Humbleness

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned from being a parent is using my willpower to walk the path of humbleness.

Being humble doesn’t come easy to me. It hurts to have to look at yourself honestly and admit you’ve been making things worse. This self reflection doesn’t come from a place of judgement or being self-critical. It isn’t about feeling guilty, although that is a very easy place to get stuck for me. Maybe this doesn’t come easy to me because I don’t like feeling incapable or inept. I know I don’t like feeling like I’ve caused emotional damage. It’s much easier to not look in the mirror and just keep doing what you’ve been doing.

But easier isn’t always the right path. Sometimes we must use our will power to ignore our ego and turn the light on so we can properly look in the mirror.

I’ve been struggling so much with my older two children. There has been a lot of conflict between them and some between me and them as well. Self-reflection isn’t something I enjoy doing, but the fact is if I want to help us move past this, it is a necessity. No, I’m not responsible for their choices , words or actions. But, I’m responsible for my words and actions and I cannot deny that how I act affects not only the situation, but the whole family. In fact, the only person I can control is me.

So I’m doing what doesn’t come natural to me, and what hurts to do, and that is self-reflection and being humble and willing to learn and change my own approach.

I’ve had this book in my stack of to-read books for a while and just haven’t gotten to it. If I’m honest, I will admit that I’ve been putting off reading it because I knew it would make me have to face mistakes I’ve been making, and that’s uncomfortable. I’d rather avoid that. But the time has come to face that feeling and be humble and willing to be open to growing.

One practice that gets me through these uncomfortable growing pains is self-compassion. Being kind to myself and talking to myself the way I’d talk to a friend in my shoes. It is what helped to pull me out of some very dark times in parenting a number of years ago.

Parenting never is dull. There are always opportunities to know ourselves more and grow.

Enduring

Sometimes the path is hard. It feels hard to put one foot in front of the other. The bushes along the path scratch up your arms and legs. You stumble and trip on the rocks on the path. You fall down and cry. You sit in the middle of the path, sobbing.

You also know that you must go on. You know that the path won’t always be so difficult and you must put one foot in front of the other and keep moving forward, even if you don’t progress for a while because you keep backtracking to see what exactly led you to this hard path. In the end, you’ll get there.

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My planning is done. Everything is tidy. Our first day of school begins today. Grades 1, 4, and 10.

Last night was very hard. Parenting teenagers is not for the faint of heart. My first reaction is to cancel today and feel angry and sad about my plans being derailed. But I know my other children would be so upset to not begin, they are so looking forward to today. And I don’t want to wear the martyr hat. So, I remember I’m the captain of the boat and I put one foot in front of the other and navigate into unknown territory. I let go of expectations and just jump in and see where it goes.

I’m sure tonight I’ll post plenty of pretty pictures that will make some out there feel less-than or jealous that I have it all together. This is why I’m sharing this blog post. I think sharing our struggles, the truth behind the pretty pictures, is a gift to others. We are all human. We all have our struggles and fall down on our face sometimes. It’s easy to pretend it’s all roses with the internet. But the truth is: life is hard sometimes. Parenting is hard sometimes. Mothering can sometimes makes you feel like your heart has been ripped out. We must endure and push forward. Feel it all, give ourselves a hug and keep putting our feet down for the next step. That’s all there is to do.

A time of reflection

I haven’t blogged in nearly two months. It has been a time of adjustment and reflection. There have been some bumpy days (weeks?) and I’ve had to do lots of inner work and refining my own habits to find a sweet spot again. I’m getting there.

I’ve joked half seriously that I should start a blog called ‘Things My Kids Tell Me’. Not with the purpose of complaining or making jokes, but so that other moms out there don’t feel alone in their struggles. It can feel so isolating and depressing to think to yourself that the (unkind) things your child says couldn’t possibly be said by other kids, because no one you know has ever shared such things. I mean, we don’t really talk about it. Social media is full of the edited happy moments and lots of happy faces. But that’s not real life. And no matter how amazing you are as a mother, it is no insurance against your child saying hurtful things to you. Because what comes out of their mouth is a reflection about what is going on within them. I’ve found again and again how powerful it is to speak up and share with friends what happens within my house. It is sure scary to be vulnerable in that way, but I’ve found again and again that it not only is healing and helpful for me to share but that other mothers then feel less alone. Mothers then open up to me about the things that go on in their homes and how they’ve struggled. Our culture doesn’t do vulnerability very well. So, it takes intention and practice.

