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Saturday, November 05, 2011


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I cannot tell you any tales of difficult times that even compare to what you are experiencing, I just want to say that I so appreciate your honesty and candidness here. It takes a lot of courage and humility. I admire you SO much as a mother and as a person, Arwen.

You're such a bad ass.

Oh, Arwen. You ARE amazing. I hope you get to a point where you can see that some day. Even though I know you won't believe me when I say it, I'm saying it anyway.

Now, talking about feeling like a failure? HOO BOY. Three solid months of elimination-dieting, and there is still blood in this baby's diapers on occasion. I think I've narrowed down the culprit, but there is so much I still don't know. No matter how disciplined I am, I must be screwing this up somehow. All the food journaling and everything is not solving the last piece of the puzzle. Every day all I can think about is how I failed this little boy. I put him on Zantac even though my gut told me it was part of the problem. I fought formula-feeding, so convinced I was smart enough and determined enough to heal him on my own. We've gotten so close, and now I think I'm going to have to give up. Not because this isn't best for him anymore, but because I've gone from a size 12 to a size 6 in less than 3 months. I am cranky all the time. I'm unable to be present for my other two children who still deserve and need as much of me as this little baby does. I'm terrified to put him on formula. I can't seem to make the decision one way or the other, so every day I wake up and wonder if today will be the day I admit I have completely failed.

Well, I am impressed by you, I have to say, mostly because of the NOT yelling at your children. I have a six year old, a three and two year old and a newborn and I am yelling a lot these days. Even if I don't yell loudly, because I don't want to wake the baby, there is no mistaking my tone and I hate that my kids hear it so often. I hate that the weekend days seem so long and then I go to Mass and I feel like a BIG GIANT hypocrite. Today I was thinking, I am doing a lot! A lot of work! And then I thought, this is why I'll never be a saint, because I'm always CROWING about how hard I'm working and how OLD I am. Ugh.

I can't tell tales that relate -- I have only 2 kids -- but a while back I had an acquaintance mom who had a 6, an 18 month, and newborn twins. I asked how it was going, and she said, "well, Tuesday it was my goal to keep everyone happy and clean the bathroom. The bathroom is still dirty, but everyone is mostly happy, so I consider it a success." There was recognition there that there was an ENORMOUS amount of work in just keeping four small people healthy and functioning. And there is.

The time under five is the most exhausting time. I know you know this, but cut yourself some slack and remember: it will only get better from here. Really.

Oh, hon. First of all, I am so proud of you for publishing this. It's a really hard thing to acknowledge, especially to such a broad audience. But it's clearly something that a lot of people struggle with (hugs, Diane!!!), and it's honest, and it's such a brave thing for you to write about it.

Secondly: You obviously know far more about my struggles with perfectionism than I would ever post on the internet, so they don't need rehearsing here, but I want to remind you of two things: one, that *you* were the person who convinced me to get help, because you are such a good sister; and two, that it worked. Not perfectly, and not exhaustively, because none of us will ever be completely as we should be in this life, but pretty darn well. And that, in itself, is a kind of miracle. So I just want you to remind yourself that God is working in you, and that just because you can't see the way out doesn't mean there isn't one. There is, and it's through grace, and lots of people are praying that for you, and you will make it through.

You're an amazing wife, mom, daughter, and sister. We love you. You're doing a great job.

I tweeted this, but let me say again here that you're breaking my heart a bit. Why are we so hard on ourselves? Why? I do not have it as tough as you by a long shot, but I feel like a failure mostly when I scream and yell at my kids, which I have been known to do. So if you aren't doing that, you're doing GREAT.

When my mom had only five kids, she called a friend who had 16 kids and asked how she did it. Mrs. Hegarty said, "Well, the first seven are the hardest," and my mom started to cry. (Because by the time you have the eighth, the oldest one is way more capable and can babysit and help out! And when you're on the 16th, you're free as a bird because there's always *someone* around to take care of the babies!)

You are doing amazing. It is a crap ton of work to keep that many human beings happy and fed and alive and when two of them don't speak English? DUDE.

For me, I get so irritated with myself because the time when I could and did "do it all" wasn't that far behind me. I mean, one kid? CAKE. I can remember with perfect clarity how I used to clean my house, shop, do laundry and have personal time....all in one afternoon. I can't even get that much done in three days at this point. And it doesn't seem like it was that long ago....I feel like I SHOULD be able to do all of that. It has been a dramatic resetting of expectations.

Right now, there is a pile of clothes on my bedroom floor. It has been there for...perhaps eight weeks.


I hate that "if people REALLY KNEW, they wouldn't praise me" feeling. It's...familiar, I'll just say that.

I constantly have that "If people REALLY KNEW..." thing going on. Which is so ironic, as my love language is words of affirmation - I crave them - but I blow them off at the same time, because obviously, these people don't see me hiding in the bathroom playing Anrgy Birds when the going gets rough.

I'll echo the sentiment that the under-five years are so, so hard. So intense, so much need. Be gentle with yourself.

