Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Day 147: Sweet Silence

I could really use a little more peace and quiet around here, but the reality of sacrificing the giggles, squeals, songs, intricate narratives and babbles to get there makes it sound that much less appealing...then I remember the screaming, banging and whining and we're back where we started. Bring on the peace and quiet!

Today I'm focusing on peace of a different kind and quiet from a different source. When I step back and take a look at our life, it's a little more sweet silence from me that we all need.

I grew up in an analytical home and I'm so thankful for all the gifts that gave me. It's a major part of who I am now as a woman, but I'd like it to be a little less a part of who I am as a mom. As much as I think and reason my way through this journey, I want to be able to feel my way just as well, and living always in my cognitive brain keeps me from doing that.

Because for me, thinking means talking and feeling translates into doing.

Reasoning and verbal instruction has its place in parenting, especially with a boy like Jackson who wants to know everything about everything. So I'll keep talking about bones and flowers, and answering the many questions that come from him.

But when it comes to teaching the things that matter, modeling is where it's really at. I can use all the words I know to try to teach him about respect, responsibility, kindness and the like, but if I don't show him he'll never learn. And in the end, the words just get in the way.

Lately I'm talking too much and doing too little.

So the new goal is to shut up and show as much as I can. Because that kind of quiet is what's going to bring true, lasting peace to our home.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Day 144: Presence

I talk a lot about mental and emotional presence, but I've been noticing lately that my physical presence has been sorely lacking with Jackson.

Not needing any help with the Easter loot
I'm home with the boys all day every day and can literally count on one hand the number of times I've been away in as many months. So it feels like I couldn't possibly be any more physically present, but the truth is sometimes I'm here without really "being here."

When my attention is pulled in too many directions at once, I forget that physical presence at this stage of development literally means standing next to him, holding his hand, helping him.

On a busy morning when we're trying to get to an appointment on time (riiiiiight), it's far too tempting to make a request while I tend to other things.

Please go potty while I clean up breakfast.
Could you please pick out a few toys to bring with us while I pack a snack?
Put on your shoes while I get Max dressed, please!

Whether or not it feels like it to me, these are complex tasks for him.

Let's break it down: 
Man of many hats
Go up to a room filled with toys (let me get this straight, I'm *not* supposed to be playing in the play room?), choose a few (what size? how many? which ones? they're *all* my favorite!), place them in a bag (but this is my super awesome hat which cannot be filled with anything other than my head!), walk past your bedroom (but I'm not fully dressed until I'm wearing a second shirt and socks on my hands!) and go to the front door (but I want to eat the snacks nowwww!).

On top of that, I'm sending him conflicting messages. I ask him to complete a task, but I don't consistently follow through. Sometimes getting distracted is okay, other times I mean business and it's not. How is he supposed to know that "choose some toys" has a time limit when one day he's in the playroom for fifteen minutes "choosing toys" while I get ready (and am secretly thankful for his distraction) and the next day he's hearing me holler "come down" within three minutes?

What could be more important? <3
If I'm too busy to help him with things, I'm *too* busy and need to reassess our day. If something isn't important enough for me to stop what I'm doing to help him, it's not important enough for me to request of him.

This is a great example of unrealistic expectations, and I'm going to use this week to focus on making requests within his capabilities and consistently offering my physical presence and help when he needs it.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Day 141: The Difference a Day Makes

Edit: Since we all have different definitions of various undesirable parenting behaviors, I thought I should add a disclaimer. I never use abusive language toward my children; they are never belittled, called names, or otherwise verbally abused in the overt sense of the word. And certainly I never cross physical boundaries with them. What I consider intimidation and domination looks more like "normal" parenting in actuality. Raising my voice, shooting angry looks, using a hurtful tone, and throwing out threats of lost privileges are all forms of intimidation and domination which are ultimately used to coerce children into desired behaviors through fear. These are the things I'm referring to in this post.

 I wrote yesterday, but didn't post. Partly because it was more a therapeutic rant than a composed post, but also because it felt a little too raw at the time to put out there to the world (aka my tens of readers *snort*).

But having stepped back from the ledge I now think there is value in 'going there' - by which I mean not only writing authentically in hindsight, but letting authentic, real-time venting make an appearance as well.

