|Morgan James Publishing
|5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x (d)
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"We think that the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don't really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It's just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy."
I'm too selfish to be a mom, I realized at 3:30 one morning, while breastfeeding my younger son in the dark. I had lived alone for too long in my 20s and 30s. I didn't get married until way too late in my life. I had always been able to leave relationships too easily when things got hard.
My second son was a fussy baby, so after feeding him from one breast, I had to put him high on my shoulder and pat his back for ten minutes until he finally burped, feed him on the other breast, and wait until he burped again. Then I would hold him upright for at least another ten minutes before laying him down next to me in bed. Any variation from the routine and he'd cry inconsolably, high-pitched and almost angry, his knees toward his chest, red-faced and sweaty.
I was already pretty sure I was failing as a mom, so I followed the feeding, burping, holding procedure religiously, not wanting to add more evidence to what was already a deep file of my shortcomings. But I could list yesterday's transgressions in my head and I reviewed them in the dark while I waited for the burp: yelled at my older son because he made a huge wet mess in bathroom, didn't smile back at the baby, only half-listened to my son when he was telling me about his favorite part of preschool, hoped that the baby couldn't understand English when I cried on the phone with my best friend and listed all the reasons why it was a mistake to have a second child.
How did my life get to this point? All my life, I succeeded at everything I directed my attention to–education, my career, building my own busy massage therapy practice after becoming disillusioned with the corporate world. My mantra of work hard, work harder had never let me down.
No matter how hard I worked, the unpredictability of my life with children created chaos for me. I used to be so organized and orderly. I lived alone for years, choosing small apartments with tiny kitchens and enjoyed finding the perfect places for my clothes in the closet, dishes in the cabinets, items on the shelves. There was a calm ease that came from knowing that everything had a place. I didn't get married until my late 30s and had my boys when I was 38 and 40; I'd had a deliciously long time to have things just right.
I thought I'd still be able to have things just right after my boys were born. I imagined the colorful baskets for toys, the changing table with drawers and shelves for supplies, the mesh plastic containers for the dishwasher to hold the accouterments for the bottles and breast pump accessories. And, as organized as I was with the house, I would be just as organized as a mom–as attuned to my child's schedule as I was to my own, meticulously finding the answers to all that I didn't know, mothering my children in a thoroughly researched way so my securely attached kids slept through the night, self-soothed, and practically potty trained themselves.
I had always wanted children but now that they were here, my beliefs about what a "good mom" looked like didn't match how I wanted to manage my time, raise my children, and be in my marriage. I resented how my relationship with my husband shifted into both of us taking more traditional, stereotypical roles. I believed that to be a good mom I should spend the majority of my time with my kids, put my children's needs before my own, and appreciate each and every experience of motherhood. A question I kept hearing was, "How do you enjoy being a mom?" as if there was no other option but to embrace and enjoy it all.
I wanted it back, that old life of mine. The organized, easy one. The life that felt so full of all that I chose, the riches I didn't even realize were treasures until now: sleep, that gorgeous, uninterrupted sleep from my single life; all the free time to squander and fritter away; the ability to make spontaneous choices of what to do in the moment. Do I feel like reading or watching a movie? Should I go shopping now or tomorrow morning? I wanted to open that treasure chest and run my hands through the bright opulence and enjoy the luxury of choice again.
My son burped and I shifted him so he was resting against my chest as I leaned back against the pillows. Ten more minutes of keeping him mostly upright, then carefully easing him onto the bed next to me, and then I could sleep.
My almost asleep-son took a quiet, feathery breath in the dark and I mentally kicked myself for being ungrateful. I had a good life, a loving and patient husband, beautiful healthy kids. I had no right to be unhappy. But I was.
"We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us," wrote Joseph Campbell, author of The Hero with a Thousand Faces. But the life I was living now, and the one waiting for me, were filled with all the ways I was failing. I should be able to get in and out of the grocery store without one of my children screaming, crying, or refusing to "bend in the middle" when I tried to lower him into the shopping cart seat. I shouldn't have to rewash laundry because I kept forgetting to move the clothes from the washer to the dryer. I should be able to keep my home from being an embarrassing disaster. I should be able to put together at least one meal a day when my husband, kids, and I were all sitting at the table together. Instead, we sat at the table in shifts and what we ate was like an afterthought, thrown together at the last minute. I served a lot of pasta.
At least in the organized, easy life that I had planned for myself, I was the perfect mom.
The Mean Manager
Seventy-five percent of mothers say that the stress they put on themselves to be "perfect" is much greater than any stress they feel from being judged by other moms. In another study, 64 percent of moms stated that parenting is more competitive now than it was in the past, with three-quarters of the moms surveyed agreeing that it's important to try to be a "perfect" mom. And when moms fail, they feel shame and fear that others will find out they're having trouble dealing with the challenges of being a parent.
