Friday, March 21, 2008

Looking Together Vs. Having It Together

The posts and comments on Ask Moxie the last couple of days, plus some emails on the side and some comments IRL, have got me thinking about the difference between looking like you have it together and really having it together.

For example, my officemate at work told me recently that she never would have known I had PPD if I hadn't told her. She said I always seem so happy and cheerful (she might have even used the word "chipper"). And I'm sure I usually do... at work. It's home where I crash when I'm feeling depressed or even just down. It's in the privacy of my own home where I melt down and cry or sit on the couch and zone out not looking at anything. It's home where Londo has to make sure I've eating something, makes sure I go to bed, makes sure I'm really honestly alright (or not).

So many of us put on our best show for the outside world. So often parents who are incredibly sleep deprived go out in the world and try to appear like they have it together, when underneath they are "hazy foggers." Since about high school, I personally have develop this habit of dressing extra nice when I'm feeling really bad. For me, it's a way to help me feel better by at least looking nicer than I feel and also to put up a facade so the world doesn't know just how rough I'm doing.

And the facade I put up is often more than just the physical appearance. One of my best friends IMed me after reading a post I wrote recently about how much better I was feeling. She said she didn't realize just how bad I was feeling. She said I kind of mention that I've not been feeling well and when she asks I say I'm fine. I realized that this is because I don't really talk about how bad I'm feeling until I feel better (with everyone except Londo). Once I'm feeling better, then I can share that I was feeling really depressed or whatever I was feeling. But by that time, when people ask how I am or if they can help, I doing better and don't need help.

For me, my depression is tied to the Seasonal Affective Disorder (and recently to the PPD), and therefore come every winter. I guess in my head, people who know this about me should simply know that in the winter I am not doing well. But people forget, and I act fine on the outside. To be honest, I don't know how else to act. I can't have a breakdown at work or when I'm out in public, because it would be putting myself on display. Who's going to want to do that? In most cases, people do act like they've got it somewhat together in public.

So when I see other moms looking like they have it all under control, I rarely believe that they really do. I never assume that everyone else handles this parenting thing just fine, that it's just me who has a hard time. I know that not all babies are as fussy as mine, but I do know that most babies go through sleep regressions, teething, sicknesses, terrible twos/threes, and just general grumpiness. Moms who look perfect and seem to be able to juggle everything with a smile--I think it's great that can look like they have it together! Do they really have it together? Maybe, but probably they are struggling with the same things I am, you are, everyone is. For all I know, I might look as put together as they do--and on occassions I might even feel that together!

But the one thing that makes me sad is when we verbally lie to each other. Now, I understand that people don't want to share their troubles with random strangers. But if someone I know were to look at me and say that being a mom isn't that hard, that they can handle everything, that they really do have it all together, I will believe them. If they are lying, that makes me sad. I guess people do it because they don't want advice or for others to think they can't handle being a parent. I understand that, but if we don't share how hard this can be with each other, how will we ever know that it is normal to struggle? That it's normal to have a baby that doesn't sleep through the night? That it is normal to feel down? That you are not alone in having PPD or other emotional problems?

I'm rambling, I know. But I'm tired, because we are in a bit of a sleep regression. I really am circling around two points:
1. I think it's important we don't judge a book by its cover. Especially when the person we end up judging is ourselves because we don't think we have it together like so-and-so.
2. I think it's equally important that we are honest with each other. We aren't afraid to say, "My child is fussy, she is not sleeping, and this parenting thing isn't easy." The more of us who are honest with each other, who put ourselves out there as not "perfect," the better we will be as a community of people.

Of course, for my second point to work, we have to be less judgemental of other people and be willing to ignore those who are judgemental. They are either lying to you or themselves or simply don't know what it's like to be in your shoes. They are not your target audience. But there might be someone listening, some other parent or soon-to-be parent that hears you and what you say makes all the difference in the world to them.

10 comments:

Becoming Mommy said...

hear! hear!
Although I haven't had the struggles you have (no SAD, and no PPD--I don't think), it's still impossible to keep it all together really.

caro said...

This is so important to think about. I have such a hard time believing the whole rest of the world doesn't have it 100% together, because they all certainly look like they do from here! I like your call for honesty.

I can also really relate to the not really talking about how bad you were feeling until you're better. Not sure what to do about that one. Talking about it always seems so futile in the thick of it.

Cloud said...

Right on!