In our house, we’ve been in the thick of the 9 year change. I think we are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel, but that light is still a far way off yet, truth be told. I’m remembering how absolutely vital the inner work piece is and how making time for mediation and mindfulness and fun are is not optional. It is necessity. I’m reminded again and again that the only thing I can be in control of is how I react. So, I’m in charge of me, and that’s my main job as a parent.

I have taken some photos here and there of our homeschooling and life. Things are moving along nicely and we are settling into a workable rhythm. Lots of grace is given, daily. Grace, flexibility and self-compassion. Those are my tools lately.

Stumble and trip

I’ve decided to share some of my personal struggles in the hopes of helping some other mothers out there. We all have our own journeys ahead and behind us and they are all unique. But I have come to know of the power of sharing those journeys with one another.

A few years back, when my third child was a baby (she’ll be 6 this summer), i was struggling in a very real way as a parent. I felt unhappy and resentful and STUCK along with a big dose of martyrdom.

I had recently become a full time stay at home mom and underestimated how difficult that could be. My sense of worth was gone, having been raised in this culture that tells us that we are our occupations and paychecks; I was with my kids pretty much 24/7; I felt my lack of social network strongly now that I no longer saw people through my work; and my ‘job’ of homemaking seemed endless (it is) and unappreciated (it isn’t).

My oldest son was 9, and in the thick of the 9 year change, and were we struggling! I didn’t know how I’d make it through it with him.

I was yelling daily. I was hiding in my room to cry in despair, regularly.

And I felt like the worst mother.

For me, this was a downward spiral. I felt like a horrible parent, and then that feeling would translate into me being even more mean as I felt so horrible about myself. I’d have a day here and there where the weight lifted, but then I was thrown right back into it. I’d often cry in bed at night from the guilt of the things I’d said to my children (mostly, to my oldest), and from the knowledge that I wasn’t being the mother I wanted for my children.

I felt so isolated because who could I talk to about this and not feel fear of being judged? My poor husband couldn’t help me much. He would just tell me that I good mother and to not be so hard on myself. I was certain that none of my mama friends ever felt the way I was feeling. (By the way, this isn’t true!) And I didn’t even know anymore who friends were. Most of my contact with them was through social media and just left me feeling more alone.

Looking back, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what it was that turned things around for me. Likely because it was a combination of many changes that helped.

Here is my best recollection of what helped me.

  • Finding Waldorf

This will be a whole blog post of its own, so I won’t tell the whole story of how I found Waldorf education and philosophy here. But this was the first step. This helped lay the foundation of me learning how to run a busy household (which i had no idea how to do even though I’d been a parent for 9 years at that point) and enjoy it, how to enjoy homeschooling again, how to begin getting back in touch with my spirituality, how to enjoy parenting again. Waldorf (specifically Waldorf Essentials/Melisa Nielsen) was a game changer and felt like coming home.

  • Leaving social media

This was a hard one for me. And I was scared to do it because I thought my time on Facebook was my “social” time, since I was a stay at home mom. But after finding the 99 Days of Freedom challenge, I was inspired to just do it. It was life changing. After I got over the hump of the hard work of breaking my addiction, I felt like I had time to breath again. I ended up staying off Facebook for over a year. It was fantastic and life affirming. I read books again, did a ton of crafting and in general, I found so much free time that I didn’t know I had! I did eventually go back because of the usefulness of the groups, but my long break changed the way I view and use Facebook. I see it now as an anti-social time. It is a tool that can be quite handy but i essentially unfollowed all my ‘friends’ and 90% of my time is in groups that are beneficial to my life (local homeschool groups, babywearing groups, Waldorf homeschool support group). Leaving Facebook made me a better mother, for sure. I no longer spent time reading about what other people were doing, feeling inadequate in my own head, a feeling that would often linger long after logging out . Instead, i was fully present with my children and began to remember what it felt like to just BE.

  • Meditation/Mindfulness

Specifically, i found the Mommy Meltdown Cure created by the amazing Sigrid Kjeldsen aka The Joyful Mother. I was lucky enough to be in a small mindfulness coaching group that she led for a year or more, and it was incredible. Life changing! Words don’t suffice to share what it brought to me. Peace. Love. All of that good stuff. She’s now gone on to greater projects, creating a community called Motherhood Rising. She is amazing and I highly recommend her.

