Enough

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Felt guilty lately, Ladies?

Guilt over not working out. Over eating that piece of cake. For not having rock-hard abs. Or not throwing an extravagant birthday party for a three-year-old. For not freaking out that the 5-year-old isn’t in a Harvard-prep school. For working outside the home. For being a stay-at-home mom.

For not volunteering more of our precious free time (if we have it!). For not visiting or calling enough. For our children’s behavior in public.

And let’s face it — we guilt ourselves. Over everything we do or don’t do. For our mistakes, perceived or real. For never being enough daughter, friend, employee, volunteer, wife, mother.

For simply not being…enough.

Recently, someone who is well aware of my life, its craziness, and what is required to take care of everyone around me made a comment implying that I neglected my children. My crime? Spending time on the computer. In fact, I was accused of spending all day on Facebook.

This accusation was beyond laughable. For one, I would LOVE to spend all day on Facebook. Well, I say that now. I’m sure I would tire of it when the need to seal food in canning jars or obsessively straighten the living room for the 18th time that day took over because there are crayons, empty snack plates and children’s books everywhere and that‘s the ONE ROOM that should stay neat.

But just to browse my friends’ walls or look up interesting pages? Sounds like heaven! Instead of trying to read before the kids get up, or in snatches between interruptions every two minutes for breakfast, a snack, lunch, clothing, another snack, a piece of candy, a lost item, requests to play with friends, tattling on those friends, or to referee a fight.

When I do get the chance to spend some time on the computer, my activities probably look neurotic and unfocused. I check Facebook while perusing Craigslist for something I’m seeking, while pulling up recipes for dinner ideas (because I’m bored with cooking right now!), while researching a new article on my youngest daughter’s health issues, then checking back on this gardening topic, while looking up local classes available for my kids, don’t forget planning ideas for upcoming canning days, to firing off a short email to a friend I haven’t chatted with in awhile and probably fears I’m dead, while looking up a new homeschooling lesson, to researching writing opportunities, and maybe actually writing an article.

See why I’d rather spend the day on Facebook?!

My initial response to the comment was anger — and defense. I felt justifiably attacked. I also felt betrayed by someone who knew me better than that. I adore my children, in spite of how difficult motherhood has been.

But then I realized that this was nothing more than guilt being laid at my feet.

When we can’t get someone to do what we want, we try to guilt them into feeling they should. I’m a mom — I’ve pulled this trick before.

“How can you not take care of your toys after we’ve worked to pay for them?”

“Why do you treat your sister like this? We’ve raised you differently.”

“Why do you leave everything for me to clean up — do you think I’m a maid?”

Okay, sometimes guilting kids is the only way to get their attention when they’re on their own planet. But it’s time for the guilt-laying on women — especially this woman — to cease.

I am a full-time mom to two amazing youngsters, one of whom has special needs. She makes daily life difficult in a million small ways. There is often no peace around her, I’m up to my elbows in dirty laundry or I have to sequester her before she does something to someone or herself. She ends up in bed with me nearly every night, meaning I don’t get a lot of uninterrupted sleep. The other day, I had to physically carry her from a neighbor’s house because she refused to leave and locked herself in a bedroom. It took her a half hour just to stop screaming and crying.

I homeschool. My 7-year-old is currently working a year ahead and will be starting third grade this fall. She is the first person I have ever taught to read, and her sister is (hopefully) soon to follow. A failed attempt at a special ed class for the youngest last school year means I am educating her at home, as wel. In spite of her resistance to learning. Which makes lesson planning fun around here (eye roll).

I care for my mother, who lives three hours away, is housebound and is not social. Any change, including my bringing in additional help to keep my sanity, is met with complete and utter resistance. So for now, I’m her wing man.

I just survived my husband’s second hospitalization in 3 ½ years that nearly ended very badly because of unexpected health complications. A long recuperation at home. Major schedule adjustments.

And then there’s just the daily aspects of life in our household. I do the laundry, grocery-shopping, meal planning, cooking, dishes and cleaning. It’s rare that I get a real break from the kids. I mow the lawn and do yardwork because I enjoy it, need the exercise, and am trying to keep my husband from pulling plants instead of weeds.

I will not win a Martha Stewart award. I don’t have time for elegant dining, elaborate cooking or crafts. I am not married to my house. It is mostly clean and happily cluttered. Windows could be washed more often but we can see out of them. We have cats; ergo, we have cat hair. My children think the floor is the best spot for their clothes. And toys. And art supplies. And my kitchen is a perpetual wreck because I love to can, and unexpectedly find the real me buried in those moments when I am creating something new to eat during the winter while hearing satisfying pings as lids seal.

