Quiet Epiphanies

sharing the everyday stirrings of mind, heart, and spirit

Author: Amber (page 1 of 2)

Don’t Set Up Moms to Fail

I read a story from a mother the other day that stuck with me because it just felt wrong. “The Day My Son Gave Up on Me” by Lauren Cormier is the story of a mom, like so many moms, who is running herself ragged all throughout the day because from the moment she wakes up in the morning until the kids are in bed at night (and even beyond that) she is thinking about other people’s needs. And so she ends up making a promise to her son that she won’t keep.

All I could think about when I finished reading her story was this: she was set up. 

Cormier was set up by routines and expectations that weren’t working for her. She was set up by an attitude that didn’t recognize and value her needs as much as everyone else’s. She was set up to say “yes” to everyone besides herself first, so that she ended up making promises she couldn’t keep.

After she is finally finished taking care of everyone else, she sits down next to her husband, who decides it is a good time to launch a guilt grenade at her. Yet, the husband has been doing what exactly all this time? It seems like he was already sitting on the couch, not helping. I could be wrong. There could be a lot about what the husband has been doing that has been left out. Regardless, he should see how hard his wife is working and realize that relaying his son’s words to his wife is hurtful and unhelpful in that moment.

This mom feels convicted about her sour attitude and her failure to deliver the attention she promises to her children, but in focusing on the expression of her attitude, she misses the root of it. She feels convicted and resolves, like we all do, to be more patient and attentive next time.  But when she decides to dig deep and simply find more of her weary, over-extended self to give, she reinforces the message that moms setting limits and getting their own rest is wrong. And also that women are the ones who should be endless fonts of energy and generosity, while husbands are observers, couch-sitters, providing testimony to a mom’s every failure.

What’s wrong with this story is not that a mom didn’t spend enough time with her son. What’s wrong isn’t even primarily that a mom didn’t keep her word to her son. Cormier not keeping her word to her son is a byproduct of the family not prioritizing her needs and protecting them with routines that work for her too.

Cormier’s kids’ bedtime routine goes like so many: baths, PJs, teeth, stories, cuddles. But this breaks down because for some reason there is a break between stories and cuddles. She goes downstairs and then is called back upstairs again for more cuddling. Inevitably, as soon as she leaves her children’s room and walks downstairs, she sees the visual chaos of a lived-in house: the dishes in the sink, the toys strewn all over the living room, the baskets of laundry waiting to be folded. And as soon as her foot leaves the last stair, she is aching for rest. Yet she still can’t. The bedtime routine still isn’t over, so now she has at least three competing demands: the kid, the house, and herself.

What if, instead of having to come downstairs, each parent grabbed a glass of water for each boy right after brushing their teeth and took it into the bedroom? Then they could read stories, have cuddles, say goodnight and be done. No calling Mom back into the bedroom, because she didn’t have to leave in the middle of the routine. Her son couldn’t be disappointed, because she doesn’t have to make a promise she can’t follow through on. And what if, during the end of cuddles, Dad was downstairs finishing up dishes and packing up lunch so that by the time Mom gave the last goodnight kiss, all she had to do was sit down on the couch and rest?

I’m tired of reading stories about tired moms who determine that the answer to their feelings of failure is to simply love more, appreciate more, be more.  We are doing the best we can.  We love our children and wish that we had the energy to match our endless love. We expect a lot of ourselves and the world expects a lot from us. But moms need love poured into us as well. That means the solution is prioritizing rejuvenating rest for moms and creating routines and rules that allow rest to happen. That might mean being more intentional about the time we do spend with our kids, creating rituals that aren’t necessarily longer, but are dependable.

