Your Success is Not My Failure

It was the summer Anika was five, and she still didn’t know how to ride a bike.

Her little friend next door was a year younger than Anika, and had already learned how to bike the summer before. As a first-time, up-tight, over-achiever kind of mom, I was stressed.

Her little friend also learned how to swim earlier than Anika did, so pretty much, I was worried about her future. Suddenly, biking and swimming were no longer fun activities for her to take part in that summer – this was serious, and she needed to learn fast. We were falling behind. How would she grow into a well-functioning adult if she was behind on basic life skills and athletic abilities?I was pretty sure this was a sign that we were failing as parents, and I was passing on a nonathletic curse so strong that Ben’s athletic genes could not overpower it.

But one day, I went next door to visit our friends, and was waiting in their hallway for some reason I can’t remember. As I stood there, I suddenly noticed something hanging on the wall that I had never paid attention to before.  It was a rack full of medals – medals for bike competitions of some sort. A huge wave of realization swept over me – our friend was hugely into biking. He was incredibly passionate about it, and it was a hobby he spent a lot of time enjoying and perfecting. As a family, they took biking very seriously, and they had spent a lot of time teaching their daughter to ride a bike.

As I thought about these friends, I suddenly remembered that she was a lifeguard. Swimming was something she was passionate about, and she had also spent a lot of time helping her daughter learn how to swim.

If I could pick two activities that defined our friends, it would most definitely be swimming and biking.

This made me curious – what were Ben and I passionate about? It didn’t take me long to identify what was most important to us – reading and music. These were both hobbies that Ben and I enjoyed, and as I thought about it, I could see the ways in which we were passing on these joys to Anika, in the same way our friends were focusing on swimming and biking.

I read to Anika for hours and hours each day. She learned to read at a young age, and at five, she had the vocabulary of a 10-year-old. And Ben would often pull out his guitar and sing with her. I had taught piano lessons for years, and I loved seeing how Anika was becoming a very natural pianist, catching on quickly and playing confidently.

We had chosen to put our time, energy, and passion into the activities we enjoyed, and wanted to share with our daughter. It made no sense to assume that because someone else was naturally good at something, and had put in the time to increase their skill, we needed to do the same, and expect the same results, without the same amount of passion or practice.

I had been comparing my weakness to another person’s strength.

The comparison game never makes anyone a winner, but that day I realized how completely unfair I’d been with myself, and even with Anika. No one can be good at everything, and there isn’t enough time in a day to be passionate about too many things.

At that point, we were fortunate enough to have Anika share our love for books and music, but this would not necessarily always be the case. We could pass on our hobbies, but we also needed to allow room for the things she wanted to pursue, without that being a reflection of our skill as parents.

She did learn to swim and bike that summer, and now it doesn’t seem important anymore. I had to think very hard to figure out how old she was the summer she learned to bike, because it doesn’t matter anymore when it happened. She spends hours a day writing fantasy books, and is signed up for Musical Theatre classes this fall, and we love watching her enjoy things we enjoy.

And I often think about that rack full of medals, and how each family is unique, free to develop their own passions and interests, and even the culture in their own home. This is right and good – something to celebrate, actually.

The strength and success of another person does not take anything away from me. Why is that so hard to remember sometimes?

Anika once said to me, “Just because my friend is very pretty doesn’t mean that I’m not pretty.” I’ve made lots of mistakes as a parent, but if she’s figured this truth out at the ripe old age of 13, I think she’ll be okay.

I wasn’t planning on ending this post with a collection of quotes, but when I went looking for a suitable thought to share, there were so many fantastic quotes that I couldn’t pick just one. Here’s a bit of inspiration to hang on to next time we start feeling the temptation to compare:

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https://a-joyfuljourney.tumblr.com/post/151409968453/a-joyfuljourney-acsliving

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Let Mothering Be Hard

A few weeks ago, while scrolling through Facebook, I came across a post written by a mother, publicly honouring her grown daughter, who is also a mom, by saying, “I’m always amazed by how you can do it all! You make it look so easy!” and went on to list all the many responsibilities her daughter juggles.

This bothered me. I love words of affirmation, and I think encouragement is a beautiful, life-giving thing. But I had a problem with this comment, because it’s what our culture always glorifies – doing it all, and looking perfect while we do it.

