I’ve been struggling lately.
Have you ever said something so many times, and even believed it to be true, but never truly digested it, allowing it to permeate your mind and heart into your decision making and responses?
When I say I don’t have unrealistic expectations for my kids, that is absolutely true. But there exists another component in the shadow of that truth, a more subtle one but no less vital: I have unrealistic expectations for myself.
I am the first to encourage a struggling mama with phrases like, “What you’re doing is enough” and “You’re doing exactly what you need to be doing”. My favorite is “You are the best parent for your kids.” Again, these are mantras I truly believe, and I daily stand in awe of my mama friends who overcome their struggles every day and are raising delightful, fun-loving, adventure-seeking children… Yet when the time comes to offer that grace And encouragement to myself, it’s not just difficult to believe but at times it seems impossible.
See, parenting is hard. For everyone. There is no person alive who has solved the enigma of motherhood and faultlessly produced stable, functioning members of society. This is due to sin nature, in ourselves and in our children, and thus brings us humbly to our parental knees.
There it is again, that exception in my mind, that irritating voice that says “You can still do better”.
Let’s face it, it’s true. We are always in the process of being better at anything at which we work hard. Parenting is no exception, and even it does get more manageable with experience.
However, there exist such things as peace, contentment, trust, faith, rest – all things Jesus calls us to embrace, even in the midst of tumultuous motherhood. All things that have been lacking in my heart these past few weeks.
My voice has been telling me “You aren’t giving Nora the opportunities you gave Genny,” my mental calculator adding up the days behind we are in Genny’s math due to illness. I see fun lessons and ideas and instead of feeling inspired, I’m gripped by anxiety because we can’t possibly add a single thing to our load.
What this voice of self-doubt overlooks is the focus and concentration Nora builds when she digs in the backyard or the synapses built by Genny’s idea to create a vegetable stand. These days are filled with learning of a different sort. A kind they alluded to in education courses but never quite spelled out for us teachers.
We don’t sit and fill out worksheets, we don’t even follow up read-a-louds with a reading comprehension checklist (not that any of these things are bad, which just don’t employ them) Despite this lack of formative instruction, my girls are reading and drawing and experiencing so many aspects of life that a lesson cannot begin to describe. They’re making new friends, learning to rock climb, bringing handfuls of nature in from the backyard to create new things.
This is a kind of learning that I adore, that doesn’t – in fact cannot – require a lesson plan. But it is lasting and forges unforgettable childhood moments along the way.
My brightest memories as a child were of my brother and me in the backyard. Of course there are many school projects, activities, lessons that I especially enjoyed, but the outside play, the make-believe “games” we would construct, far out shine the others in my mind.
So why am I feeling anxious? Because my two (almost three) year old will not sit and recite the ABC’s? Because my nearly six year old doesn’t have a consistent daily school routine? Never mind she can add double digits and define “verb”, there must be structure… right?
Some of you will laugh at the ridiculousness of this mental struggle, and you should! Why should I expect myself to lead my children through this arbitrary checklist of achievements established by no man but myself??
The world is not going to look at what I’m doing – at what my friends are doing – and recognize it as valuable. Playing in the dirt is an inconvenience, drawing passes the time, playgroups are to get the kids tired before bedtime.
In truth, below the surface, souls are being nurtured and our children feel wanted, loved, adored, encouraged to follow curiosity and to ask questions. They are falling in love with books and building an understanding of how relationships should look by watching their parents and friends. All things that our world tells us aren’t our responsibility or that aren’t ultimately as important as some quantifiable ability.
Yet we will never regret prioritizing this time of childhood.
So here we are again, back to me.
Has God called me to this monumental task? Yes.
Are my children growing happy and healthy? Yes.
Do we engage together in play and adventure? Yes.
It is unfair of myself to impart shame when there is no crime but being an imperfect mother who is trying her best. Freedom is found in letting go of what we can’t – due to time, resources, energy, mortality – do and embracing the opportunities given us. Only then will we be free from those unspoken expectations.
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9
Where do you tend to place unspoken and unrealistic expectations on yourself? Share with me by commenting below!
Love, Emily XOXO