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I’ve come a long way in 5 years. But I still trip and stumble. I still fall flat on my face, even. Like a few days ago. But I know how it get myself up when that happens and forgive myself and have self-compassion, apologize to my kids, and remember all we have is NOW.

One of my favorite poems, by Mary Oliver, it brings me right back to the present and grounds me when I read it.

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain are moving across the landscapes, over the prairies and the deep trees,  the mountain and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air, are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting—

over and over announcing your place in the family of things.

Growing

This week has been full of ups and downs. I took the kids camping alone with some homeschooling friends. It was their first time really camping. Between being on-call for births for 9 years and then being pregnant and having a small baby/toddler, camping just never happened for our family. But, the kids loved it and we’ll be going again very soon. I’m taking them camping for four nights to fiddle camp in a few weeks, and then we’ll be taking a family camping trip in August sometime. (We need a pet sitter, though, so if you are local to me and know someone , let me know!)

The camping was good.

It was the recovery that was hard. Of course, we had the usual mess to put away, laundry to clean, and sleep to catch up on, but it was the meltdowns that were trying. I assumed that my oldest, I., would not have any issues once we got home since he seemed just fine during our trip. How wrong I was…

It may have been the break in his usual rhythm, or the lack of sleep, or something else. I don’t know. Within about an hour of being home, he totally lost it at his brother and then spent the rest of the evening angry at everything and lashing out at everyone.

I spent a good part of the night crying. I know my own thoughts are what cause me the most anguish. Thinking about how he’s 12, and we are still dealing with his lack of control of his words; worrying that it’ll never get better; feeling like I can’t take him anywhere since the meltdown just isn’t worth it; even wondering in what ways have I screwed up so that my 12 year old can’t handle life.

But. But, I have to lift my head out of the vat of those kinds of thoughts. It took a while, though.

When I went to say goodnight and talk about everything, he said something that triggered me all over again. I went to sleep devastated to have heard him say that he can’t change, that this is just how he is.

Thankfully, when I woke the next morning, my head was clearer and I realized something important. He said that because he doesn’t believe he can change, not because he doesn’t want to change. Such a simple shift in how I saw his statement, but it really helped me to have perspective.

Perspective to realize that my job is to hold the space for him, and never waiver from affirming to him that he can change and it will happen. When I told him later that morning that I know he can change, he sadly said, “You think so?”

I know I have to believe in him enough to not give up on him.

This is hard at times. I have three children whom I love desperately. When one is attacking another, even with words, it takes every bit of commitment and effort from me to not lose it at the offender. Because, he’s also still my baby. I can remember holding him when he was seconds old. The desire to protect the other children is so strong, though. And I must protect them. But not at the expense of the offending child. Because I know all too well that when he’s acting like that, it’s because he feels bad inside, and the meaner he is to his siblings, the worse about himself he feels. The last thing he needs is me to tell him (or convey to him without saying it directly) is that he is bad. That is throwing gasoline on a fire.

I don’t always succeed. I’m human. I have my moments, or days, even, when I miss the mark. But this is where self-compassion comes in. And forgiveness. Forgiveness for myself and towards him. That’s where I’m at today. Remembering that in the end, all there is is love and I can return to a place of love anytime. Letting go of thoughts of the past (what he’s done) or worries of the future (what if he never changes?) is the most loving thing I can do.

Be here now. That’s all.

Giving myself a hug

A dear friend brought the teachings of self-compassion to me last year. She introduced me to the work of Dr. Kristin Neff. If you haven’t heard of her before, check out her TED talk. She also has a book, but it was a bit too scholarly for me. Instead, the book on the topic that really spoke to me was by Dr. Christopher Germer. So good.

Self-compassion is what I turn to when I have a child screaming in my face. It is what wraps its arms around me when I lay myself to sleep at 8:45 because I just need the day to be over and am thoroughly exhausted with interacting with a child who has held onto his seething anger at me for over 5 hours.

Sometimes I first fall into self pity, but that is a pit that only makes me feel worse and leads to seeing myself as a martyr. Not a path that leads to much peace and love.

So, I’m so grateful that I’ve learned self-compassion. It is so simple and seems so obvious but it is so far removed from our modern culture.

What does self-compassion look like for me? Talking to myself the way I’d talk to a good friend in my shoes. Sometimes literally giving myself a hug. Having empathy and compassion for myself when I’m in really stressful and challenging situations.