I had a meet and greet with a new doctor the other day and she asked me how I was getting time for myself. She said I should take time to read or work on my own project every day, and it didn’t have to be when my son is asleep. “Sit him down next to you with some toys and tell him he can play next to you while you do your thing for the next 30 minutes, or if he throws a fit he can scream in his room where you can’t hear him.” When I thought of leaving my son in his room to scream just because I wanted some “me time,” I thought of all the voices that would tell me I’m a bad mother for “abandoning” my son or “punishing” him for no reason. “It will be good for him to see you taking time out to take care of yourself, so that as he grows up he will know that he can do that, too,” the doctor explained.

This kind of parenting is not popular right now, with the rise of attachment parenting and because of articles like “The Day My Son Gave Up on Me.” But I’ve done co-sleeping, I’ve done babywearing, and I’ve done the middle-of-the-night nursing sessions past when he “needed” them. Although I would do much of it again, I’ve learned that I have limits. I also realized that if this doctor, who knows about child development and who has treated a lot of weary mothers, is telling me that this is not only ok, but necessary, I should listen. She sees the repercussions of mothers who don’t take care of themselves.

Let’s strike a balance. Children need parents who will follow through on their word. But they also need to see us taking care of ourselves and being intentional with our time. Children need to learn that just because their parents’ love for them is limitless, doesn’t mean life is limitless. Other people have needs and there is a time and place for everything. That means Mommy gives you a glass of water, cuddles up and reads a story, says goodnight and doesn’t come back upstairs just because you want her to.

Church Is Weird. (Go Anyway.)

Before Matt and I started going to our new church in June, it had been a while since we had gone to church. Even longer since I really even felt connected to a church. I was nervous about joining a church. I didn’t want to commit. I was afraid of creating relationships. Because relationships are messy. And when they involve church, they’re even worse.

Church Is Weird. (Go Anyway.)

The worst part about going to a new church isn’t the first time, it’s the second, third, fourth, or fifth time. The first time, you may not know what to expect. You are on the lookout for signs that these people are cultish or out of touch. You look around to see if everyone has adopted the same hair style, like the Duggars or the Amish. You try to gauge whether you stand out as an outsider or whether they’re used to seeing new people. Generally you can blend in, observe, and be excused for not being overtly friendly. You know if this doesn’t go well, you don’t have to come back. No one has your phone number. They probably won’t even remember your name.

But if you dip your toe in and decide to get your feet wet, you’re opening yourself up to all kinds of awkwardness. You might see the same people two weeks in a row. You might not remember their names, even though you met them last week. They might not remember your name, but they definitely notice you now. Now there’s the decision of whether or not to say hi. Do you admit to not knowing their name?

Then, after you’ve been going for a few weeks, there is the question of whether you should get to know anyone better. Should you join a small group? Volunteer? Do you tithe here now? Like a teenager trying to decipher when exactly it counts as “going steady,” you waver, insecure, worried that if you really put your heart on the line it will get crushed.

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Don’t Fear the Dark

Don't Fear the Dark

I used to love autumn. I know I’m not alone in believing the beginning of fall feels more like a new year than January 1.

School sets up fall to be a time of new things: new clothes, new books, new things to learn, and maybe even new friends. As an introvert, I enjoy the coziness of fall–grabbing a warm beverage and reading in a cafe while rain patters onto the windows. I’m generally more comfortable with more clothes on, not less: soft, long-sleeved sweaters, a scarf swirled around my neck.

Summer is like an enthusiastic friend with a wide smile imploring you to go outside and feel the warmth of the sun on your face. Go for a walk–or even a run! Play in the back yard. Work in the garden. Eat outside. Summer is fun. But summer feels like a time to do things, even if they are mostly fun things, and sometimes the pressure to do things can wear me out. Fall beckons me to sit, read and write, reflect.

As the summer drew to a close this year, I found myself dreading fall. I was even a little angry about it. I wanted to slap pumpkin spice lattes out of people’s hands. Then I remembered I used to love fall and thought, What’s going on? 

I realized it’s not fall I’m dreading, it’s February.

