Sometimes just knowing how valuable you are is not enough. You also need to figure out what situations in your life might trip you up.
I’ve been a stay at home mom for many years. When I first started this journey of self-discovery and self-coaching, I realized that I was telling myself I was valuable when my kids were well-behaved. When they listened to me and were happy, then I was a “good mom.”
Do you see the problem with that? I could have been literally The Perfect Mother, but that doesn’t mean my kids will listen to me or be happy. I was tying my self worth to their behavior, without actually having control over their behavior! This realization was revolutionary to me.
I needed to define my success within the parameters of what I had control over. Being a “good mom” is incredibly subjective and can change drastically from mom to mom. Also, what my kids say versus what my husband says versus what I think is a “good mom” could be very different. It is so crucial for you to think about and determine ahead of time what you think success means for you, making sure that those results are completely within your control.
When the results we want in our lives depend one hundred percent on ourselves, we have complete power to make them happen. Some people might feel like that’s a lot of pressure, but it’s also so empowering! Because if it’s up to you if you fail, it’s also up to you if you succeed.
So go out there and succeed! You are amazing. You have control over your life. Take your power and use it for something good.
When I went to college in the fall of 1998, I was not looking for love. In fact, I was engaged to my high school sweetheart whom I had been dating for over three years. I was at college to work hard, study long and get my degree.
But then I met someone. My first impressions of him weren’t that great, but as I got to know him I liked him more and more. At one point I called my dad and he talked to this guy (who I wasn’t even dating yet) and my dad told me, “You’re gonna marry that guy.” I thought he was crazy.
I ended up breaking up with my fiancé, because my feelings were just so confusing. I started dating this other guy and really, the rest is history. We both lived in the dorms (that’s how we met) and when it came time to move out for summer, we moved in together. He was going to go visit his high school friends for the summer, but then I said “How about we move in together?” And he agreed.
Things were great. We both worked hard to pay the rent and all the bills. We spent all our non-working time together. He met my parents and my sisters, making the five hour drive over the Cascade mountains with me.
For my New Year resolution in 2000 (new year, new millennium!) I wanted to start going to church. I had stopped attending church regularly about five years before then, but I had always felt guilty about it. He decided to go with me. I thought this was really strange, since guys didn’t like church, or so it seemed to me. He actually went first. I have always struggled with getting up early, so he went without me one week. He came home an hour later talking about how neat it was. After that, we went together and the missionaries started teaching him.
We were getting integrated into the church family when tragedy struck. We were actually on a road trip to see his family in California before school started back up again in the fall of 2000, when I received a call that my mother was in critical condition after a car accident. My sister and I would be the executors of the estate, so we needed to get there as soon as possible.
In the middle of the night, with the help of his aunt and uncle, we left our truck in California and flew to Spokane via Seattle. There are snippets of memory left about this time, but I remember so little. My world had been hit with the first real earthquake it would know. I do remember as we were driving into Spokane from the airport that it was all sunny except for one rain cloud over Spokane. I thought the heavens were weeping for my mom.
My mom did pass away after my sister and I, in conference with our family, decided to take her off life support. It was a lot for a barely- 20 year old to handle. Funeral decisions, going through her possessions, closing bank accounts and other personal things. All while my family was hurting and feuding amongst each other.
This guy, who would become my husband a year later, was there. He didn’t shy away. He didn’t hang back. He was my rock and my soft place. When my head was full of tears, his was thinking straight.
After three weeks away from Seattle, I needed to return to start my next quarter of school. And honestly it was a relief. Just school and work and regular life was a better alternative to the grief I was trying to process. I do remember not being myself and crying so easily.
This experience easily could have driven us apart. We weren’t even married. This ugly, vulnerable side of me could have scared him off. But it didn’t. What is it they say? What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. This was so true for us back then and it remains so to this day.
Some of our family asked why get married so young? Why not wait? But we had already been together for 2.5 years and we knew it was right for us. We got home from our honeymoon to Oahu, Hawaii late on September 10th, 2001. We woke to a phone call asking if we were ok. “Why wouldn’t we be?” “Turn on the TV.”
While thousands of personal tragedies were underway as the world watched, we had just begun our marriage together. We had already dealt with personal tragedy, and we did it together, coming out stronger on the other side. We still choose to allow the disappointments and hurt in our lives to bind us closer instead of splitting us apart. That is the best part of my marriage: it is built on a sure foundation of trust and love.
So on this September 11th, I remember how tragedy can turn to treasure if you let it.
