The Right Recipe

I’ve been cooking a lot lately. I bet you have too. Not that I didn’t cook before life as we knew it imploded, but it certainly wasn’t to the tune of three square meals a day, seven days a week, and a generous dishing of snacks in between.

Keeping it somewhat variable has been a challenge; provided that I can find a recipe that I am not so intimidated by, and given that I can then subsequently find the ingredients for said recipe, it’s been a little dicey (lame culinary pun intended). I am not my grandmother’s granddaughter; that woman could always throw a little of this and a little of that together and make magic happen.

I’m not into the imprecise types of recipes that hold a vague sense of direction like “dash” or “sprinkle”. No, I much prefer to be given the specific, to the quarter of a teaspoon, step-by-step directions.

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I’m like this in a lot of ways; I like to know the expectations, the rules, the “how-to” of it all.

I’m apparently much more confident in others’ ability to know the correct answer than in my own.

It occurred to me yesterday, as I was scrolling through Pinterest to find a specific recipe, that I feel as though someone has handed me an ambiguous, nebulous recipe for life. A “dash” of home-schooling with a “sprinkle” of parenting, a “good amount” of working from home and a “pinch” of house-wifery.

On the one hand, I want someone to lay out for me what exactly it is I should be doing, and when I should be doing it. Tell me the schedule for meal times and bedtimes. Tell me how many hours my kids should be working on school work, and not on their screens. When should we work in activities, exercise, family games, arts and crafts. When to focus on the parenting of my kids and when I might be able to make time for myself or my marriage. Give me the formula for that mix that equals success.

But I can no more take that recipe – even if there was one – and create the best stay-at-home, homeschooling, work-from-home mother than I can cook in a three-star Michelin restaurant just by virtue of someone handing me the instructions for the dish. What is working for other people right now would likely not work for me.

Along this journey that I have been on in self-development and personal growth I have stumbled more times trying to follow someone else’s recipe to the letter than I have succeeded. I have tried to emulate other people’s strategies, to the time, to the day, to the activity, and it has never worked quite how they made it appear for me. For awhile I kept searching, though.

Because someone’s gotta have their shit figured out a bit better than me, right? There has to be an adult out there who can point me in the right direction.

Maybe not.

This new world order has shown me that there is a ton of room for improving upon my need and propensity to know the rules and expectations, to understand where the boundary lines fall, and to not question why and even if they should exist in the first place.

We’ve all been given an invitation to undo our own certainties, and release our need for the assurances of others.

Perhaps this might just be the way to find our own best recipe; starting over from scratch, with the ingredients we have, as much or as little as we want to add, and creating something new and wonderful from the basic ingredients. Just like learning the basics of how to perfect a recipe, however, we’ll need time and a fair amount of failure to get a palatable first pass, not to mention to perfect the process. How we can best support our families, our spouses, our friends, ourselves; how we can build our parenting, our marriages, our friendships, our habits in new and better ways.

Good luck in your own kitchens, readers, and remember to throw in a generous amount of grace with each stir of your spoon.

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.

Failing

Last week kicked my ass in a very emotional and mental way. I stepped back multiple times and felt like I was absolutely and utterly failing at this mother thing. I asked myself over, and over, and over, “What am I doing wrong? What can I be doing better? What am I not doing that I should be?”

Motherhood challenged me last week in ways that I have never been challenged before. I had to learn to communicate and process things in new ways. I had to dig deep, and figure out a way to address the single worst moment in my parenting history. I have a lot to sit and get comfortable with, things that I am right now still wholly uncomfortable with.

I had to learn how to absorb an immense level of disappointment.

I’m sure that this will pale in comparison to things I will experience in the future, but I hope to hell not.

I struggle to put into words what happened. I hesitated to share even with my closest friends because I was afraid of the pain of judgement. Judgement of me, judgement of my daughter, judgement of my family and my inability to parent in such a way that could have prevented this. But, the reality is that I couldn’t; we did all the right things, had all the right conversations, but it still wasn’t enough. I’m compelled to share, to help other mothers navigate through or possibly avoid the same experience.

To summarize what happened, I discovered that my daughter and her friends had created secret social media accounts and were pushing out messages about themselves that were disgraceful, derogatory and shocking; the captions under normal, every photos of my daughter, and those that she wrote about her friends, gut me. (I’ll be sharing a bit more of how this all went down in an upcoming Burlington VT Mom’s Blog post, hoping to help other parents wrap their arms around the challenges we’re all facing with our kids’ use of social media.)

Know that I have no illusions of teenage girls, however, it is one thing to know what they are capable of and entirely another to see it very publicly displayed, and to know that hundreds of other people saw it as well.

I don’t think, even after numerous conversations, that my daughter understands the gravity the posts carried. To her, and those involved, it was all just a big joke. People thought it was funny. That’s all it was, to them. We have some lessons to teach.

I have struggled with my personal emotions for a week. I feel like I let her down somehow. That I didn’t have the right conversations with her, didn’t build up her confidence or self-worth enough. I feel like I failed.

I keep repeating over and over to myself that if you’re not failing, you’re not learning. That failing does not define you, but how you handle it does. My heart is hardly appeased by my mind. However, I know that if I were the recipient of this story, the listener versus the teller, I would say the following to you.

There are things in life that will be beyond our control. We will kick ourselves, make ourselves feel irrationally responsible. We will let the voices of doubt and self-criticism rise from the depths within us, and we will believe their validity.

We are not our children’s mistakes. We are not their poor choices. We have already made ours; our action now is in how we address, how we course-correct, and help them learn through the challenges. Our value is in how we help them grow from mistakes. We cannot fix things; we can only be here to support our children while they work through and experience these things for themselves.

If you’re ever in a situation that makes you question the foundation of which you have built your parenthood, I hope that you remember this.

You are not a failure, and you are enough.

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