I had something of a come apart last week. I had the sudden realization that I wasn’t parenting my children the way I’ve intended to, that I wasn’t actually putting the work in to build the kind of family legacy that I always imagined I’d have. (Original post here)
So much of parenting, especially parenting a large family with many small children, is simply trying to survive. Trying to survive on very little sleep, trying to do a lot in very little time, trying to make it from dawn to dusk without anyone (including yourself) winding up dead, or emotionally traumatized. As we run from fire to fire it’s easy to overlook how quickly time is passing.
My personal epiphany centered around my tendency to run around trying to check off “good mother” boxes (Are the children clean? Do they have good manners? Have they finished their homework? Is the house in passable condition? Has everyone eaten at least one vegetable today?…) while overlooking the more important, but less urgent work that is required to fulfill my true mission as a mother: To raise children that feel safe enough and loved enough to go out into the world with vulnerable hearts, take chances and risk failure, knowing that they always have a soft place to return, a place where they can lick their wounds, stand up, and try again.
Creating that safe space doesn’t happen by accident. It certainly doesn’t happen if the majority of your children’s emotional diet consists of, “You need a shower. Please, calm down and act normal. Stand up straight. Your whining is making us all crazy. A joke is only funny the first time. If you don’t share with your friends, soon you won’t have any friends to share with. Don’t come crying to me for sympathy – you brought that on yourself. BE NICE!” It’s not that there is anything horribly wrong with saying these things, it’s just that bitter words like these need to balanced by a lot of sugar, and my sugar bowl has been frighteningly empty.
So I cried and cried and then I wrote and wrote and as soon as I published the post, my pride (those lovely lionesses who protect me and mine – more on that here) stepped in and blew up my phone with encouraging words. These mamas shared stories of their own failures, what they learned from them, how it changed them. They talked about the way they were mothered and how it has affected the way they mother now. They exposed their claws and tried to go after some of my demons – to chase them back far enough that I could catch my breath. It was a long, long conversation, but here are a couple snapshots:
This bit in that last message up there, really rang through for me, “Maybe if you can reframe your problems as lessons, you can learn WITH your kids. No sense pretending you’re perfect – it’s way too hard to keep it up all the time.”
I mean, my children know I’m far from perfect. But I don’t know if they know that I know I’m far from perfect. It’s always been one of those “Good Mommy” boxes I want to check off: “Make your children feel safe by appearing to have all the answers. You are leading, so you better at least APPEAR to know where you’re going.”
But that’s not honest, is it? We’re all just scrabbling along, doing the best we can with what we know NOW. What if, by pretending to have all it all worked out, I’m not making my children feel safe, but am instead giving them the very mistaken impression that having all the answers is even a possibility? Is it possible that by not letting them see me wrestle, I’m infusing them with idea that growth and wrestling is something you’re finished with at a certain age, and setting them up to wonder why they are so woefully behind when they hit 38 and still don’t have it all figured out?
After all, isn’t doubt and struggle the human condition? Don’t we all “see through a glass, darkly,” at best? Doubt and struggle and regret are the things that break us open to new and better ways of understanding the world. When we are broken, the love and the compassion can get in. So maybe I should be celebrating the broken places, instead of trying to disguise them.
One of my pride also posted this image in the thread:
I had never seen this before. But it was exactly what I needed to see Thursday. I wouldn’t have seen it if I’d kept pretending to have it all together. There is so much we don’t see when we are just pretending to have it all together.
So, I’m going to do better. I’m going to work to infuse my home with more grace and mercy and celebration of vulnerability.
I’m going to start by printing out this image and posting it on the blackboard in the kitchen. Hopefully my children will not take it as license to break every dish in the house. But if they do, well, I guess they can watch me learn something from that, too.