So here's yesterday's post: 

Day 140: Overwhelmed

It seems like this feeling comes in tidal waves. It swells and washes over me, then fades until it's like it was never there.

The problem is that the days when I'm under, I'm really under. I can't breathe. I can't think. I can't move. And I certainly can't see the inevitable regression of chaos and inadequacy or the promised reappearance of order and capability.

Today is that day. With new rooms, neither of my boys are sleeping.

Max has been up since 6:30am and only napped one hour. He is now clinging to me as if I may forever abandon him at any moment simply because I tried to put him down in a new place. Never mind the fact that he's in the same bed with the same blanket, pillow and fan, or that I picked him up the moment he fussed, or that I finally put a mattress on the floor and nursed him to sleep there; I don't get any credit for that apparently.

Jack didn't nap at all. Can you say crazy? We've been in one long power struggle today, probably because I'm so tired from two weeks of waking all night with Max (when exactly is this fun little phase going to end?). Oh, and for some reason today seems like the appropriate time for an explosion in his desire for autonomy. Translation: Whatever I want him to do is now what he patently refuses to do because he didn't choose it himself.

All I want is for something to go my way. Can't something just be easy today?! Does everything have to be a struggle? And why, when all I feel like doing is crying because everything is so far from where I want it to be, is it easier to yell and punish my kids for the way I feel?

The fear of being unable to cope with less than ideal circumstances comes from being unable to cope with less than ideal circumstance. Days like today are the ones that make me frantic to control all things external in an attempt to avoid ever having to endure something like this again.

Yikes! Yep, that was the end. No positive conclusion, no pretty little bow to wrap it all up in. Yesterday. just. sucked. and I was wallowing in self-pity.

Thankfully my real-life knight in shining armor came home after a long day at work and jumped right in, doing dishes, playing with the kids, doing bedtime, and otherwise rescuing me and the boys from each other.

But with the perspective of a new day and a fresh sense of capability (I knew it would come, even if I couldn't feel it) I now have the benefit of analyzing my frazzled self from yesterday.

Here's the cold hard truth: It's my fear of weakness and the choice to feed into that fear rather than facing it that drives me to where I was yesterday.

When I start to feel as if life is just too much and nothing is as it should be - when the house is a mess (again...still), the HMN events need to go up (two weeks ago), the bills need to be paid (with what?), the article needs to be written (swallow your pride and appreciate the paycheck), and the kids need attention (are they still here?) - I feel inadequate. For me this translates into weakness, because if I were just more efficient, more organized, more focused or just all around better, I would be strong enough to carry it all on any given day. Riiiiiiiight.

My default reaction to weakness is to grasp at power any way I can get my hands on it. Unfortunately for the small walking and talking being in our household, this sometimes means asserting myself in the forms of intimidation and attempted domination. Tactics he is now (thankfully) confident enough to resist - hence the day-long power struggle.

Although I can't consciously identify it at the time, what I'm actually doing is trying to feel powerful and in control by taking power and control from someone else. How disgusting! And I don't say that in the self-deprecating, I'm-so-awful kind of way. I really just mean that this is objectively a disgusting way to treat another human being.

But the real problem isn't weakness or inadequacy. It's my refusal to let go, to accept my limitations, my circumstances and the lack of control I have over them. It's these things that leave me 'unable' to cope, not a lack of strength to power through and make it work.

Overwhelmed is much less likely when I'm living and parenting consciously. It even feels manageable when I'm focused on relationships over tasks, communication over accomplishment.

Instead of needing things to go my way, I see the value in reaching and expanding my limits and using the accompanying feelings as a guide in resetting priorities and reassessing responsibilities. When I release myself from the fear of weakness I feel what's real in that moment - be it sad, unhappy, unsatisfied, inadequate - instead of masking those 'inferior' emotions with 'powerful' anger. When I let go of expectations and address the reality of what is, I'm able to creatively meet challenges and I'm rewarded by feeling capable and powerful in a healthy way. And most of all, when everything goes 'wrong' I can still take pride and joy in connecting with my kids in the midst of all the chaos.

That is not where I was yesterday. It is thankfully where I am today.

The house is still a mess, HMN business still needs to be attended to, phone calls still need to be made, paperwork still has to be filed, and supper isn't going to make itself. But we're happy today. We're enjoying each other, laughing, getting through the hiccups quickly and cooperatively, and having a darn good day despite it all.