I’m already looking ahead to the end of a winter that always feels entirely too long. In the fall, the darkness and slight chill in the air is just enough to let my spirit and body take a rest. By the end of winter, when the Christmas cheer and twinkle lights have burnt out, the darkness seems excessive. I want to feel the sun on my face again, to not have to check the forecast for rain, to go for a walk after dinner as the sun sets.

But I can’t live my life in fear of February. My tendency to live in the future (real or imagined), if I’m not careful, steals the joy from the present.

There might be some really difficult moments ahead for me, but I can’t let those be my focus. My focus should be on the long game, a lifetime characterized by both bright and shining moments of glory and everyday moments of faithfulness, joy and love.

Psalm 30 says “weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.”

Rejoicing is the light shining after every dark night. Rejoicing is what I should be anticipating, because it’s renewable.

Even in darkness light dawns for the upright, for the gracious and compassionate and righteous man. Good will come to him who is generous and lends freely, who conducts his affairs with justice. […] He will have no fear of bad news; his heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord.

Psalm 112: 4-7

As we enter into fall, I want to focus on the right things: grace, compassion, generosity, justice–things that bring light to my heart. It can be depressing when it’s dark outside. I can’t do anything about that. But I can keep the darkness from creeping into my heart.

To follow your life’s guidance, you may have to reassign some seemingly important things to ‘unimportant.’ If you believe that pleasing your horrible boss or having a spotless clean house is a higher priority than playing with your children or sleeping off the flu, be prepared for a long and strenuous battle against destiny.

— Martha Beck (via A Cup of Jo)

Courage: Turning Up the Volume

I’ve been thinking a lot about my “Overcoming” post the past few days. Mainly regretting that I put it out there, because I feel vulnerable.

The truth is, I judge myself harshly for how I have responded to my more recent struggles. Mainly, I feel that I shouldn’t struggle at all. What happened to me is mild in comparison to the myriad tragedies that could have happened. I know so many people who have or who are dealing with more dire circumstances. We all know someone who “has it worse” than us, right? Even if we don’t know them in-person, we’ve heard the story of the baby in the NICU, the young mother diagnosed with cancer, the town ravaged by natural disaster.

That is why I usually don’t allow myself to cry. I stuff down my feelings. I invalidate them, saying to myself, What’s your problem? There are people dealing with so much more than you right now. Suck it up. I compare myself to others and I feel guilty for not simply being thankful for all my blessings.

It feels virtuous to ignore your own pain and instead focus on those who “have it worse.” But is it truly based in humility and kindness for others? Or is it because you don’t love yourself enough?

If you saw a dear friend who was weary and hurting, would you say to her the things you say to yourself? Stop it! Your problems aren’t that big a deal. So many people are worse off than you. Get over it.

Would you make her feel ashamed? Or would you offer her a hug? Would you sit and listen to her when she needed to talk?

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Moments like these are why it’s great to have a dog and a kid at the same time.

Quick kiss by puppy and baby

Overcoming

OVERCOMING - Quiet Epiphanies Blog

I held back tears as I left the chiropractor’s office. I willed myself not to indulge in a good cry. I’ve already cried about all this. Get over it and move on, I told myself. I should have seen the tears coming–I was already feeling fragile when I walked in. As I left the doctor confirmed: I shouldn’t be running. My attempt at getting healthy was hurting me.

Last week, pretty suddenly, I started having shooting pain in my lower back and right hip. It’s almost exactly where I had intense, immobilizing muscle spasms during pregnancy, and what led to me getting regular chiropractic treatment from then until we moved five months after my son was born. Worried the pain would escalate, I reluctantly made an appointment.

I dread doctor’s offices now because I am tired of rehashing the ways my body is not functioning properly. I’m tired of having to rate my pain. I would much rather keep ignoring it so I can do more important things, thankyouverymuch. I am also tired of the breezy advice to take better care of myself by just doing this one simple thing. Which I add to my list of One Simple Things that I wind up not doing because the list is so long. I have always been an A student and, likewise, strive to be a good patient. But since I became a mother, all my self care has been de-prioritized.

