Mothers, Overscheduling and Perspective
Yesterday I was involved in an online discussion about one of the great pitfalls of motherhood: over-scheduling our lives and committing ourselves to more than we can sanely handle.
Have you ever done it? I’m guessing you have. In fact, I’m pretty sure it’s actually an attribute of womanhood and that you don’t need children to wind up in that place of hearing yourself say “yes” when another part of you is screaming “no.” It’s just that having children multiplies the opportunities to do this exponentially.
Like many moms, I make a lot of mistakes in this area. It’s easy to look at opportunities and recognize how great they would be for your child, only to press forward and realize later that the price you’re paying for the opportunity is steep, indeed. There are so many facets of life that need our attention, so many lives around us that we’d like to touch, so many “good” things to pursue that we can get swept away.
The last few years have been humbling for me. Adding our seventh and eighth children to our family pushed me over the edge of feeling like I could handle it and into the realm of drowning. My youngest two daughters are an absolute delight, and I happily choose them over the feeling that my life is under control. Still, it’s been really hard for me. It’s been an introduction to new levels of exhaustion and a constant, nagging feeling of quiet desperation.
I did the only thing I could think of. I started saying no. For the most part, all I really had to do was stop saying “I’ll do that.” I had to consciously, intentionally, shrink my circle of influence in order to focus on the one that matters most to me: my husband and children. That essential circle had literally become huge to me. I was overwhelmed by the magnitude of my responsibilities, both physical and emotional.
I keep hoping and praying that I can find my stride. Once in a while I feel like I can see the clearing through the trees, but I haven’t reached it yet. I look forward to that day, and to being able to widen my circle once more. There really are seasons to our lives and balance means different things in different stages. While I’m not proud of the fact that my current stage is so hard for me, I know I am focusing on what is most important. I guess that’s one of the things that comes with a large family. You have to learn how to choose carefully. It was easy to let go of the things I didn’t really love but was doing to please others. It’s harder, much harder, to let go of things you really love. I’m still working on that. I ditched the guilt of dropping things like volunteering at the school a long time ago. My turn will come again, but now is not the right time.
I have five daughters. Sometimes I wonder what their lives will be like, raising children in 10-20 years. Looking down the road like this makes me ponder the importance of what I’m doing NOW. I feel a huge responsibility to be careful now so they have the skills they will need to make wise decisions when it’s their turn to be where I am today. When I am a grandmother I don’t think I will want to watch my daughters drain themselves for secondary causes. I won’t want to watch them give their best efforts to things that are nice but not essential. I will be primarily concerned with the time and efforts they’re investing in their marriages, in their children. So why would I do with my own time and life the things I hope they won’t do?
Sure, I want them to be happy. I know that each of them has unique talents and gifts to develop. I want them to be well-rounded and balanced. But the truth is, none of us can really “have it all.” It’s a myth. Whatever we choose, no matter what it is, leaves something else that we cannot have. Chasing every “opportunity” we meet can leave us bereft of the “opportunity” to simply stay home, be a family, and play a game of UNO. Or watch a sunset. Or read a book. Or bake cookies together.
The fact is that some stages require greater levels of sacrifice from us. It makes no sense to pretend otherwise. The stage when we’re bringing children into our lives and the 18+ years that follow are the years when we need to give the most. This means going without some things in order to provide what our children need. It means saying “no” so we can be where we most need to be. It means being flexible. It means delaying gratification. It means a great big gap on our “resume” of great things we’ve accomplished in life, a gap where we may feel we have nothing specific to write, but which really should be filled with something like this: “36 years spent making the greatest possible contribution to society. 36 years spent loving, training, teaching and preparing another generation to rise up and take its place in our world, prepared to face challenges with wisdom, faith in God and hard work.” It means learning to fill our cups with the living water of Jesus Christ’s Atonement so we have wells to draw from during the most exhausting days, months and even years. I need to do these things, do them now, and do them with a smile on my face so my girls understand that this is what it means to be a mother.
I am so grateful I have daughters. I’m grateful that their presence in my life offers perspective. This perspective helps me take a deep breath and determine what is essential, what is important, what is nice, and what needs to go. I admit that on paper it’s easier than in the thick of the day. If only I could live out the day as simply as I envision it! But that’s why we have so many days. I’ve never been a mother before. I’m a rookie at this. But I’m glad I passed up something I really liked the other day in a store. And I’m glad I spent some unplanned time with my oldest two yesterday shopping for soccer cleats. I’m glad that when I felt ready to cry two days ago while cooking dinner that I chose to recite Isaiah 40: 28-31 aloud. Not only did I gain composure faster by saying it aloud (over and over again) but my little ones who were “helping” me in the kitchen heard it too. I’m glad that I’m learning. And in the learning, I have faith that I’m teaching something of worth.
The world may communicate to us that motherhood is drudgery, that we can’t possibly be happy or successful without doing all kinds of things in addition. I disagree. This journey is the greatest honor of our lives. Someday that truth will be crystal clear. We may have to take it on faith right now, but it’s still true. So let’s slow down and enjoy it, shall we?