When I was a kid, I remember one thing about my parents, and that was that they always seemed to know what to do. They always knew the answer to anything and ran a ship that always seemed to be fully operational...now, this does not mean that things were perfect at home, but I always assumed that they had it all together. They both worked, we has sit down home cooked meals every night, and my house was always clean, we went on vacations out of the country every year...
Now, looking in from the outside, it seems like I had it made right? Only it didn't feel that way to me. For as long as I could remember, I have been crippled with an insecurity so deep that it's taken me YEARS to get rid of. Why? Why with all of this, mentioned above, would this be a problem? Well, I'll tell you. After all of these years, I realized that I was haunted by the crippling virus of perfection. It may seem like this is not a big deal, but this was deadly to my self esteem: because I was under the impression that I had to do it all. Be it all. Control it all, and basically be super human.
My house had to look a certain way. My kids had to act and look a certain way. I could not speak look or act a certain way...and the list goes on and on. To the point that I would get so worried about what others would think about me, my house, my kids, and everything else, that I was miserable. I used to lie awake some nights, with judgments of things that I could've, should've, would've done better. I criticized and judged any and everything. I incessantly looked for approval and validation - it took over my life. Then one day, I could not take it any more. I don't really remember the moment that it happened only that I became very aware of the fact that it was taking over my life. I could no longer live my life, according to these expectations that were set so long ago. I could not cripple my kids with this sense of unattainable perfection, so I set out to let it go.
The freedom in allowing myself to be ok, when everything was not perfect was a beacon of light in my life. I was no longer tied to having to do everything, and everything being just right.. I learned to be okay in the midst of craziness. I began to appreciate the smaller things. The mess in a science lesson turned into colored rice all over the floor. My kid's dirty faces from exploring mud pies, in our yard.
The magic comes in the form of imperfection. The moments when you feel like if nothing is working, and then you let go. The realization that when I am comforting one of my kids, the crazy crying moments, where I want to scream - and somehow I've learned to keep it at bay, allowing them their feelings, and myself the right to not strive for perfection (not crying, not feeling) is when I realize most of all, that everything is right. That we are unlocking our stories together - mine of the need for perfection, and them their need to feel and be.
The greatest difference however, came in the ease in which my life started to flow: because not only was I NOT holding myself to an impossible criteria of perfection, but I was not holding my kids to it either. And I allowed myself to love them for who they are. Not by who I think they should be...and myself as well.
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Over the last few weeks, I am continuously asked how I keep my cool, when I am angry, or how do I keep from yelling, or loosing it when I don’t feel peaceful or gentle at all. So I’ve decided that this information is too important for me to keep to myself, so here goes, without much fluff and with little buffer.
With 5 kids under 10, most people think that I loose it all of the time, but the truth is that I don’t. I actually rarely yell at my kids, and don’t feel the need to take a break as often as a lot of moms out there do, and the number one reason is simply, I take care of myself. Now, when I say that I take care of myself, I don’t only mean that I drink smoothies and eat veggies all day, but what I mean is that I listen to my body and I’ve learned to my listen to gut feelings or instincts. To make a long story short, I no longer do what I don’t want to, or what does not bring me joy. Now, I must clarify, I do not mean things that are necessary: like child care, or meal preparation – even though sometimes, I want to throw my stove away and hire a cook :D – but I mean, giving more of myself than I can. If someone asks me to do something for them, and I don’t have time, I say no. If I am tired, I go to sleep early. When something bothers me, I say so. THIS, this is a biggie for me. We are so used to keeping things in, that we don’t realize the damage that we do to ourselves by not admitting: because when we leave things that bother us within, it has the tendency to take us over and spill into our lives with our children.
I also take care of my physical body in the sense that I sit and relax when I am tired. I don’t often react negatively to being tired, but exhaustion makes me grumpy. When I feel like this, I take a break. I cannot afford to keep going and spill that over into my children. My house will always need to be cleaned, I no longer have delusions of a perfectly clean home. I can’t put that in front of my children and our harmony – I will always have dishes, laundry, floors to mop, and food to cook, and those things will always get done. I no longer hold myself to the standard that my worth is tied to how clean my house is…leading me to the next point - when I need help, I ask for it.
I refuse to continue to be a martyr. I realize that I need help. I cannot do it all alone. I do what I can, within reason, but when I need something done, I ask. I refuse to allow myself to fall victim to the mental trap of having expectations and the not asking for help, and then feeling disappointed when the other person did not meet the expectations that I have, but never ask for.
The next thing is that I take responsibility for my feelings and moods. If I am grumpy due to hunger (which is the biggest reason for most of my grumpiness), or any other reason, I admit it to my children. I tell them that mommy is hungry and as a result is a little grumpy - I hold myself accountable to my own emotions and feelings.I tell them that I need a few minutes to eat before I do anything, or that I need a few minutes to take care of myself. I own my feelings and become as quiet as possible, so that I don’t push my feelings onto anyone, and on the case that I do, I usually apologize for the reaction.
I let moments be that. Just a bad moment, I don't let it take over my entire day. To get over a bad moment, I might listen to the radio, sing, play, make monkey or animal noises - at the spur of the moment, to get the funny back - call someone who supports me, or who will lend me an ear and listen. I take it to my TRIBE for support. I get out of the house, and take them to a park. Or anything at the moment to lighten the mood.
Finally, I do my best to remember two things: one, that my kids are not trying to upset me on purpose, my emotional reactions, are reactions to old stories or memories of old stories, I know that they usually just want my attention, and need me to help them or just want to be around me. And two, I try to remember that the way that I treat them, is the way that they treat each other, others, and the way that they learn to view themselves in the world.
This might not be all of the things that I do to keep from loosing it, but it is where I start. Let me hear your thoughts below.
