Well, here I am again, trying to journal and chronicle a day’s or week’s or month’s worth of thoughts to convince myself that I am not completely wasting my time. All the days seem to fly by with rarely something tangible to show for them. Most evenings lately find me recounting the day’s events to mon mari, looking for sympathy about how bad I have it here at home. How miserable it is to be unappreciated. How I have to “put up with” tantrums and uncooperative children. Why am I seemingly in a competition to prove I am at the top of the “mistreated” and “unlucky” pile?
I think it all began with empathy…and judging, and bragging… Oh, and lying. Well, more like filtering the truth… Well, let me explain…
I know it’s not just me, so I’m only a little nervous about posting this confession, but when my oldest enfant was a baby I was a first-rate comparer and judger of other Moms. I became a La Leche League leader and I was surrounded by other Moms who felt the same way as me about breastfeeding and the exhausting form of parenting I seemed to be unable to avoid because of my personality. I felt very proud of myself and my decisions, at the expense of all the moms I judged for making choices to let their baby cry, stop breastfeeding, or return to work happily. I know this sounds horrible, but I am not a bad person. I am just an extremely insecure person. I was hiding behind pride and self-confidence, but it was just a mask over my constant search in every book for the answer to my most pressing question, “How do I do this the right way?! It is so hard!” I needed to compare my life to these moms because I was so unsure of my own decisions as a new mom. I needed to feel like there was a “right” decision and that I had made it.
What a lot of pressure I had put on myself! Trying to live up to ideals created by what I condemned became nearly impossible. Once our second child was born and I couldn’t meet both children’s needs all the time I felt like a failure. My only evidence that I was a good parent had been that I was doing everything like the Earth Mama’s with long flowing skirts in all the natural parenting magazines. When I lost my patience or couldn’t remember a perfect parenting tool in a tough moment, my insecurity grew and grew until it was running away with me and was all I could feel. I constantly felt like a fake– trying to be the “gentle guidance” mom in public, losing my patience constantly at home. I remember one particularly upsetting morning when I confessed to my La Leche League group (as the LLL leader), that I had hurt my throat yelling at the children to get ready that morning. It was the looks on the faces of those moms that made me realize that they were relieved to hear me say that I had struggles too.
That opened up something in me that made me want to share my real parenting experiences and allow others to share theirs as well. I started talking more about how hard things were, instead of always saying, “I love staying home with the children!” “It is so fascinating to watch them learn!” These things are absolutely true… Sometimes. But there are also times when I am crying and they are crying and I am wishing I had a life “like everyone else” where I could send them away for the day and do my own thing.
I was driving back from homeschool group in Erie with the children a few weeks ago when I realized that trying to be “like everyone else” is what is causing most of my stress. Who is “everyone else”? Well, in my mind, “everyone else” calmly gets cheerful children ready for a happy day at school then drinks their green tea on the way to a job they love and would do even if they didn’t get paid for it, ending the “work” part of their day in time to gather the still-cheerful children for a wholesome family meal ’round the dining room table lit with candles. Classical music playing in the background. The children then play board games, or maybe watch a TV show (their only “screen time ” of the day) while the parents have an intellectual discussion. Then everyone is playfully prepared for bedtime where the children stay in their own beds, sleeping soundly and waking well-rested and ready for another neatly-categorized day of life.
In my mind, their lives fit into neatly-organized boxes labeled :Work time, school time, Family time, Couple time, Me time, etc.
Meanwhile, my life is unorganizable: school time is also family time, sometimes it’s also work time. Me time is worked in during school time and family time, and sometimes independently or during work time. It’s all a jumble, and I don’t like jumbles. I like things nicely organized in labeled boxes with file folders color-coded and triple-indexed. My life is never going to be that way, and “everyone else’s” is… Right???
No, in fact, I had convinced myself, throughout years of second-guessing and comparing and wondering if I am doing it “right” that what I am seeing of everyone else is really their truth, but really it’s just their filtered truth, just as that’s what all they see of me. We’re either saying generic phrases like “It’s so hard” without sharing what that really looks like for us, or we’re posting pictures of our berry-picking and sand castle building, as if our whole life is made of solely of these moments. Most of us are choosing what we want others to see and filtering out the rest for our private thoughts and moments (Tu sais, Those moments where you’re either screaming, or crying, or just in general losing it?). Others’ lives seemed so neatly categorized, boxed and simple to deal with, because I am not seeing them during their tough moments at home; the tough moments that sometimes we keep only to ourselves because we are living them only in our insecurities and worries. We don’t post those things on Facebook, do we?