Thankfully days like yesterday make me appreciate days like today much more, so they do serve a purpose after all!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Day 137: Adaptability

We're about to undertake a few big changes here, and I can feel the heart palpitations coming on already.

Our bedroom is too crowded to be liveable with the pack 'n play in it anymore. And because it's adjacent to the living room, we walk around on eggshells when Max is napping during the day. My shushing and scolding is causing so much tension between Jackson and I that I'm ruining the only solo time we have together by forcing us into power struggles about where he can play, with what and how loudly. The whisper shouting has got to end!

So tomorrow Jackson is moving to a new big-boy bedroom upstairs *tear* so that Max's bed can be moved to the "nursery." He's also finally asking to sleep in a big-boy bed, so once he's used to the new sounds and feel of his upstairs bedroom, it will be time for that transition too. I don't know if it's for him or me, but I think one major shift at a time seems more manageable.

This also means that Max will have his own room *gasp* which he will be napping in and hopefully starting the night in before coming to bed with us where he usually sleeps. In addition to the noise issues, we're thinking this will ease the eventual transition away from bed-sharing as he gets older. Jackson was in his own room at only two months, but it still seems so strange to move Maxwell so far away at nine months. He's spent every night of his life snuggled up next to me, and even the first steps toward the beginning of the end of that are a little tough. 

I'm reminding myself that they are ready for these changes and that they are adaptable, that kids are so adaptable if we let them be. But there's still a twinge of anxiety. Because as a general rule, I don't like change (read: I fear change). Knowing what to expect provides a sense of security, even if what I can expect is something I don't like! And stepping outside of that predictability - even with the prospect of major improvements - requires faith and trust in myself, in them, and in the God who works all things together for good.

I don't want to find security in circumstances anymore. It leads to fear and makes me a neurotic control freak! I want my security to be unchangeable. I want to be confident that we will all be okay even if things aren't perfect or predictable, and to embrace the unconditionality of life that I so often reject. We are all capable of adapting to this and to much bigger things, and I want to give the boys an opportunity to practice being flexible and welcoming change.

Which leads me to the obvious question: What's the worst that can happen? Because a few sleepless nights and a few days of nap struggles are so insignificant, especially when weighed against all the positive things that will come from these changes. And I also have to remind myself that trying something new doesn't mean we're committed. We do what works for our family, and if we make changes that don't work we can always go back to what did.

Inviting these changes with enthusiasm is a step, small though it may be, toward faith and trust. I will anticipate great things and accept growing pains that may come with confidence that we'll all learn something valuable as we're drawn out of our comfort zones. And most importantly, I'll allow the boys to decide for themselves how they feel about it all instead of projecting my fears or expectations onto them.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Day 134: No Fun Zone

Growing up we had a license plate that read NFZ. The family joke was that it stood for No Fun Zone. Well, I guess it was a joke. When the ratio of truth to exaggeration is teetering in the wrong direction, it can be hard to tell.

You might be thinking: Oh, how sad that her parents didn't let her have any fun, that they were boring sticks in the mud who crushed her spirit in their fun-free minivan.

Au contraire! It was I (and my brother, but that's another story) who was the wet blanket ready to dampen the mood at any sign of enjoyment...unless of course it had to do with food, because then I was all in. Ah, I can almost see my pouty pre-teen face now.

I was a fun-loving girl and all - not giddy and frivolous, but definitely fun-loving - yet when it came to family affairs it was my subconscious mission to suck the fun out of life like the Grinch stealing Christmas. Unless it was something that I expected to be a good time, I sure as heck wasn't going to let it be. And the criteria for enjoyable events were as follows: Something I found interesting, something I was good at, something that had no chance of making me look foolish, something that was worth my time (according to me of course), something that didn't interfere with anything else I'd rather be doing (which, according to teenage me, would be anything not with my family), something that benefited me in some way (hence the reason eating out was a gimme), and something that didn't involve being seen with my family by my peers.

And God forbid I actually try to enjoy something that didn't fit the impossible criteria! No, no, no, I had to make sure that those things turned out just as miserably as I thought they would. Making the best of things would be like admitting I was wrong and that all my complaining, sighing, pouting, slouching, eyebrow furrowing and arm crossing was in vain. We couldn't have that after I went to all that trouble. Besides, being miserable, if accompanied by being right and proving a point, was more fun than having fun.

