Quiet Epiphanies

sharing the everyday stirrings of mind, heart, and spirit

Tag: failure

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.

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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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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Joy In Trying: A lesson from a boy learning to walk

Joy In Trying: A lesson from a boy learning to walkMy son just learned to walk. His methodology for learning fascinated me. One day he stood at the rail of his crib and started dramatically falling forward onto the mattress. He reached his hands out and caught himself, giggled and looked up at me with a cheesy grin before doing it again. And again. And again. He kept climbing up to the rail, facing inward toward the mattress, then falling forward and laughing.

He became more and more focused on his task, holding his breath for a moment then huffing and puffing, like he had to remember to breathe because his brain was working so hard on other things. He stood in the corner of his crib like a boxer on the ropes, eyes narrowed, staring down the center of the mattress as though it was his opponent. With a huff, he raised both of his arms straight above his head and took two shaky steps forward before falling onto the mattress in exactly the way he had been doing repeatedly. After a brief fit of giggles, he was up and ready to do it again.

It was at this moment I realized: at one year old, he knows he needs to practice.

My son learned to walk in his crib. Although it seems more difficult to learn to walk on the unsteady surface of a mattress, he needed the security of a soft landing to give him the confidence to try. When we tried to get him to walk independently on hard surfaces, he would go floppy and fall to the floor or cry in panic and cling to our pant legs. He walked only in his crib until he could walk all the way across the crib, from rail to rail, with a sure step.

When I see my son’s methodical nature in moments like this, it takes my breath away. Where did he learn to think ahead to prevent himself from getting hurt? He’s methodical. That’s his personality coming through.

I’m the same way. I want to see several steps ahead before I take that first step. I want to make sure I have a soft landing. I don’t take a risk unless I can see how it might play out. And while that can be a very useful trait, it can also be stifling. It can mean missing out on a fun time because I was afraid of wasting my time. It can mean settling for something that’s “good enough” rather than pursuing something that seems too good to be true.

Sometimes you can’t see ahead. Sometimes all you have is a gut feeling that something needs to change. Or sometimes the change just happens and you’re forced to take some risks in finding your way to a new normal. How do I prepare my son for those moments? How do I prepare myself?

A voice whispers in my ear: let go of fear. But how? It’s always there, like the ground beneath my feet staring me down, waiting for me to fall.

When my son falls, I cheer him on. I realized through him that we all need to know that people we love are watching us, cheering us on, even if we fall. We need people there when we fail to say, “You’re doing great! Keep at it!” We need to know from the beginning that we are loved whether or not we “succeed.”

How do I let go of fear? Instead of looking what I have to lose, I must start looking at what I have to gain. How can I live a life of joy without some spontaneity? How can I truly love others if I’m not willing to risk heartbreak? How can I embrace my passions if I’m holding on too tightly to stability?

My son laughed after falling onto the mattress. What if I found joy after each of my failed attempts? What if I looked at life like a practice session, knowing that each little fall would help me figure out how to walk? Maybe if I place my value in how hard I try instead of how little I fail, I would have more of a child-like joy.

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