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.