The Battlefield

My middle child, now eleven, screamed for the first four months of her life. Unless she was in a swing. That swing saved my life, and probably several lives of those in my general proximity during those months. But at night, when she would scream through those dark, dark hours, not once did I believe that I was earning any sort of badge that would hold any weight or merit.

I did not wear my sleep deprivation as a symbol of honor, nor did I believe I had achieved anything worthy of any value when I was through that particular season.

There is nothing particularly honorable or boastful about the lack of something so vital.

This, however, is what we are fed as the ideal. We must give up everything for our children: sleep, hygiene, time, energy, goals, dreams, careers. There is this prevalent, prevailing ideal that a “good” mother is one who can walk through the hard seasons like she is earning trophies and still come out perfectly coiffed and sane, with no vestige of personal aspirations outside of those she has for her children.

Stop the madness.

Our struggles and our challenges in our darkest moments are not merit-worthy.

This is how we set ourselves and every other woman up for failure, aspiring to obtain or assigning badges to imaginary sashes or vests like we’re still Girl Scouts.

We’re all in the trenches, and rather than sashes, we need shields because some of these seasons that we walk through leave wounds that aren’t pretty. No badge will ever speak as loudly or as truthfully as the scars – especially the invisible ones – left behind.

After you have walked through a hard season, however, do not forget to drop your shield. Once you’ve taken the time to nurse your wounds, share the story of your scars.

“Tell the story of the mountain you climbed. Your words could become a page in someone else’s survival guide.” – Morgan Harper Nichols

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Permission Slips

I ask for permission more times than any thirty-five year old mother of three children should.

I look for an okay on a whole host of decisions, from my family to a myriad of strangers; my parents, my husband, my kids, my boss, my co-workers, my friends; hell, even the staff member who runs the Fitting Rooms at TJMaxx.

I seek validation; I am afraid of judgement and criticism; I want to please everyone. I have guilt and shame around pursuing my own objectives when I already have a demanding career, children to nourish, encourage and raise, a husband to be present for, and a house to maintain. I feel incompetent when I can’t do it all, so why add something else to the list?

When you allow others’ thoughts or actions or opinions to formulate how you make decisions, you lose awareness of what’s important to you, what your interests are, what you value, and what makes you feel fulfilled.

You lose your sense of self.

Aha.

Asking permission shows up subtly. It’s not an outright ask; it lives at the corner of our actions. It hides in self-conscious and insecure behaviors, in making ourselves, our work and our passions small. It masquerades as asking for others’ opinions and seeking outside influence. It lulls us into procrastination. It trips us as we’re climbing the staircase of action, and holds us there, feeling like we’re still climbing but we’re simply spinning our wheels with the inaction of seeking perfection.

Seeking approval limits our possibilities, our experiences, and doing what is important to us. It also pushes us to do too much of the stuff that doesn’t serve us or fill our own cups.

My husband gets extremely exasperated when I make a decision, but then recant or second-guess that decision. I used to tell myself that I needed more data, needed to think through every possible outcome or consequence, assess all of my options. Truthfully, it’s because I never really made a decision at all. More often than not I need to talk through choices with someone, or multiple people, before I follow through because I’m just not sure I’m comfortable with my choice.

We mistakenly believe that aligning our choices and our actions with those around us will lead to a sense of assurance.

I’m starting to see it for what it really is, simply a lack of confidence. I’m more likely searching for external validation or approval than better alternatives. And I don’t want to be dictating my life and my decisions based on others’ wants, needs and opinions.

Approval only comes at the expense of knowing what we want and being true to ourselves. And that need for approval smothers our souls.

Once you’re able to identify and build what is important to you, other people’s opinions or judgements lose the weight you thought they once held. It becomes easier to walk away from things that don’t serve you or your highest interests, and replace them with things that allow personal growth, fulfillment and satisfaction.

Giver yourself permission to buy those shoes. Give yourself permission to put you, your hobbies and your goals on the calendar. Give yourself permission to build yourself into everything you can and want to become. Give yourself permission to ask for help without needing to seek approval. Give yourself permission to walk away from situations and people that drain your energy rather than revitalize it.

Who are you asking to grant you permission to be who you want to be?

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Survival Mode

There is some sort of twisted satisfaction in doing multiple things simultaneously, in serial multi-tasking.

“Look at me, I can do five things in the span of five minutes, all while doing this other thing over here.”

It’s an addictive habit. There’s a sense of accomplishment in the number of things we can do. The hours in the day are numbered, and if we can get through this checklist (and add things just to check them off to make ourselves feel even more accomplished) we’re “successful”.

But, successful at what?

