I came to an interesting realization the other day, thanks to both therapy and processing my feelings of burnout. First of all, I’m actually totally burned out. I’m leaving my non profit job of two years this upcoming week. I feel my body slowly shutting down. Every hour at work feels like quick sand; it’s a struggle. I was off for three weeks over Christmas and then I came back, and one month of work felt like 3 months. Remember all my burnout symptoms that I noticed in December? Well they came back, particularly the anger and irritability towards people I supervise and my boss. This was a bad sign. I’m my worst person at work: angry, irritable, frustrated and constantly emotional.
In a moment of anger at work, when I felt totally trapped, suffocated and irritated by mundane requests from others, I suddenly realized that I was my mother. I was my mother’s anger. My mother, who spent every morning waking up angry and taking it out on her children. My mother, who was easily irritated, stressed out and frustrated. My mother, who when I was sick or in need turned frantic and angry. My mother, who when she totally lost her cool and control, hit me as a child, and hit my sisters.
I spent years being angry and resentful towards my mother. I’m only just coming out of it. But I gained new insight. Sure, I knew for years she must have had mental health issues, anger management issues, and had a controlling personality. But I never fully understood why or how someone could be so angry until I started experiencing anger through work in the last two years. And I was angry because of burnout. Working too hard, not being valued, feeling resentful that I wasn’t given the recognition I needed, work becoming my life, my boundaries being crossed, lack of integrity and accountability by my boss, seeing abuse of power, witnessing unjust practices etc.
My mother was burned out. She felt trapped, under-appreciated, overworked, undervalued. Due to her family’s wishes, she didn’t pursue the degree she wanted, or marry the man she wanted, or have the career she wanted. She was an eternal caregiver. She was never able to fully achieve her dreams and goals. She was unfulfilled in her life, her marriage. An educated, stay at home mom in a difficult marriage, all she had were her children.
I don’t know if I’m ready to forgive my mother. But just as in finding compassion for myself when I was angry at work, I’m trying to find compassion for my mother, who was angry in her life. It’s probably going to sound incredibly naive, but my mother, as harsh as she was, was also incredibly loving. I know what it sounds like. If I just ascribed these dynamics to an interpersonal heterosexual relationship, it would sound totally naive and like I was in denial about the relationships (“when it’s good it’s really good”, “when he’s nice to be I love him”, “he isn’t always mean”). But it’s my mother we’re talking about. My mother who supported my education, my career, my self growth, the artist in me, the healer in me. My mother who has told me in tears that she’s sorry for the pain that she caused me as a child and teenager. My mother who lives for her children and loves her children more than anything.
Why aren’t we allowed to talk about difficult motherhood is? How being a mother can be tough, isolating and lonely? That women’s work is still not valued as work! That you might need a break from your kids.
I can’t even imagine. I’m so moody and so into my own space and own time, that if I had a family and children that I had to take care of at the end of a long day at work, well the thought freaks me the fuck out. I know, I’m still young and if the situation presented itself I’m sure I would just jump straight into survival motherhood mode. But I wouldn’t be perfect.
Neither was my mother.