This morning, I’m also thinking about self-appreciation. Kristin Neff has this great article on her website on the topic. Gosh, I needed to read this. Today. This morning at 6am as I am preparing for my day. Focusing on my faults go hand in hand with feeling like a martyr. When my child acts in a way that I can’t understand, shows zero gratitude, and is lashing out at all of us, my mind’s default is to start highlighting all the mistakes I’ve made and all the ways I am not doing a good job as a parent.  Crazy, isn’t it? When I stop reacting to what is happening around me, I can acknowledge that I know that my child is a child. He’s still emotionally immature. His behavior is not a reflection of me. His lack of gratitude for all I do for him isn’t personal and it doesn’t have to be a blow to me. His behavior and attitude is a reflection of his immaturity and the fact that he’s a child!

So, this morning, I’m reflecting on appreciating myself. I don’t need to wait for others to appreciate me, including my child or my husband. As Neff writes in the article,

William James, one of the founding fathers of Western psychology, once wrote that “the deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.” Luckily, we can meet this essential need without depending on other people to approve of us. When we treat ourselves with the same kindness with which we treat our good friends, we’ll have the support and care required to help us thrive.

I close with this quote from Dr. Robert Holden. I must remind myself of this daily. How often do we believe it is external circumstances that dictate our happiness? I do, all too often. But happiness is a choice. And it is a choice I want to make.

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Saying YES

What a whirlwind these last two days have been. And through it all, I am given constantly two choices. Accept the moment, whatever it is, and say yes. Or resist it, be angry it is happening, annoyed it is happening and see how that helps. Because, I know. I know too well. Resisting only makes me more at odds with what IS and thus more conflict arises from me (via my thoughts or words or actions).

I can be thankful for it all, and sometimes I can actually manage that. But you know, I’m human and need to remind myself later  when I’m reflecting back on my day, to be thankful for such abundant opportunities to chose love, to find peace amongst the chaos.

Self-compassion.

Saying yes.

Awareness of my body. (Which I do my literally placing my right hand on my chest. It can almost instantly bring me back to my body and to the moment.)

Forgiveness (usually, that means self-forgiveness).

These are the cornerstones of my spiritual practice as I do this mothering thing.

I don’t honestly know how I made it through mothering all these years before I knew about self-compassion. Wow. It has changed the ball game for me. To actually talk to myself in the way that I would talk to a dear friend who was struggling…that is powerful stuff. It sounds simple. And it is. But, it is powerful. Because sometimes literally *all* I can do is say to myself “This is so hard, I’m sorry you are struggling right now and I love you.”, whilst I have children screaming at each other, not even hearing me, while I hold one back from the other.

Saying yes. Yes, I actually sometimes say it out loud. Like, yes, even though I have a child who is in the middle of a temper tantrum about I’m-not-even-sure-what and he’s scaring the younger two, I also now need to go clean up a broken mason jar full of fresh veggie juice from my driveway. In case you are wondering how that looks, I took a picture. It wasn’t top priority, and didn’t get cleaned up for quite a while that morning. But, I just said yes.

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Self-forgiveness. Whoa. Yes. Because sometimes I don’t say yes. I start resisting and then words just spill our of my mouth at my kid that I totally didn’t mean to say but I’m swept up in the wave of annoyance or whatever. Then, before I can even get to a place to reconnect with him and apologize sincerely, without that apology laying more guilt into my own self image as a mother, I need to forgive ME. This has probably been the hardest thing to do. Forgiving myself doesn’t come naturally to me. I didn’t see it modeled as a child, and I don’t think it’s really something we even do in our culture. And it still doesn’t come easy for me. I must consciously remember I need to do it, and even that can take a day or two, while in the meantime I get swept along the River of Guilt.

I used to really, sincerely think that if I parented “right”, my kids would grow up without issues or poor self-worth, or baggage of any kind, really. Ha! Aren’t we all so naive before we have kids, or when our first child is under age 3? Now, I get it. There is no magic formula to raise children who don’t have some inner work to do. This is the work of life: to experience it, and to have those experiences give us some work to do! As a parent, I can only do one thing: the best that I can. And when (not if) I mess up, I forgive myself, apologize to my kid, and endeavor to learn and grow from it.

I’ve so much more to write, but sleep beckons. My gratitude that such a thing as sleep exists is endless.