When people tell me that I have it all together, I smile and thank them, then go home and laugh. For me, it's fake it 'til you make it. Every single day. Being the mom of 4 kids is hard, really hard. Being a perfectionist mom, even harder. I remember when I stopped breastfeeding my twins (one ended up hospitalized for aborted SIDS and the other was home - I was in the hospital with the sick kid and my mom was taking care of the well one.) I felt guilty for weeks, maybe months! It was awful. Not because I had to stop breastfeeding, but because one twin had 4 days longer of breastfeeding than the other.
My kids are a little older now - twins are almost 10, middle one is 7 and baby will be 4 next month - and I can relate to the comment about having the older ones help out. That can be a miracle some days. But, most days, I'm still trucking along, trying not to lose my temper 50 times every day, make sure everyone eats 3 meals a day and has a fresh pair of underwear on. The perfectionist ideas of my child-free days are a wistful memory. I do enjoy when people say that I've got it together - because I know that at least I can make it look like I'm competent.

I feel like a failure pretty much constantly. Mainly because I have "everything" yet I'm not happy. I'm pretty miserable, really. I desperately want to quit my job. That scares the crap out of my husband, so I'd have to really push him into it and then really go for it - no more cable, no more Starbucks, very little going out - completely doable, but a little scary. Then, what if that isn't what I really want, either? (Although I loved every minute of maternity leave.) So right now we're just ignoring it and continuing on. But every single day, pretty much all day, I beat myself up for not being happy with what I have.

Arwen, this post just makes me like you even more. I often find myself looking only at the things I *didn't* do in a day and feeling incredibly disappointed in myself. And I find myself thinking more and more often that we are CRAZY for having a third (20 weeks in, little late to do anything about that) and at the same time wondering how I'll manage with 4 or 5 or however many we end up with eventually. (Because I really hope 3 isn't it.) Some days I feel happy with keeping everyone fed and clothed and generally content, but those days are few and far between. And yet instead of focusing on all that I already do, all I do is worry about everything else I should do. (Everything *I* feel like I should do.)

Anyway, I'm glad you've got a kick-ass counselor. My dad is a clinical psychologist, so I am a big believer in the good that counseling can do.

Me too. Jesabes' comment was bang on, for me. Sounds like you are trying so good for you. I am SO SO glad you have awesome support in your husband and others. That is such a gift (for which you are clearly grateful).

I'm so happy you have a therapist who is helping. Sounds like just what you need.

I have been there, beating myself up for not doing it all, and for other reasons. One thing that got me very un-stuck was being challenged to judge myself the way I would judge my best friend. What would I say to her? That really helped me put things in perspective, and it sounds like this is what your therapist is suggesting too.

We all have broken places. We all have cracks - it's how the light gets in. (apologies to Leonard Cohen:

One more thing! Last year I went through an insane number of transitions (new title, new role, big move, new responsibilities, etc) and I felt SO overwhelmed. But I also felt like a failure: there were so many things people were telling me I needed to do, and I just. couldn't. When I look back on myself a year later, I am amazed that I did as well as I did. In retrospect, it was totally insane and I need to cut myself some slack because in the middle of that insanity, I survived and thrived. I learnt new skills. I adapted.

You are doing this too. And it's hard, and crazy, and you are going to fail and that is ok.

I often find myself comparing my weaknesses with other people's strengths and beating myself up when I see that I just can't seem to do everything. But there came a point in my last pregnancy when I couldn't do ANY! THING! (No, really, ANY! THING! Not standing or walking or eating or cooking or reading or watching TV or thinking...ANY! THING!) and I hated myself for that. I had 4 other children that I could not take care of; all I could do was lie on the couch or my bed feeling deathly miserable and praying that I wouldn't always feel like that.

NOW when that hateful voice tries to tell me what a failure I am, or that I am going to ruin my children's educations by not teaching them something they need to know, or that I could do so much better if I just PUT MY MIND TO IT, I think how very grateful I am that at least now I can do more than lie on the couch and exist.

We need to consider our circumstances and be kinder to ourselves. Your circumstances are VERY DIFFICULT right now, and it wouldn't be unreasonable if your ONLY goal each day was to have all of the children fed and alive at the end of the day (even if you don't "do school", your little ones will still learn!); anything beyond that is a bonus and a testimony to your awesomeness!

I don't have kids (yet) but I feel the same way about my own life. I'm a full time grad student in a difficult field. I've had to learn programming and try to keep up with computer engineers in less than 2 years. Rough stuff. I spend a lot of time feeling like I'm faking it: I convince myself that I'm not good enough for this, not smart enough, I just don't get it. I've worn myself weary doing homework, studying, and fearing that I'm going to flunk out. It's easy to convince yourself you're not keeping up.
But eventually I figured out that I wasn't competing with anyone else, I was only competing with an unattainable vision I had created in my head. Hey! I was getting GREAT grades! I was doing my homework better and faster than my peers! I was getting it! I won 2 awards for my research! The faculty seem to have confidence in me and my abilities! Whoa!
I was so surprised by that, but it gave me confidence. In parenthood you don't get grades, you don't win awards, you don't get the same kind of tangible proof that you're succeeding. You don't even have to compete with anyone, except for the same unattainable vision in your head that I had. Look at your kids: they are healthy, happy, growing, clean enough, and you're raising them well. That's your grade, that's your award. Look at your husband: he loves you, he loves his kids, and he's happy with how things are going. You don't have to be perfect; you just have to be good enough. And you absolutely are.
You're doing great. And hoo boy, have I been there. Just not with kids. But the feeling is the same, I think.
Katrina (@katrina413)

I definitely feel like I'm never doing enough, never caught up, not good enough. One day last week, I wrote down all the little things I did to convince myself that I was not running around on a hamster wheel and did get a ton of stuff done. Shouldn't a mom of three be able to keep the dishes clear for the most part? Or having a clue what's happening for dinner most days? I do feel like I have a fighting chance of doing enough when my big kids are at school, but a missed nap or other little things throw me out of whack and it seems like the house is a disaster at the end of the day no matter how many times toys get picked up and the floor is swept.