I am watching This is Us. We are on the episode when the Pittsburg Steelers win the Super Bowl. The conversation about their Dads watching football reminds me of my own Dad. He was a die-hard San Diego Chargers fan.
Professional football provided the background sound of my childhood. Sometimes it got annoying, having to make sure we weren’t blocking my Dad’s line of sight to the TV or being too loud. Actually, I don’t think he ever minded our noise. I don’t know that he even paid attention to the commentators, because he sure was in his own world when watching football.
I remember one time he told us kids that his parents didn’t let him play sports when he was in school. He really wanted to, but they couldn’t afford it and didn’t think it was an appropriate use of time when there were chores to be done. My dad was the youngest of seven children.
When I was fifteen years old, I had had enough with football. This thing that dominated every weekend between August and February every year, I was done with it. So I asked my dad to explain the game. Naturally. Even though I had fifteen years of football watching experience behind me, I did not get it. (My conservative estimates put that at roughly 500 hours of football!) He explained the basics of the game, and it made my TV viewing experiences much more enjoyable. And then my senior year of high school I was a football cheerleader (don’t read into that too much). For a while there I really loved football.
These days I am the wife of a former player and mom of a future football player, and I completely understand why parents would not allow their son to play football. The fear of motherhood is not to be messed with.
I am at a point in my story that I am not sure how to explain football and my love-hate relationship with the sport. Do I embrace its influence in my life, or do I delve into creating some sort of symbolism with it? When we tell the stories of our lives, how much do we emphasize the positive and minimize the negative? Isn’t it funny that in the current moment, the opposite is true? We tend to emphasize the negative and ignore the positive. So I guess I will just leave it at that. Football: a neutral force in my life, both positive and negative, a balancing and evocative trigger of memories.
My husband says I am never happy. Of course that’s not entirely true, but what he really means is that I am never content. I am always looking to the next thing. After we were married and still newlyweds, I really wanted a baby. Even though we were young and both finishing college, it seemed like the thing that would make my life perfect. Later, when our beautiful little girl came along, the transition to full-time motherhood was really hard. I had spent my entire life getting good grades and proving myself to others through academic performance and all of a sudden there was no one giving me that A+. That combined with my ingrained desire to be The Best was the perfect storm for a huge hit to my self-esteem. Looking back, I think that was the beginning of me feeling really lost in my life.
Of course raising a baby keeps you pretty busy, so I didn’t really think about it all that much. It’s only now in retrospect that I can see what was happening. And I do think I was a pretty good mom, but one with really low self-esteem. The things of life took over: we bought and sold a house, we moved states, bought another house, had another baby, and then a third right on the heels of the second. Those years are still a blur in my mind. My second and third children are only 21 months apart and there are days (or weeks?) that I just don’t remember at all. The status of BUSY kept me from figuring out why I didn’t ever feel content.
When that third baby came along, my oldest was starting kindergarten and there is a huge learning curve in that whole rigamarole. When she went to first grade, it all just felt wrong. I loved the preschool years, but sending my kid off to school for 7 hours a day only for her to return home hungry, tired and grumpy left a bad taste in my mouth. So, for that reason and many others, I started down the path of homeschooling my kids.
This seemed to be an almost-thriving part of my life. I had always pretended to be a teacher as a kid, and it just came naturally to me. It was still really difficult, especially with a preschooler and a baby underfoot as well as a second grader. But I liked it! It gave me a sense of doing good and spending my time well the way nothing else since becoming a mom had.
Five years of that went by and suddenly our family was faced with an opportunity to move to Germany temporarily. What homeschooling family doesn’t take advantage of that? “It’ll be a grand adventure! We can learn another language! What a great bonding time!” we said. The pickle was that homeschooling is illegal in Germany. We are not a military family so if we took that plunge, it would shift our lifestyle tremendously. “But it is only temporary, two years max.”
And here we are, seven months into our stint in Germany. The kids, especially the oldest who was more than ready to dive back into public school already, are doing well and love their school. It keeps them busy.
But me? Well, not so much. I get up with the kids and get them off to school, making them breakfast and lunches before they stampede out the door at 7:15 am. While my husband goes off to work all day supporting teams both here in Germany and in the U.S. eight time zones away, I am home.
