It was a beautiful autumn Sunday. We were all in the backyard, putting the final coat of paint on our house. Well, the final coat for this year anyway. This project began four years ago, with the goal of painting one side of the house each year until it was done. For the past two summers, we’ve failed miserably, unable to motivate ourselves to do the amount of scraping required. So, now two sides of our house are a hilarious patchwork of blue and yellow. At least they aren’t visible from the street, although do feel bad for our neighbors on that one side.
The children were helpful for about 30 minutes and then disappeared inside. My husband had his earbuds in. I was finding the rhythmic swish of my brush on the clapboard soothing, although I had a niggling feeling in the back of my mind that something was amiss. It was 11:00 a.m., and we were over halfway done. Was I about to have the entire afternoon available for laundry, or crafts, or nothing at all?
And then I realized the date, and I realized I had failed to RSVP my son for a birthday party that had occurred the day before. The relaxed, accomplished feeling I’d had moments before vanished, replaced by guilt, anxiety, and shame.
Yes, shame. I felt I had failed as a mother. I had accidentally withheld a social opportunity from my son who really needs them. I may have alienated another mom by failing to acknowledge her invitation. I worried that all the kids at school would be talking about the party and my son would think he hadn’t been invited. All of these fears led me to feel ashamed of the job I was doing as a mom.
Because the paint job wasn’t done, I stayed on the ladder turning the clapboards blue as I thought about this predicament. How did I get to this place in my life where responding to an invitation was overwhelming? I saw the invitation on the counter numerous times, and each time thought, “I’ll get to that,” but then I forgot, distracted by the next task–dinner, homework, mediating a fight. The answer to how I got here was, of course, multi-faceted.
- I’m a working mom with two full-time jobs. Although both of my jobs are flexible and neither requires 8 hours a day 5 days a week, there are times when either job demands more of me. Last month, I had two demanding weeks in one of my jobs, working 50+ hours a week.
- My husband’s job requires travel, and he was gone for a week last month. It was one of the weeks where I also worked 50+ hours. I was proud of myself for keeping everything and everyone afloat. Well, almost everything.
- We have had some health challenges in our family. Without giving details or violating anyone’s privacy, suffice it to say that it has required numerous medical appointments and a lot of conversations about which course of treatment to take. These thoughtful, vulnerable conversations have actually strengthened our marriage, but they are also time-consuming.
- I traveled for work mid-month. Although only two weeks had passed between my return and missing the birthday party, I had actually forgotten about my trip. It seemed like a lifetime ago, but more on that later. The intervening weeks had been so busy that mail and laundry were still piled up. I keep sorting the piles but not dealing with them. So, the invitation was buried in the shuffle. Not lost–I knew exactly where it was–but buried.
I climbed down the ladder feeling less ashamed and more understanding. We had juggled a lot as a family, and mostly I was doing a good job as a mom. But one thing was still bothering me: When I took my trip mid-month, it was rejuvenating. Yes, it was a work trip, but it was fun, and I got to spend time with some of my best girlfriends. I came home feeling empowered and ready to tackle the world. Somehow, the minutiae of family life quickly overtook those feelings to such an extent that the trip seemed much further in the past than it actually was.
I decided that feeling bad about myself wasn’t going to solve anything. Obviously, I need a system to manage this type of thing, but the woman who came home empowered and ready to tackle the world can certainly devise a system that works. When I’ll have time to devise that system is anyone’s guess, but at some point, I’ll get to it. In the meantime, I’m giving myself grace and believing that in the grand scheme of things, this isn’t such a big deal.
So, I’ll apologize to the mom and hope she can understand. Going forward, I’ll remember how I felt in the moment I realized my mistake so that I can empathize with other moms. And I’ll also remember how much I was juggling, because every mom is dealing with things she doesn’t share. I’m sure my children or I will be on the receiving end of this exact scenario, and I have to remember: I didn’t fail to RSVP because I didn’t care or because I don’t like the child. It was simply a case of an overwhelmed mom. I’ll be sure not to take it personally and I hope this mom will do the same.