Friday, October 5, 2012

All I Can Say Is, I Survived

I had a beautifully humbling experience yesterday. 

I was hired by a church in Tustin to speak on the subject of Safe, Sane Friends. (I call it "All My Friends Have Issues" after my blog of same name.) I thought I was speaking to their Mothers of Preschoolers group, which generally means an audience of mothers of infants and toddlers. Many are pregnant; most are sleep deprived. 

But instead, I found out when I arrived that I was actually speaking to their MOPS Next group, which meant mothers of elementary and junior-high-aged children.  (This was totally my error, by the way. They told me two months ago in an e-mail but I somehow missed the detail). So, instead of walking into a room where I feel "ahead" of the women, I am suddenly in a place to share my insights with people who ought to know more than me.

I came clean about this immediately as I opened my speech, and the women seemed appreciative of my candor, particularly when I told them that if they wanted to feel superior and more put together they should go downstairs with the baby moms. I know I was feeling more confident downstaris. I knew at the very least I had probably got more sleep than most of the women in the room and therefore had a mental edge. Plus, I didn't have any spit-up on my shirt. 

In reality, there is absolutely nothing superior about me in a room of MOPS moms. I only graduated out of the early childhood stage of mothering about a month ago. True, many of the women I'll be speaking to this fall have not hit the milestones of picking a preschool or navigating the world of drop-off play dates or getting a child to sleep in their underwear without accidents -- all of which I have done. Twice. But just because I have done those things doesn't mean I did them very well, or that I have any idea what the best way for them to do it is. 

All I can really say about early childhood mothering is that I survived. I am still married. I still love -- and even like -- my children. And I now find that I have come out the other side of the early childhood tunnel with a better sense of myself. 

It's possible that's what young mothers need most: to see someone that has come out of the whole process alive and smiling. The worst thing that ever happened when I was covered in spit-up with a screaming baby in the cart and a yelping  three year old under my arm at Target was to have an older woman say that I should savor every moment because this is the best time of my life. 

What a lot of hoo-ey that was. Parenting is steadily improving with age (check back with me when the girls turn 13). Crawling baby was more fun than sitting-there baby and walking baby was the best. Four years old was way better than three. Elementary school kids are awesome: more independent but still willing to wear t-shirts that say "My Mom is Totally Awesome."

In the strict parenting advice sense I only have two pearls of wisdom. 1) Hang in there. 2) This too shall pass (the good stages and the bad). 

On the other hand, I know God is calling me to speak to women, especially young mothers. So what do I have to share? First, that God loves them and cares deeply about their lives. But also, spiritual truths that I've learned from God's word, wise mentors, counselors, and my own experience (mistakes are great teachers). Here's my advice to moms, for what it's worth (and let's hope the first one was relevant to those beautiful elementary and junior high moms I met yesterday): 

1.Build a network of safe, sane friends by being learning how to be one, and keep those women close. Don't try to do life alone. 

2. Let go of perfectionism. No. Stronger than that! Wage war on perfectionist thinking styles. The "shoulds" and "all-or-nothing" thoughts of perfectionism  lie to you and make you feel that you are doing much worse than you are. Perfectionism keeps you from taking risks, stifles creativity, and robs you of joy. Daily! So embrace the beauty of Imperfectionsim: pursuing love and excellence without expecting perfection from yourself or others!

3. Give yourself permission to rest and refuel, preferably at your Father's feet. Ask God every day to help you choose "the one thing that is needed," as Jesus praised Mary for in the gospel of Luke. Stop working before you get bitter. 

4. Negative emotions like fear and frustration don't disqualify you from a life of faith with God, or make you a bad mother. But chronic fear, anger, anxiety and depression are indicators that something is off. Seek God. Seek counsel. Seek help. God wants you living in a land of joy and freedom, but sometimes we have to travel a desert to get to them, and in the desert, you need a guide.  

5. Don't worry if you aren't currently making a living. Concentrate on making a life. Our culture devalues women who don't earn money, but life is much more than making a paycheck. Even if you have "given up" your career to be with your babies (and you go, girl if you are able to do so),   you never know how the lessons you are learning from being a mom are going to be used in the greater world  around the next bend in the road. Stay-at-home mom status isn't necessarily a permanent state. 

And now, as I step off my soap box, I'd like to say thanks to the MOPS Next moms of Trinity Pres for your listening ears and your laughter. And thanks for showing me, as I follow in your footsteps, that you too are coming out the next stage of mothering alive!

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