I blame Oprah. She told me to start a gratitude journal many years ago. It would change my life. Stress would be conquered. I would reap many benefits in all areas. Feel happy! Improve your sex life! Lose weight! Being grateful was the magic cure for it all. Of course, as a now-grateful person who lost interest quickly, I didn’t keep up with the written journal thing. But every article, every television segment told me the same thing: when you are stressed, focus on the positives. Focus on the things for which you are grateful. You don’t even need to actually write about it all, just make gratitude a way of life.
So I did.
And after ten or so years with the gratitude experiment, I want to say that gratitude kind of sucks.
OK, so I’ll clarify. Being grateful for what you have and what is around you on a daily basis is necessary. It makes you a decent human being. But for a person with a penchant for overthinking and anxiety (as most moms these days), I think the constant focus on being grateful can do damage.
“I am so grateful for these dirty socks that I have to pick up because some people will never have a child or may lose one.”
“HOLY SHIT! I will now be sad for the next hour thinking about the fact that I just read that five teenagers were killed in a car accident. I will think about every possible thing that could ever go wrong. My GOD, what are those parents dealing with? I want to curl up in a ball and never come out of my bedroom. I tear up. I want to go pick up my kids from school and never yell at them again about dirty socks on the floor. BUT I MUST DO THAT TOO. Because if they don’t pick up after themselves they will become shitty adults.”
My mom would have just been annoyed that she was picking up socks while “All My Children” was on.
“I am so grateful that I have food in my refrigerator and meals to cook. Many people struggle to put food on the table every day. It shouldn’t be a chore.”
“I SHOULD BE ENJOYING THIS MORE! Why am I not enjoying preparing a wholesome meal? I am so fortunate, yet I still don’t feel like defrosting this ground beef. My kids will probably hate what I’m cooking and JESUS, they have been eating like shit lately and I really need to get control of that. I will cook every night this week and there will be no french fries if we go out for lunch this weekend. And shit, why even go out to lunch then? They will just be pissed at me the whole time and accuse me of being a food nazi.”
My mom would have just made Hamburger Helper and moved on with her life.
“I am grateful that I have to spend half of my day driving kids places in my car because soon they will drive themselves and then graduate from high school and I will miss this so much.”
“HOW AM I GOING TO MANAGE WITHOUT THEM HERE? My house will be so quiet and I don’t know how I can breathe without them in my life every day. I haven’t practiced that … ever. I will probably suck at it and become a neurotic, helicopter parent who texts them every five minutes. Who am I kidding? I’m pretty much that way now. Man, I need to let them be more independent. They will have to go to college and function in the real world. They should be doing their own laundry. Next week, they must do their own laundry! This afternoon, I’m writing down their new chore lists. I read that chores are the key to kids becoming successful adults. My kids suck at chores. How did I get this so wrong?”
My mom would have told me to ride the bus.
I read recently that meditation (another thing we are ALL supposed to be doing) can actually be detrimental to those with anxiety. OK, so it was a Facebook comment by someone I didn’t even know, but I tend to agree. Many people are able to quiet their brains and it is helpful. For those with anxiety-prone brains though, I think it is nearly impossible to turn off the constant thoughts that swirl through our heads. And attempting to turn them off can lead to scarier and more negative thoughts. This is how I meditate:
“OK. Meditation time. Quiet your brain. Really do it. Why is the dog barking? Come on. Quiet. Why aren’t you doing it? I wonder if the Zappos package arrived yet. We need those shoes for his lesson tomorrow. I’ll track it after I’m done. I guess I could run to the mall tomorrow if I have to. OK, Quiet. You are not very good at this. There’s probably something wrong with you. Brain tumor, obviously. COME ON. Why can’t you quiet your brain? Think of an ocean or some other calming stuff. God, I wish I were sitting on a beach. I could quiet my brain if I were actually on a real beach! I’d have a beer or a Sangria or some other shit that would help me quiet my brain. WHY CAN’T I DO THIS?”
So, I don’t even bother with meditation. My best meditation is a creative project or keeping busy or watching a TV show with a glass of wine.
And don’t even suggest yoga, it’s been the same story there. I worry more about why I can’t do what everyone else is doing or if I look ridiculous. It’s not helpful. I can accept that. Also deep breathing? It just makes me hyperventilate because I start focusing on breathing too much. You are not supposed to think about breathing, OK?
So, at the age of 44, I think I’m done trying to be grateful and stay in the moment and breathe deeply. I think I just need to live the days of my life. And stop obsessing about how I should be remembering it all and loving it all and scrapbooking it all. It’s just not going to happen. At the end of every day, I love my kids, my husband, my family, my friends, my dog, and all of it more than I can express. It’s OK just to know that. It’s OK to still hate picking up socks.
But there’s one more thing: I’m afraid this gratitude, this constant need to love every moment, is hurting my children too. The mothers of Facebook are one sad bunch. All we do is post look-backs. We have become emotional wrecks. We don’t want our kids to leave the nest. I’m pretty sure my parents never felt that way. Do you think yours did?
Maybe if we would have been thinking about how much we HATE picking up dirty socks and how much it is a drag to have to cook dinner every night for ungrateful mouths, we wouldn’t be so damn sappy about not having to do those things anymore. It’s almost as if it has become a maternal faux-pas to say that certain components of the job just really suck. Lots of components, actually.
My kids actually say things like this to me, “Mommy, can you believe how fast this is all going? I’m getting so much older. The summer went so fast and I’m going to be in 9th grade and I’m going to be going to college so soon.” Do you ever, ever recall feeling like your childhood was going too fast? Summers were eternal. I had no concept of the time in which it was passing. I don’t think kids should be able to put a timeline on their childhood because they are living it. It’s just morphing into what comes next and I, for one, never felt like it was ever “over.” And that’s a good thing.
Has my constant gratitude and appreciation for every single thing — and the emotional state that has come with it — impacted my children’s sense of childhood? Has the constant need to be happy led us all to a constant feeling of sappy? Has Facebook made it worse? Is “looking back” every day at how old we are getting and how quickly it’s all going a good thing?
Is it maybe OK to say that I’d rather take a nap than have a memorable outing with my family this weekend? I read recently on Pinterest that strong is the new sexy. So add that to the list now, moms. You must be a good mom (which means fall festivals, dammit!), a good wife, smart, talented, beautiful, sexy, and STRONG. It’s not good enough just to be in reasonable shape within a few sizes of high school jeans, but now you must also be ripped.
I reject the perfection and the fact that I should be grateful while trying to attain it. (Or more accurately, while feeling badly that I am not attaining it.)
How about human? Can a mom just be human? Because some days, I think we should all just be grateful to be a living, breathing human being with faults and needs and no joy when we pick up socks. Put that in your hand-blown pipe and smoke it, Pinterest.