It’s not something I consciously do. It’s just that the inner voice telling me to take care of myself is a polite, quiet, hand-raising girl saying, Hey, um, maybe you should have a glass of water? And, um, maybe sit down a minute? Icing your back would probably feel good, right? And the voice she’s competing with is my son wailing “EEEEEEEHHHHHHHH!!!” and banging his head into the baby gate.

If it’s not my son, it’s someone else on my mind. It’s like my energy is controlled by a switch that says ME and OTHERS and it’s usually stuck on OTHERS.

Remember when I put taking care of myself on my THINGS I DO list? Yeah, I told you that was pretty aspirational.

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Living Lassie

I loved watching Lassie re-runs as a kid. I dreamed about having a beautiful, noble dog like Lassie. I have always been a dog person, always craved feeling tufts of fur between my fingers, wet noses pressed into my palm. Few things can cheer me more than soft brown eyes and a frenzied tail.

I am jealous when I hear about my husband’s experience being raised among collies from infancy. Growing up, my family didn’t get a dog until I was nine. Not a bad age to get a dog, but it meant that she would be the only dog our family would have, since my dad was adamant: just one. I loved her, but she was not Lassie. She was the anti-Lassie. Prone to fear biting and that most charming of cocker spaniel traits, defecating when nervous. But most of all, she was my mom’s dog, thoroughly devoted to one person and one person only.

Yet I loved dogs, and I loved her. I trained her and showed her during junior high school and it became clear when her limits were reached. At which point I begged my dad for another dog, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. After learning about all 250+ dog breeds, I had determined that was the one for me, and something about training and showing a dog made me come alive, even though it did nothing for Taffi but make her miserable.

That’s when I found Alfie. Or you could say Alfie found me. It’s a story like the best love stories, full of close calls, intuition, and pinch-me, too-good-to-be-true coincidences. That story cannot be done justice in a few sentences.

Suffice it to say, Alfie turned out to be my Lassie. He had a depth to him, the gravitas of an old soul. He sought connections with people in a way that inspired me. But what was most humbling was that he chose me as a companion. Because it was clear that I didn’t just go buy a dog. He was meant to be with me.

Alfie saw me through the rocky years of high school and college. When I was most unsure of who I was or who my friends were, Alfie was constant. His friendship was a blessing given to me before I could ever earn it, and it was it was offered to me anew each day. His devotion continued past college and into a new marriage and, finally, new motherhood.

The timing of his passing was no accident. It was exactly when he meant to go.

Alfie and my son in August 2013

Alfie and my son in August 2013

I got another dog, Butter, several years after I got Alfie. A couple months before I became pregnant with my son,  Butter was diagnosed with a heart murmur. Her heart failure rapidly progressed, until I had to put her down two months to the day before I gave birth to my son. In her final months, I was incredibly emotionally fraught. I hadn’t seen it coming–her previous heart checks were totally clear and she was the younger of my two dogs. I constantly monitored her medications and her food and water intake, even taking her to work with me so that I could give her medications and give her the frequent potty breaks she needed on diuretics.

There were many sleepless nights spent listening to Butter’s labored breathing in the corner of our bedroom, wondering how I would know it was time to say goodbye and whether she or I would be the one deciding when it was time. As my due date neared, I also wondered how I could tell whether I was making a decision for her sake or for mine, because I couldn’t imagine how I would manage my emotions and attention, split between my dying dog and my first born baby.

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What I Should Want

Picture a lunch conversation between two women, co-workers, on the verge of becoming mothers. Talking about plans. Plans for after the baby is born and the maternity leave is over and you have to decide. Do you want to work or do you want to stay home? Indefinitely, it is assumed. Because resume gaps become walls that box you in, become doors that close in your face.

