So, I'll confess...there are some sacred cows of motherhood that I've shed this year without the slightest bit of guilt or shame, and each shedding has solidified this realization in my head: motherhood is only a part of who I am. It's an outgrowth of the larger whole of "me"-something that flows from the core essence I was created with that makes me unique, along with my creativity, friendship, thoughts, abilities, passions and spirituality. What's more, motherhood doesn't mean becoming a person without needs, or less precious or in need of care; if anything, it makes self-care even more important for me during this period of my life. Therefore, I've resolved the following. ;oP
-I won't neglect things like bathing, basic hair care, quiet time, personal interests, education, fellowship, clothes that fit/flatter and sleep in the name of being a "good mom". I also won't stress the hell out of myself trying to meet a standard of perfection to the point that I forget to eat or stuff my mouth full of the closest crap available because I "don't have time" to care for my body.
-I won't obsess over my children's happiness. I will pay attention when they meet a problem/upset they haven't the skill to work through, and I will certainly enjoy moments of joyful life with them. However, I won't rush in to hover and fix every time one of them comes across a set of feelings that's uncomfortable. Disappointment is a part of life, and, as long as they're sorting through it or expressing it freely, I'm not obligated to make everything all better. Their happiness (or lack of it) doesn't need to dictate my emotional state.
-I reject the idea that motherhood is the defining feature of my life. My girls are deeply, deeply important to me. Since they are, I devote a lot of time, energy and thought into raising them thoughtfully and with unconditional love. However, I won't buy into the childhood cult that our culture and often religion has become obsessed with; childhood IS important, and so is being a human at all ages. My children are people, first and foremost, and my relationship with them is based on that humanity, and not on the idea that childhood and parenting is the most important thing in life. I recognize that teaching and love in childhood are crucial and imperative, but doing these things does not define me (nor my daughters in their futures!) We're complex, and our complexity is worthy of celebration.
-I don't feel obligated to buy superfluous gear for my kids just because everyone has it.
-I won't "play" with my children in a way that doesn't bring enjoyment to me.
I won't stack blocks, I won't pretend to be a fairy-cat, I won't jump rope, I won't mindlessly push a swing, I won't watch a repeated "watch this!!" more than is actually interesting, etc, etc. Children are capable of amusing themselves by themselves and with friends when they're doing things I have no interest in. :P I *will* do those things when they're mutually enjoyable for both of us, and I will pursue playful and relaxing activities that we all enjoy together, and yowl at the moon occasionally, and enjoy my own wild, untamed side with them. I won't, however, be a play slave. I'm looking for real relationships with my kids, and relationships are built on honesty. Life's too short to spend one's "play" time being miserable.
-I won't make promises to my children in moments of guilt that it will later cost me sleep/rest/quiet time/sanity to keep. Usually, once I hit desperate promise-making mode, it's because I seriously need to step back and re-evaluate my priorities and whether how thin I'm spreading myself is realistic. My kids aren't in need of treats or special days to feel secure; they need a healthier parent.
-I'll feel no guilt for doing things that I know will preserve my own health. I tend a lot more strongly toward losing myself in others than taking too much for myself, honestly. (It's not as pretty as it sounds, practically.) Still, I'm taking steps toward furthering my education, pursuing non-family-based interests, taking naps, having the personal things I need to help my life run smoothly, giving myself room to be happy or upset, and embracing time with friends and adult conversation that doesn't revolve around my kids. I can do these things without feeling the urge to justify them, make it up to anyone else, or trade for them. It's OK to need and enjoy things without apology.
-I won't support the idea that parents are more important than "childless" or unmarried people. It takes more than just parents to influence a person into adulthood, and being a parent in no way makes me superior in any way to those who aren't technically raising children. I feel gratitude to every lovely person in my life, parents or not, who brings meaning and friendship to my time on this earth. Therefore, I won't constantly hint that parenthood should be a goal in their life, if they've not expressed this desire to me personally and asked for support. Being human is meaningful, parent/guardian or not.
-I won't consider the measure of my "success" as a parent directly tied to whether my children end up having the same spiritual beliefs as I do.
-I won't take on some other person/religion/ideal/sect's ideals of what a mother should look like or do, if it doesn't work for my family. Some things are no-brainers, obviously. I won't beat the crap out of my children just because it gets behavioral results, or feed them nothing but Sugar Booger Cocoa Bean Puffs for months at a time just to get them to shut up and leave me alone. However, there's a great lot of wiggle room of grace within motherhood for individuality. For instance, I enjoy cooking from scratch, natural health and reading to my kids a lot because it's something that's an outgrowth of my own personality, and these things are among my assets as a mother.
I don't, however, currently: go to church regularly, have my kids in sports, bathe them every day, teach them gender roles, "submit" to my husband as head of the home, dress them in matchy boutique outfits, dress them all in Gymboree, dress them in exclusively homemade clothes, do a craft with them every day, get family portraits done regularly; don't do their hair in fancy shmancy braids whenever we go out, keep a magazine-worthy house, bento-box all their lunches, have them memorize scripture, take them to many kid factories to play often, co-sleep with kids over 3; don't insist that they address people as sir/ma'am, grow all our own food, have all wool/wood/cotton toys, have the latest awesome plastic toys, have many toys at all, grind their baby food with a hand mill, practice Natural Family Planning; don't get ultrasounds, make my own soap, throw fantastic personalized homemade birthday parties, spend every moment trying to rejoice in everything, stop myself from swearing occasionally, listen to Nancy Lee DeMoss for inspiration, spank my kids, practice child-led weaning during pregnancy, spend all my extra money on the kids, always speak with saccharine sweetness to my kids, give them equal authority in the house, never leave my babies at home with daddy; don't feel badly for not owning a Sophie the Giraffe, teach my kids that homosexuality is wrong, force cheerfulness or keep all processed sugar out of my kids' lives (all things I've felt some level of self-imposed guilt/shame/worry about at some point or another in the past 7 years).
Not all of these things are bad or uninteresting or invalid; they're just not sustainable in our family. If I did all these things, personally, without any regard for what my natural bents and resources and needs are, I'd lose myself completely in the role of motherhood. Ash would no longer exist. The ideals of others would gobble me up and leave me a hollow shell of who I was originally intended to be.
Some of these things don't resound with my own beliefs/convictions, and some of them, honestly, I just suck at. And that's OK. :)
Obviously, there are times when I observe that my kids need something that I wouldn't normally chose to do in order to get through a tough phase, or to reach a certain level of developmental need, and I suck it up and deal with it, because I'm an adult, and I have the skills to. I'm learning, though, more and more, that when I experience stress as a parent, sometimes, I can find relief and grace and care for myself in the places I've not examined before- places that have nothing to do with my children's well-being, and everything to do with illogical self-imposed pressure I assign to the title of "Good Parent". A lot of it, it turns out, for us, has been poppycock.
I've found freedom in realizing this. Mothers (and fathers!), as people, are worth nurturing and caring for, along with their children. How can we expect to teach our children that they are worth kindness, respect, freedom and dignity, when we fail to model valuing these things for ourselves? Why should they treasure them, if we don't? And what sort of compass will they have for that kind of health will they have, if they have no clue what that looks like as an adult? I've been delighted and surprised to find that my girls are honestly happier when I'm healthier (not that I need that as an excuse to be healthy).
I think there must be a balance between selfish carelessness and miserable martyrdom that it's possible to strike, and it's that middle ground I find myself in pursuit of with increasing joy and liberty...if I can keep my place in this journey, and get into the habit of feeling no guilt for allowing myself to simply be, not because I've done something to be worthy, but because I'm a complex and compassionate human being.