Sunday, December 15, 2013

My Letter to the Today show! "What do women need?"

Just shy of two weeks ago, I was home on a sick day.  This sick day was needed for both physical and mental health reasons, so when I turned on the Today show I found that the segment I watched really hit home.  Maria Shriver was on, talking about an upcoming series called "Doing It All".  She asked the question "What do women need" to do it all?  To me, hearing this question asked- even on television where logically I knew she wasn't talking specifically *to me*, was sort of like the floodgates opening after a rainstorm.  I opened up a new email, addressed it to the Today show, and let loose.

I was surprised last week to actually hear from the Today show.  They wanted to ask me some follow up questions and said they will get back to me *if* they can fit an interview or video of myself and my sisters into this series.  Disclaimer: Don't anybody get too excited!  I am literally on the other side of the country for them, which poses a bit of a challenge.  Whether I ever hear from them or not, it was really nice to feel like when I was frustrated, someone listened.

I've hesitated to share this for 2 reasons: 1) It's personal and, frankly, was written on a day when I felt like a wagon rolling downhill with the wheels falling off; 2) I kinda put Dusty through the wringer because it had been a bad morning and I was frustrated.  He has many excellent traits as a husband (not mentioned in the letter).  Getting up early is not one of them (mentioned in the letter).

After some thought and feedback, though, I have decided TO share this letter for 2 reasons: 1) I feel like I am far from the only mother on the planet who feels like all the balls up in the air could come crashing down at any minute; and 2) when we don't talk about that feeling, it feels isolating and sometimes shameful.

So, without further ado, here is the letter that I recently sent to the Today show:

Women can do it all, because we have to.  But how long can we sustain that role?  We need help recharging and managing the "big stuff" so that the little stuff doesn't bury us.

For 10 years I have been a part of an online message board meant for moms.  The board is full of women from all walks of life, different areas of the country (and world), and many different views on life.  It often seems that we have three things in common, collectively: 1) We are moms; 2) We love our families and they keep us busy; 3) We are one blow (work or health crisis, divorce, financial hardship, etc.) from watching our house of cards fall around us.  It is a common thing on this board to see a post titled "I can't do this!", followed by message after message saying "yes, you can!  You are fabulous, you'll get through this.".  

We all take our turns as example, disaster and cheerleader.  For many women, the support of other women- whether it be best friends, family, church groups or an online message board- is what picks us back up when the world is threatening to swallow us up.  And other women offer the unique ability to support us, because we know they have been there, done that.

I am a 31 year old married mother of 2 boys, ages 7 and 10.  I am the manager of a non-profit, donation based Meals On Wheels site responsible for feeding around 325 seniors a day.  Additionally, I've been on crutches for a month as doctors try to figure out why I am dealing with severe hip pain.  With all the tests and specialist appointments, lately I have been feeling completely overwhelmed by life and all it is throwing my way.  Between keeping up my long work hours on top of all my doctor's appointments, the physical challenge of mothering and managing without walking, and the defeating pressure that all the added medical bills put on me, every once in awhile I feel like I will crack.  Monday was one of those days for me.  I worked 12 painful hours, came home exhausted and ready to be with my family, only to fall asleep before we could get to watching a Christmas movie.  

After another procedure to figure out what is going on with my hip Wednesday, followed by a tearful "I am drowning in stress, pain and exhaustion" conversation with my HR person, I am off for a sick day.  I just sent my children to school.  My 7 year old needed money for a book fair, and thank goodness my husband had some cash in his wallet.  I feel obligated to do things like give my children book fair money- I know it isn't a substitute for the attentive mom I was before I went back to work, but it's what I can offer.  My ADHD 10 year old is starting down the tween attitude path and spent the morning lamenting how unfair I am for all the various hardships I impose on him- having to be ready for school on time, no sleepovers until grades are better, etc.  My husband woke up just in time to say goodbye to the kids after I had done all the work getting them ready.  

Normally I would be going in to the office now, where I would focus on feeding seniors and, often more importantly, providing a safe and happy place for them to socialize for 4 hours.  To feed them coffee and lunch, I typically work 9-11 hours a day, 5 days a week.  When I get home, I hope and pray that dinner is already made.  If it isn't, I look around and find something to cook so that we can move on to homework, cuddle time, bedtime stories and managing sibling arguments.  Usually after the kids are in bed, I sit with my Chromebook and checkbook and try to figure out how to cover all the bills- medical, especially- that add up to a constant weight on my shoulders.  I am unbelievably thankful that my mother, who is retired and lives 5 blocks away, helps me with the laundry and housekeeping that I would be hard pressed to get to.  I know not all working families have a grandma to help around the house 2 or 3 afternoons a week, and I hope I can be that grandma when my children are grown.