So my poor parents were trapped in the No Fun Zone with me for a large part of my life under their roof. (Sorry guys!)

Now I'm the one orchestrating family outings and herding everyone to the car with promises of a good time, and I'll cross my fingers that the energy I'm putting in to foster a healthy relationship with my kids will save me from dark, anti-everything teenage years. For now they're both all smiles and giggles, and Max in particular is impossibly happy even under tough circumstances.

Though I'd love to say I left it behind with my teenage years, it's clear that the killjoy part of me has yet to be purged since I still see it rearing its ugly head when things aren't going according to my master plan. I'm afraid it's going to infect the naturally amiable nature of my kids, or at the very least, continue to suck the fun out of life with my own family.

When I want to take a run to the park but the kids decide to nap on alternating schedules, it's in my nature to feel frustrated and get short with them. Let's call it what it is: adult pouting. I can run an inner monologue that says I never get to do the one thing I love, that everything I do is centered around them and nothing I like to do for myself fits in anymore and that we'll have no fun just sitting around the house OR I can throw my hands up and say "oh well, we'll try again tomorrow" and enjoy the rare solo time with each of them, maybe even have some fun. *taps finger on chin* Hmmmm...now which of those sounds better? (And as a reminder to myself, I am not a prisoner to naps! I can choose to strap them in an go anyway if it's that important to me. Choices, choices, choices! There are no victims in this family.)

Assembling all the pieces of the puzzle, this is what I see:
I have several responsibilities that require me to "get things done" while I'm parenting --> Getting things done while parenting is actually impossible (little known fact, but this is true!) --> This predicament leaves me feeling constantly behind and under pressure --> Feeling under pressure feeds my killjoy side and suffocates my fun-loving side --> Fun asphyxiation is a contagious disease that my children acquire from me - when I have no fun with them, they have no fun with me --> Feeling the tension and the lacking joy I should naturally have in mothering them, they begin to need me more, asking for the love I'm not giving them, and I am even less able to accomplish non-parenting tasks --> Crying, yelling, door slamming, toy throwing, Mommy! Mommy! Mommy! Is it bedtime yet? Who's idea was it to have kids anyway!?

I want to be a fun mom! I can be a fun mom; it's all up to me. My house doesn't have to be the No Fun Zone, it can be the Neighborhood of Jokes and Merriment (I guess our family license plate is not as well-suited for acronyms). So when I start to feel pressure, in addition to addressing the fear that underlies my stress, I'm going to find ways to make us laugh. Because what's the point if we're not having fun?

Monday, May 16, 2011

Day 132: Confessions

They say confession is good for the soul, and I'm counting on it! 

In the past couple of weeks there has been a lot of yelling (I said put that away NOW!), threatening (If you don't put your pajamas on right now, we're not reading!), shaming (I can't believe you woke Max up!), blaming (Why am I yelling? Because you're making me angry!), and intimidation (a nice combo of all of the above that I call the 'House Blend').

I've felt like a failure and a monster. I've felt unworthy of my children and unforgivable. But despite all of this, they somehow continue to adore and accept me. And as I'm reminded that God does the same, I'm motivated to pull myself back up, make changes and keep moving forward. Because to waste all that love and forgiveness by refusing to accept it would be criminal. And to continue on with the labels I give myself in the name of justice and what I deserve would only bring us more of the same.

When I step away from treating myself to an equal dose of the House Blend, I can finally see where it's all coming from. I could easily blame it on stress as so many of us do, but that would only be scratching the surface. At the root of it all is control, and what's driving that need for control is fear.

As a general rule, we're all stressed out and it's taking a toll on our health, our relationships and our quality of life. But I think stress is a really crafty word we all use to cover up the reality that fear is everywhere in our culture and pervading our lives.

When I'm angry (stressed) because I can't get Jackson out the door on time, the truth is that I'm afraid: that we won't get to an appointment on time, that we won't get all our errands done before lunchtime, that we'll be late in getting home and the boys won't get to their naps soon enough, that what I don't get done today will pile up on me tomorrow - that I won't be able to cope with less than ideal circumstances.