The problem is, it’s pretty much impossible to “do it all”, and not lose our sanity. If anyone is actually doing it “all”, and is able to make it look easy or perfect, they are either exceptionally gifted, or they’re faking it. If they’re exceptionally gifted, this should not be the normal standard, and if they’re faking it, it shouldn’t be praised and glorified.

Standards have been set so high, there is no room for admitting weakness, stress, or struggling.

There are a few problems I see with this:

  1. Moms who can’t do it all get the message that they fall short.
  2. It encourages comparison.
  3. It ignores the fact that each mother has a vastly different life-calling, personality, and number of responsibilities on her plate.
  4. It suggests that when women burn out and must take a break, they are “less than”, falling short of the times when they are able to do it all. It makes it hard to admit when things are hard.

Social media plays a large role in this, but it seems to be a message we communicate in a wide variety of other ways, as well. It’s an attitude which permeates our culture.

We praise the woman who can do it all, but where is the honour for the mother who goes slowly? Who dedicates her hours to the small, simple acts of caring for her family in ways which the outside world will never see? Where is our praise for women with strong boundaries, a good understanding of her personal energy levels, great wisdom and self-control when she decides not to spread herself thin by committing to too many things?

There are some women who do a fantastic job of working full-time, raising kids, and keeping the house under control, while making it all look easy, but I don’t know of very many. From what women have shared with me, a lot of these brave, hardworking mothers all have times of struggling and fighting discouragement and guilt. It seems that most of the time, something has to give. There’s guilt over hiring a cleaning lady, or guilt over not spending enough time with her kids. Always guilt about something, because she’s doing everything but doesn’t know if she’s doing it well enough.

Then there are women like me, who stay home, and feel guilty because we have the extra hours at home, so we *should* be able to keep the house cleaner, be more focused and attentive, do more crafts with our kids, and yet even with the “extra” time, we still feel like we’re falling short.

Why are so many women feeling guilty? Why is it so hard to be a good mom?

My guess is because it IS hard. As it should be.

This is the most important thing I will ever do. It should be hard.

I hope there are other important things I get to accomplish in my lifetime, but to bring a human being into this world, and to be a part of the process of them growing into mature, wonderful adults is a big deal. It takes a ton of work and growing pains of all kinds, for everyone involved. There are no shortcuts to growth and awesomeness, and yet we’ve come up with the term “Super Mom” – for the woman who can do it all, and make it look easy.

I read this quote recently which summed it up nicely:

Looking back on my childbearing years, it seems as if I struggled every step of the way. I interpreted my struggling as a sign that I wasn’t good enough. Yet now that I have the perspective of a veteran mom, I think that there are certain struggles that can’t be avoided in mothering, such as sleepless nights with a newborn or an older child getting sick the day you’re leaving for vacation. And there are others that shouldn’t be avoided in mothering — how to meet your child’s needs without negating your own, when to take charge and when to let go, how to balance getting things done with building relationships or having fun. Struggles like these serve as stepping-stones to self-development. It is through these struggles that a mother defines who she is and becomes the mother she wants to be. (MotherStyles, Janet P. Penley)

Instead of focusing on perfection, I love the idea of embracing struggles, because it is the struggle which strengthens and shapes us. It acknowledges that life is messy, and that’s a good thing. There is room for mess, pain, confusion and uncertainty. There is no such thing as a Super Mom – there are just a lot of beautiful, strong women, working hard to love and care for their kids in the best way they know how, and that’s going to look a million different ways.

Saying parenting is hard doesn’t have to be a negative thing. For the last while, I’ve been doing some physical exercise which is hard for me. There’s nothing wrong with the exercise, or with me for finding it difficult – it’s just hard because I haven’t done it before, and I haven’t built up my strength and skill, but I will.

The same thing goes for parenting. It’s hard, but that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with the kids or the parents. It simply means we’re building character and skill, and it will come.

Hard things are rewarding. They bring wonderful truth to the surface, and show us that we can become more than we were before. Parenting does this more than anything I’ve ever done. It is most definitely rewarding and life-changing. There are such beautiful moments, there are no words to describe it. I love these children of mine deeply, in the hard times, and the good.

We will gain far more ground if we lean into the struggle, rather than wasting our precious energy denying its existence and hiding its reality from the rest of the world.

It is hard, so let it be. The struggle is right and good.