I hold my breath when I’m stressed.
It’s totally unintentional, but when my hands can’t keep up with what my heart wants to do, my inner critic tries to convince me that I am a loser mom.
Am I reviewing key historical events at the breakfast table? Are we doing enough humanitarian work? Are there beautifully framed family photos and carefully-selected quotations by respected thought leaders hanging on our walls?
I know, I know. These are “extras” I’m talking about, and no one expects me to do everything, but if you’re like me, you’ve felt a similar kind of stress. (Are you breathing right now?)
After a lot of thought, I realized this: each of us wants to know if we are doing a good job as deliberate mothers, but because this process lasts a lifetime—with few immediate rewards–we simply don’t know. And that drives us crazy.
Well, I’d like to offer a perspective that has helped me to finally breathe (for today, at least).
On my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary, my siblings and I took turns reading from a “memory list” we had created.
Want a sampling of what we really remembered?
- Driving back from Tijuana in the VW bus and running out of gas. Cousin Beth played songs on the new guitar we bought for about $10.00 and we all sang along with her until dad came back.
- Mowing the dead lawn with Dad. I don’t think we ever had green grass.
- Eating cake and ice cream around the ping pong table for birthdays (Thanksgiving too).
- Taking family trips to the tide pools.
- Watching home movies recorded on filmstrips—that would burn every time because the projector got too hot. Dad would say, “Oh, my achin’ back!”
- Taking naps in the afternoon and getting a sliced apple in a little red bowl.
- Going roller-skating with Mom one time. Dad walked next to her, holding onto her arm so she wouldn’t fall.
- Looking through all of the photo albums Dad put together.
- Mom praying for us whenever we had a test at school. She’d say, “Now what time is your test?” Then once we told her, she would say, “I will set my alarm, and right when you’re taking your test, I will be praying for you.”
- Driving me on my paper route when it rained.
- Fourth of July Block Parties…we would decorate our bikes in the morning for the parade and then have a great time eating and playing with our friends.
- Mom would try to clean out her nightstand drawer or her purse, and I would always find her at that time. I would always want to touch her “fun” stuff and she would say, “Quiet hands.”
- Blue Moon. Mom’s signature song she always played on the piano
- Listening to and comforting me when I was sad that I didn’t have a best friend or felt like a third wheel.
- I remember asking Mom, while she was making dinner in the kitchen, if I could help her make it. She said I could help her by going outside.
- The many drives into San Clemente to see my eye doctor, Dr. Farr. And boy, was it FAR to drive! It seemed like forever! And mom would do that for me.
- We loved our garage-sale Christmas presents almost as much as the new gifts! Really, we did.
- Every Saturday before we could play, we would have to pick up all the leaves in front from the rubber tree.
- Hiding candy from me.
- Helping us with our school projects.
- I was invited to go see a questionable movie with my friends, and Mom offered to take me shopping instead so I wouldn’t go see the movie. She took me over to Marina Pacifica, and we chose a wooden dollhouse that you had to paint and put together. I loved shopping with mom since we didn’t seem to do it nearly enough (as far as I was concerned), and I really enjoyed the one-on-one time together. I felt special and had a great time and was glad I didn’t go to the movies. I don’t think we ever finished that dollhouse, but the memory has stayed with me.
- Doing the Macarena on the sidewalk as we drove away from the house.
- Every note was signed with “XOXOXOXOXOXO.”
- Mom scraping off offensive bumper stickers (yes, from other people’s cars).
- Going to the library and reading Family Circus cartoon books on the lawn, sharing the funny ones.
- Mom picked me up from school one day and took me to see The Burb’s with Tom Hanks at the movie theater. When I asked her why, she said just because she wanted to spend some time with me.
Do you notice what I noticed? These were simple, everyday things. Nothing fancy, but what we remembered was the feeling.
Our children want to know we love them, that we have time for them, and that we’re doing our best to raise them well.
They’ll understand—someday, at least—why we did what we did (or didn’t do what we wished we had) but if we are trying, we are not losers. I’ve got to stamp that on my forehead….
We don’t want to simply “get through” motherhood and shuttle our children out of the house as quickly as we can, do we? But we also don’t want to struggle with our breathing or feel like we’re letting our children down every single day.
So though you clearly don’t need “permission” to breathe, I thought it would be nice to offer you this same reminder I’m offering to myself:
You’re doing great work. Breathe away!
QUESTION: Do you find yourself worrying about how you “measure up” as a mom? (Or is it just me?)
CHALLENGE: The next time you feel frustrated about how you’re doing as a mother, think about the beautiful memories you are making with your children, and then take a deep breath. You deserve it.
Image from April Perry. Graphics by Anna Jenkins.