I was raised in a quintessential home with a loving family and anything I could have every wanted. I did not go through a lot of difficult challenges or very hard things. This is great, of course. I am so grateful for my loving family and the wonderful childhood that was a gift to me and it shaped me into who I am today.
I got married and starting working and life continued to be fine and dandy. Of course, there were challenges, but overall I was able to deal with everything and maintain my naturally happy-go-lucky attitude.
Then I became a mother. And my child had extreme food allergies linked to an autoimmune disease and asthma. Along with some other challenges, those first couple years of motherhood were tough for me. My perfect little world was rocked. Then my second little boy was born, my oldest son was still not healthy, we had just moved to Texas away from family, and we were dealing with other challenges. (Aren’t we all?!) I was trying to keep it all together. I was trying to be that perfect mother and take care of my children and do all those things I felt I was supposed to be doing. I was started to taste a little dose of that thing called life.
I wasn’t succeeding. I was flailing with my head barely above water, realizing I thought I knew how to swim but I didn’t. I was madly in love with my two little boys, but wondered, “how does one person do all this?” I would talk to my mom on the phone about how hard it all was and just in an overall quandary about how I was supposed to make all this work. She felt for her daughter and wanted to help, so she would come out and visit every few months. I was stressed and busy and worn out and tired, and then my mom would come and everything was better and easier and I could relax a little bit again. I would go to the grocery store alone while she stayed home with the boys and I would enjoy a salad from the salad bar. I would go to the library and make lists of how to try to do all that I wanted to do, that I was currently nowhere near. Then she would have to leave and the day she left I was stressed again. Was I missing some piece of the puzzle!?
We would go on a little family trip and I was APPALLED at how much time and effort it took to prepare for the trip and just be on the trip. I kept thinking, “my parents did all this for every trip we went on?!”
I was waiting for life to get easier. It felt like every single thing I had to do was more difficult that what I expected. Everything took longer. Nothing was quick and easy. I thought that if I could just be a little more efficient or work a little harder or manage my time a little bit better, then I would be okay. I would be able to do all that I needed to do, and take care of my children, and provide them healthy meals, and teach them, and love them, and balance it all… and not be so stressed all the time and just be happy.
I don’t remember exactly when it happened, that things changed. I know it didn’t happen all at once. It happened slowly as I tried to figure out the formula. I asked one friend “how do I do it all?!” and instead of telling me how to try to make myself more, she told me to make “it all” less. I didn’t have to give my kids a bath every night. I didn’t have to dress them in matching pajama sets every night and change their outfits into day clothes every day.
I didn’t have to “do it all.”
I had been asking myself the wrong question. Instead of asking, “how do I do it all?” I needed to ask, “what is most important for me to do? At the end of the day, what really matters? What can I stop worrying about?”
It happened as I read books that gave me a new perspective on motherhood and life. I read about mothers in other cultures and realized the standard American way of motherhood was not only not the only way, but also not necessarily the best way. There is no “best” way. We are all just doing our best and we all have our strengths and weaknesses.
It happened as I turned to God and was inspired by incredible friends who helped me see better ways. I read one parenting book that really opened my eyes and helped me. It is (more than) okay to let your children struggle through things. It is okay to let them work their way through things. It is not my responsibility as their mother to prevent every tear and every skinned knee along the journey of childhood, but that doing so would in fact rob them of the growing and learning they so desperately needed.
It happened as I realized I wasn’t doing my children any favors by always putting myself last. I realized my emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual health was of utmost importance to the well-being of my entire family. I had to learn to be a little more selfish. It is okay to do what I want to do sometimes. It is okay to develop my own hobbies and talents. It is okay to let my children watch TV when I really need a nap. It is okay to let my husband put my kids to bed so I can go out for a girls night. It is okay to feed my kids cereal for dinner. It is okay to get a babysitter and actually go out on a date with my husband. And most importantly of all, IT’S OKAY TO NOT FEEL GUILTY ABOUT IT. We give our all to our families, let’s carve out little breaks for ourselves here and there. And would it be absurd to not let our whole break be ruined by guilt and worrying about our kids the whole time?!
It happened as I learned to let it go, just let everything and anything go that I could. I stopped trying to be perfect. I stopped trying to create a perfect life for my children. I stopped trying to be the mother that I thought I was supposed to be.
And everything started to change. My stress levels went down. My joy in life went up. I grew in my desire to improve myself, develop my own hobbies, and take care of myself. I stopped waiting for life to get easier and I realized, it won’t.
(This was all actually very timely because shortly after I got pregnant with twins and those lessons because more valuable than I ever realized!)
Life will always be hard. If it’s not this stress or worry, it will be something else. I realized I couldn’t wait for my mom to come help me to be happy and carefree. I had to learn to find joy and peace and happiness in the midst of the trials of life. You know those people that are so happy and have great marriages and are great parents and seem like they have just figured it out? I used to think it was because they were dealt an easy hand, or they just married the perfect guy, or they just had perfect kids, etc. I have realized that those people just chose to make it work. They chose to be happy. They chose to put the time and work into their marriages and families and their priorities to be happy and satisfied with the life they have created.
I finally ACCEPTED that life was going to be hard every day of my life, and that was okay. And in reality that was the way I wanted it. A woman who is progressing and pushing herself and growing and learning and becoming the best version of herself is not going to have it easy. Now I expect life to be difficult. I expect setbacks. So when they happen, I just smirk and move on. When Abraham spills his freshly roasted vegetables or his smoothie all over the floor, I don’t mind. I knew it was going to happen! If not today, another day. I know I’m going to be tired. I know I’m going to have difficult days. I know there are going to be moments when all four of them are screaming, but I’m just okay with it all now. It’s all part of the beautiful mess of motherhood.
I stopped feeling sorry for myself for being so busy with little kids. Like, “WHEN DO I EVER HAVE A MOMENT TO MYSELF?!” ----> In ten years, move on. I stopped being a martyr. “I’m just so tired. The kids kept waking up last night…” ----> You signed up to have these kids, so if you’re tired, do what you need to do to get some sleep, stop complaining, and move on.
For so long I tried to FIGHT IT. I tried to fight the fact that life was hard. It wasn’t until I accepted it and embraced it that I have been able to find peace. My house doesn’t have to be picked up for me to enjoy the five minutes of peace I have while the babies are sleeping and the boys are playing quietly. Instead of busily picking everything up, I’m going to take these precious few minutes and do something for myself, or just sit and enjoy my kids. I have accepted that my house will be messy for the next fifteen years and I’m okay with that! I’ve accepted that the hardest things in life bring the greatest rewards and if I just stop complaining and give these kids and this life I have created EVERYTHING I’VE GOT, I won’t have any regrets. I have stopped waiting, wishing, and hoping for an easier tomorrow, when “the kids are a little older.” I have realized that the only way to feel better is to do the work you can do and at the end of the day be happy with what you’ve got… difficult days, disasters, and all.
Books referenced above:
How Eskimo’s Keep Their Babies Warm by Mei-Ling Hopgood
Bringing up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman
Hands Free Mama by Rachel Macy Stafford
Love and Logic Magic for Early Childhood by Jim Fay and Charles Fay