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Etiquette Rules: Struggles with motherhood are not a sign of weakness

April 2, 2017 GMT

There’s a scene from Downton Abbey in which Cousin Isobel and the dry-witted dowager, Violet, played by Dame Maggie Smith, discuss parenting. It goes like this:

Isobel: “Were you a very involved mother?”

Violet: “Does it surprise you?”

Isobel: “I’d imagined them surrounded by nannies and governesses, being starched and ironed to spend an hour with you after tea.”

Violet: “Yes, but it was an hour every day.”

Every hour I spend with my children rolls into a blur of days into weeks into months. I can count the number of times I’ve been alone on one hand since the birth of my second child last fall. A moment of deep solitude was recently spent strolling the aisles of a bustling supermarket alone, where I took my time surveying the selection of honey because I could. And probably because I was simply stuck and didn’t know what to pick up next.

As I struggle to clean muddled mint out of an upholstered chair, I can think of a few grown-up things I could be doing with it. Simple syrup and rum come to mind. My 5-year-old picked it outside our back door and mashed it to a pulp with a plastic stegosaurus. If these daily mash-ups continue, I’ll be going the way of the dinosaur — small-brained and extinct.

Some days, I feel that my life is slipping past me. I am so behind on the “important” stuff and find myself wasting time on random tasks, due to mistakes and oversights, because my brain is like a mushy banana. I mean, really, how many times must I walk back in the house (or drive back) to retrieve another forgotten item key to the task at hand.

My deadline for Christmas thank-you notes has now inched closer to Easter, and I envision doing my taxes the night before they’re due, like cramming for finals back in school.

I accept that my body is not my own right now. My 6-month-old subsists off of me, and the “freshman 15” that still remains from my first pregnancy seems keen to hang on. But my identity as the woman I once was feels trapped, longing to get out with the vigor and drive I used to have with a sharper mind and no constraints.

I was a whole person before I became a wife and mother. Yet, these tremendous blessings have challenged my growth as an individual independent of my family. There’s a new saying that’s been trending for mothers — “You can have it all, just not all at once.” And that gets my knickers in a twist because it’s true for me.

Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge, delivered a timely speech last week while promoting a series of educational films on mental health for parents and their infants. In a rare display, she spoke candidly about her personal challenges on becoming a mother. The pressure to be the ideal parent had left her experiencing a “lack of confidence and feelings of ignorance.”

“Some of this fear is about the pressure to be a perfect parent; pretending we’re all coping perfectly and loving every minute of it.”

Whether it’s London or Santa Fe, there seems to be this rule of etiquette that we must show that we love our role as mothers, and it would be inappropriate to speak otherwise. While I do love it, and more so the second time around, the sacrifice of self, work and brainpower makes me feel like I’m simply surviving day to day.

“It’s right to talk about motherhood as a wonderful thing, but we also need to talk about its stresses and strains,” the duchess said. “It’s OK to not find it easy. And asking for help should not be seen as a sign of weakness.”

“If any of us caught a fever during pregnancy, we would seek advice and support from a doctor,” she added. “Getting help with our mental health is no different.”

Struggles with motherhood are vast and relative to the cards you’ve been dealt. Talking about your challenges with a partner, friend or professional should be as normal as brushings one’s teeth, but that’s easier said than done some days.

I’ve found comfort on social media, such as the local Facebook group Baby Mama Santa Fe. I engage passively in the wee hours — no appointment or insurance required — and it provides a neutral setting away from opinionated relatives.

My family also won the lottery, quite literally, when we were selected for the First Born program, in which a home visitor came to our house every week for three years to promote early childhood development and to simply be an ear for my husband and me. My saving grace was partaking in the many excellent parenting classes offered by the United Way of Santa Fe County.

Many Mothers is a wonderful resource that offers home visitors to help with a myriad of tasks. When circumstances get too large to grasp, Las Cumbres offers supportive therapy sessions to make sense of it all. And all of the above are offered at no cost.

Whatever the outlet, speaking up normalizes a topic that affects almost half the people on the planet.

Whether a princess, professional or pauper, every parent has an hour of need. And our children need us to be well every day. Help yourself or another parent find a moment to speak up, check in or take a timeout.

Bizia Greene is an etiquette consultant and owner of the Etiquette School of Santa Fe. Send your comments and conundrums to hello@etiquettesantafe.com or 505-988-2070.