I used to be the “I can do it all” mom who just hadn't figured out the sweet spot of how to actually getting it all done. But I was determined. I was going to work, be the cook, maid, teacher, cuddler, disciplinarian, play friend, and everything else you want to be as a mother. I was going to do it all. Myself. I thought I could do it because I wanted to be a strong mom.
And then everything changed.
In June, my 5-week-old son was diagnosed with cancer. The “I can do it all” mom turned into the “just happy to survive the day” mom. With a 3-year-old girl also at home, I have had to juggled my baby’s hospital visits (21 days in two months), constant doctors appointments, detailed at-home medical care, and emotional turmoil from not only me, my husband and my daughter.
It’s tested me as a woman, a wife, and a mom. But it’s ended up being weirdly great. Because above all, it’s shown me what real strength is.
Real mom strength is, my friends, realizing your weaknesses, and then asking for help over and over again. It’s not doing it all. It’s not being super woman. It’s humbling yourself for the sake of your children.
When your child has cancer, and your other child is going through something fierce, it’s a massive, beat you up behind the bleachers reality check. There is no more worrying over the unnecessaries of life.
No more rushing around to get the house clean because a friend is going to stop by for a quick visit or complaining that my daughter won’t keep the bow in her hair. Priorities are now giving medical care at home, long hospital stays, keeping structure for the preschooler left behind, and just trying to get through the day without being an emotional mess. And this isn’t just going to be a short term life crisis. This is our new normal, for at least the next year if not much, much, longer.
First things first, I had to admit that I couldn’t do it all.
This was gut-wrenching honesty to myself that I had to deal with. I thought if I couldn’t do it all, it meant there was something wrong with me. I was not only just not a strong mom, but a bad one. But it took cancer to teach me that, being humble may be incredibly hard, but it’s the absolute best thing you could do as a mom.
I can't keep up with my baby's at-home medical care and still have the elaborate craft or activity ready for 3-year-old everyday. I can't keep the house clean, especially the parts that need to be sterile, on my own and actually pay attention to my children. I don't have the time to do those extra volunteer projects at church anymore. I don't have the emotional energy to be there for my friends 24/7. There was no way I could make dinner from scratch almost every night anymore. Especially because most days I wasn’t home to do it, I was in the hospital with the baby.
The list goes on and on.
So with my pride in my hands, I learned to ask for help.
I had to have someone come in and start helping me clean my house. I never have been able to figure out how to have the whole perfectly clean house thing, but I tried. If I was going to be this reluctant stay-at-home mom, I should be able to keep the house clean, right? But now the stakes were higher. As my son is going through chemo his immunity drops to scary levels, and germs, mold and pollen become our most feared enemies. A simple fever could put him in the hospital. My stubbornness from pride wasn’t good enough anymore, especially after this sudden tidal wave of overwhelming life hitting. I have had to accept that I wasn’t able to do it and ask for help.
Initially there were lots of medical costs we couldn't cover. Hat in hand, as people asked how they could help, I had to say money. There were times I cried over this. I never have felt good at asking for money. But we needed it. So I did it.
I couldn’t find the words to tell my daughter that her new little brother had cancer. I had to ask a Child Life Specialist from the hospital, who even sat with us when we told her.
I am not seeing a therapist regularly, and have started on anti-depressants. I got to the point where I would have days of just crying and started getting panic attacks over relatively nothing. So, I needed help managing my emotions and stress. I couldn’t function as a mom if I didn’t.
I have been in and out of the hospital so much, I have had to ask my parents not only to take my daughter for almost weeks at a time, but to, *gasp* potty train her. We have been working on it for months now, but keep getting interrupted by all our life drama. She needed to just get it done. As her mom, I should be able to potty train her myself, but I have not been there as much as I would like. So instead of wishing or making the situation worse by continuing the complete lack of consistency, I had to ask someone else to do it.
I could write a book about this summer. Maybe one day I will (self-publishing is cool these days, right?). A lot of it is on my blog already. Having a child with cancer seemed like the scariest thing in the world. And it’s incredibly hard, but somehow we are all surviving.
Bottom line: The awesome thing about moms is they do what they need to do. No ifs, and’s, or but’s about it. They get it done. But the last couple of month’s I have learned that sometimes “doing it all” also means asking for help. And it will make you stronger in the end.
Jennifer Armitage is a blogger at The Bad at Cleaning Blog, where she writes about being a former career addict turned stay-at-home mom of two trying to battle the insanity of life one chore at a time. She is also a wannabe writer, pastor's wife, total geek, and a list of other weird titles. If you want to chat with her go to her blog, email her at Badatcleaning@gmail.com, or like her Facebook page.