Two weeks ago my 7 year old had to have an abcess tooth removed.  He had been telling me that his tooth was "a little sore" for two weeks, but I just kept thinking "I'll call tomorrow"- and it got lost in the mix.  I felt like a failure as a parent when the dentist told us how bad his tooth really was.  We got a lecture about how we should be monitoring tooth brushing- I didn't realize we weren't.  I always tell my kids "ok, go brush your teeth!"...but that is usually said while I am trying to get myself ready, pack lunches and feed the dog.  I thought I was being attentive.  The abcess tooth really hit home.  Sometimes I drop the ball, and my kids pay the price.  It hurts and I just hope they will look back as adults and forgive me.  

My younger sister is in her 3rd year of medical school.  She has a 15 month old son and another child due in the spring.  She and her husband timed the pregnancies so that she would only have to delay her career 1 year.  With $250K student loan debt by the time she is a doctor, they wouldn't be able to start a family until very late in life had they waited to finish her schooling first.  My sister is an amazing, strong woman.  She works so hard and genuinely wants to be a doctor to help people.  But she worries that her son will see her mother in law as more of a mother figure than her, since young family finances with one of them in school has forced she and her husband to live with his parents until they move on to her residency.   Everyone praises my sister for her amazing ability to handle school and motherhood, but I know that she sometimes wants to break down and just go home to hold her child.  Her days off are so fleeting that she cherishes them and can't possibly fit all the family time she wants into her schedule right now.

My older sister is a stay at home mom of 2 children, a 5 year old girl and a 8 year old boy with sensory integration disorder and life threatening food allergies.  She volunteers at school, is heavily involved in the PTA, helps with the local wrestling team that her husband coaches and still somehow struggles to feel confident in how valuable her work is.  Lately her son has been bullied and she feels helpless and frustrated that even as a super involved parent she can't save him from this struggle.  She has the family focused life that my younger sister and I envy, yet she is lacking the feeling of personal success that we rely on to get us through missing our children.  My older sister plays a very important role in her world, but she is exhausted and undervalued by herself and her family.

In summary, we can't win.  We all feel guilty for something, and we all struggle with feelings of being inadequate.  We all tend to put the world before us, and we are all exhausted.  I feel confident that this statement applies to most women, not just those that I know and speak to personally.  So what do we need, to help deal with these feelings?

We need support.  My sisters and I are lucky to have that support in our parents, but I know not all women have that.  Our husbands try to support us and often do, but our roles in society are so different that they don't always understand the depth or reasons behind the feelings and realities we struggle with.  Women can support each other, but only when we have time to nurture those supportive relationships.

We need healthcare.  I know so many moms who have battled with mental health problems, physical challenges and illnesses that can often be the card that makes the house tumble.  We need access to healthcare- both in terms of time to see a doctor, supportive employers to allow us to get to appointments, and health insurance which makes care financially possible.  I personally feel lucky to have insurance through my employer, however, after paying $500/month for coverage for my children and I, the extra $300-500/month I spend on bills and prescriptions has me in the habit of asking "can I afford to go to the doctor?".

We need knowledge.  We need to know how to deal with the challenges that come our way.  Dealing with a child's health problem, a financial challenge in our household or trying to learn how to live a healthier lifestyle can feel incredibly isolating.  We need support groups and non-judgemental information.

We need affordable education, so that we have the opportunity to grow personally as well as know that we are setting our children up for successful futures.

We need steady job opportunities.  Because we want to break the glass ceiling, but it's hard to do from outside the building.

We need respect from our peers and loved ones in regards to our career choices.  We need to know that staying home to care for loved ones is a valuable career, and being a financial provider for the family is a career.  The world needs all kinds of women who makes all kinds of career choices.

Mostly, we need a strong message from society: You are valuable.  You are important.  What you do, the world notices.

The segment on the Today show this morning really hit home.  What do I need?  I need rest, relief from medical bills and assurance that it's ok if I drop the ball now and then, as long as I'm trying.  What do women need?  Someone to ask that question.

I hope and pray that anyone who may be having a hard time with this parenting gig can read this letter and relate to at least something in it.  I'm not intending to hurt feelings or complain or ask for anything...It's just that, after sharing this letter with the above-referenced mommy board, I realized that some women find it helpful to know that they aren't alone.  I'm one of those women, too.  So I am putting this out there and hoping that if having written this letter does nothing else, I hope it helps one woman to feel that she is not alone if she feels overwhelmed sometimes.

Merry Christmas!