I've recently had a series of candid conversations with moms about what our lives are really like and how it feels to work outside the home and feel present when in the home. The thread that ties all of these conversations together is that we all have degrees of awareness that we need to let go of some of the many things we feel we must do and yet we can't quite let go of anything.
One of the worst feelings is that of not being successful in any of the many roles I play. Not feeling like I'm on top of my game at work, not present at all the times when my kids want or need me, not spending time with my husband because there's laundry to do and lunches to make, and then of course never getting around to actually putting the laundry away once folded and questioning the quality of the lunch I packed. Heaven forbid I then indulge all my neurosis and think about what the teachers will think of the lunch that I packed. Dare I wonder how its contents compares to that of the other lunches? Should I check out Pinterest and look for creative new ways to make lunches? STOP. I just have to stop.
My reality is that the list of things to do at home grows at the same rate as my work aspirations and where does that leave me? Mommy purgatory. And I want out.
I don't think this feeling is about the need to "Lean In" so much as it is about stopping to think about what I haven't really thought about since before I first became a parent (you know...those golden moments of pregnancy when you paint an idyllic picture of the type of mother you'll be?). Well, it's real. It's happening. It's time to sincerely ask myself, "What kind of parent do I want to be and what lessons do I want to teach my kids about my role and contributions to our family?"
It's too easy to move on autopilot that I haven't stopped to think about the mother I want to be to my children. Of course loving, nurturing, patient, fun, silly, engaged, and all of those things. But in terms of my children's perception of me as a provider, what does that look like? What will they come to value and what do I want them to value?
After stressing about lunches for my son and the batch cooking for the week, my older and wiser brother forced me to realize that I'm stressing about the wrong things.
"Reece, who makes your lunch?" he asked my son.
"Can we go play in the basement?" Reece replied.
My brother turned to me and said, "you're worrying about something Reece gives no thought to. Not that it's not important, but maybe try to think about what Reece most needs and you'll feel better about being present because you'll be on top of what he's looking for from you."
It was in that moment that I realized I have defined my role as mother based on my own criteria of responsibilities that I believe fall to mothers and those things are not specific to the ages of my children, but rather very traditional and stereotypical things like laundry, lunches, snacks, art projects, preparing things for school. As I write this I'm thinking, "I'm a feminist for crying out loud and I've gone all 50s on what I think my role should be?!" This is why I have needed to stop and think about my role as a mother.
What I have come to realize is that I'm defining my successes and failures as a mother based on a scale that I've designed. A scale that for some reason I have set to measure the same things year after year, never changing and yet with each passing day/month/year, I watch the needs of my children change.
I haven't thought about the people I'm in the relationship with - my kids - and tried to put myself in their shoes at four and one years old and thought about what they want in a mommy. They aren't going to comprehend the value of my career and what it might mean to them later in life. So why am I fixated on trying to measure my successes on this scale that doesn't match their needs? My kids want their favorite shirts and snacks and toys, but there's no doubt the asks for those things come after the #1 ask of having me spend more time with them playing, reading, cuddling.
It's just like any relationship. What I think I should handle as a wife are the very things my husband would deem as "second tier" wants and needs. He would be happier ordering takeout if it meant we could hangout longer vs. me making dinner and cleaning dishes while he watched a movie alone.
So why, if the recipe is so simple. If the need is so basic. If all they want is time, why and how is it so hard to find? It's because of that damn scale. That scale I created. The scale that I resist changing because it feels like I'm lowering the bar or somehow failing by recognizing the need to change the way I measure myself. That scale that just forced me to realize I've been working against myself for the past four years. That scale that I thought kept me on track, but in fact derailed me.
So I come back to the great question of what kind of mother do I want to be and how will I feel good about the mom that I am? Perhaps before I measure myself, I should ask the people I'm measuring for to create the scale and I should consider their needs regularly to help me define and constantly redefine the role. Of all the things I think I "should" be doing, bottom line is that what my kids want most is for me to simply be present.
So hello Pinterest fails because I'll be making those creative projects with my kids and most likely, the messier the better. Farewell to trying to be a SuperMom who gets everything right.