And, yet, it is what I picture when I imagine how “everyone else” is living. I know that I look at other moms and think this is how their lives are and how they must be managing things so well without crying fits or thoughts of inadequacy, questioning their choices in the darkest of these moments… It is these thoughts that make me consider sending the children to school (Wouldn’t that fix everything?). It is these thoughts that make me think about going back to work (That would be time to myself, right?). Then, I reassess what I actually want out of life, what I really like to do (because, I think that should be at the core of our decisions– feeding our passions), and I can’t think of what I would prefer to what I have. The reality is, that this life I am living is the perfect one for me, because I have made these decisions consciously, with lots of thought, consideration, and weighing the options with my mind and my personality. This does NOT mean that I think homeschooling is always the right choice or that it will always be the right choice for us. It does NOT mean that I think all moms should stay home with their kids or that it will always be the right choice for us. It means that every Mom who has choices and makes them thoughtfully is living her perfect life too. Life isn’t perfect, we’ve all heard that, but I’m talking about lots of different Perfects, because my Perfect can’t possibly be someone else’s. There is a series of events and decisions that has gotten us to this ideal point.
Over a year ago I discovered Kundalini yoga, an unusual form of yoga that focuses on kriyas. Kriyas focus your energy in particular directions, towards particular goals. My teacher, Ruth, is a Kundalini expert, and conducts the class in the traditional way, ending with a 10 minute gong meditation. While the gong is sending vibrations through the room, you can physically feel energy moving through your body. To me, it was clearly moving the “bad stuff” out and the “good stuff” in. After the gong meditation and closing song, Ruth would always share a quote or inspirational reading. One class in particular changed the way I looked at the people of the world, and it made me get rid of judging others.
Ruth read about how from our conception to our present moment, every single event in our lives has proven our uniqueness and our right to individuality. The chances of each of us being who we are is amazing to think about, since one difference in our past would have made alterations like ripples through our future selves. Thinking about each person being exactly who they are supposed to be made me embrace humanity with love and understanding. I started transferring this feeling of compassion to other thoughts throughout my days. I began to think of others’ choices in a new light: a sign that they were purely themselves, as we all are. I was amazed, but I was suddenly completely free of judgement of other moms.
Of course, I do still judge, but not about the same things. To me, a good mother is one who is making choices to take care of herself, showing her children that we are all important. A good mother chooses what will enrich her days, so that she can enthusiastically share those moments with her family through joy that comes from her fulfilled life. A good mother keeps her children safe, breaking a pattern of being with abusive people, therefore teaching her children about finding solace in a family that doesn’t include power struggles and violence and fear. A good mother leads by example, guiding her children through a life that is complicated at times, joyful at others, but always surrounded by Love.
We all make choices, and they seem so important in the midst of the early years of parenting, but our children will benefit more from us being happy and fulfilled than from breast milk or having mom at home.
Right now, I feel the choices our family has made fit us and our personalities, and it is the best way we can manage our lives, however crazy and hectic that tends to be. But, I am not willing to say that we are doing things “the right way”, because I have learned that it doesn’t exist. It’s right for us right now, but not even necessarily forever. We learn new things about ourselves and our children with every new season, and who knows where that will lead? Down an exciting, sometimes scary, sometimes boring, often beautiful and love-filled path of always being my unique self, and that is all I can hope for.
And, by the way, I am going to start telling the truth to other moms. The real truth about what is going on with me: my real struggles, my real joys, my real worries, and why I make decisions, and how I feel about them. I’m going to try to not hide behind truth filters of over-confidence, bragging, or self-deprecating remarks and insecurities. Sharing honestly is what I need to do to help myself understand moi. I wishfully hope to begin to make a dent in this mommy-guilt plague that has taken over our population. If you feel like sharing some honest thoughts below, please do so, respectfully.
*I can’t recall the exact quote, but perhaps if Ruth reads this, she will be kind enough to post it below, in the comments section.