By Totum Founder, Erin Erenberg
We’ve all heard the cliches about moms putting everyone else first, forgetting themselves, being caught up in the many “thankless” tasks, logistics, and concerns of daily mothering. This usually presents itself as sacrifices in hygiene -- bad food, no sleep, no bra, no using the restroom without a tiny companion.
For me, putting myself last more often looks like appearing to “have it all together” for the sake of our kids’ sense of comfort and wellbeing. The real me lets it all out, with plenty of tears and talk, when things aren’t working. But lately I either (a) have a constant tiny audience or (b) am jamming through work-related tasks while paying someone to help me with the baby. There is no time block for letting it out, alone.
Most of us know someone who’s crippled by anxiety because his/her mom didn’t create a sense of wellbeing and safety in the home. I think I’m really worried about this for my kids because my parents did create a sense of safety and security, and the beauty of that gift has yielded returns well into my adulthood. I want to provide a similar sense for our kids. I want to put my positive role models to work.
So, because I don’t want George (6) and Arabella (4) to be anxious adults, I do things like turning on upbeat music and presenting a mellow outlook if we run dangerously late for drop off. I try to avoid arguing in front of them or double-back and talk through it when I lose my temper in their presence. But the downside is that I’m so focused on attuning to their ups and downs that I shove my feelings down where I think my kids can’t see them. The fallacy is not lost on me, but I’m trying my best.
And lately I’m not actually “ok.” You see, two of my very closest friends in the whole world -- Robin and Wendy -- have gone through mastectomies in the last 8 months. Just before turning 40. And until yesterday, I hadn’t even cried.
When living in Los Angeles, I heard so many people use the phrase “holding space,” and I didn’t know what that really meant until now. It seemed vaguely woo-woo and eye-roll. But for me, over the past months, it’s meant that I have this big, gaping morass of fear, hope, pain, loss, confusion, bewilderment, shock, disillusionment and love that I hold for two friends who are part of my soul.
I still see my friends Robin and Wendy in their late teens. Their beauty, vitality, brilliance, wit, grace and strength is irreplaceable and ageless. They’ve got smiles that make your heart dance, each a wicked sense of humor, and so loyal that I’ve never once questioned where I stand. They each have two boys. We all went to the same college but now live in 3 different countries. Despite distance and time, these girls are in my mind and heart every hour.
And this year, they each faced down breast cancer and feared for their lives.
Two days ago, on a Saturday, I sat with my coffee, in my robe, and just completely broke down. The tears wouldn’t stop. At first, our kids were stunned, and then ran over to me and held me, telling me it would be okay. As most moms do, I immediately felt a flood of worry and shame about losing my cool in front of my kids. But instead of pretending, I let it go.
Then I tried to convey my feelings with words they might understand. I told them that I was really sad for my friend. That my friend Robin was having a scary surgery in the hospital that day, and that I felt helpless in saving my friend from big feelings and scary thoughts. I told them that I was okay but that sometimes when we love our friends so much, it makes us cry when we know they are in pain.
There have been a lot of things happening in our lives in the past year -- new baby, new business, new home (to name a few). Meanwhile, there are major emotional realities at play for me that have nothing to do with my daily (pre)occupations. And one big one is grappling with two of my closest friends facing down cancer before turning 40.
Funny enough, my friend Robin is a brilliant doctor and is convinced that her diagnosis has something to do with some major losses in her life, both of which she feels she didn’t fully process. And Wendy faced horrible unexpected loss a few times in the last decade as well.
So in the spirit of facing pain head on, I’m sharing this with all of you. I don’t really have the answer to the question of how to feel and process painful adult realities when you’ve got a constant tiny audience. But I know that I need more friendship and understanding to work through it in a healthy way. So thank you for letting me share this with you. Thank you for “holding space” for me.
I’d love to hear from you about how you process your pain while prioritizing your babies. And I’d love to hear tips on how to best support friends going through breast cancer.
In this together,