It's Not Just You — No One Knows How To 'Adult'

Photo: Joseph Kellner via Unsplash
It's Not Just You — No One Knows How To 'Adult'
Family, Self

By Joni Edelman

I have no idea what I’m doing. On any given day, at any given moment, I am so thoroughly and genuinely confused about what is happening that I wouldn’t be able to find my own head were it not attached.

You wouldn’t know that about me unless you looked close, though. Most of the time, it seems like I have my act together.

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I’m bathed and clothed in things that are stylish and matching. I have a job — it seems like a pretty good one. I have raised (and am still raising) kids — what looks like pretty successfully.

My little kids are cute and (mostly) clothed. My 18-year-old son is getting good grades, is drum major of his school marching band, working, and being generally awesome.

My older kids are in college, well-groomed, and in long-term relationships with people who are well-groomed, kind, and apparently well-adjusted.

At first glance, I seem like I’m doing really well. Don't let first glances fool you. I am totally lost. 

Someone messaged me on Instagram today to say that I must be a great mother, because my family looks so happy. Anyone who messages me to tell me that I must be a great mother, will get the same response: “I have no freaking idea what I’m doing.” 

Sometimes I have thought I knew what I was doing (when I was like 20), but nope. I have never known what I’m doing.

I moved out when I was 17. I had a checking account and a car in my name and a brand new 18-inch color TV. I had an apartment with a roommate I did not know. I had no idea how to pay taxes or my electric bill. I had no idea what I was doing.

A year later, my mother left my step-father, but not before she brought me my four-year-old sister and told me I could “have her.” Two months later, I married my high school sweetheart.

I forgot my sister at school more than once. I forgot to pay the rent. I dug through the sofa for nickels to buy gas. I had no idea what I was doing.

Two years after that, I brought my first child home from the hospital. I had no idea what I was doing. Seventeen years after that, I brought my fifth child home from the hospital. I still had no idea what I was doing. Seventeen years of parenting means nothing when your baby won't sleep. 

I started writing things and running a website. I lost weight. I gained weight. I lost weight. I was on TV. I wrote a hundred essays. I’m writing this one now. I have no idea what I’m doing.

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Today, my seven-year-old first grader, riddled with an anxiety I have yet to be able to understand, refused to get out of the van in the school drop-off lane. My husband had taken her to school and froze when she wouldn’t go.

He brought her home and I thought I’d talk her through her feelings and get her to to agree to go back. I mean, I know what I'm doing, right? She screamed at me and told me to go away and that she was never going to school again. So, yeah, I still don’t know what I’m doing.

I may have never known what I was doing — even when I should really have known what I was doing. 

An example: Ten years ago, I was a newly graduated Registered Nurse in a busy labor and delivery unit of a local hospital. A patient came screaming in through triage — her first baby, she said.

As was customary, I didn’t call the doctor immediately. First babies take a while. First time moms are known to scream at 2 cm dilation. There are few people more angry than an obstetrician called at 2 AM for a delivery that won’t happen until 7.

Imagine my surprise when the woman drug herself, still screaming, up on the bed and hollered between screams, “The baby is coming. Where is the doctor?!” Nurses catch babies coming out of mothers a lot more often than you’d think — but this was my first.

You know what a first-time mother doesn’t want to hear? That the nurse between her legs has not only never caught a baby, but has only actually been a nurse for a total of about five minutes.

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I had no idea what I was doing. But that’s not what I told her. 

Instead of screaming back, “I don't know where the doctor is but I sure would like to becuase I have never done this before. Oh my god please wait for him!” I said, in the most calm voice I could manage while being terrified I was going to drop a slippery newborn on the floor, “Don’t worry! This happens all the time. [I mean, not to me, but, in general.] It’s no problem at all.”

The baby was born. The OBGYN was mad, because I called him too late. The necessary "incident" paperwork filled out. No one ever knew that I almost s*** my pants.

I am here to tell you, I had the education and the critical thinking skills necessary to catch a baby and keep it from hitting the floor. I even had a literal license to catch babies and keep them from hitting the floor, but I still had no idea what I was doing.

I’m not telling you this because I want you to think every nurse you even encounter is in a constant state of panic; I’m just telling you this because, if a trained medical professional doesn’t know what they are doing in a setting where they are specifically trained to know what they are doing, why should you know what you’re doing literally any time at all?

I'm the mentally ill child of an addict with five kids, two mortgages, a disaster zone of a house, and two hours of sleep.

I have no idea what I'm doing. Much of the time, no one really knows what they are doing.

It’s okay to have no idea what you’re doing. Not only because life is hard, but also because no one does.

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Joni Edelman is a writer who focuses on self-care, self-love, and health and wellness. For more of her self-care content, visit her Twitter page.

This article was originally published at Ravishly. Reprinted with permission from the author.