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Skills for success and skills for happiness

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Oh, hello! You’re back for the MHMRWNSJM? Yay! Thank you!

Today’s post comes from Yael Saar of the blog PPD to Joy. This post, in the words of the one and only, dearest Kim, rocks mah socks.

I can’t lie. I had a revelation when I read it in my inbox. I hadn’t even gotten to the end of it before I had to email her and go “OH MY GOD THIS IS THE MISSING LINK TO ALL THE SUCK OF THE FIRST TWO YEARS.” Or something very much like that.

People, this is good stuff here. Good stuff.

Yael’s mission, in her own words, is :

to remove guilt and shame from the parenting experience. I want to show struggling mothers that what seems like a dead-end cave is actually a tunnel, one that can be crossed safely with the support of a loving community throughout the journey.

That kind of sounds like the purpose of this rally, right? Which makes her a perfect fit.

Yael’s story is touching and heartbreaking and was designed with a greater purpose.  I hope you’ll take the time to get to know her a little more after reading her words.

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You’d be amazed how many educated and successful career women are clobbered by motherhood.

Before we had kids, we had lives.
We had jobs, projections, trajectories.
We wrote papers, reports, campaigns.
We were good at things.
We looked great in our work clothes.
People reported to us. Grown-ups depended on us doing things right.
But those people could take care of themselves, so if we dropped a ball (not that we ever did…), nobody would’ve starved.

Then we got pregnant.
Then we had little people depending on us for their LIVES!
Now we spend our days in sweaty clothes, worrying about putting food into them and cleaning up their poop.

And to add insult to injury, the skills that allowed us to climb ladders, run races, get tenure, or break through glass ceilings, are almost useless in life post-bundle-of-joy.

You can do all the research in the world and not find a way to make your colicky baby stop crying.
You can’t negotiate your way through a sleepless night.
You can’t always find a creative solution for constipation (or its opposite).
You can bring a child to water, but you can’t MAKE him drink no matter how dehydrated he is, and you can’t fire him if he doesn’t.

And that glass ceiling might be easier to break than the resolve of an angry toddler.

We are so busted.

Our entire lives we honed our natural talents, aimed to become experts: we tried things, we dropped the ones that didn’t go so well (chemistry, singing, tennis). We pursued and tried to perfect the ones we were naturally good at (design, writing, yoga). Since we never stayed very long where our talents didn’t work, we have no emotional skills to handle the state of being not (yet) good.

So no wonder highly educated career women have a hard time postpartum.  We were forcefully evicted from our loft on “I’m-so-good-at-this-avenue” and our new dwelling is a tent at “what-the-fig-alley,” and it’s pouring rain.

Then there is the staggering difference between expectations and reality.

Sure, the good moments of motherhood are the best thing ever, but what we expect while we’re expecting is ridiculously different from what we actually get. (I just hate that book!)

It’s sort of like singing up for ballet because you think you’ll be graceful, and you like tutus and stages. But when you realize that those pointy shoes hurt like hell and you move like a hippo with stage fright, it’s too late to quit. You are doomed to spend the rest of you life in a tutu that doesn’t fit while everybody is watching.

So we struggle. Of course we do.

When everything we are used to relying on fails us, our identities go through an earthquake. So our self esteem-plummets while our hormones go berserk.

Postpartum depression and anxiety are perfectly natural reactions.

Think about it, how could anybody go through an identity earthquake, a hormonal storm, while sleep, rest, and privacy are taken out of the equation, with her mental health intact?

So we break down. And we think it’s our fault. But it isn’t.
This breakdown is not failure.
There’s an opportunity in the breakdown.
The breakdown of everything that worked so far forces us to learn new skills.

Healing depression requires we stop relying only on skills for success, and acquire some skills for happiness.

Skills like separating our self-worth from our outer achievements. Equating those isn’t exactly healthy in the career world, but mama, if our self-worth is all tied up with our success at getting a kid to gain weight, or sleep through the night, then God help us all. Also vital?

Being patient and compassionate with our beginner selves instead of being angry at ourselves for not being experts.

One of the unexpected gifts I got from postpartum depression was developing an ability to cling to hope and find humor while being terrible at something.

Just today (by the time this is published it will be two days ago) I started learning karate. We wanted our 7 year old to learn a martial art, and there’s a place in town where the parents can practice with their kids in a mixed-age class. Well, what do you know, not only did my son do a whole lot better than I did, the boy who (literally) kicked my behind can’t wait for his birthday party next week. He will be turning three! It was too cute, really, but yes, my ego did bristle. Then the part of me that appreciates the value in the beginner’s mind kicked in. I laughed through my first karate class, and it was not the laugh of embarrassment, I was simply having fun, and I can’t wait to go back. I doubt I could have enjoyed being the worst person in class before learning my lessons from depression.

Healing my depression meant learning these skills for happiness:

  • Disarming guilt.
  • Learning self-care and kinder self-talk.
  • Focusing on meeting needs instead of expectations.
  • Letting go of perfection and striving for very-good-enough-ness.

And the most important skill in my book?

  • Shifting away from trying to control my children and my husband (away from demanding obedience), to  learning non-violent communication skills that foster respectful and loving cooperation .

If you are not familiar with this last skill, you might doubt it, but it works. It WORKS!  And this one really required practicing my beginner’s mind and staying where I didn’t do well right away.  When life with my first toddler was turning to one big fight, my husband and I started learning these new skills. We weren’t very good so we practiced as if our lives depended on it, until we got better. Not perfect, but very good enough. The amount of fighting in my household is so small compared to what it used to be, it’s like a miracle, except it was because of acquired skills, not magic wands.

Now these skills for happiness are far dearer to me than my old skills for success.

And the beauty of it is that when I’m ready to have a career again, my new skills for happiness will be utterly useful there too.

So if you are struggling postpartum and hating yourself for it, try to believe me when I say:

This is not your fault.

You are not to blame.

Your depression hurts like hell, but it is not all bad.

You can learn from it.

You will.

And what you’ll learn will make you a better mother, a better person.

And when your joy comes from the inside, that’s the true definition of success.

_________

Yael Saar adores her two boys but often wishes they slept longer so she could spend more time writing about this stuff and tweeting with the rest of the #ppdchat mamas. She is new to the social media thing, so she still gets really excited when people follow her on Twitter (@yaelsaar) or “Like” her facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/ppdtojoy. If you want to really make her day, post a comment on her blog and she will comment right back.

Yael leads the PPD to Joy support group in Ithaca, NY, and hosts the free PPD SpeakEasy support phone chat. She also writes the PPD Love Letter for mothers, a free monthly dose of skills for happiness, all about getting better at loving ourselves through our postpartum ups and downs. You can sign up for the PPD Love Letter and the PPD SpeakEasy at PPD to Joy.

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