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How Motherhood Made Me Reevaluate My Definition of Success

I didn’t realize it but motherhood made me reevaluate my definition of success and it turns out I’m way more successful than I was giving myself credit for.

Sometimes I get demoralized.  I find myself doing as much as I possibly can do, pushing myself as much as I can before breaking, and yet all I see around me is chaos.

It took me a while to get used to being a stay-at-home mom.  I had to reconfigure all of my ideas about productivity and worth and self-sufficiency and usefulness.  But once I did, I started to find a lot of meaning and purpose in it.  The way I see it, my job as a stay-at-home mom is to provide the best home I possibly can for my family and to nurture them in a loving and stimulating environment.  Obviously, that’s the same mission all mothers have whether they work or they stay at home.  But for me, since I didn’t have to worry about contributing to the finances of the family, I saw that as giving me more time to devote to those other sides of mothering.

And that inspired me.  I had visions of elaborate home-cooked meals and slow-rising homemade bread.  I saw crafts galore and storytimes and hours spent doing puzzle after puzzle after puzzle and then finally all of us falling into an exhausted and cuddly heap on the couch while I read story after story and tired eyes became droopy.

And somehow through all of that, I believed the nest would flourish.  Everything would have a place so that my children would never have to rush around looking for anything.  Schedules would be rigid in order to provide stability.  Time outs would be handled calmly, in an even tone, out of love and respect.  And my children would have ample opportunity to do whatever it is their little hearts desired because I would have kept all of the parts to all of their toys in neatly organized and labeled containers.  There would be no cat fur on the dress-up clothes.  The dog wouldn’t have spread their blocks all over the house.  And when any of those things happened or a mess would be made, I would clean it all up promptly and with a loving and eager heart.

And I desperately believed I could create this life.  And why did I have any reason to doubt?  Up until that point, excellence was a straight shot. It required long hours and endless determination and a whole lot of grit and hard work.  But there was a target that I never really had ever missed.

Excellence in all things.  We only have one life to live.  Let’s live it the absolute best that we can.

But a strange thing happens when you grow up and leave school.  And that strange thing gets even more intense as you leave behind the early striving years of a career and you settle into what you have created and have worked for your entire life.

You realize that life really isn’t a straight shot.  You realize that while those end goals are always there, focusing on them exclusively makes for a single track life.  You realize that all of that time that you spent preparing has lead you to where you wanted to be, and if you don’t start enjoying it now… well then when will you ever enjoy it?

And I find myself thinking of all of this today.  In my messy house.

It’s not the toys that bother me.  Those can be tidied in a couple of minutes before bedtime.  It’s the other stuff.  It’s the gross stove and the nasty microwave.  Its the Christmas tree needles that are still lining the wall of my living room.  It’s the laundry basket of clothes that have to be lugged upstairs and put away.  It’s the multitude of magnets that have been kicked under my refrigerator and need to be rescued.

This is not uncommon for mothers to experience either. We all have this idea of a “perfect mother.” She is put-together. Her house is tidy and clean at all times. It’s quiet because her children don’t run up and down the hallways yelling about dragons and princesses and “let’s pretend that…” She makes healthy, delicious meals that all her kids and her spouse enjoy without question.

Her children are well-behaved, both in public and in private. They go out as a family to enjoy nature walks and amusement parks and long afternoons at the library.

But she also takes care of herself. She has bubble baths with wine and a REAL book (not one on an electronic device). She works out every day. She makes sure that there is a balance between “me time” and time spent with her kids and spouse.

She is perfect. She is what we strive to be as mothers. And we see her. Every single day as we scroll through our Facebook and Instagram feeds.

We have all heard it before — that social media only shows a fraction of what real motherhood is like. What you see on social media is perfectly curated to let you see the best moments, nay seconds, of a mom’s day. The crazy thing? We all have those seconds. We just don’t clean our house to look spotless with the perfect neutral colors that match the rest of our feed, and then take pictures of those seconds. But we can all relate to that perfect image with the perfect mother and the gorgeous children who don’t have chocolate cupcake smeared on their shirt and their faces because that image is something we experience, too (but probably with more chocolate cupcake smeared everywhere).

We all know that those perfectly pictured families have children who throw temper tantrums. We all know that that mom spent sleepless nights up with her children. We know that behind the camera there is probably a huge mess of stuff she shoved out of the way. WE KNOW THIS. Yet we all still strive to ensure that we are the moms that show up on Instagram and Facebook all of the time.

For many moms, trying to be that mom gives us major anxiety. Toys are out and we feel like they need to be put away. Dirty dishes are in the sink and we need to clean them. We haven’t worked out and feel like crap about it. Heck, we probably haven’t even showered yet. And we feel guilty. But why?

In short, it’s all that stuff that spells out excellence.  If excellence means succeeding at everything we try.  And I could succeed at most of what I undertake… if I refused to undertake as much.

If I refused to spend time relaxing.  If I devalued time spent creating.  If I put away the laptop and locked my words back up inside my head.  If I forwent friendships.  If I turned down trips to the zoo.

If I lived on a straight line towards excellence, I could achieve excellence.  At least according to my old definition of the word.

Obviously, I have made my choice.  I think we all have, one way or the other, for good or for bad.  We make that choice by how we spend our days which ultimately determines how we spend our lives.

But for some of us, or at least for me, it’s still a hard reality to accept.  It’s hard to change my definition of success away from perfection and towards variety.  It’s hard to accept my decision that I decided a life is best lived when it is round and whole and varied and messy than when it is perfect but small.

I love the idea of excellence.  It sounds so noble and worthwhile.  But perhaps it, like everything else, must be sought after in wisdom rather than in rigidness.

Before I had children, I believed I knew so much.  I had a whole lot of confidence in my ability to handle the challenges thrown at me.  But then these three little souls came into my life, and I see those little eyes staring at me watching my every move, and all of a sudden everything means so very much more.  Where once I saw black and white, now I see grey.  I question the choices I make because I see that one day they will be choices they will need to make.  Where once success was so vitally important, now I realize that a pure heart and a grounded soul and a spirit that is allowed to soar are the legacies I want to pass on.

My children make me question everything.  They change my old ideas.  All of this has made me a much better person with a much richer life. But that doesn’t mean the old values fall away.  It doesn’t mean the old me disappears.  Sometimes the old side and tendencies come out.  And I’m just not quite sure always want to do with them.

And I guess that’s okay.  I guess that’s life.  And motherhood is life.  It’s just struggling through it and trying to do the best I can so that the little feet following behind me have a solid path to follow.

Image: Gorlov-KV/Shutterstock

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