Only two storylines are presented to us. Either you become the stay-at-home mom who gives up her career, gives up her security, gives up herself, to pour love and discipline into buzzing children with sticky hands and trails of toys and mountains of laundry, or you become the working mom who is the champion of feminism, fighting to have “it all” and prove she loves her child as much as the stay-at-home mom and is as deserving of her salary as the breadwinning man who sits next to her in the office. In one story you are fighting to have an identity, in the other you are trying to navigate multiple identities.

There are some women for whom the choice is clear. They throw themselves into their new role and embrace the challenges, because they know this is me. But for others, for me, this choice feels like attempting calculus in the fifth grade. The answer is… question mark.

I talked with my co-worker about choices, when really, I felt like I didn’t have one. I was talking about what I wanted, but I wasn’t listening to my inner voice telling me what I really wanted. I stopped listening to her long ago. I was listening to the inner voice telling me what I should want.

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This Is My Favorite Age

When we were at our son’s two week old checkup, our doctor must have noticed the weary, anxious look in our eyes and told us, “Don’t worry. Once he gets to be about six weeks old he’ll start smiling and interacting with you and it will be a lot more fun.”

I looked at her and thought, But I like him now. I was tired, but I didn’t want him to change. To me, there was not a single thing wrong with him staying as he was. My love was stronger than the pain in my body, the circles under my eyes.

I was new-parent weary, but my love for him was so big I couldn’t imagine how it could get any bigger.

Before I became pregnant, I actually couldn’t imagine myself with a newborn. I thought I would be better with an older baby, one with large curious eyes and soft, squishy chub. I didn’t know what to do with squinty-eyed newborns, who seemed so fragile and apparently cried or slept all the time. But as soon as my son was born and lying on my stomach, I saw his beautiful face and all I could think was how perfect he was.

Watching a child grow is like watching a flower bloom. My son started out a tight little bud, and as he gets older he blooms out, revealing the beauty inside. As he blooms, my love stays as strong as that first day, but my appreciation for his loveliness grows.

I have a friend whose baby was born just a couple months before my son. We shared our excitement and fears about pregnancy, and then parenting once our babies were born. When our sons were just a few months old we talked about how we didn’t want them to get bigger, how we loved them so much as they were and we were weepy when they outgrew their clothes. But we discovered as our babies grew how exciting each new milestone was. How just when we snuggled our babies close and smelled their heads and thought, “Don’t grow,” they surprised us with some fascinating new development and we couldn’t tear our eyes away. Suddenly, we were cheering them, saying “Go on! Do it again!”

Nothing can prepare you for the ordinary miracle of your baby doing something for the first time. I’ve thought about why that is. All healthy babies follow the same general pattern of development. Why should it be more exciting when mine learns to roll over or crawl or walk? But as his parent, I’ve been with my son from the beginning. I’ve been on a journey getting to know him since I first saw his heart beating on the ultrasound. As his parent, my every daily activity is done with consideration for this little being that I am responsible to grow. So when suddenly he does something that he’s never done before, it feels like my world is expanding right along with his.

When my son took his first steps, even though I had been expecting it for months, I felt as though something impossible was happening. I couldn’t have been more surprised if he was spoon bending, Matrix style. It was breathtaking that he should stay upright on his own, even for a brief moment. I cried, seeing him walk. Because my baby is almost not a baby anymore. But also because I got him this far. And also because I’m so excited to see all the things he is going to do next.

So if you asked me every month of my son’s life what my favorite age was, I would always say “this one.” It’s true now, as he practices walking while holding a large ball, or uses rudimentary sign language to ask for “help”, or holds his dog’s paw while he watches Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood. I hope that no matter how difficult things get, whether I’m losing sleep because of toddler nightmares or teenage escapades, my love continues to be stronger and my appreciation richer.  I hope I can always say, “This is my favorite age,” because he is my favorite boy and I wouldn’t have him any other way.

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