Remember when I said I feel competent?
I know I am competent. I remind myself on a daily basis that I am accomplishing a lot for one person and doing a pretty good job of it. I try to be happy with myself, to congratulate myself, to tell myself that my family is blessed to have a wife and mother who is so dedicated to their well-being.
I don't believe it for an instant. And while I can see, objectively, that I am competent, I almost never FEEL that way. I feel like I am exactly the same person I was in the early years of our marriage, when I had 12 hours of class a week and almost no homework and still rarely managed to go grocery shopping or do laundry.
We went on a weekend trip in October, came home to a broken dishwasher and stacked our duffel bags in the hallway. Over the following days I managed to empty the bags, but still they sat in the hallway. Every time I passed them, I berated myself. I get nothing done around here. It's such a mess. Those should have been put away a long time ago.
Never mind that every time I passed through the hallway I was either carrying a baby or rushing to tend to one. My self, harsh critic that she is, cares not for such details. She just wants me to get it right. Every. Single. Time.
My husband loves me. He thinks and tells me that I am doing a wonderful job. My family? Ditto. My friends? Ditto. All the kind people on Twitter and in blog comments and emails? Ditto.
But when I hear or see those words my mind says, Well, they don't really know. They don't know how often you slack off, how much you really could do if you applied yourself to the job. They think you're doing well, but they don't have the whole picture.
You'll probably be glad to hear that I've started seeing a counselor, a cognitive therapist who is doing a kick-ass job of helping me work through all of this stuff.
(Interesting aside: I typed "kick-ass" there, because that is what I would say if I were talking to Bryan or Lauren or Miriel, but then I erased it because some people might not like it. But then I typed it again, because during my last counseling session I started to say it and stopped, and the therapist - who is awesome, and also Catholic, for the record - was like, "Were you going to say 'ass'? It's okay for you to say 'ass.'" And then he let/made me say it, because it is okay for me to be who I am even if who I am is very slightly vulgar, instead of worrying about keeping other people happy all the time.)
Anyway, he made me tell him everything that I do well as a wife and mother. My immediate instinct was that it would only be fair for me to tell him all the ways I should improve, and that it would be more productive to start with those.
So after we talked about why I have such a hard time giving myself credit, I actually listed the things I do well as a mother. There are plenty, it turns out, and many of them are intangible. Like working hard on keeping my temper and not yelling at my children. Or nursing the twins, which technically has a tangible result of growing, healthy babies but which on a day-to-day basis just means my house is a bit messier and each baby has spent some time fussing while his brother ate.
(I kid you not, I have some guilt over the fact that if we were bottle-feeding I could feed them both at the same time and they wouldn't have to wait as long. Even though I try and mostly succeed to keep them on separate schedules so they rarely have to wait anyway. I'm telling you, there is nothing about which I will refuse to feel like a failure.)
I sat and listened while the therapist described me back to myself in my own words, and had to admit that I sound good - not perfect, but like someone who is trying hard and managing a lot.
We talked about perfectionism and my immediate reaction was that I'd better work on it before my kids get old enough to catch on, because I don't want to screw them up. And he laughed and said, "Do you realize that you're even talking about this in terms of something you have to get right?"
After six months of the hardest work of my life I'm worn almost see-through, and struggling to see and believe that I'm doing it well. I can laugh at the absurdity of my point of view as I write it out, but I have to cry too because this is a confusing place to be. I'm battered by my life circumstances and my own standards and I have a hard time seeing a way out.
When Camilla was five months old I wrote a post called "Making It."
If I wrote the same kind of status update now, I'd have to call it "Faking It."
For the time being, it's the best I can do.
I'm leaving comments open on this post not because I want everyone to jump in and tell me that I'm doing a great job (Remember? I won't believe you.) but because I'd love to hear about similar struggles - or dissimilar ones - that you've been through. Where've you been? Where are you now? How did you get there?