If you’re multi-tasking at two things, you’re giving fifty percent of your energy to each thing. If you’re working on dinner, running a load of laundry, helping your daughter with her homework and scrolling through Facebook, you’ve dropped to an attention span and energy level of twenty five percent for each task. If you’re consistently operating at less than one hundred percent in everything you do, you’re skimming the surface.

You’re in survival mode; meeting the barest minimum requirements to keep your head above water.

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Survival mode is not sustainable.

For a time, it might feel like you can operate at a sprint, accomplishing everything you need to, valuing the completion rate above the quality rate, but burnout is inevitable; it shows up in the form of sickness, a lack of energy, frustration, anger, irritation.

Sound familiar?

It’s not all about time management, it’s also about energy management. When we’re trying to fit so many things into our day, and the focus becomes how much more we can accomplish, the important things like connecting with our families, chasing our passions and taking a breath every now and then to connect with ourselves becomes an oversight, or – even worse – an inconvenience.

The meaning is not found in the “doing”. Overloading ourselves with doing lends a false sense of importance and value to the superficial success found there.

Take inventory of your days. Are you consistently pushing your energy into the busyness of life? Are you spreading yourself thin by over-committing, holding expectations of yourself that are perhaps too high, feeling guilty or as though you are a burden if you ask your spouse or a family member to shoulder some of the load so that you can carve out some time for you?

Stop. Start with this.

How do you want to feel?

And then start building your days around that feeling.

Not sure how to get there? Start saying no. Start prioritizing the things that matter to you. Delegate a task or a chore. Outsource the work. Ask for help.

You’re more valuable to everyone when you’re not worried about keeping yourself afloat.

My Why

I was asked last week how am I so comfortable sharing the things I do for you all to read. I thought I’d share a bit about why I show up here, week after week.

I have always been able to work my thoughts out and communicate more effectively through writing. There were some innumerable sheets of lined paper that I hurled into my parents’ fireplace when I was a Junior in High School, pages of daily scrawling that filled at least four or five three-inch, three-ring binders spanning years of self-reflection (of course I didn’t think of it like that then, and good lord what I would do to have possession of them now, although it’s probably all for the best that they met such a fate).

When I was in second grade, I can recall the teacher asking what we wanted to be when we grew up, and I remember not hesitating. I wanted to be a writer with every fiber of my being when I was young. I wrote a couple of “novels”, saved somewhere on floppy discs that will never see the light of day (which is, again, probably for the best).

It was right around the culmination of teenage angst that led to the fiery demise of years of daily writings that I stopped doing it altogether.

And then, years went by, and I was suddenly a 30-something-year old wife and mother of three who was feeling a bit lost in and consumed by everything she had become to everyone else.

Shortly after the first few months of trying to figure out who I was outside of being “Mom”, after digging into discovering things that I wanted to do solely for my own personal enjoyment or gain, a spark lit. It wasn’t a lightning strike by any means, but I slowly remembered my love for writing.

And sure, I could have kept plugging away at the personal writing, pouring words onto lined paper, into spiral bound notebooks or documents in Word, never to be read by another.

But that didn’t light any sort of fire for me.

Everything that I have learned or gained since this all began has been the product of insight from others sharing their own stories. Whether it is blog posts, podcasts or books, everything that I was devouring and finding so much inspiration from was content provided by women who weren’t afraid to disclose the messy, unbridled, honest truth of being a woman, of being a mother.

At the heart of my desire to put my thoughts out there is my belief that our stories can help others.

Our experiences are different, varying in so many ways. However, at the same time, the underlying emotions have so much in common. When I first became a mother at the age of twenty, I didn’t have an outlet. I didn’t have a support network of women. I was terrified. I wasn’t prepared to lose my entire identity to motherhood; that’s one of those things that wasn’t in What to Expect When You’re Expecting. I wasn’t prepared for the number of ways on a daily basis one could feel like they were failing, or how at each stage you could fail even more infinitely at yet more things. I wasn’t prepared for the emotional toll it takes, or the emotional labor parenting provokes. Nor was I prepared for the isolation that at times felt crushing. I wasn’t prepared for always feeling less than. I have carried all of these things with me through my fourteen years as a mother.

There are so many things that we can learn from each other’s stories. They can lift us up, carry us through, and help us discover things about ourselves we didn’t take the time or didn’t have the capacity to discover on our own.

Knowing that I could possibly help even one woman with my story leaves me compelled to share. Not because I think my experiences are so worthwhile, that my insight is so knowledgeable and wise, but because I think I can share what those experiences were to me in a very real and honest way, and normalize the feelings rather than shutting them away and ignoring they exist. And I know there are others who, like myself, can benefit from hearing more candid versions of other women’s stories.

If one woman feels less alone or assuaged by hearing a piece of my story, or because of me is empowered to share her own, putting myself out here is worth it.

“Be so completely yourself that everyone else feels completely safe being themselves too.”

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