I thought the Good Mom vs Bad Mom deserved a sequel. If crap action movies with bad acting deserve sequels, so do real life talks that somehow tend to get swept under the rug. Although I am writing with moms in mind, this is not a piece just for women. I hope you enjoy.
Without exception, the mothers I know feel like they have failed to measure up on some level. Somehow as parents, we tend to feel that if anything ever doesn’t go according to plan in our children’s lives, it happened because we failed to help them deal with this, that and the other. But the truth is, sometimes things just don’t happen as planned. In that case, we are forced to learn to trust God with the outcome. That almost ends up being better for us, doesn’t it; to be left facing a wall and realizing that only God is in control. We are just mere humans trying to do the best that we can, which never seems to be good enough anyway.
As Judith Warner so eloquently wrote in her book, Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety, “This widespread, choking cocktail of guilt and anxiety and resentment and regret … is poisoning motherhood.”
I have been pondering the reasons for this maternal anxiety ever since I first found myself suffering from it, sitting in a playground, my laptop and latest purse traded in for a diaper bag. My focus had been narrowed down to my baby; and myself, my work, my goals and my ambitions were hiding behind what I thought was anger, but I now realize that it was closer to despair. I had always been driven and ambitious, myopically fixated on career and business ventures. But I was now a mom.
Not only did I feel like I had suffocated and killed every last brain cell, but after months of no sleep, annoying nursery rhymes, the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse and relearning animal names in all the languages I was now trying to pass on to my son, I felt too exhausted to do anything other than to stare at the TV in my down time. Not even watch TV, but just stare at it. Sometimes, I even had it on mute or still hadn’t changed the channel from Disney Junior.
I had traded in my books for brainless reality TV, my spreadsheets for feeding and nap schedules. I had traded in my social life and my traveling for Gymboree’s and CityBabes. I felt incompetent, incapable and ineffective. I envied my friends with no kids, I envied my husband and his ability to still come in and out as he found necessary. He was still able to work and travel and walk out the door to grab a coffee as he wished. Man, I was so envious.
Not in a bad way, don’t get me wrong. I did not have bad feelings towards them or envy their lives, nor did I hate mine. I love my son more than anything, that will never change. What I envied was their freedom to continue their lives as they wanted, without having to drop every single thing they considered of importance to just simply be there for someone that clearly couldn’t look after himself for five seconds. I always laugh at a friend of mine when she jokingly says that she’s so over “needy people” as she refers to her 2-year-old. But it’s true, they are just SO needy. They get jealous when you try to have a conversation, when you look at your phone, when you just simply sit there and don’t engage in the toy-car race they are participating in.
I wasn’t made for that; I have businesses to run, places to visit, books to read, people to socialize with, events to attend. Even getting dressed, which is something I have always had fun with, became disinteresting. Everything I put on got ruined and dirty within the first half hour and also, who was I kidding- I had nowhere to go anyway!
I was NOT ready for that, let me tell you. I had lived a very independent life up to that point and I did not expect to have to give that up completely. Why couldn’t my son just travel with me, sleep on the plane, color a book while I had a conversation? But no, it doesn’t work that way. We have to die to ourselves and live through them. We have to make all decisions for them because we know better. Then we have to try to express to them, through love, that they can trust us and that we will do right by them. And they hate it. They fight it; throw tantrums, scream and throw food on my new dress… And yet, our love keeps us there. Day after day we come back to them, dropping everything that we would like to do, trying to do right by them and to instill trust through love, whether or not they understand us. (Wait… I’ve heard something like that before… Doesn’t it sound familiar?)
Not only was I envious of the freedom people around me had, but I was also envious of happy housewives. If only I were the type of personality that was content with being home and looking after kids my life would be so much easier. The neighbor’s grass is always greener.
I recently figured out that the problem is NEVER circumstances, but it’s our hearts and perceptions. This “if only” talk only gives us excuses. If only I got that promotion at work, if only I found a loving husband, if only I was able to conceive, if only I had a different upbringing; if only, if only.
So many excuses; all good, none valid. None of our circumstances should have the power to define the quality of our lives. Joy is found on the inside. No circumstances can bring or take away your joy. Happiness, maybe; a good time, for sure. But not joy and definitely not peace. Like I said, those need to be established on the inside.
It’s all about our hearts and perceptions. It’s all about how much we focus on ourselves and our “poor me’s”. We need to keep our hearts in check, eliminate our self-centered focus and project it onto others. That is why I believe that as “miserable” as it felt to lose my freedom, I also found so much joy in my son. He had become the emphasis in my life; I was no longer my own focus. What a dangerous thing it is, to be your own focus. A self-centered life robs us all of our joy.
I know you’re probably asking yourself why, then, did I not feel “happy” if I had it all and my focus was on my son? Ah- good question. The answer was in my second point: because you also MUST keep your heart in check. But how do we do that? How do we keep our hearts in check if we can’t even trust our emotions?
First and most importantly, we need to live with gratitude as a foundation. Gratitude and thankfulness are a game changer. Try it out one day. Wake up and start thanking God for EVERYTHING, no matter how small. Thank you God for another day, thank you for my toothbrush, thank you for my job. Thank the guy who sold you your newspaper, thank the drivers next to you for stopping at the red light, thank the radio for playing your favorite song, thank the flowers for looking pretty. Thank your co-worker for finally handing in that document you asked for a week ago, even if he was late and misspelled every other word on it. Do it not with sarcasm, but with a genuine and grateful spirit. Thank the sun for shining. Thank God for your screaming kid’s healthy lungs. You will not believe how full you will feel at the end of the day. Anxiety has no place in a thankful heart. Replace anxiety with gratitude.
Accept and acknowledge your season.
No seasons last forever. If this is a tough season for you, acknowledge it, accept it, and know that it will pass. My son will not be two forever, your job doesn’t have to be permanent, you can move out of that bad neighborhood. You don’t need to hold that grudge, you don’t need to continue that fight, and you don’t have to accept that your family history defines you. We CAN move forward, we CAN get past it, and until we do, we CAN be grateful for what we have rather than be angry about what we lack.
Keep the right people in your life.
Drop toxic friends from your life- there is no excuse. It’s just not worth it. People who just take and never give, people who discourage you, people who don’t accept you, people who you can’t trust. If you don’t have any “good people” around you, begin by becoming the person you need in your life. Need someone to trust? Trust EVERYONE. Give EVERYONE the benefit of the doubt. Need generous people in your life? Become more generous. It’s better to be hurt than lonely. I learned that the hard way. The only way to live a healthy life is through relationship. The only way to find love is by learning how to love. Be the person you want to meet.
Recognize when to give up control.
Sometimes, we won’t have control over situations in our lives, and that is ok. When things seem out of your control, that is the perfect opportunity for you to recognize that you don’t have all answers. Give it to God and trust Him as you go on with your joyful life in a constant state of gratitude.
What a privilege it is to be “forcefully” put back into that very position, yet once again. Facing a wall. Not knowing how to move forward. Again having no choice. Only then can we completely and fully depend on God to show up. And He always does.