In astrology, it's said that an eclipse is looked upon as a turning point. Where I live, we had almost one hundred percent totality. Our most amazing friends drove 11 hours to witness this phenomenon and stayed with us for a few days. They have four children, whom Mom homeschools, ranging in age from four to eleven. These kids are something to behold, full of smiles, confidence, and endless pleases and thank yous. They are constantly drawing, reading, playing games, or generally being delightful. And that's just the kids. I haven't even gotten started on their parents.
Mama is ethereal, she has a gentle way about her and a humble, witty, refreshingly honest sense of humor. She effortlessly floats from child to child, sitting down to draw with one or play cards with another. They arrived with a slew of library books, and she very naturally expanded upon the lessons within, craftily turning it into a teaching moment. None of it felt hurried or like a chore. She was one hundred percent engaged, and this wasn't even homeschool, it was vacation.
Dad handles the kids with an uncommon level of patience. He is gentle in his reprimands, which surface more like empathetic chats. When the kids talk to him, he's all ears, there's no half listening or hurrying the conversation along. He injects subtle humor, which remanifests in the kids and how they communicate with others.
All across the board, major parenting inspiration. Goals, people.
Now, I'm going to have to get really transparent about how witnessing all of that made me feel as a parent. In two words, inadequate and ashamed. While I could have internalized these sensations, I chose to instead use them as a tool to explore my own parenting.
What I realized is that I'm spending a whole lot of time wiping down countertops and making things clean, at the expense of my children. I really had to sit back and ask myself, "Am I wiping countertops for four hours per day (exaggerated for dramatic effect) because I'm a neat freak, or am I endlessly cleaning because it's an excuse to not engage?" Then, I have to follow that up with, "Do I not want to engage, or do I not know how to?" This leads me further in, "Am I afraid to engage?" "Is my need for perfection or, more accurately, my fear of a lack thereof, keeping me from checking in?" I also noticed an underlying fear of changing and what that might entail.
For me, it all comes back to that vulnerability. It's diffusive. If my image doesn't project like I've got it all together, then what will people think of me? More importantly, what will I think of me? Will I feel weak, not good enough, not worthy?
We both know that no one really cares about my house being tidy or meticulously decorated. Sure, they notice, but it's probably not a major factor in whether or not I'm considered likeable. The only person who is judging me is ME.
And, watching this family interact, I was judging myself, hard. But, this judgment felt like it had merit. It reminded me that my current parenting priorities aren't very authentic. They're coming from a place of feeling like I'm not enough. A place where I have to control my environment to feel adequate. And, some of it isn't about vulnerability at all, but is born out of a simple need for an example of how to be a more present parent.
Witnessing their profound relationships with one another checked me out of that irrationality and offered me a model, both things I sorely needed. I realized that in an attempt to maintain "perfect" order, I'm impatient. I half listen to the words coming out of my children's mouths. I often respond hastily, because the laundry ain't gonna do itself. Ultimately, wether it's inadvertent or not, my children aren't feeling respected. That plays out in their treatment towards one another and their treatment towards my husband and I. I'm falling short in some really important ways. It's likely that many of us are, for varying reasons. We're tired, and we're busy. It takes a lot of extra effort to be mindful under those circumstances. It's easy to get lost in our phones and our televisions.
Now isn't the time to languish in guilt. That's not why life presented me with this beautiful family for four days. This was an opportunity, a gift to reassess how I'm operating. And, I have it on good authority that it took effort and self evaluation for these parents to evolve into the stellar force that they've come to be.
A light has shown in a darkness, and I'm forever changed. This isn't the type of thing where you go on a diet and then eat a cupcake two days in, reasoning that you'll start again on Monday. This is my family. There is absolutely no excuse worthy of failure or transgressions. These little souls are going to be part of our lives, as children, for a very limited time. I can probably keep my sparkly countertops and still be far more present with my children. Showing your children the same deference that you desire of them takes no extra time, just more focus. Commingling with them, in their individual activities sporadically throughout the day, equates to the laundry hanging out in the basket for an extra hour or two.
I hope you'll take away a few things from this:
1. If you're going to be your own worst critic, do something about it. Guilt is a useless, fruitless endeavor.
2. It's worth it to sit back and examine your feelings in reaction to something. Find the opportunity for growth in your experiences. Allow yourself to go deeper. Don't sell the process short by moving on from a little introspection too quickly.
3. Remember that most of our faulty methods of operating are coming from a noble place of self protection. Don't be too hard on yourself, but also don't use that as an excuse to stagnate.
4. Finally, your kids, your marriage- always worth it. Put the work in. Too often these are the people we are the least respectful too and the most indulgent with, yet they love us the most. Don't just be decent, put one another on the pedestal that kind of love deserves.
Links to the blogs of Emily, the beautiful creature/mother I'm referencing, below. Learn from her. She's special.