Saturday, March 22, 2014

Perfection, or Why You're Probably Doing Fine

Last weekend, I drove down to Indianapolis to spend a day with my awesome goddaughter, her awesome mom, and her 3-month-old twin brother and sister. I brought Anne with me because she's going through a really intense mamma-only-please phase, nursing a lot, and still not sleeping through the night, and I just thought it would be terrible for all involved to leave her overnight with Daddy. Anne and I made the same trip almost exactly a year ago, and I kept being bowled over by how different it felt this time around.

Last time, Anne was only 4-5 months old, and couldn't quite make it through a 3-hour car ride without needing to nurse. So we had to stop. And then she didn't want to go back in her seat. Which made the trip more like 4.5 hours, with the last half hour spent white-knuckling as she fussed in the back. She was still napping 3 times a day, and the way I was handling that was to lie down in bed and nurse her to sleep for every nap. And bedtime. Which didn't bother me in the slightest when I was at home, because, you know, I only have one baby, and what else was I supposed to be doing? But when I got there, I started feeling so ashamed that I didn't have it more together, that I hadn't trained my daughter to need me less, that I had to keep going in time after time when all I wanted to do was hang out with my dear friend.

This time, we made the trip in 3 hours flat, no stops, my big 16-month-old playing with toys, reading books, and eating snacks until we got there. She only takes one nap a day now, and I planned the trip around it so that she didn't actually have to nap in a crib while we were there. I nursed her and put her down in a crib for bedtime, and then was able to chat with Sarah for 3 hours before we decided to call it quits. Anne spent most of the rest of the night between me and the wall as we shared a twin mattress. We've hit a pretty good groove, and I felt confident and happy.

I kept thinking back to how incompetent, embarrassed, and full of self-doubt I had felt a year before. I wished I could tell my past self that I was doing fine! That I was giving my baby exactly what she needed. That I should just continue to trust my instincts, that this phase would pass pretty quickly. To pay more attention to her cues, and less to what I thought she should be doing, what I thought others thought of me.

I suspect that this is a universal feeling among women, especially mothers, and it all boils down to shame. We feel a tremendous pressure to be effortlessly perfect, to look great, smile, keep it all together, and to do all this without breaking a sweat. When motherhood turns out to be harder than we thought, when at five months in, we haven't deciphered every line of our baby's code, when we feel utterly out of control, the shame spiral starts.

I'm tired of it. I'm tired of hearing the amazing women in my life apologize for the areas of perceived weakness in their lives. I want to applaud them for trying, for striving, for showing up every day and giving it their best. I can't stand the look of guilt I see on my friends' faces when they "admit" to one of the following:
  • their 1-year-old still waking up several times a night
  • their 3-year-old not being fully potty trained yet
  • offering a bottle of milk to a 1-year-old to encourage her to sleep past 5am
  • needing Elmo to entertain a 1-year-old so they can take a shower
  • their house not being completely clean all the time
  • their inability to lose the rest of their baby weight
  • the fact that their toddler won't eat anything but noodles and milk
The problem, I think, is that the person judging us lives in our heads. We judged other moms before we became moms. Because it is impossible to imagine how hard this job is. There is no way to do everything right. Almost weekly, especially at the beginning, I found myself doing things I vowed I would never do when I was a mom. We are far too hard on ourselves.

Do you love your kid? Are you doing your best to meet their needs? Are you doing what you need to to keep yourself sane? You deserve a freaking medal. Motherhood is hard. It doesn't always feel natural. It doesn't always look great. But it is immensely rewarding, and could be even more so if we would lighten up on ourselves and each other.

"Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me, but he said to me, My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness. I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong." 2 Corinthians 12:8-10

Monday, March 10, 2014

What Lent Looks Like {Our Domestic Church}

I have really been looking forward to Lent this year. Maybe it's because this winter has just been soul-crushingly long, cold, and snowy, and Ash Wednesday is an early sign of spring. Or maybe it's because motherhood is like a magnifying glass on my faults, making it painfully obvious how much I need my Savior. I'm tying Lenten spiritual cleaning in with my spring cleaning efforts in my home, so that by the time the warm weather rolls around, I won't have to spend any more time on indoor projects than absolutely necessary!

Do you decorate your home for Lent? Putting up a few things around your home (the simpler the better) is a great way to remind yourself of your Lenten commitments as you go through your day. It can also present an opportunity to share your faith with neighbors and friends. It helps us to unite our families to the greater church and really get into the penitential spirit.

Throughout Lent, we will forego the blessing of fresh flowers in our home as we wait for Easter. Here are the other simple little things I put up around the house:

1. A plain grapevine wreath (JoAnn Fabrics, $4.99), with a strip of purple fabric attached. Plain and simple, a reminder that Jesus is the Vine, and we are the branches, and that spring is coming.

2. "Sackcloth" (burlap, $3.99/yard at JoAnn's) and purple on the mantel.

3. A normal fixture in our home, but this little succulent is a desert-loving plant. How appropriate as we enter the desert with Jesus!

4. Desert centerpiece on our dinner table. Burlap, a purple placemat, a plate with our Lenten devotional on top, open to the day's page, and stones and candles. We've been reading a devotion aloud during breakfast each day, since my husband can't always be home for dinner. It's a great way to connect as a family first thing in the day.

5. Purple shrouds on all the crosses and crucifixes.

6. A Lenten message on the chalkboard that hangs in our stairway.

That's it!  What does your domestic church look like this season?