Too Much Slack in All the Wrong Places

This weekend was my church’s big twice yearly conference. It’s a time when Mormons all over the world watch church at home in their pajamas for 2 days as it’s broadcast from Salt Lake City. The prophet and other church leaders speak, the Tabernacle Choir sings, and I make a big fat omelet and crochet a couple of rows on the blanket I’ve been working on since 1998. Good times.

The talks are generally uplifting and motivational and I finish the weekend with my head buzzing about all the great things I want to accomplish and all the ways I’m going to transform into the best neighbor, sister, wife, friend and mother ever in the world.

This weekend I mostly just thought about sleep. I had trouble staying awake, which made me think about sleep. I made a plan to start getting up early to read and meditate. I decided that in order to do this, I’d better start getting to sleep earlier each night. I resolved to be more patient with and attentive to my kids, making each moment with them count and taking advantage of all the little teaching moments I have. A well-rested version of me could be very good at this.

So sleep. If I can get enough sleep, I’ll become the best person EVER. That was my conclusion. Then came a talk by Julie Beck, the leader of our worldwide women’s organization, The Relief Society. Her talk was bold and specific about ways mothers can become exceptional at what they do. When she finished, I turned to Dan and said, “That talk’s gonna make a lot of people feel inadequate. I thought it was great but ”˜people’ might not like to hear about all the things they should be doing that they’re not. They’ll feel like they’re not good enough.”

Dan commented that he thought it was motivational. It gave people something to aspire to. Hmmm… high aspirations… I remember having those — incredible goals that carry the possibility for failure. Now it feels like I generally only want to attempt something if it has a VERY high chance for success, no great aspirations here, just hoping to stay afloat. If I start something and it seems too hard, I bail and switch my goal to something more attainable. Can’t lose the weight? I guess I’ll just learn how to make perfect fudge brownies instead. Not doing well getting to bed on time? Well then I’d better stop scheduling activities before noon.

I set my kids up for failure all the time because that’s how they learn and grow. After several attempts and frustrations they finally experience success and triumph. I would never let my kids learn to walk, do chores, ride bikes, read, use the potty, or compose arias on the harmonica if I were afraid to give them any task that they couldn’t master on the first try. If only I could learn to mentor myself the way I mentor my kids. I have big fat hairy goals and expectations for them but I love them no matter what the outcome and instead of berating them or giving up on their success, I applaud their efforts and encourage them to keep trying. I help keep their focus on the end goal. “Won’t your bottom feel so nice when you keep your pants dry every day? Let’s see if we can keep THIS pair dry, okay?”

Sure, kids need down time, time to just space out, time to focus on being a kid and having fun, but they also need goals and progress and learning experiences. Moms need downtime too but we also need goals and progress and learning experiences. I find myself craving downtime, hunting for recreation or “me time”, and focusing way too much energy on my needs. “I’m a selfless mother, for the love of green beans! Who’s gonna take care of me if I don’t?” I believe this attitude is good in moderation. You can’t help your family if you’re not functioning, but it really is a slippery slope to a pit of selfishness and spa pedicures. When spending quality time reading to and playing with my kids is a “break” from all the me-centered activities I have going on, I know there’s a problem.

I find that the longer I’m a mom, the more I feel entitled to “slack.” It’s sort of en vogue to be a slacker mom, to joke about how big your pile of laundry is, how long it’s been since you did dishes, how you’ve given up trying to feed your kids enough veggies or that you’re always late for everything. I really try to be real, not keep up pretenses and not pretend to be perfect when I’m clearly not. This seems to be a trend, getting real, being honest, talking about every hard little thing about motherhood and homemaking and sort of wallowing in the rough stuff. We want to make each other feel better by sharing all of our own inadequacies, which I think can be really helpful to an extent. But there should come a point where we progress from commiseration to encouragement.

There’s a fine line between being down-to-earth and wallowing in negativity and low self-expectations. I think we should all sit down and define what mothering excellence means to us personally and then set about planning and trying to achieve it. Then with each little hiccup or tumble along the way, we should encourage ourselves the way we encourage our children to reach major milestones, with tenderness, with mercy and with a gentle push to keep going.

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