Even though I'm not in the same circumstances that you are (there are TWO BABIES in your house!), I can relate to much of this post. Especially the "Well, they don't really know..." reaction to praise. And I know all too well how being a perfectionist in trying circumstances can suck the life out of a person.

I'm so happy you've found a good therapist. It can make such a difference. I spent about 3 years in therapy working through perfectionism. Not that it's not something I don't struggle with--I imagine I always will wrestle with it to some degree this side of Heaven--but it's worlds better than it was. I'm sitting here imagining what my emotional state would have been like since Emeline's birth had I not had those years of counseling, and it's not a pretty picture.

Not that you have time to read these days, but I found Henri Nouwen's writings to be tremendously helpful while I was working through my own issues, especially "Life of the Beloved" and "The Return of the Prodigal Son".

I feel like I'm only just barely managing now, and, Arwen, that is with ONE baby and no older kids. You are not alone in your struggles, and you ARE doing an amazing job even if you don't feel that way right now. I will pray for you to really feel God's presence as He guides you. I know you'll come through this with a deeper, fuller knowledge of God's love for you.

I always think that nearly everyone is doing about the same. I'm sure there are some of those perfect mothers out there and some of the really substandard ones, but most of us are doing a great job at raising wonderful kids, a decent job at not living in filth, and a medium job at most everything else. We all have things we do really well and things we do medium and things we don't do at all. Some of those things just show more than others and we always see all our own failures.

OH do I hear you. Take care of yourself, Arwen.

oh fake it till you make it, Arwen, that's what I do. And it's a very cognitive-behavioral approach to boot!

I'm totally been here and back again and back again, and I have only 2 kids.

It's a season, you're growing as your kids do - it's good to hit a wall, it doesn't feel good but then you see what you (and most importantly God) are made of.

Oh and yes, you're doing a great job, the boys are fat AND you're going to therapy. I mean those two facts right there are golden. You have managed to keep up with what must be some voracious little mouths (judging by their chunkiness) and you sought help with some negative thinking. I think everyone should be in therapy at one time or another - it's so helpful.

Right there with you on the inadequacy (though I bet I yell more than you do and I hate it), except my third baby hasn't arrived yet (due in Feb.) - so I'm looking ahead in slight despair at how I'll manage once I'm even more behind the 8-ball than I am now.
But yay for therapy! I recommend it to everyone; I've found it so helpful, even if the common misconception is that people who aren't a *complete* mess don't need it. But why wait until you are a complete mess? :-) So glad you are getting that help. No one is meant to be totally independent all the time and the sooner we figure that out, the better.
Being competent and feeling competent are clearly two very different things, as the pictures and stories of your kids attest!

Therapy is awesome! So completely true that God is working in you and with you but so completely true also that it is hard to see or feel God's presence when you are exhausted and in emotional pain with perfectionism (which is called "scruples" in religious life and is recognized as a very very hard thing). I have a lot of that in my own psychological make-up and it can get triggered by stress for anyone (like, oh, having TWO BABIES, or even one for that matter) so it makes sense that you'd see it now.

Also you are a kick-ass Mom. If everyone's alive, reasonably happy, and fed at the end of the day, the rest is gravy. Your babies are smooshable for sure.

Tell Diane that having to switch to formula may be hard but is not a failure in any sense. If she is not healthy, she's right--everything else including her soul will suffer. If baby needs formula then baby needs formula and Mom will be a good Mom regardless. The advantage of BF is not enough to justify ruining Mom's health, not by a long shot.

I have 2 boys, 5 and 1. My house is a complete mess. There's stuff everywhere. Every night, I sit on my butt because to do one more thing is overwhelming, so the mess sits. And stuff is dirty. And it's making my head and soul hurt, but I can't do anything but let it go and realize it's a phase.

I am so there with you with only 2 kids.

I have to say that I am impressed that you published this. I barely have the guts to admit it, let alone put it out there on the internet.

My 5 yo is a few months older than Camilla. I remember reading your stuff and thinking "why is her life so wonderful and mine is so hard? Why is everything sunshine-y for her and not me?" So there you go. :)

I don't have kids, much less 4 under 6, but oh have I been there.

The absolute worst of it was about a year and a half ago, and I still don't have adequate words to describe that. A year ago I hauled my butt to therapy and got evaluated and it turned out that I had severe anxiety and moderate depression (in the clinical sense of both terms--moderate depression, by the way, is still REALLY BAD). Got diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, had the therapist suggest a lot of other diagnoses (I'm a very special snoflake). Etc.

I promise you there is an other side to get to. How you get there is a very intimately personal thing. For me it was a combination of therapy and YouTube videos (Monty Python: Not approved by the American Psychiatric Association as a valid treatment for mental health disorders.) and music and poetry and having people step up and help me reform my safety net. (One of the reasons things got so bad is that 2 years ago I lost most of my safety net for various reasons. It was not cool.)

I'll pray for you. And I agree with Ashley; you're totally badass.

Oh, man. You and I have the twin thing in common, and I'm telling you, the first two years of my twins life were my hardest to years to date. My dad, not one for handing out sage advice, hit it on the head. He said "You just have be in survival mode for the first 2 years. If all you do is survive, then you're doing great." Those words carried me far, as there were days when ALL I did was keep everyone fed and happy(ish). And I didn't even have 2 other kids back then!

