Over the last 18 years of parenting I have made many mistakes. I used to (oh, I still do sometimes) beat myself up about them, but then I realized how unproductive that was. I began to see, somewhere along the line, the gift in the mistake. The gift being the chance to learn more about myself, and my children and what works for me and my family.
One of the most important tidbits of education that came out of a few of my mistakes is the acceptance of myself…my strengths and weaknesses. I did something hard: instead of beating myself up, I looked at myself objectively, and analyzed WHY I goofed up, and how I could change it. No judgments, just self-analysis. No “how stupid of me”, just “what did I do wrong and how can I change so I don’t repeat the pattern over and over again.” It’s a scary thing to do, who wants to critique themselves?- but once I started practicing this, letting the emotion go and looking back objectively, I began to feel so much more self-acceptance. I stopped comparing myself to others, and started getting in touch with my spirit. Sure, there are some things about myself that I needed to work on-I am a firm believer in self-improvement, but there were other things that I realized I would just have to say, “That’s the way I am wired and I must embrace it.”
One of the things I have had to accept is my need for a quiet, focused family life. I tried for years and years to create balance with work, obligations, and family. I tried for years to keep up with the pace I see many mothers handle. I would hear about “juggling” many things at once, and would wonder, “Why am I such a terribly awful juggler?” I would attempt again and again to keep plates in the air, I would compare myself to others who seemed to do a wonderful job at it, I would be envious at their juggling skills, and time and time again, I would fail. Fail meant exhaustion, fail meant guilt at what I felt was unfocused attention to my family, fail meant a general feeling of malaise at what I felt was a half-way job at everything I was trying to accomplish, fail meant a jumbled brain that never felt peace. After several attempts I decided that all this juggling just wasn’t for me. I had some hard moments that were little wake up calls.
Once I volunteered to be a co-leader of my daughter’s Daisy Scout group. I had 3 children when I volunteered, and was in the early months of pregnancy during that year. It was a disaster from the start. I really thought, “What is one little meeting once a week? I can handle that!” I couldn’t. It seemed to roll around so quickly, and I never felt like I was fully prepared. I was sick and exhausted with the pregnancy. I was running to the craft store for this and that, and then showing up at the meeting with a little one in tow. One day that little one went missing in all the chaos and was found half way across the church parking lot. That wasn’t even the kicker. The kicker was getting home each day, with a whiny toddler who was hungry, my older son who had homework that he needed help with, and my daughter, who halfway through the year told me she wished she hadn’t even joined. It was really a disaster from start to finish. I would be snappy and crabby, and spent and unfriendly when my husband walked in the door a few minutes later. I was impatient with my children, I was plain old mean. I would go to bed feeling bad, and honestly, (remember, honesty is the key!) I deserved to feel guilty. But I hated the feeling of guilt. I hated the feeling that I took out my frustrations on my children and my husband. So I knew I had to change something. I realized that this sort of commitment wasn’t for me. I didn’t enjoy it, and I could see it wasn’t benefiting any of us.
Children have little or no say in the way we set up their lives for them, and in the pace we set for them, and in the way these things effect how we react to them. What children really want, I think, is a calm, settled, predictable home life. A mother who is not frazzled, angry, stressed, or impatient. A mother who in in tune to their needs. Parents who aren’t arguing because they both are occupied and don’t have time to communicate properly. I began to realize that being a Daisy Scout mother was far less important than being a nice mother. I began to realize that joining a travel sports team that had us missing dinner every night and separated on the weekends, was giving far less an advantage to our son than spending time with his parents and siblings. I began to realize that bringing in a little extra income wasn’t worth the amount of stress it brought to all of our lives.
I had so many other experiences like this, as I tried something new, and realized that once again, it wasn’t working. I knew what I wanted more than anything was less “gasket blowing” days, and more calm, joyful days.
I decided to look at my good days with my children, the days I really felt like I was an attentive happy mother and wife, and analyze the circumstances that created that day. I also decided to look at the bad days, and find a common denominator. I came to realize that many of those days, I had planned just too much. I started noticing the good days had a slower rhythm to them, a day when I wasn’t rushed to get in to the car to go here or there or anywhere. Sure, some bad days are just bad days from things we can’t control…sick kids, sleepless nights, just a funky day, or a hard stage in family life. But many times the choices we have made determine the pace we set. I started making conscience decisions about the tempo I wanted to establish for my family because I had enabled myself to see what worked for us. FOR US. Not for my friend and her children, not because I had read in magazine I should be doing this and that for my children’s social growth, not because I couldn’t say no without feeling guilty.
Some of those choices were refreshing and easy. Others were bittersweet and brave. After my third child was born, I decided to close a business I had built over the previous years. It was going like gangbusters, I was able to work when my husband was at home and it was lucrative. It seemed silly to walk away from it, from the outside eye, I’m sure. But I knew for sure it was what I had to do to be able to focus on my family like I wanted to. I knew that I would be happier with less…less money, but more than anything, also much less responsibility. My brain felt overcrowded…and what was getting crowded out were the things that really mattered.
As I began to open my eyes to how I could be the best mother for my children, I could see the bigger picture. I had been comparing myself to other moms who seemed to handle so much smoothly, but I realized that maybe they had the skills or support to handle more, or just had made different decisions that didn’t sit right with my conscience. Maybe they were in the same growth stage I had been and that big whammy of a lesson hadn’t happened yet.
I also realized that every brain works differently. My husband is wonderful at compartmentalizing his different roles. His brain I think, has little rooms with doors, and when he walks out of one room so to speak, into another, he can slam that door and all the stress, deadlines, responsibility stay shut in there. My brain doesn’t have doors, heck it doesn’t have walls. I feel all the stress from all the responsibilities all the time. Stress effects how we act every day and I realized that when I felt really happy and content I choose to do one thing, and one thing well. Sure, there could be other little (LITTLE!) things mixed up with all that, but I wanted to dedicated most of that space to be the best mother and wife I could be which was more important to me than anything else. By discovering and acknowledging and then accepting the way I am wired-my low stress threshold, my brain with no doors and walls-that acceptance moved me forward-out of guilt and comparisons, and into the empowering ability to make strong choices for my family.
This journey of self-knowledge is not over I am sure. I have decades of more mistakes ahead of me as my family changes and evolves over time. We have all the signs we need when something is not right…our spirits, when we are still, will tell us. Our children, in their behavior, in their little tender, purely good souls will show us if they are thriving or just surviving the lives we are forcing them to lead. Our marriage, our relationships, will become smooth sailing , or angry resentment. Knowing and accepting myself, and knowing my deep desire to fulfill the dream of how I want these years of motherhood to look for me, allows me to see the big picture, and make brave changes in the little snapshots of everyday life.