Quiet Epiphanies

sharing the everyday stirrings of mind, heart, and spirit

Tag: perfectionism

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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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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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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My Wings Don’t Flap: A Kindergarten Moment of Perfectionism

My wings don't flap: A kindergarten moment of perfectionismWhen I was in kindergarten, one of our craft projects was to make a penguin out of construction paper. It was pretty simple: black body, white belly, orange beak, orange feet. But the special twist was that the penguin’s wings were attached with metal brads, so they could twist and flap.

Our teacher introduced us to the brads and showed us how to peel the metal tabs back to secure them in place. There was a boy in my class named Brad and I thought how unfortunate it was that he was named after this weird little piece of metal. Each kid grabbed two metal brads and sat at the work tables with construction paper spread out in front of us.

I sat down at my table with three other kids and all my supplies laid out before me. The construction paper, shapes to trace and cut out, paste, safety scissors, and two brads. I quickly became absorbed in the project, cutting clean lines and making sure I had all the pieces adjusted just right. I prided myself at being very good with scissors. After I had cut out all my shapes, I looked up for a moment and realized that all the other kids at my table were almost done. Oh no! I was behind! We were supposed to be wrapping up and cleaning off our tables.

I turned back to my penguin and started gluing as fast as I could. Finally, I put the last wing on my penguin and looked at my handiwork. My teacher hovered over my shoulder. “Oh, you were supposed to use the brads to attach the wings.”

My throat tightened as I stared at the two brads still sitting on the table among scraps of paper. In my gluing frenzy, I had glued the wings on. Oh no, oh no, oh no… I immediately wanted to fix it, to tenderly peel off the wings and let the glue try and attach them again with the brads. But there was no time. We were cleaning up. My penguin’s wings would just have to dry in place, remaining immobile. I looked up to see other kids happily flapping their penguins’ wings, and I felt ashamed.

My teacher wasn’t upset with me, but I had already started berating myself for not completing the project correctly. How could I have forgotten? The brads were what this whole project was about and I forgot them. Not only had I spent more time than anyone on the project, I didn’t even do it correctly. I felt like I had let my teacher down, let myself down, and even, in some impossible way, let my penguin down. I had done it wrong.

As an adult looking back on that scene, I’m saddened that I was so hard on myself. I was in kindergarten. Was I going to flunk for not attaching a paper penguin’s wings properly? Of course not. I’m not even sure kindergartners get grades. Where was all that emotion coming from? Why do I still remember it, some 23 years later?

That incident reinforced some burgeoning fears in my five-year-old self. Even at that early age, I felt that if I didn’t do things perfectly, it meant that I was a bad person. I’m still trying to figure out where that comes from. But what’s perhaps more damaging is I also learned if I mess up, I won’t get a chance to fix it. This has lead me to live my life as though this is my one shot. I feel a tremendous amount of pressure to get things right, or catastrophe will ensue. As an adult, I need to let go of the fears I developed in my childhood of being a bad person and never being able to make up for my mistakes.

The reality is that the quality of one paper penguin doesn’t mean anything about whether I’m a good or bad person. And just like as a kid I didn’t have enough perspective to realize it, as an adult I need to remember that I still have a very limited perspective. Retrospectively, my problems may seem bigger now than at five years old. But they feel as big to me today as the penguin did for the little girl with scissors and glue.

The next time I feel stressed because I think I need to make everything perfect in my life, I need to remember the paper penguin. I need to stop and think about what I am trying to prove with my perfection and try to gain some perspective. Because in the end, what does it matter if my wings don’t flap?

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