Also, I have to laugh at your description of 12 hours of classes, no homework etc. I SO remember those days of early marriage. I swear it, we couldn't even get to 10:30am church most weeks because we were... sleeping? I don't even KNOW. But 10:30 on a Sunday was TOO EARLY for us! Now we get four kids up and out the door by 9am! (Well, _I_ get myself and 4 kids ready, and David gets... HIMSELF ready. Ha, ha, isn't that a common tune to sing?)

I hate that we're so hard on ourselves. I hate that you're so hard on you. Why do we think we have to be perfect? There's no reward, no one waiting to step out with a mic and congratulate us for all the world to see if we run a perfect household and have perfect kids...

Dear Arwen, I've been reading your blog since long before you got pregnant with Camilla. So please listen :-)

Do you know the difference between a marathon and a sprint? Okay. You're in a marathon. You are allowed to take breaks to drink and eat and breathe deep in the middle. You HAVE to "slack off" a little from time to time, otherwise you can't finish the marathon.

Stop judging yourself with sprint standards when you are actually in a marathon.

You are doing nobdoy a favor. Least of all to yourself.

Remember? When Mama's happy, everybody's happy. So stop nagging the important family member called Mama Arwen. Be good to her as you are good to everybody else.

Btw: only because I know these things, it doesn't mean i LIVE them. I beat myself up regularly just as you do. And my children are 20 years older than yours.

But please, be cleverer than I was and appreciate all you do. You are doing the most important marathon of all - bringing up happy, stable, well adjusted, happy children in a loving home.

Let the sprinters be perfectionists. You can't afford to be one.

CBT has been a lifesaver in my struggle with OCD.

I will, in fact, kick its ass.

So glad you are seeing "someone". I love that euphemism.

My struggles are different than yours, but I have had the same thoughts as you. My father died 6 months ago, but before that I was balancing working, taking care of my daughter and husband, and caring for Dad. Not to mention housework, working on losing a lot of weight, etc. After he died I realized how stretched I was before, and the standard I was holding myself up to. I have set different standards for myself, and just simplified my life in places I had made it complicated. I am glad you are seeing someone. You, of all people, deserve to enjoy the wonderful family you have created, and not beat yourself up so much. You do kick ass!

I just started being a stay-at-home mother to my 3 month old daughter. Before that, I was a software engineer. And let me tell you, I was great at my job. Now, I am a housewife, and I'm really quite terrible at it. But I'm the happiest I've ever been in my whole life. God has blessed me so much that it's kinda unbelievable to me. So I try to look at the happiness and blessings, and less at the dirty house. Which is hard, because I say the same things to myself - "Why can't I just keep the dishes/laundry/vacuuming done or get dinner on the table?"

I have so many issues with balance in my life as a mother. My daughter has autism. She NEEDS me in a much different ways from my sons. So why do I always feel guilty that someone is getting short-changed. Why do I feel that to be Shelby's best mom I am Joseph and William's worst. There are days I barely climb out from under the guilt and the only reason I do, is to negate more guilt, but that fact gives me more guilt...BIG EXHALE.

I struggle every day with all that I DON'T accomplish. I've had to set very small goals: maybe one chore a day in addition to making sure there's dinner. And by one chore I mean something that isn't all the stuff that HAS to happen when I'm caring for four kids age five and under. I aim low. But the amount of carnage and stuff in my house drives me batty. Thank God that I have an eternal persepctive. Literally: thank God.

Beautifully and bravely written, Arwen! Count me as another member of the Recovering Perfectionists Club.

I hope you'll talk with your therapist about whether you might be dealing with some post-partum depression. There's nothing like post-partum hormones combined with sleep deprivation to turn mild perfectionism into something much more severe. In my case, it took medicine to help me get my balance back. Only you, your therapist, and your doctor can decide what is right for you, but if you do go the medicine route, know that you are not the only one.

I like Jen's post on Bare Minimum Mode:

Also helpful to me is I don't do her whole system, but she is big on just doing a little bit and fighting perfectionism, and that speaks to me.

I am praying for you! And I have to remind you, even if you won't believe me, that you are amazing! All your blog readers will just keep reminding you until you believe us. :)

I just wanted to say that you've been so helpful to me while I've been struggling with my one (1) child, and I wish I had more than thoughts to send your way.

Once you told me that when you were home with Camilla when she was very young that you hope that this wasn't what motherhood was, and that really helped me see that what I was dealing with was just a moment- just one thing that I just had to struggle through to reach the good things on the other side.

So I'll tell you the same thing- this is just a phase that will pass. Your house will not ALWAYS be messy, and you will not ALWAYS feel overwhelmed.

We're all cheering for you, over here in the internet.

I wish I had the words to help you along this path. Everything I tell myself in these situations you probably tell yourself already. I am so thankful that you have a supportive husband and family. They can speak truth that will eventually reach our hearts. I only have one child and I'm barely managing at times! Thank you for being so brave and posting this!

So happy you are seeing "someone". You deserve it and need it and your family will be happy you did. Complettly different story from yours (man, for starters :)) but I cracked under the load years ago and needed to see "someone" and get meds. Accused myself of being a complete failure. Look back on tha time as my rebirth. God saved me then as He is saving you now. Go kick-ass.