Seriously, sometimes I feel like I have it together. Sometimes I do not. I don't think the average observer could tell the difference- I am very good at projecting having it togetherness. (This was a skill I needed on the job at one time, and it carries over, just like my dreadful habit of calling people "resources".)

I try to be as honest IRL as I am online, because I think other parents should hear the truth. But I also try not to freak out pregnant women too much with horror stories- so I walk this line of saying how hard it is, but that there are tricks to make it doable. I'm not sure I always hit the right place, but I do try!

La folle maman said...

You really have a way of putting up posts that are timely for things I'm experiencing at the moment.

Today I went into the office for a meeting and a co-worker of mine who just entered her third trimester was asking me questions. I could tell she was really nervous about the whole thing because neither her or her husband have family in the U.S. or many friends in this area. I was trying to assure her that "Yes, it's scary but you'll do fine." She said to me, "You make it look so easy."

I paused because I always thought I looked like a wreck each time I go into the office (which until about a month ago was with my son in tow). I said, "Oh that's just a facade. Sometimes on the inside, I'm freaking out." More like, MOST of the time. I just hope I didn't send too much of a mixed message to her this afternoon.

Then after picking Monkey up from the sitter's, I was marvelling at how "put together" our sitter seems. I mean the woman was washing WINDOWS at 8 o'clock this morning when I dropped him off!! AND she had obviously organized her entire garage sometime between Wednesday and this morning for her son's birthday party this afternoon! And she has 3 boys of her own, who BTW, are all off from school this week! I'm constantly telling DH about how she just HANDLES it, whatever IT may be. I say how much I wish I could be like that because whatever it is, she's calm and collected or firm when needed. I'm spending half of my time not showing how flustered I am because I fear that's what he's remembering about mommy!

Guess we all have these questions and doubts in our minds. I'm sure our sitter does as well. And I agree totally that we should be able to show our imperfections without feeling guilty, ashamed or worried about judgemental comments from others, especially other mothers.

cynthia said...

Great post. I think that sometimes, we say that everything is fine or put on the "facade" maybe to convince ourselves that everything is under control. I know that as soon as I show it on the outside to others, I start doubting myself even more, and then it's a huge spiral. If I can just tell myself that I'm doing okay, and have it all under control, then maybe it will start to come true sometime...

BrooklynGirl said...

Well said.

OneTiredEma said...

Just based on the crowd at preschool pickup and dropoff, everyone is putting up a front; I really believe that. If someone is really sick or really upset you can tell, but other than that everyone shrugs and says "Oh, I'm fine, just tired." But most of these people are just my acquaintances, not people I consider friends.

[FWIW I certainly have been spreading the gospel about "normal" babies/kids for a long time: they DO wake up a lot, they DO still nurse past 1 year, they DO sometimes make you want to cry in frustration. "You should read Ask Moxie, etc."]

I walk home every day with my neighbor, who has become a close "mommy friend"--she and I come closer to knowing the real score about each other (how many times up during the night, which kid isn't eating, which in-law is crazy, which kid is about to be sold to the circus, etc.) Even then, while we talk about everything to do with the kids, we don't talk about things beyond that--like trying to balance a marriage and friendships and not losing a sense of identity in the whole SAHM gig. (I have another local friend for that--but I only see her about once a month.)

It's hard. Like you said ;-) And I hope I wouldn't judge if someone told me she needed help! We're all in it together, in a sense.

Shellie said...

I heartily agree. Don't judge, do your best, accept the rest and be real. Remember you're not alone at all. When people say I don't know how you do it all, I say, I don't do it all at once. I am only on top of one thing at a time while the rest of the house is burning down around me. :)

sheSaid.purplehouseonpearl.com said...

I just read the top of this and I have to say. ECHO! when I am doing the worst I rarely share it with anyone but marc... It is really nice to hear I am not alone on that one... and I think will make it easier to reach out.

Terry said...

PPD and PMS definitely have wreaked havoc in my life! I, too, am doing "just fine" during it, but not really. I went on bioidentical progesterone to help after my last baby and there was an amazing difference in how I felt. Plus, I exercised 4+ times a week, and took B6. My daughter suffered from it with her baby that is now 18 months old. I had told her what to do to help and she didn't keep it up and crashed about 6 months postpartum. I reminded her about the progesterone and she started it, noticing a difference within 2-3 days. I can tell you her husband is a believer!