Wednesday, January 18, 2012

On the Job training

I've been attempting to re-evaluate my expectations and definitions of my mother-of-three life of late.  This is part of fine-tuning my New Years resolutions, which are bound to be ready to share soon.

Christmas 2011

The biggest issue I'm coming up against is that all too often, I have a hard time getting over myself and really focusing the appropriate amount of energy on my kids.  I still spend too-much time and energy thinking about me.  About what I want for me.  And on really cranky days, thinking about what I want for me but cannot have.  It's not hard to see that this self-absorption is a fast-pass to a permanent state of cranky, listless discontent.  A place I know too well.

my boys are so silly

So, the task at hand is to get over myself.  And this is done.... how?  I'm figuring it out.  Here's what's helping:

1. Spend a few moments every day just soaking each child in and adoring them.  Just like a marriage, a mother-child relationship benefits from the power of intentional positive amorous brain time.  If I can remember how lucky I am and how tremendous these little people are, well then I'm half way there.  Even on their crankiest of days, I can still manage to step back and wonder at the scope of their souls.  These moments also help me to view their experiences and frustrations through their point of view.  And to remember that they aren't so quick to make expensive messes just because they want to make me feel all my efforts are futile. (That is my emotional response to their messes, and it's just out of line.)  It helps me remember that it's my job to be the mature one and that they still have a ways to go before they will be able to think outside of themselves the way I need to.  And it's my job to teach them how to do that - mostly through my example.

2. Take an occasional constructive mommy time-out.  A selfish "time-out" will only increase the self-pity.  I've been guilty of pulling time from my family in order to indulge in fantasies about how I wish my life were different.  Or worse, how I wish my life were more like someone else's.   Hello ornery and unmotivated version of myself!  If I really want to change something about my life I need to set a goal and create a realistic plan for change.  I also really need to remember how great my life is and can be.  So when I'm in danger of losing my cool and need to take a time out - the purpose of my time out needs to be recalibration, not gratification.   Instead of spending those moments focusing on what I don't have and can't do, I need to turn it around and remember what I do have, and commit to what I can and will do.

3. Respect your children.  Sure they are "just kids".  But truly, do you feel that different inside from when you were a kid?  You have more stress and more responsibilities.  You've learned a lot.  But are you not still the same person?  If you can back your lens way up, you realize that there's not such a difference between your kids learning how to be pleasant people and you learning how to be a parent.  You're both learning as you go.  Respect that your child's journey and experience is a real and immediate to them as yours is to you.  Their frustrations (which may seem trivial to you) are perfectly valid in their eyes.  Be as patient with them as you hope God can be with you.  I suspect He sees us all as little children with a terribly limited understanding, and is oh so patient with us.

4. Approach your least favorite tasks as a direct service for the people you love.  I cannot tell a lie, the super-repetitive parts of running a household can sometimes drive me batty.  The dishes?  The laundry?  The kitchen floor?  I sometimes get defeated by their never-ending-nature and my motivation to deal with them shrivels and flops.  They don't stay done and the sense of accomplishment I feel at completion is hardly proportionate to the fatigue I feel when the next dish or dirty sock surfaces 3 seconds later.  So how can I keep this fact-of-life from running me over?   It's an instance of not changing what you are doing, but changing why you are doing it.  When my housework turns into a gift I am giving to my kids and my husband, it becomes much easier to do it happily and well.  And so the drawers of clean and folded clothes, the reasonably straight kitchen, and the less-than-disgusting kitchen floor are all gifts to them.

5. Adjust your expectation paradigm for how you are thanked for your work. Relating to #4, it is not reasonable to expect your children to line up and give you angelic smiles and thank you for each task you complete on their behalf.  (If they do thank you for anything you do - that is purely frosting on top). If you want more verbal thanks, try giving more of it to your spouse.  The way your kids show their appreciation for your gifts is by using them.  Thinking this way helps to circumvent mountains of frustration.  I remember being told that being a mother is like being a Chef.  You send out a beautiful, delicious dish.  If the plate got sent back still looking beautiful and full of food you'd be sad!  Yet that's often what we expect our kids to do when we work to make our homes neat and attractive.  The way they are attracted to the toys or the rooms we just cleaned up is their way of appreciating our work.  We need to learn to view it as thanks.

6. Give yourself permission to take a little pride in doing things your certain way.  If I'm going to be a mother, homemaker, housekeeper, babysitter, etc.  I'm going to be a good one.  You cannot possibly do everything well as a mother, there are not enough breaks or enough prep-period for that.  But you can take a little pride in the things you can do well, especially the things you get at least nominal pleasure from doing.  I take pride in ironing everyone's dress-shirts, in setting the table for dinner each night, and in thoroughly lubing my boys in some super-beneficial lotion after a bath.  I know nobody else would do these things for my family as well as I do - and that most people wouldn't do them at all.  It's like my signature, and I'm very attached to it.

7. Search for opportunities to share things you love with your kids.  This can be one of the most fun aspects of parenting, but also a really hard one to prioritize.  Yet nothing makes you feel as accomplished  or cool as a parent as having a child that has been taught to appreciate something they can enjoy the rest of their life.  A certain music genre, a favorite movie, a beloved hobby?  Get your kids involved and enjoy it together.  In the process you will also enjoy each other more.

8. Take care of yourself in order to have the strength and energy to enjoy life and your family for years to come.  How many mothers forget to feed themselves in the course of they day?  What is the consequence of that?  I don't know about you, but at our house hungry people are usually pretty crabby.  It's not selfish to let your children cry or wait longer for what they want so that you can eat a balanced meal or go to the bathroom.  And making time in the day to exercise and feed yourself spiritually ultimately blesses your family with a mother who is balance and strong and has the energy and well-being to be present.  I have done much better at parts of this, and my biggest goals are to improve at the remaining parts.  I really believe in this, even if I also recognize how hard it is to make it happen.

9. Define what you are and are not responsible for.  Your kids' approval is never a reliable gauge of how you are doing.  Your goal as a parent cannot safely be to make them happy either.  Guess who decides whether they are happy?  They do.  It's important as a parent to clearly define what you can and can't control, and what is and is not your responsibility.  Make sure you are not owning their choices.  You don't own them, you are a steward over them.  Your job is not to control them or their choices, but to teach them and equip them to be able to make good choices.   It helps when your child is throwing a public tantrum to remember that you aren't the one exhibiting embarrassing behavior; they are.  Be embarrassed for them, not for you.  When you aren't trying to control things beyond your control, or feeling responsible for things you can't control, it's a lot easier to feel good about the work you do, and to focus your energy where it can do the most good.

10. Learn to recognize and act when you're being derailed.  But be patient with yourself.  You're learning too.  I am as prone as anyone to feeling like a failure at the end of the day.  I expect myself to do everything I know I should do, and I always fall short.  On the days I can give myself credit for improving without beating myself up for being imperfect and human, I find I can spend a lot less energy beating myself up and spend it instead on things that actually make a difference.  There's a lot of wasted energy in being a perfectionist.  When I sense I am getting frustrated and getting all wound up inside, I try to remind myself that I should do something productive with that energy instead.  I try to quickly think about a few things I do have and a few things I can do, to get myself in a better frame of mind.  And then I try to remember what a waste of energy frustration can be.  You can only be frustrated if you have unmet expectations, and the less fair and realistic your expectations are, the more energy you will waste being frustrated.  If your expectations aren't met, try to give them up, even if they were reasonable.   Holding on to them won't make them happen, especially if they involve other people's agency.

So dear readers, what would you add to my list?  What keeps you levelheaded and purposeful when you start to slip into a rut?  Do share, because I still have a long way to go!

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