I read your this the day you posted it, but it's taken me that long to post a comment (actually, I almost didn't comment).
I've been a mother for 16.5 years. I have 6 kids and am expecting #7 sometime next March. I've lost 2 babies to m/c and had another baby born still on her due date. During all of these years, in all of the good and bad times, I have had the almost-constant "thwarted perfectionist" issue of "if they only knew....". The single thing that has helped me the most (besides my beloved husband of 17.5 years!) was being reminded by our parish's pastor that I was receiving graces every day to deal with ALL of it, but I wasn't being open to receiving them. I was aware of the special graces parents and spouses receive, but I was so deep in my own self-discouragement, that I was forgetting to be open to them. I don't say this as a reminder/chide to you (accompanied by a wagging finger!), but more as a way of saying that we ALL have those times in our motherhoods (for me, it's been MOST of the time!) when we feel like imposters, and as long as we acknowledge them and find a way to address them (which you ARE!), we are NOT failing!!!
I really do admire you for posting this! God bless you!!

I have Things! To Say! But, uh, I have a fussy gassy baby in the background and two big kids fighting and dishes in the sink and laundry all over my bed and socks to pick up and several emails to respond to and two birthday presents to purchase and a meeting agenda to organize and did I mention the stinkiest smelliest baby on earth probably wants to eat AGAIN and I should probably go accomplish at least ONE of those things today... but only one, that's all I got in me right now.

Oh Arwen, I struggle with the perfectionism bug too. Last night we sat down and talked about all the things that are on my list of things I think I should be doing but am not getting done. And my husband reminded me that I may not be doing it all but I'm doing enough. The house is always messy, the laundry is always behind, the dishes undone, meals unplanned, lessons not taught, I yell too much... and yet everyone is fed and clothed and happy and learning and we can all live with a bit of a mess. The fact is that mothering four kids five and under is hard work.

Yeah, I work on my perfectionistic streak all the time. I've learned to prioritize and be okay with not getting everything done and not doing everything perfectly. It's taken me a long time and having two babies at once helped. If it doesn't drive you headlong into psychosis, it will help you realize that you CAN'T do everything and that you have to prioritize. I still have overly stressed out times and the occasional panic attack, but I've improved.

I'm feeling less parent-child stress lately, partly because my children are bigger and I have time for sleep and showers and exercise and even makeup. That helps. I think I'm also feeling less stress because I AM getting better at letting things go and realizing that it's okay to have a cluttered house and it's okay to have a glass of wine and watch TV instead of obsessively scrubbing my baseboards with a toothbrush. (Okay, I've not done that, but you know what I mean.)

Currently my main struggle is with home ownership which I hate with a red hot fiery passion of hate. I can keep my house relatively picked up, but I need to paint multiple rooms and clean out the basement and go through my mom's stuff (from 2006 when she died) and get new curtains for our bedroom and fix/paint our kitchen cupboards and a myriad of other things if we're going to sell our house in the next two years. I just cannot get it all done and yet I must because maybe you are aware of the horrible housing market in our state? It's like a noose around my neck. And don't get me started on keeping the house spotless when you're showing it and negotiating and then finding another house and OMG PACKING AND MOVING OMG.

I can maintain the level of life that I'm at now, but any improvements or changes will tip the balance and I'm not sure I can handle that.

Thank you for this post. I have just the same feelings, but in my case it's a PhD, not children, that I'm coping with. Your description of how you counteract people's affirmations by thinking that if they knew how much more you could be doing, if they saw the full picture, and so on, is just how my thinking goes. It's funny how you can understand the theory behind all this, and understand it in a rational way, and still end up *feeling* like a failure, isn't it? I wish you and your family all the very best, and hope that your therapy continues to help you. It's always great to get a reminder of how unhelpful this (perfectionist) approach is, so thank you again.

I've never posted here, but I've read with interest and empathy because I had twin boys when my daughter was two, so I know some of what you speak. (Though honestly, the fourth kid would have probably killed me.)

As someone who is often way too hard on herself to someone else who is often way too hard on herself: it does get easier. You are in one of the most intense times of child-rearing. Really, really long days with more needs than you have arms or energy. Sometimes, I would get the kids in bed at night and say to myself, "Well, they're all alive. THAT'S something, right?" :) But I promise, there will be a day when you will get more sleep, when you don't have to be watching and jumping at every single cry, when each child will have more independence.

I would be lying if I said I thought raising kids is ever easy, but the reward for all you are doing now will be a strong relationship with each child (which you already have of course, but which will only get more fun as they get older) and the ability to sit down! My daughter is 13 and my twins are 11, and though that may seem millions of miles away, I promise you that it will happen sooner than you think. Seeing the cool individuals they are becoming is so wonderful. And heck yes, I screwed tons of things up and still do. But I love them. And love does cover a multitude!

Hang in there. You have beautiful kids and you are doing such a better job than you think! When it comes down to it, who cares about duffel bags in the hall? What the kids will remember is that they always, always felt loved.

I had my one and only baby at 40, after years of infertility. The birth should have been a very happy time in my life. But, I had a lot of physical damage in the birth. I had this sharp knife-like pain on my inner left side immediately afterwards, as if the baby was still stuck in there. It was okay when I woke up in the morning, but once I sat it up it came right back and got worse the more I sat.

I went to all kinds of doctors and while some may have believed me, none knew what to do for it so I had a lot of tests and a lot of referrals. Some didn't come out and say they thought I was crazy, but with their actions towards me they didn't need to use the words...they made themselves perfectly clear.