What I've realized in my work as a life coach with moms is that all moms feel like they're failing at one point or another. Not spending enough time with your kids. Being distracted when spending time with your kids. Not enjoying the time that you spend with your kids. It's normal. What hurts is when perfectionism keeps you isolated and lonely, when it prevents you from being satisfied with how much you can do and accepting of what the day brings.
When my sons were young, I started noticing the voice in my head that I called the Mean Manager: hypercritical, holding exceptionally high standards for myself and my family, stuck in a compare-and-despair mindset. I realized that I could shift instead to thinking like what I imagined the kind caretaker of a fixer upper would say. "There's a bit of dust," the Kind Caretaker would say as she lovingly ran her finger along the dirty chair rail, "But the house has good bones." "The hardwood floors are a bit scratched here and there but the foundation is solid." I certainly wasn't the mommy equivalent of the Hearst Castle, but I realized there was a lot of ground between striving to be an impeccable mansion and feeling like a run-down shack. I wanted to make room for acceptance. I wasn't perfect but I wasn't a failure either.
So I did with my perfectionism what one mom had recommended I do with the overwhelming flood of toys. This mom of six children would separate her children's toys in big plastic bins from Target, leave one bin of toys in the house for the kids to play with, and store the other bins in the garage, high on a shelf. After three weeks, the old toys would be boxed up and taken to the garage and another batch of toys would come in to play.
In the same way, I could manage my perfectionist tendencies, one or two projects at a time. If I tried to do too much, my inner emotional home would be full of tools and building materials, completely torn-up and unlivable. I needed to take one small step, followed by another small step. So I focused on developing systems for the clean-up crew (my toddler and I) and then, in a few weeks, I created a plan for managing mealtime. I designated one day for doing the laundry–and set a timer so I remembered to transfer the wet clothes into the dryer. And when I messed up and forgot to bring the groceries in from the car because the baby had fallen asleep and the toddler and I had made a game of how quiet can we be as we crept into the house with the sleeping baby in the car seat, the Kind Caretaker just smiled and said, "Curb appeal. This house has great curb appeal."
Practical Advice – How to Harness Your Superpowers
Your brain is an evidence-making machine. When you have a thought, whether it's positive or negative, your brain starts searching for evidence to support it. If you tell yourself you're not doing enough for your kids or you're a bad mom or you're lazy, you can probably rattle off a long list of the many ways your thought is true.
The stories that you tell yourself about your life end up creating your life. This background noise in your mind can keep you in the pit of despair, in the same room with resentment, and holding hands with unhappiness.
When you change your story, however, you change your world, one little bit at a time. When you reframe your stories to turn yourself into a heroine who overcomes daily challenges rather than being burdened by them, your brain begins to recognize the truth–you are a superhero.
A daily homework assignment can create more powerful and positive feelings in your life. At least once a day, complete this sentence: "Today, I was a superhero because ..." Find a time that you can answer this question regularly. You can add it to your bedtime routine, like right after you've brushed your teeth, or you could answer the question when you're in a mid-afternoon slump and it seems like the day will never end. You could also make the question part of dinnertime with your family, giving everyone a chance to talk about their superhero moment of the day.
Here are some examples from everyday superheroes: Today, I was a superhero because ...
I managed to prepare dinner even with an unhappy three-year-old hanging onto my ankles.
I fought my way through rush hour traffic without losing my cool, even when an idiot cut me off and nearly caused an accident.
I mastered a shopping trip to Costco (with kids in tow), loaded and unloaded the car singlehandedly, and put nearly everything away in the span of one afternoon.
Let this be your superpower: changing your life, one story at a time.
Coaching + Craft – Finding Joy Basket
This chapter's Coaching + Craft project is about discovering the joyful moments that happen every day. Paying attention to what brings you happiness is a small but mighty practice. "The thoughts we choose to think are the tools we use to paint the canvas of our lives," wrote Louise L. Hay. When you regularly pay attention to what brings you happiness you see and feel more goodness every day.
The Coaching + Craft projects in this book are powerful antidotes to unhappiness. As you link an art project to a fledging idea that you want to nurture, you build new thought patterns in your brain. Your finished creation acts as a reminder–especially if the craft project is something you see or use regularly–that deepens a new path of possibilities and strengthens the likelihood that you'll begin and maintain desired changes in how you think, feel and behave.
Coaching + Craft Project Supplies:
A small- to medium-sized bowl to use as a mold for your joy basket
A medium-sized bowl to hold the glue mixture
Medium weight yarn
Pen or pencil
Protect your work surface by covering it with newspaper or a plastic tablecloth. Wrap the small- to medium-sized bowl in plastic wrap, making sure to cover the rim of the bowl. Tuck the excess plastic wrap into the center of the bowl.
