It had been one of those days. Two weeks of waking every forty-five minutes to settle a sick baby had taken their toll, and I was beginning to feel the warning signs that a cold was in my future, too: the aching joints, the pounding head, that tickle in the throat and chest that hint at worse to come. All I wanted was a nap, but Katie would have none of it. I rocked her, sang to her, nursed her, did everything in my power to soothe her toward sleep, only to have her wail in my arms. She refused all my overtures despite her obvious exhaustion, despite the fact that it was late afternoon and she had napped for a mere thirty minutes throughout the day. Finally, after a solid hour, her cries turned to whimpers and her breathing deepened and I collapsed on the bed, her tiny form sprawled across my chest.
Jonathan found us like this ten minutes later, came home from work and peered at me in the semi-darkness of early evening with surprise and concern.
“Is everything ok?”
Though I tried to hold them back, the tears came then, and I choked out a description of how my day had gone, of my frustration, of my exhaustion. He kissed my forehead, whispered a command to rest and a promise to make dinner, and left, closing the door quietly behind him.
An ill-advised stop at Starbucks earlier in the day made sleep impossible, and so I lay there with my head back and my eyes closed, and I let my mind drift. My first thoughts were of gratitude – gratitude that I had a gracious and understanding husband, that I had the margin to rest for an hour before dinner because of him, that Katie was finally asleep. I wish I had stayed there, in that place. For as I thought back over the day, there in a moment of calm, when the frustration and tension had dissipated, it all seemed so small, so inconsequential. I weighed my actions against my own expectations of myself and found myself lacking.
I thought of what constitutes a rough day, about how I myself have experienced much worse things than a crying baby and a lack of sleep. I thought of how much harder it might have been, about how I might have had one or two or three or more kids to care for in addition to an inconsolable infant, about how I might not have had a husband who was so supportive and understanding. I thought about how I might not have had a husband at all, how I might have been a single parent, doing this thing on my own, struggling to make ends meet. I thought about how I might have been a mother who worked outside of the home, coming home from a long day at the office to chores and childcare and chaos. I thought about how I might have had a kid with a chronic illness or a disability, about the daily struggles and worry inherent in that situation. I thought about how I might not have had a child at all, how I might have been one of those who desperately want to give birth but just can’t conceive, about how I might have been in a place where I would give anything to have an inconsolable infant because that would mean at least I’d have an infant to hold.
And then my mind went farther down this rabbit hole, realized that all those situations assume the means to feed and clothe and protect our families, and I began to contemplate the billions in poverty, those who do not know where they will find their next meal, those who are unable even to give their children clean water to drink. I thought of how all of these women manage to face each day, manage to keep working hard and doing their best for their families. And about how I had fallen apart because my baby wouldn’t sleep, about how each of those women would likely scoff at my “rough” day. I could hear them in my mind: “You think that’s hard? Sweetheart, let me tell you about hard.”
All of this thinking did not help my mood any.
And I wonder now, from a place of (relative) rest and peace, why do I do this to myself? Why do I make these needless comparisons? Why must my rough day be placed on a continuum of rough days and, if it falls too far to one end, be something that was no big deal, something for which I must berate myself? How hard must a day be before I allow myself grace?
We speak of mommy wars, of women (and men) comparing the ways we parent, the choices we make, the roles we adopt. We bemoan the judgment, the bickering, the condemnation for those and from those whose lives and decisions are different from our own. We call for compassion and understanding. We encourage everyone to live and let live. When it comes right down to it, though, I wonder whether my own harshest critic is myself, whether I, myself, am the one to whom I most need to extend grace and kindness.
It is valuable to remind myself of all the blessings in my life, and to do so often, to be cognizant of those whose roads are more difficult than my own, to offer what love and support I can. In the midst of the daily grind, it is good to remember that this too shall pass, to put these ordinary trials into perspective. I should do everything I can to not wallow in self-pity, to not focus on the negative or the hard. I never want to take my husband and his love for me, his care of our family, his desire to give me rest, for granted.
But parenting is hard. No. It’s broader than that. Life is hard, and rough days come to everybody, no matter our station, no matter the road we walk. We all have times when we are overwhelmed, when pain hits or weakness strikes. This is why we need each other: to help carry the load on those rough days, whether that load is a crying baby or the loss of a loved one, a sore throat or a cancer diagnosis. On such days, it is good to rest in the care of those who love me, to allow them to express their concern by their actions. It is good to drop the comparisons even while remembering my blessings. It is good to show myself grace.