I finally found an internet forum about it and learned that I most probably had pudendal nerve entrapment, not so unlike carpal tunnel syndrome but in a very difficult spot. Think about where your sit bones rest on a bike seat and you'll know what I'm talking about.

Different doctors gave me different treatments. Most of them did nothing except take considerable time and money. Others were medications (opiates, anxiety meds, antidepressants) that made me too foggy or dopey to drive, be a mother, or be an employee. So I decided I couldn't use them and just tried to get through the day, somehow. Nerve pain is a horrible thing.

I eventually had to travel out of state to find a neurosurgeon who could help me. I'm very fortunate that we could afford for me to go, and that the decompression surgery worked very quickly--apparently I had compression of the nerve but no permanent damage. Two ligaments were found to have grown around the nerve at some point, encasing it like lead in a pencil...and not allowing it to recover from the birth. From my child's birth to my surgery was 25 months. That's a long time to be in pain, every day, with a child I couldn't just put on the shelf until I could somehow feel good again.

I look back and sometimes wonder how I lived through all that. On the one hand, I guess it helps if you feel you have no choice but to get through, somehow. I will tell you that I had to let a lot of stuff go. My house was usually a mess. We ate a lot of fast food and takeout. Laundry didn't always get folded. Friends had to wait. I created nothing in that time, either in the kitchen or at the sewing machine. My husband and child didn't really get the wife and mother I wanted to be. I spent a lot of money I would have rather saved or spent on something else. Nothing was optimal about the life I was living (which always was and and always will be completely separate from the healthy and beautiful child I had).

In the end? I think it comes down to want vs. need. Yes, I wanted a lot and certainly didn't get all of it. But when it came to what I really needed, pain relief, I got it. I'm sorry that you're struggling right now; I guess all I have is assurance that some times are like that and you will get through it. I'm glad that you're seeing the counselor. If nothing else comes of it, it's a space in your month where you have adult attention and a break from hands-on motherhood.

Here's a funny blog post about a day in the life of a SAHD in case a snicker would help!

I feel like I should be doing more than I am on almost a daily basis. I have 3 kids (7.5, almost 5 and almost 2) and I work part time from home, and we're doing some work on our house, which is a lot to handle. BUT I have someone to clean my house once a week and babysitting help with the youngest (older 2 are in school), so I end up just setting my standards HIGHER than if I were doing it all myself.

My house should be clean all the time! Delicious, healthy meals should be on the table every night! House remodeling stuff should be moving forward faster! I should really work MORE because I have so much help! I should volunteer more at the big kids' school!

If it's any comfort, it was the third baby (who is the sweetest boy on the planet and who I am SO happy we have) that really pushed me over the edge. Somehow when I had 2 kids I don't remember feeling so perpetually behind, but adding a 3rd threw it all in a tailspin. I can't even IMAGINE what it would be like to add a 3rd and 4th baby at the same time.

I went through something similar, but with academics. My therapist labeled it impostor syndrome, and while I wasn't happy about going to therapy at the time (and it didn't feel like it was helping), I can confidently say that three years later, I'm almost completely over it, and it's awesome. :)

I know what it's like - the stupid perfection thing. I'm glad you're trying to beat it and as you know you are AWESOME SAUCE. 100% AWESOME.

I just want to encourage you by saying that even though I've only known you through Twitter for a couple of months, I already admire and look up to you. I am always so appreciative of the fact that you give me advice and encouragement when you hardly know me. I count you as a valuable resource and someone that I am really enjoying getting to know. Thank you. :)

Arwen! Whenever your name comes up I tell people "Arwen is my hero. I don't know how she does it." You are awesome and you are juggling a lot. But it's SO VERY CLEAR that you are an awesome mother.
I will straight up admit that I'm also very hard on myself and rarely feel "good enough." I was just crying to my husband about it last night ... I always feel like I'm drowning and I'm never doing anything with excellence!
It's work every day to not believe the lie, but it's worth it. It will be worth it to my family too. Phew.

Oh my goodness. I feel the exact same way, and I only have a single 14-month old (who I just caught trying to stick a pair of scissors between her toes while I was distracted by the Internet; that's how great a mother I am, ahem). In fact, your post has made me cry because you articulate so perfectly how I feel. And because it never occurred to me that the perfectionism I thought I'd left behind with college has reared it's ugly head now that I am a wife and mother. I also work part time from home, and basically spend any time my daughter is napping trying to get the paying work done. So I try to give myself a pass on not keeping the house clean or finishing the laundry. And then my husband comes home and takes Cricket and somehow manages to make dinner, clean up the clutter, and mow the lawn, all while I work, and surf the Internet, and feel guilty for slacking off and not working harder while my husband has both childcare and household chore duty. He tells me he could never do what I do, but my secret fear is that he could do it better. And I'm terrified that if I'm failing this badly now, how much worse will it be when I have another kid?

So, not only are you not alone in feeling this way, I probably wouldn't be able to tie my own shoes, much less get any housework done at all if I had to do what you do.

I think this is parenting. We love our children SO MUCH that we refuse to accept anything but the best (absolute perfection) for them, and this includes ourselves. You have given me a lot to think about with this post. Thank you for sharing, I'm sure that wasn't easy, but I needed to read this right now. Your babies (all four!) are beautiful.

