By Esther Mann, LCSW
This week’s letter is being answered by Jennifer Mann, LMSW.
I am bored of my life. My life is so boring that your readers may not even be able to get through the column this week. My life has become so predictable I can tell you when my husband will go to bed tonight and what we’re eating for dinner next Tuesday. Everything in my life, every day of my life, is exactly the same. I wake up, get the kids off to school, go food shopping (yes, every day I am at Gourmet Glatt), run home, unpack, shower, run errands (Thursdays I pay bills after errands), make dinner, get the kids off the bus, get the snacks and homework started, break up fights, get the showers and baths going, and collapse by 9 p.m.—only to do the same routine the next day.
I see women out, all dressed in their heels and looking gorgeous, just to meet a friend for lunch and go shopping, and they look genuinely happy. I feel guilty for not enjoying my life because obviously there is much to be grateful for. I know people would kill to have these problems, but I can’t help feel that there isn’t much purpose to it. Practically every Shabbos we socialize with our friends or family, but even that has lost its appeal. It’s the same conversation about kids and their schools, the tuition crisis, the latest drama with in-laws or what’s going on in the neighborhood . . . Forgive me, but it’s so completely boring already. I am no slouch and consider myself to be somewhat introspective, and I have asked myself many times, “What else would I rather be doing with my life?”
In my fantasy, I am a single woman living in Manhattan with an exciting career in fashion. I have late-night work meetings and meet up with friends on a whim. (My daughter is allergic to dogs, so in my fantasy I also have a dog.) I have a gorgeous wardrobe and spend time doing my makeup and hair in the morning. You get the picture. Basically, my fantasy is to be a single career woman. Is that terrible? I feel guilty about this fantasy as well. I would never actually leave my family. I love them all so much and I can’t imagine being without them. I feel hopeless when it comes to spicing up my life and guilty about my feelings, and I wonder if there is something wrong with me that is preventing me from finding inner peace.
Bored to Tears
Dear Bored to Tears,
Feeling bored during the child-rearing years, especially when the children are young, is completely normal. Other common emotions and reactions to full-time motherhood are feeling overwhelmed, anxious, depressed, and lonely. Though motherhood comes with periods of extreme joy, anyone who tells you it is bereft of lows is lying. There is the elation when your child learns to read, says please and thank-you to a stranger, or gets an A on a test. Or when you peek in on him when he is sleeping, looking so peaceful and delicious and you are so filled with ecstasy you just need to sniff his head and plant a quick kiss (and then get out of there before you wake him; you love him but you’re not crazy!).
During those moments, you may feel that it is all worth it and you would gladly change dirty diapers every day for the rest of your life because it is a small price to pay for this tiny miracle . . . motherhood! On the other hand, motherhood: folding laundry every day for the next 18 years, handling uncomfortable phone calls such as “Your kid hit my kid on the bus today” or, from a well-meaning teacher, “I think you need to sit down and read more, organize him, help him more, study with him more.” More? As if you are fiddling your thumbs, drinking a piña colada!
Making dinner, attending parent-teacher conferences, bathing, endless visits to the doctor, helping your kids cope with the emotional roller coaster of friends and school (and then quieting your own emotional roller coaster set off by theirs). It’s a lot. Women in the next stage of life may have told you to enjoy these years because they are gone in a blink, and in no time you will find yourself wishing to be back. You may know this to be true, but somehow it may make you feel even worse about yourself for not being able to be cheerful while making lunches at 11 p.m.
These are hard years that you are in right now. While some women may handle it with grace and dignity and find it enjoyable or fulfilling, there is nothing wrong with you for finding yourself bored. You are no less a mother, and you love your children no less. As hard as it is not to look into other people’s lives, don’t invest your energy into imagining how happy the high-heeled ladies of Gourmet Glatt—or any other woman— must be.
You can invest your energies into the reason that you are looking at others in the first place. Perhaps your boredom is not stemming from everything present in your life, but from what is missing. I would like to take a look at that fantasy of yours (very normal and healthy) and perhaps glean from it what may be at the root of your boredom. In your fantasy, you have no responsibility to anyone other than yourself. You call the shots. You have time for yourself: your primping, your dog, your work, your friends.
It sounds like you might be craving some control in your life—control to call the shots and do things for yourself. I wonder if you can apply this aspect of your fantasy to your current life. I understand you can’t have a dog because of your daughter’s allergy, but you can make strides to take control and carve out time for yourself.
Many women have a difficult time breaking away from the family to do something they may consider “selfish,” like seeing a friend, getting a manicure, going to a movie, etc. You have no “me time” in your schedule at all. It also seems as though you don’t confide in your friends in a soulful, authentic way. I encourage you to explore why this is so. As a beginning exercise, I would like you to complete this sentence: “A mother should . . .”
Some mothers have certain expectations for themselves of what they as mothers “should” do or “should” be, and often pursuing an interest that conflicts with one of the “shoulds” may contribute to the feeling you are deeply familiar with—guilt.
From your letter, I have a sense that you are a creative, dynamic, introspective, intelligent, and funny woman. Would you be pursuing your interests if you only gave yourself permission to do so? If you want to spice up your life, you will have to give yourself permission to do so. Some questions for you to ponder, should you venture into exploring your current situation and gaining some control: How did I get here? Why am I living my life this way? How did my mother raise me? How do I feel about how my mother raised me? How do I feel about the way I am raising my children? Who am I afraid of disappointing? When was the last time I felt a sense of mastery, and what was my life situation then?
A mother’s guilt is certainly uncomfortable; at worst, it has even been described to me as a death sentence. Don’t let it pressure you into keeping your life status quo. Use it for introspection. Push through it. In making an effort to discover what is missing in your life, trust in the love you have for your children and in the belief that children need a happy, fulfilled mother more than anything else.
We are not victims of our lives, but co-creators of our experiences. In some way, shape, or form, you have helped create what is bothering you. If we look at life believing that we are victims of circumstance, then we don’t have much room to make changes. But if we believe that we have played a role in the creation of our circumstances, then we can take inventory and make adjustments.
Wishing you fulfillment and inner peace—
Jennifer Mann is presently working as a psychotherapist at Ohel. She also works as a relationship coach and can be reached at 718-908-0512.