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. Instead, I did something hard: I looked at myself objectively, and analyzed WHY I goofed up, and how I could change it. 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.”
I stopped comparing myself to others, and started getting in touch with my spirit. Sure, there were some things about myself that I needed to work on. 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 to keep up with the pace I see many other mothers handle. I would fail. Fail meant exhaustion, and guilt at what I felt was unfocused attention to my family. Fail meant doing a half-way job at everything I was trying to accomplish. After several attempts, I decided that all this juggling just wasn’t for me.
For example, once I volunteered to be a co-leader of my daughter’s Daisy Scout group. I had three children when I volunteered, and was in the early months of pregnancy. 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 to 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, hungry toddler, to 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. I would be snappy, spent and unfriendly when my husband walked in the door. 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. I realized that this sort of commitment wasn’t for me.
What Do Children Really Want?
Children have little or no say in the way we set up their lives for them, in the pace we set for them, and in the way these things affect how we react to them. What children really want, I think, is a calm, settled, predictable home life. They want a mother who is not frazzled, angry, stressed, or impatient. A mother who is in tune to their needs. Parents who aren’t arguing because they are both 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 knew that what I wanted more than anything was less “gasket blowing” days, and more calm, joyful days.
How Do We Figure Out What’s Working . . . and Not Working?
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 started noticing that the good days had a slower rhythm to them, days when I wasn’t rushed to get in to the car to go here or there or anywhere. I came to realize that on many of the bad days, I had planned just too much. Sure, some bad days are just bad from things we can’t control…sick kids, sleepless nights, 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 a magazine that I should be doing this and that, 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. I’m sure, from the outside, it seemed silly to walk away from it. 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.
What Helps Us Keep the Right Perspective?
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 so 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.
I also realized that every brain works differently. My husband is wonderful at compartmentalizing his different roles. I think his brain has little rooms with doors. When he walks out of one room, so to speak, into another, he can slam that door and all the stress, deadlines, and responsibilities 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 affects how we act every day. I realized that when I felt really happy and content, I chose 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. By discovering, acknowledging and then accepting the way I am wired, I moved 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’m 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 tender, pure 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 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.
QUESTION: Do you feel like there is a conscious pace to your family life?
CHALLENGE: Start taking note of and make a list of the qualities of a good day and a bad day. Try to implement more often the things that contribute to a good day.
I read Sarah’s blog daily for the stories, inspiration and advice. Once again she does not fail on helping moms improve their lives which in turn improves their family as a whole. Thank you Sarah!!
Yes! Yes! Yes!
This past year I started pushing stuff off my plate. I started learning how to say No! And I stopped comparing myself to other moms. I can only handle xyz and that is it. It made me realize the important things in life and allowed me to let the other stuff go. 🙂 Great article!
Oh I love Sarah! I am the same way, I do much better with a slower pace. It gets hectic enough with 5 children! I needed this today as I have been contemplating getting involved with a “cause” near and dear to my heart, but will take time away from my little ones. The cause can wait, my little ones won’t!
Lindsay Ruiz says
Thank you! Just what I needed to hear tonight as I end the day. I, too, have been contemplating the pace of our family and quite frankly, it’s much to fast. There are so many wonderful things to be involved in, but it is in the slower times that I realize we are happiest. I noticed a big difference over Christmas break with my kids. No schedules to adhere to, no assignments to complete, and it was nice to not have the stress. Thanks again Sarah!
Wow- this article is what so many need to hear- especially me. Mostly to validate the choices I’ve made to simplify my family’s life. Thank you Sarah
Such a wonderful article and so very true. I recently closed the door on a successful home business because of the time it took away from my family. My brain was constantly overcrowded and my family suffered for it. Since that decision was made my life is fully focused on being a ‘deliberate mother’ and I have never been happier! I feel such peace now that I never want to go back to where I was. (It was a previous article from the Power of Moms that inspired me to make this decision. Thank-you for sharing your insights with other moms. You’ve helped changed my life.)
This is such a timely article for me. I did the same thing… started off as a leader in my daughter’s Daisy troop. I realized after that first year that it was too much to handle. However, I did have a co-leader that was a big help, and said- “if you stay, I will too.” Fast forward a few years and we have eight junior scouts. My coleader sadly moved away last year. I have asked twice for another mom to take over and no one steps up. Each year, out of guilt, I sign on again. I do this because the girls love scouting, especially my daughter. Knowing that the troop would dissolve w/o a leader makes me feel horrible. How do I step away? I work full time, and have another child with special needs. I have just discovered this website and love it. I just bought the M.O.M. program and look forward to implementing it!
Thank you, Sarah, for having the courage to say all of this out loud. I definitely needed to hear it today.
As a Mum to 5 children I have identified some of the same issues in our family. I am much more deliberate about how i choose to “volunteer” my time or the time of my family. Love the part about “it’s only once a week, I can do that” – I do that ALL the time, and when it comes time, it’s too late to pull out and let someone down! Thanks for a great article that reminded me to stay focused! 🙂
Tricia at Mom is the Only Girl says
I really needed to read this today. It was confirmation for me. I just ‘resigned’ a volunteer chair position as it (and other things) have been draining me, leaving me little ambition to improve and taking my joy away from the events I was planning – that were meant for me to enjoy too! I felt guilty doing it, but now that I have and have read your article I’m realizing I’m not the mom who can do everything and do it well with no energy left for my family, rather I’m the mom who can do a few things really well and still have the time, devotion and energy to be ‘present’ with my guys! Thank you for the confirmation!
Wonderful article! Thanks to my learning circle I had the courage today to step away from a church calling for a while that was totally overwhelming me. I had major surgery two weeks ago and still felt guilty for wanting to just focus on the care of my family. Choosing to do less is the right thing to do! It is not easy or popular, and often others will not support this choice. But nothing is more important than what we do at home!
I should have known this was Sarah from Clover Lane! Great job Sarah! I needed this! As an adoptive mother I feel even more pressure to be a great mom and give my children every opportunity. I also struggle to pull myself away from distractions. I am definitely going to sit down and take a god hard look at how I am spending my time and make sure it is consistent with my priorities. Thanks Sarah!
I agree. Sarah is a wise mama.
Anna Jenkins says
Great article, Sarah. This over-achieving world needs more moms who will realize how much they have over-scheduled their families and will do something proactive about it. We need to choose between Good, Better and Best.