Dear mom: What to do when life is dark and you can't see the light at the end of the tunnel
Every mother has “tunnel” experiences. Maybe you’re in one right now. These are the times when at least one part of your life feels low and dark and uncertain.
They spoke of guilt, comparison, illness, isolation and exhaustion. Other comments included “stifling your own heartache to help your children get through theirs” and feeling “overwhelmed to the point of panic with how much is required.” The “hard stuff” includes entitlement issues, suicide, being pulled in too many directions, the heaviness of the 24/7 responsibility, feeling judged by others, strained marriages, and “having no clue what I am doing, yet being expected to know how to do this.”
I was especially struck by this one: “looking in the fridge and seeing it’s empty ... and knowing that it’s gonna be empty until the next check comes in. ... Some weeks it’s peanut butter sandwiches and pasta with butter.”
We might be up to the minute on Facebook and Instagram posts, but most likely, we never really know what hard things our friends are going through. And because we falsely compare our weaknesses to others’ perfections, we’re convinced that we are totally alone.
It’s essential to know that we’re not alone, but I want to know what other moms do when they’re in the depths of their tunnels. My life is good in so many ways, but I want to know how to get through the really hard parts — with power.
So I’m going to share my best ideas and then invite you to offer your best advice below. Together, we can get through anything.
Here’s a start: Let the tunnel refine you.
In 2003, while we were living in Boston, far away from our families, our son Ethan was born 10 weeks early.
He weighed 3 1/2 pounds and needed to stay in the NICU for six weeks. My husband was just getting ready to start his final exams and fly us across the country for a summer internship. The apartment was one-quarter packed up, our flights were booked and a new tenant was moving in.
The insurance company couldn’t pay the $17,000 to fly Ethan across the country to our new home, so we decided that I would stay in Boston to care for Ethan and pack up the apartment, Eric would go start his new job, and our two little girls, ages 3 and 1, would go live with their grandma for a few weeks.
That was one of the hardest tunnels of my life.
I would pump milk every few hours throughout the night, carry it in a little cooler while I took a city bus to the hospital, hold Ethan all day, and then come home in the evening to pack up our dishes and lamps, talk to my husband and girls on the phone, and try to get a little bit of sleep before it was time to pump again.
I didn’t know if Ethan would be OK. He was tiny. He didn’t know how to nurse or drink from a bottle. He would have spells during the day and the monitors would go crazy.
But I decided that tunnel was going to make me stronger. I sang as I walked to the bus stop, learned the names of the moms and nurses at the hospital, prayed harder than I ever had before, and replaced my self-pity with gratitude that I got to be a mother.
Now when I watch Ethan ride his bike off to school, wearing his cute red helmet and his Super Mario backpack, I think back on those long weeks at the hospital and the love I feel for him and the strength I see in myself overwhelms me.
There’s no rule that says the tunnel has to be dark.
We often hear the phrase, “light at the end of the tunnel,” but that doesn’t mean there can’t be light inside as well.
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