Motherhood Mondays: Selfishness

I mentioned here that enjoying my children was a difficult concept for me to understand, let alone live into. I was confused and ashamed at first. And you might be judging me. But trust me, lots of parents struggle with how to fit children into all of their other hopes and dreams and goals and plans. It’s not so much that our children get in the way of those…

Wait… Actually they do.

It’s in the best way possible, but it’s hard to see it in those early years. The transition to motherhood brings a full assault on those hopes, dreams, goals, and plans (assuming they were anything otherthan having children).

Becoming a mother brings to the surface all of your self-absorption and selfishness. Sure, you can go on being the selfish human being you once were; working, shopping, resting, and dining out as you like. But there’s a little human who will protest and make you aware of how your choices affect them. And you can choose to keep putting yourself first and remain at war with this infant, or you can start carving out a yet unknown path towards balancing your own desires with the needs of your new child.

I didn’t realize how selfish I was until I had my first child. It actually started during pregnancy. With my hormones and body locked in a never-ending race to see who could change the most wildly each day, I was a hot mess. Cravings were intense and immediate, so when one came on – whether it was the need to puke, go to bed at 6 p.m., eat two bowls of ice cream, or get out of that yankee-candle-smelling-room asap – I obeyed the impulses. Life shifted somewhat abruptly to being all about the pregnancy. Conversations with co-workers, friends, family, and strangers all focused on how far along I was, whether I knew the gender, whether this was my first and if I would be having any more. I started to resent that a part of my identity was slipping away as the status of this pregnancy seemed the most important or interesting thing people wanted to know about.

Post-pregnancy, the baby was definitely the most important and interesting person. But that wasn’t the hardest part for me. It was the conflict between what I wanted to do and what the baby wanted or needed. It was all of the ways that my life and my body and my schedule and my relationships changed. In short, it was all of the ways that “my” wasn’t the most important anymore.

Selfishly and secretly, I wanted to be able to just add baby to the mix as if it were an accessory. But in reality, baby changes everything. Everything from the laundry detergent you use, to when and how you eat dinner, to whether you go to that party, to when in the world will you ever see a movie in the theater again, to when will you be able to be away from the baby or milk machine for more than 3 hours?! Everything changes.

But if you can lean into it, it changes you for the better. It has the potential to re-orient you towards an Other. In fact, it’s not unlike marriage in these ways…If you’re open to it, it can rip your heart open to levels of empathy and joy and love you’ve never known before. If you let it, it will steadily chip away at your selfishness as you have daily opportunities to choose to put the Other first.

In my teens and early twenties, as much as I wanted it to be true, I couldn’t say for sure whether I would put myself in harm’s way for another human being. Since having children, it’s not even a question. I would absolutely die for any one of my children at any moment. I’m light years from selflessness, but becoming a mother is helping me to more fully live into the person I’m created to be. One selfless decision at a time.

How is motherhood changing you? Have you had similar experiences of reckoning with your own selfishness? Have you had an opposite experience of having to dial back how much you sacrifice yourself for your children, and make sure you’re taking care of yourself?

Motherhood Mondays: One Day They’ll Leave (Part 3: Middle School)

She’s going to middle school. MIDDLE SCHOOL!

In just FOUR months, she’ll be a middle schooler and the anxious dreams have already started. That’s actually what signaled to my conscious brain that the anxiety had set in—the dreams. Of course I knew that 6th grade comes after 5th. And in this part of the country, 6th grade means middle school—no more elementary school.

But it’s not just a transition to the next grade like it was from first to second, or second to third. This one is HUGE. She’s going from recess and reading buddies to tween drama and pimples and periods and crushes. She’s going from I’m not sure my parents know what’s best to my parents are completely clueless and my friends are my only hope.

I remember my own transition from fifth grade to sixth grade. It was worse than it might otherwise have been because it was the summer in which we moved from small-town middle America to the booming silicon valley of Northern California. One day my friends and I were making up skits on the playground, and the next I was being shoved up against the bathroom wall by another middle schooler demanding to know my gang affiliation. My eighth-grade sister had it bad too: her bathroom episode involved a girl using a lighter and can of Aquanet as a blow-torch over her bathroom stall. Sixth grade was the year in which I had my first #metoo on the school bus, was referred to only as “schoolgirl” instead of by my name, had my first kiss, and learned how important the numbers on the scale were. I also learned how to cuss, hate my parents, and combine the two for colorful effect.

It’s likely clear now why I’m so anxious about my own daughter entering middle school in just a few short months. I want so badly to protect her from the awful experiences I had and dumb choices I made. Even though we’ve never been big into child-proofing our house, I think that’s essentially what my instincts tell me to do in this situation–barricade and protect! I’m nervous about the performing arts magnet school she’s been accepted into because the boundaries seem a little too loose. I imagine all of the trouble that 6th graders might get into with relaxed boundaries and a school that goes up to 12th grade, and have to talk myself down from a near-panic attack. My instincts say: protect! Set up boundaries, barriers, rules! Talk to the principal and make sure the students won’t be roaming empty auditoriums (as they were on her shadow day—much to my dismay). To some extent, these instincts are well-intentioned and good. But there’s something more. Something harder.

