what it really means to be an adult: some thoughts

Lately I’ve been working on my awareness, checking in with myself to gauge my mental state. I started when Clara weaned a month ago, because the hormone fluctuation has had a significant impact on me in the past. I was pretty down for a couple of weeks, and now I seem to be back to “normal,” although given that five of the past six years have been spent gestating or nursing, I’m not sure I remember what normal is just yet. My observations are showing that I spend a lot of time teetering on the brink of feeling overwhelmed, and just a wee push sends me over the edge and, if left unchecked, I fall into stress, anxiety, and then a meltdown or a panic attack.

If I pay attention to what I’m feeling in any given moment, then I naturally assume that my feelings are true, that everything is fine and lovely and my children are wonderful, or life is falling apart and stepping on one more Cheerio is a sign of the end times, or no one likes my Instagram picture and therefore I am meaningless. I might be a wee bit dramatic there, but I find that I am dramatic, if I’m letting my feelings run the show.

But feelings are big. The more I help my kids learn how to handle their feelings the more I reinforce my theory that grownups don’t grow out of childhood, they just add more layers. Grownups are children who have internalized a parent that tells them to eat vegetables and go to bed on time (as I am not doing right now). It’s hard to listen to the parent in my head when I am full of feelings that tell me that everything is terrible and what good is anything. But my inner parent says go outside, go for your run, you will feel better. And the parent is right. So the feelings are not exactly wrong, but lacking the bigger picture.

I’m trying to learn to pay better attention to my inner parent. The one that says that checking Facebook usually makes me feel worse, not better. The one that says that I don’t actually want sweets because I end up feeling gross. The one that reminds me that being the adult in the house means that I have to clean because it needs to be done whether it is fun or not, and that a clean house makes for a drastically improved state of mind. It’s difficult. It’s a strange thing to realize that probably every adult you admired as an kid was making it up as they went along. It’s equally strange to start hearing your five-year-old say she wishes she was twenty so she would be able to do things on her own, and remembering those feelings, and realizing that dang, that dream did not manifest in the expected form.

I think that slowly discovering the inner parent was the work of my twenties, and listening to her is the work of my thirties, or maybe the rest of my life. I hear worrying statements from people older than me that indicate that it’s an ongoing struggle, feelings vs inner parent, or id and superego, if we’re getting technically psychological. I feel like the appropriate response to this is to have a temper tantrum because it sucks and it’s hard, but in fact I will click publish, brush my teeth, and go to bed. Like a grown up.