I have read your blog for a while and I just had to comment on this post. I, too, have twins, now 3 1/2. Twin pregnancies and parenting twins is HARD. I hardly remember the first year of their lives. It almost broke me. I also have an older child. You are doing an amazing job and I think you deserve a round of applause for BF'ing twins because that is a FT jon in itself. I think the constant work and vigilance of raising twins (and their siblings) wears you thin and breaks down our usual defences. I remember feeling so raw all the time. I had to learn to let a lot of things go and do others differently; some were hard to let go of and others were a bit easier. I am glad you are seeing a therapist. I did as well. Having twins changes your life in so many ways. Please know you are not alone. Hang in there. Get a break when you can. Ask for help if you can. Your children are beautiful.

I'm glad you found a competent kick-ass therapist to talk to, Arwen, in part because it gives you some adult time and a bit of a break from your fabulous family. Beating ourselves up is a feminine specialty, I believe. I go through long spells where I wake up, every day, to a self-critical loop in my head, berating myself for all I don't do, all I should do , all I do badly, all the ways I'm faking it and just plain failing. Talking to Steve about it really helps, exercise helps, decent sleep helps, some time to myself helps a bit ... these are all extremely rare commodities in your home (except the talking to your spouse part). Thanks for sharing. Love you!

Oh, one more thing. I want to echo what Beth said above: It gets easier. Moms of older children should tell moms of infants and toddlers this all the time (I've been known to chat up exhausted Moms of little ones in grocery stores and assure them that it gets easier). I don't remember other Moms telling me this: it gets easier.

Bigger children in some ways have bigger problems, but the relentless physical demands of very young children are so totally exhausting. When they can talk, read, dress themselves, then wash dishes! help cook!, load the dishwasher!, tell you a joke!, read to their siblings!, and even drive! Well, it's just fabulous.

It. Gets. Easier.

Dear Arwen: I've been a reader and admirer of your blog since before you were pregnant with Camilla.

I enjoyed reading as an "older" Mom how you transitioned to motherhood. I haven't posted in a while, but I know I've said how I marvel at the wisdom you impart for someone so young.

You have a tremendous ability to communicate. Use this strength in your counseling.

With my six children, I had two periods of postpartum depression. I felt totally ambused by the feelings of hopelessness. I can say prayer, family support and, in one case, an antidepressant made the difference.

Each day you will continue to get better, especially seeing how those little ones love and need you. You are being prayed for by an awesome group here. Your children have a WONDERFUL mother!

I'm just like you in the way I scold myself for not achieving my idea of perfection. Recently when I took it to my confessor he reminded me that I will be closer to perfection when I am doing things such as: hiding, then jumping out and scaring my nine year old son, instead of scolding him too harshly for doing it to his sister when the baby was sleeping; making home made play dough even when the dishes are already piled up (I will get more done while they are playing with it, anyway); going out and playing in the leaves with them even though the floors are dying to be cleaned. You get the point.
Also, I recently discerned that it is completely appropriate and budget worthy to hire a housekeeper to come every week or two weeks. I did so and already feel a huge burden lifted. I can keep up on laundry and dishes easier when I know she is coming to do the hard stuff. It is scriptural (manage your maidservants) and isn't even that expensive. While your kids are too young to help it is a really good idea.


My first thought reading this was: "Wow!! If she feels this way even with everything she is COMPLETELY kicking ass at, I'm NEVER gonna feel competent!" And then I decided to put a slightly more positive spin on it by saying that if even you feel this way when you so obviously rock - making thoughts of incompetence seems totally irrational - maybe a small part of my feelings of incompetence are irrational too. Ha. Never thought I'd be happy to be irrational!

This is something I've struggled with my whole life (particularly in academia - the constant fear of being "found out" is paralyzing for me). I've started to get better since having a baby better for exactly the circular reason you mentioned - I want to set a good example. But faking it (telling myself I'm a good, hard working person, etc) has made something of an impression on me. Not quite making it, but still.

In conclusion, I'm not sure if this makes any sense in my current sleep deprived state, but I know exactly how you feel. I'm a long time reader but first time commenter, so I will also say thank you for years and years of beautiful, honest writing.

And as a PS, I can't help be pissed at "society" or whatever. Strong women should not feel like they never measure up, yet that's the message that's sent to us over and over. Regardless of the other roots of the problem, I do think this has something to do with it.

Having twins, just twins, can make a gal question herself--twins and two big kids too, that is a tall order. (((((hugs)))))

I have felt similarly, but kind of different. From the moment my son was diagnosed as autistic everyone told me how great I was doing. The thing was, I knew I was not competent. I knew I was not doing great. I knew that I'd been struggling and barely getting by from day 1. After the diagnosis, I started seeing a therapist and it was kind of nice to have someone I could tell about how badly I was doing.

It's weird, but somehow that made all the difference. Being able to confide about my biggest weaknesses and problems helped me to see them as more tied to frustration and depression than real personal failings. Which helped me confront them and get over them.

So I am actually a better mom now. I do feel competent now. And I can say that I AM competent now. It wasn't exactly a perfectionism issue, but a fear of my own weakness. And an inability to confront those weaknesses. Once I got a handle on it, it changed my life so much.

So I can remember this very distinct moment, sitting in your living room, and you saying that you HATED tandem nursing, hated hated hated it, and you had stopped doing it. And somehow you, who I had always viewed as essentially Super Mom, one of my parenting ideals, because even more wonderful to me, precisely because you weren't perfect, but instead REAL and human and somehow even more relate able. I too am a crazy perfectionist and I am too hard on myself and I can see it in someone else, and I know how hard it is to let it go, but I just wanted to tell you that I am as crazy about you as I am not in spite of your faults, perceived or otherwise, but because of them.