I’m realizing that even more important than making sure there are rules and boundaries and all the things—is having regular conversations with my child about healthy choices and doing hard things and becoming the person you’re created to be. I have to do the intentional work of helping to shape my child’s ethics and character so that she will make good choices whether the rules are strict or lax.

One day, she’ll leave.

Kindergarten, day one: I had the gut-wrenching feeling of my heart walking around out there – outside of my body, exposed to all of the elements and outside of my watchful protection.

Middle School, day one: I fully expect it to be worse…if I continue course. But hopefully as Dave and I  have the hard conversations and continue to shape this beautiful child, the difficulty of that day will be diminished. And our trust and confidence in our child will grow. And as she makes the little hard choices each day, she’ll keep growing in her ability to make the big hard choices that matter the most.

But also, please God, not a first kiss. I’m not ready.

What advice do you have for parents launching their kids to a next level like this?!

Motherhood Mondays: One Day They’ll Leave (Part 2: Kindergarten)

The first day of kindergarten was the first big day of “leaving” for us – much moreso than the first day at this daycare or that one. Kindergarten signals the beginning of the educational journey that now has a departure date: 13 years from now. Thirteen years from now, for college or career or something else, you’re going to leave.

I’ve had three first-day-of-kindergarten drop-offs so far, and while all of them have been surprisingly emotional, I suspect the last one will be at least as hard as the first. We have about a year and a half until the last one, but I’m already anticipating it. On each of these days, I’ve been blindsided by an abrupt awareness of just how precious little time I’ve had with them so far, questioning whether I’ve had all the influence necessary before this journey begins – did I model kindness? Have I taught you how to be a good friend? Have we had all the fun and play and silliness I wanted to have before this day? I just want to hold you a little longer. I want you to stay little, for a little longer.

One day we’re sending you off to kindergarten, hopeful you’ll make friends and have fun and learn how to be a student. Just thirteen short years later, we’ll be sending you off to college or wherever you’re headed after high school, hopeful you’ll continue to make good choices and build a good life and learn how to be an adult.

The time we have together is so short. One day you’re going to leave, so today I’m going to hug you as much as you’ll let me, tell you I love you until you’re sick of hearing it, and be fully present for our life with all of its laughter, crankiness, silliness, dancing, arguing, and forgiving. One day you’ll leave, but you’re here today so I’m going to slow down and listen and notice and love you with all that I am.

Has your child started kindergarten yet? What was it like for you?

Motherhood Mondays: One Day They’ll Leave (Part 1: Enjoy)

“When you want to run away because everything is so hard and so crazy and so much—lean in and savor the moment…the hardest part about being a parent is when they leave…”

This morning I made a new friend who is a few years down the parenting road and she offered me this reflection and advice. Her youngest is 18 and the older two have flown the coop. She says the quiet, cleanness of the mostly-empty house is far more difficult than the stresses of a busy, loud, full house with young children.

There’s a thing we used to hear a lot when people would meet our babies or toddlers: “Enjoy them! Enjoy these years!” I would smile, but inwardly thought: do you hear what you’re saying to this stressed-out sleep-deprived mama?! Joy is the most elusive thing you could tell me to reach for in this moment. Yes, motherhood brings great joy, generally speaking. But that comes mostly in the quieter moments, when everyone is asleep or in a rare episode of feeling fully rested. Enjoying my children was a difficult concept for me to understand, let alone live into.

A few years out of sleepless nights and diapers and nursing and potty training and all the accoutrement… I finally get it.

My oldest is 10 and my youngest is almost four. These 10+ years have lasted thirty years and thirty days and thirty minutes all at the same time. There’s a surrealness and a blurring and a timelessness around parenthood. Some moments feel as if they’ll last happily ever after and other exhausting seasons feel like they’ll never end.

But the truth is this: one day, they’ll leave. Even writing that sentence brings tears to my eyes. It’s a brutiful thing—watching your children grow. I blinked, and she turned double digits. One minute I was longing for her to be potty-trained, and the next moment she was begging to wear makeup. I was only gone a few minutes, but he was reading when I returned. My baby is almost four. ALMOST FOUR!

Dear time: I know I’ve said I wanted you to hurry up. There were moments and days and seasons I wanted to rush through. But I was wrong. Slow down. Please! For the love of all that is good in this world. Slow. DOWN! I have so little time with them.

One day, they’ll leave. So I’m enjoying the time I have with them now. I’m finding joy in the stage of life we’re in as a family and the stage each of them is in. I’m trying to say yes more, to accept the interruptions and be pulled by the hand to see their creations and listen to their stories however long and rambling they may be. I’m failing more often than not, but I’m trying to let go of my need to control everything. I’m putting away my phone (more often) when they’re around, because I want them to know they’re more important than whatever’s happening in my digital world.

Where are you in this journey? Are you struggling with how to enjoy your child(ren)? If you’re enjoying your child(ren), how do you do it? Share here for encouragement!