Because I am not accountable to anyone for how I spend my time, I have gotten really lazy. This makes me feel very guilty. I have a hard time not being productive with every minute of my time. And since the dust has settled on our international move, the silence of my days has been very loud. I am not busy. I don’t have friends or extended family vying for my time. We rent a house so we are not responsible for home improvement projects. I am involved in some church responsibilities, but it doesn’t take much of my time. I don’t work because I don’t speak the language. I actually thought I would spend this time getting some years-in-the-making projects done, but I don’t work on them.
Why not? I am living someone else’s dream life– seems like I should be able to write a novel or something. But instead I sleep a lot and pretty much just figure out what is for dinner and make sure all the dishes and laundry are getting done. I don’t even watch TV or movies; they make me feel like I am wasting my time- oh the irony! And I just feel…. lost. It’s like all the silence has made me realize that my soul hungers for something more. I am missing the passion and purpose in my life.
I have wondered if I am suffering from depression. It is a thought that has come up in my mind regularly over the years. I have lost my ability to feel happy for more than a fleeting moment. I am often angry. I remind myself of my mother and in many ways that scares me. I have no doubt that she was depressed.
I don’t want mental health issues to be a part of my story, but sometimes we don’t get a say in how the story of our lives unfold. And sometimes the protagonist in the story only has their own demons to overcome. I am certain there will be a time when this chapter is behind me. Today I am trying to make it so.
My whole life I have absorbed responsibility for everything and everyone. I suppose it goes along with trying to control all the details.
When I was in kindergarten, my dad lost his job because he slept through his alarm and got to work late. I was awake and heard the alarm going off, but I didn’t know if I should wake him up, or if there was some reason he wasn’t getting up. (The mind of a 5 year old!) For years I blamed myself for the fact that my dad lost his job and as a result we had to move across the country to a place where my mom was unhappy the rest of her life.
Growing up, I was always the responsible child. I remember one time I was sitting on my grandparent’s deck when my mom yelled for me (we lived on grandparents’ property for a while). When I came back later, she asked what my mom wanted. I told her I had to pour a glass of milk for my sister. I remember my Grandma shaking her head and telling me someday I would be grateful. I didn’t understand what she was trying to tell me then, but over the years it became clear. I always had to watch out for my sister- make sure she brought her coat home or else she would lose one every week. In high school I remember finding a trail of papers someone had obliviously dropped as they walked along, only to find out it was my own sister with her backpack wide open, clueless as to what was happening around her.
My younger sister was, shall we say, a dreamer. My parents expected me to be responsible for her, but I think I took it too far. After we were both adults I still found myself giving her all the “you shoulds” until I had an epiphany: I didn’t need to be her mother anymore! I could just be her sister and listen and nod along without judgement as I would for anyone else. She was an adult. She could make her own choices and mistakes, and I no longer needed to take ownership of her faults as well as my own. Once I did that, our relationship got better over night.
Also in high school, I would feel so guilty for asking my parents for money when I had an away tennis game or other activity that required dinner out. They would give me $5. I would bring back the 32 cents, knowing that money was tight and I could at least do that much. My mother’s anxiety about money made me anxious and worried.
My parents always had a rocky relationship. Some of my earliest memories were of them fighting with each other. Thankfully, I never worried about them hurting each other physically, but in many ways the emotional scars were worse. When I was about twelve years old, my Mom asked me if I thought she should leave my dad. I distinctly remember feeling torn: I desperately wanted my mom to be happy, but I was afraid of how life would change if they separated. And of course somehow I figured that I could be responsible for keeping the peace and making them happy– that somehow if only I did more chores, or got good grades, or babysat my little sister more often– things would be okay.
Today I still feel like my little efforts can make a big difference. I still tend to absorb responsibility in places where I don’t need to. I could say that one of my life’s mantras is:
If you find yourself thinking, “Someone should _______,” then that someone is probably you!
For example, I feel passionately about recycling. If only everyone would recycle, maybe we could save the earth! I’ve seen a need at church and started a Facebook group to fill the need. Nobody asked me, I didn’t ask for permission, I just did it. When my husband is stressed I tend to get sympathy pains. If he has an upset stomach, I get one too. If he has a sore neck, I get one the next day.
Absorbing responsibility can be debilitating. No child should feel like anything their parents do or don’t do is their fault. No young person should feel so much weight on their shoulders, but be focused on creating their own fabulous life story, supported by their family. (This is not to say that children and young adults should shirk reasonable responsibility.) And no person should feel like if they fail, something bad will happen. I am trying to adopt the philosophy of just doing your best and the rest will fall into place. How faithless it is to feel like you have responsibility for everything and everyone around you! God is good, He will lift you up.