How to be a Sad Mom

by Danielle Veith

Do you ever have crying days?

Whole days where you can’t snap out? Where your face alternates between wet mess and tears-dried-stiff all day? Really low days when the slightest thing would push you right flat on the ground?

Days when you can’t do the dishes, can’t make dinner, can’t play a game with your kid? When you can't do more than just exist? 

And by exist, I mean watch Gilmore Girls or the West Wing again and again. So you can cry and your crying has some context. Do you have days when the just-barely-a-story plots of HGTV shows suddenly move you to tears?

One thing I loved about living in New York City is that you can walk around and cry and no one will bother you. No one will stop you or ask you what’s wrong. In the land of postage stamp apartments, sunglasses pass for privacy.

To outsiders it may seem cold, but I think New Yorkers respect the difference between an actual emergency requiring intervention and allowing another human being to have a bad day without having to answer to anyone.

The suburban version, as far as I’ve surmised, is to drive around in your car, going nowhere, listening to sad songs on the radio.

For me, there just are days like these. I imagine there always will be. But parenthood complicates, as it does.

Before I was a mom, on days like this, I would wander drug store aisles for an hour before I even thought about what I was doing. It somehow seemed like the best way to fake looking like a functional human being. I mean, I was there, so I must have been doing errands, right? That’s a thing productive members of society do. Errands. Very respectable.

Being a mom makes being sad harder. It makes everything harder, really, but this thing in particular. Anyone with a kid can tell you—there’s no wandering aimlessly around a drug store for an hour time. Often, there’s no alone at all. Someone is always there, no matter what kind of day you’re having. 

When my kids were really little, on days like this, I would drive and cry, so they couldn't see my face. When they got older, the hiding places changed—kitchen, bathroom, wherever I could pretend I was busy doing normal things—even if the bad days didn’t.

Once they are old enough to know that they are not the only person in the world, kids turn into little mirrors, looking back at you, with their little faces matching your expression.

And you have to think about what you want them to see when they see you. Is it ok for them to see you cry? How often? And how can you explain it? Because those “why” questions come as soon as they can speak.

I think it's important for kids to see open, honest emotion. I don’t mind arguing in front of the kids, or kissing or anything else that’s part of the ups and downs of life. I think it helps them recognize what to do with their own emotions.

But sometimes it’s something else. Sometimes you don’t know what to let them see. It gets complicated to pull it all apart, to figure out what normal sad looks like and when it goes too far.

But what’s a normal sad day? When is it ok to let your kids see you cry? And when does it cross over into something else?

It’s hard to be sad when you’re still expected to be a mother. To feel the pressure of being responsible for another human being even when you feel like crap. The kids are there either way, every day.

These are the days when it really helps to know that other moms—your friends—have days like these, too. I know only because I ask. Most people don’t want to tell other people that they did nothing all day because they just… couldn’t. 

If you’re not sleeping and can’t even put together a complete thought, let alone explain why you’re randomly crying, another mom can tell you—that’s just normal sad. Just a part of being a mom. Get some rest, it will pass.

If you find your mind veering into scary territory where you imagine everyone in your family dies and you are a sort of numb kind of relieved to start your life all over again, it helps to know that just about every mom who’s honest will tell you they’ve had that thought, too, if only in low moments here and there. Not to worry, you won’t stay long.  

If it helps to hear — on those hard days, when the constant, high-pitched sound of your daughter’s voice sometimes makes you want to curl inside your own body — that other mothers know that feeling, and it doesn’t make you a bad mom, then you know it’s just a normal hard mom day.

But sometimes I feel so sad that I feel like I can’t be a mother. I don’t want my kids to see that. Or worse, to feel that.

When it’s at its worst, when there have been too many bad days… When it's gets harder to hide… When it comes out as impatience and feels like hatred… When I shake and shake and it sticks (it can be so sticky)… When I can't see through… When I forget that it will end… When I'm not sure there will be an end… When it feels like the new normal, like I have always been this way, this is who I am, this always-sad person… I worry. I worry I can't be a mom, that it's too much, that I'm going to ruin them. I worry they’re going to see this, learn this.

This kind of crying is not something I want them to see. There’s no way to explain it. Nothing to attach it to. It just seeps out from center to surface. Like sometimes I just feel saturated, can't take in any more. It isn't honest—it's a betrayal, a symptom of a sickness I don't want to spread, a fragility I'm not proud of.

Motherhood takes its toll. Every day, whether you're ok or not, you have to make it to the end of the day anyway. You have to feed them and get them to sleep, whether you think you can or not.

Ultimately, that’s the part that makes you stronger—the marathon mom part. The strength you create that gets you there when you don’t think you’ll make it. The endurance you build by simply enduring. Because there is nothing else, because it’s what moms do. By making it through to the other side where you can see that you are strong, you can endure. Because you just did.


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