When I'm frustrated because he's being loud a normal two year old while Max is asleep, the truth is that I'm afraid: that Max won't go back to sleep, that he'll be fussy if he doesn't sleep long enough and I won't be able to get anything done, that it'll throw off his next nap and then bedtime, that his waking will interfere with whatever task I had slotted for me and Jackson during his nap - that I won't be able to cope with less than ideal circumstances.

And sometimes it's not even about them! Sometimes I'm just stressed about all the things I have to get done in addition to my job as their mother, and I let that fear - of being inadequate or incapable of doing it all - infect my interactions with them too.

It's okay to try to get us moving on time by preparing earlier (not by barking orders at a tiny person with underdeveloped impulse control) and it's okay to try to keep our home quiet for Max's nap by heading outside or reading to Jackson (not by shushing and shaming). Being proactive in order to make things easier would be a great idea!

But things have been spiraling downward because I'm consistently giving myself over to fear, and because I'm more invested in avoiding unfavorable circumstances than I am in enjoying my children and treating them with the respect and dignity they deserve. I'm making the happiness of our home conditional, and it doesn't have to be that way.

I'm going to make a conscious effort to break the cycle by calling a spade a spade. When I feel stressed, I'm going to ask myself, "What am I afraid of?" and "Will it be okay?" Because when I identify the likely inconsequential fear (a delayed nap, really?), nine times out of ten the answer to the latter will be yes. And the rare time that it is a legitimate fear, I'll be able to consider how to cope with "worst case scenario" without dishing out the House Blend.

I am capable of coping with less than ideal circumstances and even experiencing joy through them, so why keep robbing myself of that?

Friday, May 13, 2011

Day 129: Refocusing

Since allowing myself the flexibility to post only when time allows I've noticed the following:
1) Time does not allow very often
2) There's always something else I could be doing that seems more important and usually trumps processing and posting
3) Posts became more theory than reality based - a sign of disconnection?
And most importantly...
4) Things have been heading in the wrong direction since I've scaled back

So what's a busy writing mom to do?

When I started this project, I didn't have time for it. But I committed to it.
And it worked.

As I've been experiencing more resistance, annoyance, and stress in the last few weeks, and my kids have thus been experiencing more rushing, yelling, and disrespect, a very clear picture of priorities was painted for me.

I'm amazed at the change we experienced when I was writing and really focusing my energy and time on my REAL job, the only one that truly matters in the grand scheme. I don't think I really knew how far we had come until I 'woke up' the other day and realized how far back we had slid!

As I thought about how Jackson and I had been butting heads, how I'd felt constantly impatient and on edge, how all of life felt like a struggle (the words I said to myself were literally, "Can't anything just be easy?!"), it hit me that in those months of intense focus that feeling was the exception, not the norm. And as I looked back over my posts, the evidence was there to corroborate that. What started as a string of posts about chaos and struggles slowly morphed into more posts about hopes and joys.

So once again, I'm saying: The cycle ends here!

My life is so full right now - with so many amazing people and responsibilities (privileges!) I could never imagine giving up - so I want to be careful not to over-commit. I also don't want to give myself room to blow off this project that is so vital to my growth as a mother and in turn to the health of our family. And that leaves me somewhere in the middle trying not to feed my all-or-nothing self, but instead nourishing my moderate self (I think she exists...).

I want to commit to posting a minimum of three times per week. I'm challenging myself to prioritize this project over the other things that have crowded it out, which I hope will translate to more than three posts each week, but I'm setting that boundary as a safety net to keep me moving forward.

And I'll be looking to all of you to keep me accountable!

The primary reason for making this a public blog rather than a private journal was to offer other struggling moms (which is all of us, by the way) a place to feel accepted and like they're not alone; to rip off the "perfect mom" band-aid to reveal the "real mom" underneath, wounds and all.

But secondary to that, I also knew that I needed accountability to motivate me to move forward when it seemed like too much work. So thanks to the tens of people reading for giving me that gift! ;-) I'll picture you're disapproving and judgmental glares next time I consider blowing off a post.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Day 125: Dear Mom

I'd rather be sleeping than writing right now, but Max has other ideas. After giving me a fitting 5:30am wake up call for Mother's Day, he has now informed me that I'm mistaken about bed time. This despite the fact that he slept beautifully until the very minute I was ready to also get some rest. So let me first say this, Mom. Thanks for all the sleepless nights you endured for me, and for being much more patient with me, I'm sure, than I feel with him right now!