I am not my children’s cruise director. I’m their mother and their teacher. It is my job to raise them to be responsible citizens, compassionate and caring individuals who see and reach beyond themselves, introduce them to faith, give them a healthy work ethic, teach them life skills and manners, and guide them through their formative years. I am not here to monitor every second of their existence or make sure they are never bored. Their creative sides will thank me someday.

So it’s not fair to lay guilt on someone who wants to (gasp!) have a little bit of a life beyond taking care of everyone else around me.

I’m going to take time to connect with people on a daily basis, whether in person or via a computer keyboard. I need to converse with more than just a 5- and 7-year-old, or insanity is the least of my problems!

I am going to continue to seek out answers and ideas to help my youngest through her health struggles. I’m the only one doing it, and I’m not going to apologize for second-guessing doctors and doing my own reading. Thank God I did, or I’d still think she “just had a virus”.

I’m going to continue to educate myself on a variety of topics, so that I don’t become stagnant and stodgy at 46. Life is about learning. If I’m done learning, I can hang it up.

And I’m going to write, regardless of what anyone else thinks I should do with my precious time. I’m not sure where it’s written that motherhood means having dreams of any kind is sacriligious. That we’re supposed to give every waking moment to our children. That everyone else’s needs and wants are to be put before ours. That we are to care for everyone around us constantly — and then care for ourselves, too, because no one else does.

Ladies — drop the guilt. Do what you have to do — and then do something for yourself. Have that extra piece of cake. Call that friend and spend a half hour on the phone. Say no. Say yes. Go after your dreams again, even as a little one clings to your leg and you’re trying to get melted crayon out of the carpet for the tenth time that week.

I have a need to write. To read. To learn. To seek. It’s who I am. Whether I ever achieve anything beyond my blog and a small freelance career remains to be seen. But I’m at least doing that — and I’m not interested in satisfying anyone else’s idea of what my life should be.

No more guilt. I am enough.

And so are you.

Parents!

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While that is usually being shouted (if only mentally) by a fuming teenager, let’s admit it — even as adults, our parents are sometimes…PARENTS!

We spend our childhood adoring them. Our teen years ignoring them. And between the ages of 18 and 22, we start to understand what they have taught us. And how much more we still can learn.

We seek their advice (at times) on weddings, marriage, pregnancy and parenting. We strive to show our excellent decision-making skills, and they continue to see us as 5-year-olds incapable of making excellent decisions.

But one day, something shifts. You suddenly notice the gray hair. The stoop to the shoulders. The lack of speed in getting up and around.

The afternoon naps. A missing appetite. Hearing loss. Or disinterest in things that had once delighted.

Suddenly, your parents are…older. And roles have reversed.

I was convinced my Dad would live to be 100. He worked till he was 80, and then continued to keep himself busy and sharp until cancer showed up — unexpected and very uninvited — and broke our hearts.

Now, I assist my mother in maintaining her independence. I get her to the grocery store. The doctor. Various errands. Chat with her several times a week to make sure she hasn’t run out of something dire. Lecture her on shoveling the sidewalk at 86. Keep her updated on weather and some news, which she struggles to hear on TV. My brother and a neighbor check in on her, as well as friends who are always willing to stop by and help her if a need arises and they can reach her faster. I am beyond grateful for their concern.

I read once that watching our parents age is the equivalent of walking on a road that runs parallel to theirs. We are beside them, but watching them veer ever so slowly away as they age, until they eventually are no longer beside us. We can see them, hear them — but not walk their road with them.

Ours has never been a perfect relationship, but I find that is probably the norm with mothers and daughters. We women like our independence. Yet find it hard to give our children that which we fought our mothers for so fiercely. I can forgive her for still seeing me as I was at 13, even as I sometimes wish I was right back there, under her parental protection — rather than needing to offer her mine.

I walk this path, still beside her — but seeing her journey turn slightly away, every few steps. She drives me bananas over little things that seem so insignificant to everyone else, but clutter up her shrinking world. She can’t understand my life, my interests or my struggles with my youngest’s special needs. She can’t always hear me when I talk, which leads to misunderstandings and frustration for both of us.

So, I watch her with a bit of sadness as we journey on. And hope that she won’t walk away too fast.

There is still much I have to learn.