Wednesday, January 18, 2012

To Mothers

Sweet and beautiful mothers,

I have been thinking about you a lot since starting this adventure of extra-mothering. Extra because I’m mothering children that aren’t really “mine” – not extra in the sense that I do anything more than what I would do for Jack and Joey…

The nature of my job means that I stay pretty busy, a word I have avoided for a long time, but now seems to fit. I move a lot during the day.

A lot.

A house of 11 kids means that when one body is settled, two or three more are up and moving and talking and needing…

As I have adjusted to this new pace, I have had to reframe my idea of what a “good” mom looks like. I simply can’t do EVERYTHING that I thought I would as a mother.

I have reviewed what I assumed I would do as a mom and had to sort my expectations. There are some things that are a MUST for me – things I would regret not incorporating into my family if I let them slide. Other things however are simply a result of how I was raised or what appeals to me. They are the aesthetics of mothering - the non-essentials that make up what kind of “look” I like.

And for now, some of those minor preferences have taken a backseat to the more urgent needs of my large-scale household.

It used to be that I played a mental parenting chess match. For each move of actual white-piece parenting, my mental black pieces would respond. Every hour of the day alternating between doing and thinking –often critically. Most days, I felt like although I was moving my white pieces across the board, somehow the black pieces always found a way to capture me.

Guilt. Fear. Indecision. Doubt. Check mate.

Now, given the speed of my mothering, I spend a lot less time scoring myself than I do in actual parenting.

I do what I need to do throughout the day, and at the end, if I have energy and emotional capacity, I might review it and see what will work better tomorrow. If I don’t have energy, I will go to bed and know that I did my very best with the day that I had.

This is the change in me that most often makes me think of you.

I used to spend a great deal of emotion considering how to be an intentional and aware parent. But a lot of my thought was more about what was wrong with me than what was right. And, I think, most of it came from a place of fear in me. Fear of not doing my job well, fear of disappointing those who love me or fear of disabling my children in some unseen and un-healable way.

Fear is not really a very good motivator. It is never satisfied. Once you respond to one fear, another is always there to criticize and confuse.

Let me right now say that yes, parenting is very hard. It requires attention, selflessness, and a willingness to always adjust.

Those things are hard.

And we will continue to do them regardless of their difficulty because we are women who respect the call of mothering and desire to honor a creative and loving God who has entrusted us with beautiful and messy and one-of-a-kind children.

Those are hard things, yes. But it used to be the impossible pursuit of perfection that felt so hard for me. I wanted EVERY. SINGLE. MOMENT. to reflect perfection in my parenting.

If I spent a half hour doing the dishes while my boys played happily, I would wonder if I had missed a special moment with them. If I rushed through bath time to get more quickly to bedtime, I would end the night fearful that my boys went to sleep feeling brushed off and unloved. If I lost enthusiasm for making playdoh balls only five minutes into what I hoped would be an activity to fill the morning – I worried that my children wouldn’t have an opportunity to exercise their creativity or express their growing understanding of how the world works…

All these little fears mounted through months and days, filling me with deep concern that I was missing so much, and more horrible to me, that my children were missing so much.

What I have discovered as I meet children with heavy stories and parents that range from uninformed and unable to outright evil… is that parenting isn’t quiet as “hard” as I had been making it.

I have met children who have not just missed out on story time a few nights in a row, but children who, in second grade can’t recognize all the letters of the alphabet. I have taught children who haven’t just been rushed through a bath now and then, but who at the age of 10 aren’t able to shower themselves or use the bathroom in a clean way.

For most of us, I think that mothering is much simpler than we make it.

Do you smile at your children?

You are a good mom.

Do you talk to them while you push them through the grocery store?

You are doing an excellent job.

Do you pay attention to the things that make your children the most glad and try to make those things a part of their days.

You are a success!

The things that make a difference for your children are not going to be all the times you miss. They will live. They will understand that they are not the center of the universe, and that is a good thing.

The things that will speak to your small children and remind them that they are safe and important and valuable to you are the very tiny things that you do so naturally.

I know so many mothers who are truly wonderful. They parent creatively and thoughtfully. They consider the words they use and pay attention to their children’s responses to what is happening around them.

I have been taught and encouraged by these mothers.

But I have also heard their fears, their frustrations, the weariness that creeps in so easily.

To you, my friends, those who mother, please believe me when I tell you that what you are doing is enough. If you wanted to do one or two or three things less, that would still be enough.

Please fill your lungs with a deep, expanding breath, and consider for a moment that you ARE a good mom. The striving and aspiring and worrying can take a break for a minute. Look at your children and know that they will survive a childhood with an imperfect mother and they will be better people for it.

You are loved.

Rest well my dear friends.


Shawna Zlab said...

Wonderful thoughts Emily. Losing one's obessiveness due to circumstances is a gift. Thanks for the reminder.

Jason, Allison and Elliott said...

Thank you, friend. So well worded and a message I needed to hear. Thank you for the encouragement that just being a mother matters over my efforts to "do" motherhood.

Michelle said...

Beautiful. I've missed your writing. What a sweet encouragement and I think I did actually breathe a bit deeper while reading this. It's such a gift to feel "released" of self-imposed burdens we may not even realize we are living underneath as mothers. I love you friend. Praying for you and your amazing family.

Emily Berkey said...

Thank you for your encouraging and grace filled words! Today, I will proclaim that I am a good mom rather than allowing my fears and insecurities strip me from the blessing of raising a child. Way too often I allow my fears to tell me who I am and that it is just not a healthy or very joyful way to live. I will definitely have to write this truth down and put it in a place I can see on a daily basis to remind me. Thank you for your insightful words. I am so proud of you and Andy's obedience and willingness to care for all of these children in need of love and a home, it is a testament of God's sacrificial love. Praying that you are filled with continued strength, wisdom and joy.

Carol Aichele said...

So refreshing, so beautiful, so true! As I've looked over my own years of mothering, I realize you speak the wisdom of a lifetime in these words. These insecurities oddly enough, do not end when your children grow up. Sooner or later we have to trust ourchildren to Someone greater than ourselves. Oh how much better to learn this sooner than later!

Alissa Maxwell said...

So beautiful and freeing - all moms need to read this, breathe this, and KNOW this at the heart of their being.

Rochelle said...

My dear Emily, I have been thinking about you a lot lately. You are a wonderful mother and you have made me a better mother and person just by knowing you, I mean that from the bottom of my heart. Thank you for your encouraging words too as I can't seem to keep up on the cheese spilled on the floor or get to the bottom of why Kylie's tummy always hurts. It is no big deal in the long run! Here are a few of the many things you have taught me that I have specifically been thinking about before even reading this! The first is how to be an encourager, you live a life of encouraging others and I want to do that too and I am growing and you helped to teach me that! another is just to take time out let whatever go and just sit and enjoy our chi and talk (actually drinking one right now :-) another thing I so appreciate and remember about you that brings a smile to my face is your note taking! I just love to think back to our MOPS convention days and remember you taking notes in the shape of a flower :-) it shows me how we all think and process differently and how truly beautiful creativity can be! I miss you and love you! More later but must hurry off to get Kylie from preschool now :-) But thanks for the refreshing few moments of down time and sharing a chi tea with me from afar!