There wouldn't be time or space to relay all the ways you've shaped me as a woman and mother, but I'll share a few that are most important to me.

You embody "mom" like no other woman I've ever met. And I mean that in all the good ways and none of the bad ones. (How you've managed to avoid mom jeans for so many years is beyond me!) The home-cooked meals, the words of wisdom and encouragement, the well of patience that never seems to run dry, the empathy that only a mother could have...you're a real-life June Cleaver.

I grew up watching you serve our family, church, friends, and pretty much anyone you met without a word of complaint and without looking for an ounce of recognition. Your motives were always pure, never tainted with a desire for approval or applause. You genuinely want the best for everyone around you, and you're willing to sacrifice your own time and resources to help them get there - what a rare quality. This taught me the value of selflessness and the joy that can come out of giving and being a part of someone else's joy. I never could have known that choosing another over myself could be so self-satisfying had I not seen it in you, and if I learn to put it into practice half as often as you, I'll consider it a victory.

You are bar none the most trustworthy person on the planet. I've always been able to share things with you, confident that it would be locked away in your vault forever. This is one of your qualities that defines our relationship, because the security of knowing my privacy is valued and protected, that I will never be betrayed, has allowed me to be open with you. You are my safe place, my confidant, and my best friend, because I never have to think twice about what I say or how. You're always quick to praise my loyalty, and I want you to know that it was born out of what I experienced with you.

It always amazes me when you get life stories in the grocery line. You emanate warmth and kindness, so I guess it shouldn't be surprising that people are drawn to that and want to open up. You're as approachable to a stranger as you are to a friend, and I like to think I've been working my way in that direction as I watch you. You always have time for people who need you, and you taught me to value people and relationships above all else.

You did so much for us - working from home so you could be with us and even homeschooling us - and yet you never lost yourself. You gave us everything we needed and reserved enough to give to your marriage, your studio, music, gardening, workouts, and whatever else you've found energizing or been passionate about over the years. I'm so thankful for the incredible love you had for us, and even more thankful that you didn't let it consume you. You showed me that being a mother doesn't mean giving your life up, but adding to it and modifying it. Because of you my definitions of woman and mother are multidimensional and fluid - there is no box for me to get stuck in. This opened my life to possibilities, and it's the reason I was able to pursue an education and a family, passions and children.

It was your commitment to my education that brought me to where I am. No school, public or private, could have given me what you did at home, and I reap the benefits every single day. Because of you the natural curiosity and desire to learn that I, like all children, was born with were protected and nurtured. You taught me to think critically, ask questions, self-teach, reach beyond what I "should" know, and follow my abilities and passions. I'm proud to say that these are now many of my defining characteristics, and I hope you're proud they came from you.

You have been my life's greatest cheerleader. You told me over and over that I was capable of anything I put my mind to, and the confidence I've grown into started with that seed planted by you. You always encouraged me and supported me; my world is limitless and I owe it to you.

Our relationship has bounced back from things that it shouldn't have been able to survive, and all because of your infinite capacity to forgive and love unconditionally. There were times I knew I disappointed you, embarrassed you, even grieved you, but I never once questioned whether your love would be waiting for me on the other side. You were my first experience of Jesus' perfect love and His forgiveness that has washed my slate clean, and you are the reason I want so badly for my own children to feel Him through me. When I knew I was unworthy, when I knew I deserved judgment you showered me with nothing but compassion. Experiencing your forgiveness is what made His grace real to me, and there aren't words to express my gratitude for that. Every time I fall flat on my face, I'm able to pick myself up and move forward because of what you taught me with your forgiveness and the continual flow of God's grace. My relationship with my own children is dependent on this, and I have you to thank for it.

I'm convinced that were it not for your trust in God, you would not have survived my young adulthood. Now having my own children and experiencing that intense drive to make their worlds safe and happy, I can finally imagine what it was like to sit back and watch me make so many mistakes, some with lifelong consequences. I can finally understand how desperately you must have wanted to protect me from those things and how you must have wanted to take the wheel and tap the brakes. For all the heartache, yours and mine, that came with some of my choices, I'm so thankful that you allowed me space to make mistakes and grow on my own. It's only because of the freedom you gave me and because you patiently waited through the worry, disappointment and sadness I'm sure you carried that I can point to so many defining moments of my life. I only hope I have the courage give that same gift to my children.