I'm totally going to have to start following you (came via link from Flotsam). I'm the same way - I recently got an e-mail from my MIL, in which she stated several times what a good mom I am, then said "of course you make mistakes as we all do, but all in all you're a great mom" and all I could think was "MISTAKES! MISTAKES! MISTAKES! MY MIL SAID I MAKE PARENTING MISTAKES!" and brooding - what mistakes was she thinking about? I know very well what I consider to be my biggest parenting mistakes (mostly involving food, sleep, and screen time), but what does SHE think are my big mistakes? So yes. I am my harshest critic so I expect everyone else to be criticizing me as well.

You are not alone!

I struggle with this too. In fact, while reading this - and empathizing so hard with everything you wrote, almost to the point of tears - I thought, "but it's not the same at all. Arwen has kids and two are infants and I don't have any of that and yet I STILL can't keep up." Which I guess is more of the same thing. It's an impossible standard, this idea of perfect.

Anyway, I know you won't believe it, but I admire you and it's clear - SO CLEAR - that you are doing a wonderful job. That you are an excellent mom and wife and overall person (not to mention a fabulous writer) and you are doing great. Really great.

I hope the therapist helps you recognize what a strong, successful person you are.

If it makes you feel any better, this morning my very alert internal critic pointed out, "You know, Arwen has four children under five, and she makes her own bread AND cleans up every night."

You are doing a wonderful job. You are loved. Please tell your internal critic that OTHER people's internal critics know it.

Good on you for working on this now. If not, you'd probably end up like me, almost 20 years into this parenting thing and pretty much convinced that anything your children accomplish or do well is in spite of you, not because of you. It is very hard for me to see past my own copious faults, the dirty parts of my house (literally and figuratively), my childrens faults see any of the good. People tell me (or my husband) what a saint I am, or how amazing...I can't help but think "boy, have I got them fooled, they haven't a clue!"

I think this is something that a lot of mothers struggle with, especially those that stay at home. Since we are at home and not at work, we don't really seem to have tangible things to show for our accomplishments. I mean we don't have a great presentation or report and we don't get praise from outside people like a boss. Add to that the fact that most of us that are home are conscientious and doing it for a reason-to raise our children with virtue, faith, etc. And so, I think it makes for a challenge. We want to do it well and we seem to have ourselves critiquing it b/c we are the ones who are home seeing all that goes on.

And so, I don't have an answer. I continue to struggle with perfectionism, think it is something I always will. But I do think we can try to put it in perspective and I think that we can get better at it. One thing that I have found that helps is focussing on how I am good enough. I may not be perfect but truly that isn't what our children need. They don't need perfect mothers b/c if we were perfect our children wouldn't learn how to deal with challenges they will encounter in the world and they wouldn't learn how to embrace humanity-all of it the good and joyous times as well as those times that are messy and ugly where we lose our temper, when expectations aren't met, and so on. I really think the best thing, the thing that goes the farthest is being honest, allowing our children to see that we, too, are in process, and apologizing when we screw up. And hopefully by the grace of God we will be good enough.

Thank you for posting this, Arwen. Your words could just as easily be describing me. My house. My family. My life. Life is hard for us right now - for different reasons than it is for you, but hard just the same. I put on a good facade for family and friends, but quite often, I feel like I'm breaking. The same stack of "stuff" sits on my desk waiting to be attended to...but I just can't get it done. The same pile of stuff for goodwill has been sitting in my room for MONTHS. First in my closet - then in the hallway to be moved to the car - then back into my room to hide from company. All it has to do is get into the car, Arwen. That's all. And still, there it sits. Day in and day out. Those things make me crazy. Not "this is so annoying" type of crazy, but "I think i might lose my mind for reals" type of twitchy-crazy. Yet I do nothing about them. Because there's always something else to be done.

And then there's the emotional aspect of our current struggles, which is manifesting itself more and more into a physical tiredness each day. And a lack of desire to get anything done, other than to complain (to myself, of course. Can't let anyone in on my discontent.) about how frustrating it all is.

I feel like I'm hearing more and more moms open up about their struggles right now. That so many moms to young children, in the "trenches of motherhood" (love that Kate Wicker) really do feel like they're IN THE TRENCHES. And in the smallest way, I think that the more we hear about other moms who are struggling - all in our own ways - the easier it makes it to carry on, knowing we're not alone.

And, you know, Gold is tested in fire... :-)

Good post Arwen, you are a good role model for moms out there. I felt connected to you a bit during your pregnancy with the twins. I was also going through my thrid pregnancy which was a surprise and a blessing. We were surprised again when our little girl was born 12 weeks premature. At the time our other children were 4 years old and 16 months old (boys). Our daughter was in the hospital for 10 1/2 weeks. (she is now 9 months old and very happy and healthy) We had so much help from friends and family it was humbling and a blessing. I had help at home during the summer when all 3 were home with me. Then about August it was my turn to be at home by myself with all these kids! What chaos! I struggled so much and am now starting to see the light so to speak. I wanted to share this song I heard with you. Everytime I hear it, I tear up a bit. It really expressed what I am feeling. It is called Strong Enough by Matthew West. The lyrics that get me are below. I encourage you to listen to it. Keep up all the good work!

I know I'm not strong enough to be
everything I'm supposed to be
I give up, I'm not strong enough

Hands of mercy won't you cover me?
Lord, right now I'm asking You to be
strong enough, strong enough
for the both of us

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