I had a conversation with one of my adult daughters recently. I called her, concerned that we’d not spoken recently, but moreover perplexed that her Facebook account had disappeared from cyberspace. Her sisters and I were wondering what was going on with her; she was always so “connected” before now.
We had one of those special late night mother-daughter talks…you know the ones…when you’re talking more as friends than as parent and child. She is in her early twenties, married, and has a toddler. She and her husband operate a high-end retail tourist shop on one of the resort islands in Georgia’s Golden Isles. She is a very busy lady. How, I wondered, could she get off of Facebook? How was I going to see pictures of our granddaughter and keep up to date, er…up to the minute, on every milestone and clever quip that comes off of her little 22-month-old’s lips? I was flabbergasted to say the least.
It turns out that Jennifer was in the midst of a very common mommy-quandry. She felt she was too distracted with life and her own interests to give her daughter her unbridled attention. Don’t mind the fact that at 22 months old little Evah can operate an iPad, speak two languages, recite her ABCs, knows her colors, and can count to 15. She’s a very artistic and highly creative child. She engages in elaborate imaginative play. All in all, she’s hardly been neglected; my daughter has done a fantastic job.
It’s no wonder though, if I do say so myself. Jennifer is a very intelligent woman with a good head on her shoulders. She is wise and mature beyond her years. She is a self-taught artist and writer and plays concert-level piano. Her child has in her a wonderful teacher and role model. As it turned out however, the pressures of parenting and being such a busy wife and business woman had Jennifer retreating more and more to her creative passions. Therein was the rub. My son-in-law was encouraging Jennifer to leave behind her own guilty pleasures and focus more on her daughter. Jennifer was inclined to be of the same thinking.
My usually level-headed Jen was in a bad place. She wanted to be a great mom, as she’d planned to be since before her little bundle of joy entered this world. She wanted to be a great wife. She wanted to be a shrewd business woman. She also wanted to have her cake and eat it too. She loves being a mommy, however, she was beginning to resent the pressure her husband put on her and the pressure she put on herself to be SuperMom. Time she spent with the baby, keeping house, working in the store, and juggling life made her miss her old self. She wanted to not feel guilty. She didn’t want to lose her own identity as a woman to her identity as a mother.
Her self-imposed solution was an all-or-nothing fix. She deleted her Facebook account, put projects on hold, quit going in to the store, and purposed within herself to keep everyone in the world happy. She cleaned her house from top to bottom and kept it that way. She spent time with Evah, and time with her husband. She worked from daylight till dark on being an exponentially superior domestic engineer. It was great according to the world and those around her, but she was miserable. How could she be miserable while doing all the right things?
My motherly desire to rescue my child kicked into high gear, though it was governed by my own similar experiences as a young parent. I wanted to rush over and fix it all for her, neatly wrapping my solution in a pretty package that would make her feel like it was Christmas every day. That was not realistic, nor practical, nor in order for what ailed my daughter. Dang it, I’d have to rely on wisdom, and I hoped I could manage to at least sound as though I knew what I was talking about when I began to dispense advice.
A wise woman told me once that I could not care for anyone else if I did not care for myself first. I shared that with Jennifer and then asked her to ponder a few things, things that I discovered only by way of hindsight. Why not give up the all-or-nothing threshold she had set for herself? Just as a marriage takes two people, and ideally parenting takes two people, why would feeling self-fulfilled as a parent and as a person require less than two ingredients, two methods, two paths to wholeness?
It is true that your children only grow up once and that you have only one chance to do the parenting gig well for each child you bring into the world. It could also be said that there is a fair amount of virtue in self-sacrifice for the sake of one’s children and spouse. However, what the people of the world fail to tell us as they dole out their demands and expectations for our performance in the greatest job on earth, is that it’s okay to mess up a little; it’s okay to not be great at parenting 100% of the time because it all averages out in the end.
I let my daughter know some things I wish I could say to every young mother: it’s not selfish to take some time for yourself, to recharge your batteries, to re-discover your desires and your drive and your determination. Change it up a little. Put your family to sleep to the sound of a soft sonata and give your child sleepytime memories of her mommy at the piano and a home filled with music. It’s fun to cover your dining table in white paper and let your kids go wild with finger paint while you work at your easel in the corner of the same room. It’s perfectly alright to pull that journal out from under your mattress in the still of the night, when all the household is asleep, and make notes of things you saw or did or want to remember to write about one day when you have time. And it’s especially alright to post at least occasional updates on Facebook so your worrisome old Mom won’t think the world is coming to an end the next time she fails to locate your account online!