And finally, Mom, your humility is my inspiration - for this blog and for my life. You are always willing to lower yourself to raise someone else up. You're never too good for anyone or anything. You accept criticism with an open heart. You are a living breathing illustration of how beautiful humility really is. And, like all the other qualities I just listed, I will consider myself successful if I can embrace and embody it through my journey half as well as you have.

So happy belated Mother's Day! (Max did finally decide it was bedtime half way through posting last night) No one deserves a day reserved in her honor more than you.

And like I told Dad: If you ever think I'm getting down on you through this process or if you carry any personal regrets, remember you're the one who helped me become who I am - a person willing and determined to embrace humility, chase growth and never let good enough satisfy. Know that I don't harbor any of those same regrets and that I'm thankful for all of the experiences that shaped me. And every time you're proud of me, take credit. My achievements are as much yours as they are mine.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Day 123: Dear Dad

Most of conscious parenting boils down to self-awareness - because ultimately it's about us and our reactions to our children, not about them and their behavior. And the process of becoming self-aware requires you to take a good, hard look at the way you were parented - because, for better or worse, we are who we are in large part because of our family environment and the choices our parents made for us in our formative years.

Sometimes this is expressed in our own parenting through imitation, other times the opposite, but we're always reacting to our baseline, the "normal" we grew up with.

Since so much of this is just ingrained in us, we tend not to have to think about it unless we want to change it. Enter this blog, an effort to overcome some of the less than perfect defaults that were set for me (and which, of course I had a hand in setting as well).

But what I've failed to mention as I write my way through this journey is that for every negative default, I can point to as many positive traits. And for every experience I'd like to change, I cherish at least a hundred others.

Processing the negative is essential to growth, but so is acknowledging and reinforcing the positive! So in an effort to balance out my pessimistic tendency, I'm going to focus on that in two posts that I'll write as public letters to my parents. I'll start with Dad today and hopefully find time to get to a post for Mom on Mother's Day tomorrow!

I've met only one man in my life whose integrity can even come close to matching yours, Dad...so I married him. It was your unwavering character and your commitment to honesty and faithfulness that colored my definitions of 'husband' and 'father.' Because of you, I knew that such a man existed, and this kept me from settling for less than what I deserved in a partner. Every joy I experience in my marriage is a reminder of how I am forever grateful to you for that.

It was that same integrity along with your guidance and trust that kept me from straying too far from self-respect in the years when it's so easy to do so. You showed me, through your relationship with me and your intense passion for your marriage, that I deserved to be loved, sought after, and cherished; and though my life has certainly not been free of heartache, it saved me from so much pain. 

Knowing that I had your approval and love kept me from searching for those things in the wrong places. Your confidence, in yourself and in me, along with your unconditional acceptance gave me permission to be different and made it easy to reject conformity. Obviously this has come in handy!

Your protection showed me how much I was valued and helped me value and protect myself as I moved out from under your loving care. You taught me to assert myself and stand up for those who couldn't do the same - a principle that now guides so much of what I do and who I am.

Your great commitment to God and truth left a lasting impression on me. It was your refusal to accept spiritual mediocrity and hypocrisy that brought me through the disappointing and damaging church experiences of my childhood still somehow able to find authentic faith on the other side.

Your relentless pursuit of knowledge has influenced the course of my life so significantly. This is such an integral part of my person that I can't imagine who I would be without it.

And I hope you don't mind if I out you as a softy, but your kind heart and compassion are a reminder that strength doesn't have to be cold and hard. 

Of course I've only barely scratched the surface, and while these are the things that stand out, there are too many more for me to name.

So if you ever think I'm getting down on you through this process or if you carry any personal regrets, remember you're the one who helped me become who I am - a person willing and determined to embrace humility, chase growth and never let good enough satisfy. Know that I don't harbor any of those same regrets and that I'm thankful for all of the experiences that shaped me. And every time you're proud of me, take credit. My achievements are as much yours as they are mine.