Place plastic wrap on the baking sheet to protect the surface and put the wrapped bowl upside down on the baking sheet.
Cut the yarn into approximately 20 strands, each about 24 inches in length.
In the medium-sized bowl, mix a half a cup of glue with a quarter of a cup of water. Soak the yarn in the glue mixture.
Using one strand of yarn at a time, wrap the outside of the plastic-wrapped bowl with the yarn, making sure to have the strands touch in as many places as possible. The more places the yarn touches, the stronger your basket will be.
When finished, let your basket dry for 72 hours. When your basket is completely dry, gently pull the yarn basket away from the plastic wrapped bowl. Use small scissors to cut away any dried pieces of glue remaining on your basket.
Put your joy basket in a high traffic location of your home or office. A good place might be your kitchen, stairs, or your desk. Place a small notepad and pen or pencil near or inside your joy bowl. Then, whenever you notice happy feelings, write down the activity, memory, or thought that created the joyful experience and put the note in the basket.
If you're not near your basket when a bit of everyday joy arises, make sure to make a note about your happy experience either in a notepad or in an app on your phone so you can add the moment to your joy basket later. It's important to keep track of your happiness as you go through your day. Your mind's built-in negativity bias means that it's very easy to forget the tiny, delicious joys that happen throughout your day.
Do the Joy Basket activity for at least a week, preferably for a longer period of time.
After your Joy Basket experiment is over, review your notes. Notice trends, like you're happiest when you're outdoors, spending time with a particular person, or engaged in a specific hobby or activity. Then, make plans to spend more time doing what fills your life with joy.
To see Joy Baskets made by moms in The Well-Crafted Mom's groups, visit thewellcraftedmom.com/coaching-craft.CHAPTER 2
"That was the thing about the world: it wasn't that things were harder than you thought they were going to be, it was that they were hard in ways that you didn't expect."
It had been an unrelenting day. The baby had a cold and trying to hold him still while using the bulb syringe to ease the snot out of his nose was like wrestling with a slippery baby hippo. If I didn't know better, I would swear that my son could close his nostrils at will. Because he was sick, he hadn't napped and had wanted to be held all day. When I put him in his swing so I had two free hands to make lunch for his brother, go to the bathroom, or blow my own nose, he wailed. My older son, seeing that his younger brother was monopolizing my attention, grew more demanding, "Read to me, Mommy," he said, poking a hardback book against my leg as I stood in the kitchen attempting to prepare dinner, the baby strapped against me in the Bjorn carrier. "Let's wait until after dinner and then we'll read three stories," I said in that falsely bright, it-will-all-be-okay tone of voice. But I had been asking my older boy to wait and wait all day. He had reached the end of his allotment of three-year-old patience and he fell apart in a messy tantrum at my feet.
I picked up my older son and awkwardly balanced him on my hip, his legs around the baby in the carrier. With boys crying, I walked to the foot of the stairs. "Hey, honey?" I called up to my husband, hard at work building his new business at his desk upstairs in the bay window of the master bedroom. "Could you come down to help?" I had spent all day pretending he wasn't home, reminding myself he was working just as if he was at a desk at an office somewhere miles away. I hated asking for backup–I knew how stressed he was about making up the lost income from a few accounts that had folded, and how hard he was working to provide for our family financially–but I felt sucked dry; there was nothing left to give.
"I'm in the middle of something," he answered. "I can't."
We argued, got through it, and then got through the many arguments that followed, and now we're enjoying some well-earned smooth sailing in our marriage. Going into parenthood, I believed my husband and I shared the same expectations of what co-parenting looked like–an all-hands-on-deck-in-a-storm sort of ideal. And, for the most part, it was true. My husband did help out with diaper changes, feedings, clean up, and household chores. He even took over the nighttime duties with the two boys when I fell apart after years of interrupted sleep. But even the term "help out" put his contribution in a different category than mine. I had expected him to be an equal participant, but in those early days, I was the captain. It was my job to run the ship and keep it on course, but I couldn't keep us afloat.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Well-Crafted Mom"
Copyright © 2018 Kathleen Ann Harper.
Excerpted by permission of Morgan James Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Part 1 – REST,
Chapter One – Room,
Chapter Two – Expect Less,
Chapter Three – Say No to the Book Fair,
Chapter Four – Take Your Times,
Part 2 – CRAFT,
Chapter Five – Carve Out Time for Yourself,
Chapter Six – Remember Why You Fell in Love,
Chapter Seven – All About Guilt Mommy Guilt,
Chapter Eight – Find Friends,
Chapter Nine – Talk Nicely,
Part 3 – FLY,
Chapter Ten – Find Fun,
Chapter Eleven – Live by Heart,
Chapter Twelve – Your Turn,
About the Author,