If you happen upon a person under the age of 4 who seems to be crying for no apparent reason, chances are they have just been told to put on socks. Transition times, when we move from doing one thing to the next, are tough on toddlers. Whether it’s time to leave, time to get dressed, time to go potty… they are all times for a screaming fit. It is an especially fun half hour to be a parent!
But, it turns out, they may not be the only ones who struggle with transitions.
It’s been a sporadic year on the blog. I’ve been writing on and off since I stopped teaching. Mostly whatever comes into my mind that I feel somebody needs to say (to me). Since May, I’ve been “transitioning back” to being a stay-at-home mom. We’ve quit they daycare (good riddance), adjusted our finances, and turned down some job offers in the name of being able to watch the almost three year old who runs around our house. It’s been… really, really hard.
To you, reader, it sounds ungrateful- but I spent a long time trying to find the meaning in being ‘just’ a mom again. I would spend the day chasing my son around, taking him to parks, reading him books, teaching him little lessons… but still, after a long day, I felt some kind of incomplete.
So much of teaching is about measuring your success, collecting data, getting feedback. You know when you’re screwing up, you can tell which kids you need to try harder to reach. You spend hours pouring your heart into lessons designed for the kids you know well. And if they grow up to be bad people? You can take refuge in the fact that you can only control what happened in your classroom, where you did your best with every kid that was brought to you.
Staying at home is different. There are no awards for handling a temper tantrum correctly. Chances are, no one will even notice what you spent an hour cleaning. You don’t get commended by anybody for working hard at being a mom. You try to be both consistent and flexible, loving and stern, but just end up driving both your kid and yourself crazy. I kept looking for signs I was doing something right, but day after day the only thing that was clear was that I had made a mistake, that I couldn’t be trusted to raise a kid all day. Cue crying, withdrawing, and obsessive re-reads of Harry Potter.
After several weeks of shifting moods of depression, anxiety, and dread, something amazing happened.
I picked up a book. One not about wizards (“It does not do to dwell on dreams and refuse to live.”), but a self-help about the importance of self-compassion.
Maybe you are the kind of person who doesn’t need self-help or improvement. Until recently, I used to be you. I didn’t want to talk about my pain. I didn’t want to know what I was doing wrong, what was causing me to stay awake all night. But after some soul-searching and raw prayer, I decided to look for some help. I ordered the first book I felt a connection with on Amazon. Maybe that wasn’t a smart, prepared, over-analyzed-typical-Mandy-strategy, but it worked.
For the first time in my life, I saw how my goal-setting, appearance keeping, “keep-your-head-down-and-power-through” tendencies were causing me pain. As I’ve said a million times on this blog, I am very preoccupied with having to seem intelligent, nice, and like I know what I’m doing. My perfectionist tendencies are firmly rooted in what people think- and when, for the second time in four years, I was removed from an audience, I left my self-worth in the hands of my harshest, meanest bully: me. After months of being angry without knowing why, I could put my finger on it. I thought I was dumb. I viewed myself as lazy, uneducated for not launching my successful career like my friends were. I was the one telling myself I was getting fat, that I just needed to work harder, that I was wholly failing at motherhood. Nobody else thought this (or if they did, they at least didn’t tell me). I was self-loathing, self-destructing. And there was no joy in what I was doing. How could there be?
Why these fights with my self-worth keep tripping me up, I’ll never know. You would think I’d get it by now. It seems like this is going to be a lifelong struggle to blog about. Yay!
Today, I am doing better. I realize the magnitude of what it means to have compassion for me, even when I didn’t really do anything wrong. I didn’t take a job so I could stay home with my kid- there wasn’t anything wrong with that, but without believing in myself and trusting my instinct, I felt physically and mentally that there was. Writing these words, words that I would have written off as arrogant and self-serving in the past, is motivating. I might make mistakes, I might absolutely suck at motherhood sometimes, but I don’t think what I am doing is wrong. Challenging? Duh. I’m strong enough to figure it out and own it. This is what I’m choosing to believe about myself.
In the meantime, I’ll have to be a bit more sympathetic toward’s my son’s meltdowns when it’s time for him to put pants on.