncomfortable, you want to quit, you just want to do what's easiest, but you have to hold on to that goal and that vision to carry you through. So hold onto that vision of wanting to have a successful partnership with your partner. Even after the kids are older, I want to be retired and love this man more than I have ever before knowing we made it through all this.
But it's in the little decisions that you make because you care about yourself, you love yourself most and want a strong relationship now. Our kids need examples of us being happy. We need to be happy, this is not a sacrifice. This is the one chance that we have, and we've got to make it mean something. So do the work, figure out your stuff, and experience more joy. Whether it's with or without your spouse. But do the work and figure it out.
Whether you are revamping your relationship, and it just feels brand new and it's amazing or you're figuring it out so that you can get on with your life (however that looks like: moving onto more compatible partners or strengthening what you've got). Check in with yourself about how you might be adding a lot of pressure on yourself as a mother.
Free yourself from the pressures that you're applying and really ask yourself, “how do I want them to grow up to become? What actions do I need to take? How do I need to be in order for them to be like that? What's the minimum I need to do in order to do that? And what do they need to see from me as a human being doing for myself, to create a positive, healthy future for them in their relationships, in their own self experience of themselves?” Choose to love yourself most, despite all the fears, all the anxiety, all the judgments that you are making of yourself.
Know that it is that foundation that's going to create a good childhood for them. It's not you guys being married. It's you being happy. If you choose to stay married, it's you being good partners to each other: romantic and co-parenting. That's why marriage is so dang hard with kids and know that I got your back.
I hope that you are giving yourself a lot more grace and compassion because as you can see, this is not all on us. However, it is our responsibility to realize that this is where you’re starting and what you need to know in order to experience your life and relationships how you want to.