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A few days ago, I had a heart to heart moment with the youngest of my two daughters - who is one of the oldest ones of my bunch. This came about because I came to the realization, that from all of my kids, she is the one that needs the least amount of stuff from me. She is self-sufficient, reliable, always in a great mood, and very even tempered...seems like the perfect kid, huh? But, when I remember how she was as a baby, I realized that this was not how she came to this world.
For starters she was born colicky. She cried and cried for hours, and days without end... She was an emotional child - and I don't mean this in a bad way, but in that way, that when she feels something, she feels it in her soul. She was one of those babies who was tough as nails, but also gentle as a butterfly.
Now, self reliant and practical, the traces of that emotional baby are long gone. She no longer shares her feelings with me - or anyone else for the matter. She is excellent in terms of helping her baby brothers when they need her to hold them, cuddle caress or care for them: but her emotions are bottled up tight and held in the safe of her heart. She does not share them with anyone...and you know, this makes me sad. I think that a lot of times we adults don't care for ourselves in the proper way, because we have learned to bottle our emotions.
Where did they go? I'll tell you. I tucked them away. You see. When she was a baby. She cried so much and was so full of emotion that I didn't know how to handle it. She was one of those kids that cried all of the time...and I didn't know how to deal with it. You see, I was taught that there is no reason for children to cry. I was taught that crying was bad, and that if a child's needs are met (food, clothing, toys, etc.) that there is no reason for them to cry. I would tell her to stop crying. I would scream at her because she seemed to cry all day long. Non stop. Most days it would drive me crazy and I would become angry with her. Now after a few years, she is older, I am wiser, and have learned how to become more patient, and have become very aware that crying is a sign of a need, not something to become annoyed with. I have realized the harm that I did during that time, by not allowing her to feel free to feel her feelings...I made her bottle them up. So where is the heart to heart you ask?
Well, a few days ago, while I was making breakfast we were having a talk - about random stuff. Food. Her brothers. The day. Nothing in particular. And she tells me that she remembers being a baby, and me putting glove things, on her hands because she used to scratch her face. She was months old when this used to happen. So I asked her. "Do you remember crying a lot, when you were a baby?" Her response, "Yup. I used to want you to pick me up." Folks. My heart sank! My little baby, only wanted to be held...and back then I, didn't listen to my heart, I listened to people tell me that I should not pick her up a lot, because she would become spoiled, and would want to be held all day...this, BTW still breaks my heart to know. Anyhow, I told her that I was sorry. I told her that I was sorry that I didn't hold her more then. That I was sorry that she has learned to feel that her emotions are supposed to be buried deep within. And I told her that I take responsibility for her thinking that way. And that I promise to always, be available for her, and that I will help her feel comfortable in sharing her feelings.
I was reminded this weekend, once again that the way that I treat my children matters...but mostly, I was reminded that learning to understand myself, and love myself while I become healthy emotionally and physically, are a few of the most important things that I can do for my children. Because the way that they see themselves and interpret their lives comes directly from the way in which they see us react to them and our environment. It is my mission, to help her learn, in as loving a way as I can, to help her heal and learn to express herself fully... and I am happy to report that over the course of the weekend, hugs and kisses have been in abundance :D and she is willing to come out of her shell.
I am dedicated to helping other mothers out there, so that they don't have to go through these hard lessons with their children. If you have a situation that is similar to this, or would like to understand and/or prevent this or understand yourself and child better, please sign up for Regaining Harmony. It's FREE.
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Tonight, I watched Mommie Dearest, and it made me cry. I sat up in my bed and cried during the infamous "No more wire hangers" scene. I'll be honest with you, I'm not exactly sure why I cried. Obviously I cried because I was watching Christina - the daughter - be beaten with a wire hanger...but I was also crying because I was watching what utter lack of control, self knowledge and the inability to understand one's emotions can do. Of course, this is an extreme reaction, but who is to say that these things can't actually happen?
I remember, a long time ago, when I had four under four - and it was HARD. I remember going into my bathroom to cry, because I didn't know how to do it all. I always felt lonely and alone during this time. My family was far away, my husband worked all of the time, just to bring in the bacon, and I was alone all day long with four small children, and you know what? I know what it's like to be furious and exhausted. To be so angry at my situation that I didn't know what to do.
For the longest time, I had to crawl through the trenches, and relearn everything that I thought I knew about myself, so that I could become a different kind of human being, one step at a time, I had to turn myself around to be the best mother for my kids - I didn't want to turn into that (Mommie Dearest)...and I learned that the hardest struggle that I had to overcome was myself. The story that I'd told myself for so long.
I had to rewrite patterns, change my reactions, and release old habits. You see, I learned that many of the things that I was struggling with, were in fact not truths, but merely beliefs that I was holding on to. Beliefs like:
Although this movie is an extreme example, the truth is that we all loose it is at times, and react in ways that at our best, we would never consider. We all have moments of frustrations, and self doubt, it's only natural. The trick is to use these moments to learn more about yourself, and your child, and the key factor to learning from yourself is HONESTY. Learning to understand why I felt the way that I did. Learning to understand the purpose for my reaction. Taking responsibility for the reactions, feelings and thoughts that lead to my reaction, and understanding where it came from. You see, if I did not learn to be honest with my feelings, myself, and my children, how was I supposed to change?
Being as transparent as possible. When you're honest with yourself (your actions, the reasons, and reaction) you can begin to understand, heal and move forward. When you're honest with yourself, believe it or not, you understand your child and life in a completely different way. Yes. It takes courage. It takes strength to live in such a open/raw manner, but when you take this step: learning to ask yourself why or why not, a different world opens up for you, and you can begin to live...with no BS in between - and then you can start to live the life that you want, for yourself and your children.
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