Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Motherhood: Lowering the Bar and Being Awesome


           Our job is a cruelly ironic one:  We love, nurture, and teach our children to go out into the world so that they can live, function, and thrive without us.  So they don’t need us.  Don’t need our nest.  It’s cruel.  It’s a job that is revered and honored and, conversely, an easy target for the crudest of comedians:  Sure we get flowers and sweet homemade cards once a year, but there’s also “Yo Mamma insults” and never ending jokes about our jeans.
It seems that we all agree that our objectives as mothers are overwhelming, but so is the advice we give one another. The big dilemia of modern motherhood is the need to categorize each other, emphasizing our differences.  Ultimately, we’re told it’s not enough to raise happy kids, we need to show it to everyone, displaying it, and telling everyone else how to do it, too.
I think one of the reasons it’s overwhelming is because we are asking the wrong questions when we get to talking in real life or online. Different media outlets in order to sell stories, bloggers to get comments and page views, parents to make themselves feel better and validate their own choices, want to pit mother against mother with antiquated, oversimplified frameworks:  working vs. stay at home, breastfeeding vs. bottle, organic vs. FDA standard, public school vs. homeschool and so on.  These overused “hot” topics are used to “test” other parents to see if we’re alike or not and to validate our own choices as mothers.  After all, how can we prove we’re a good mom unless we’re better than someone else?  It’s mean, judgey and not at all helpful.  In fact, it’s hurtful to our mothering community because it divides us and further separates us from each other in an already isolating, overwheming job where the stakes are high.
It comes with a price, but we haven’t even had this technology long enough to really know what that price is, we can all guess:  an overwhelming feeling of dissatisfaction that you’re not doing enough, that you should do more, or do better, comparing ourselves to an unrealistic portrayal that isn’t real, and then anger, dissatisfaction, disillusionment.  Haven’t we all had that moment where we’ve thought:  Hey, I didn’t get a cute baby shower for my third child, with diaper shaped cake pops?! Or So now we have to put an elf all over our shelves staged in suspicious, menacing positions to delight our children?!  That’s a thing now?  Or  “Oh, okay, they went to lunch together without me.  Awesome, I didn’t want to go.  Took a lot of pictures of themselves, huh?  I don’t even like Zupas.”
What my mother, who didn’t live through this era, taught me about motherhood that applies here:  Motherhood is enough and now I believe in “Lowering the bar and being awesome”.  Not in a discouraged way, but in a realistic, individual, positive way.  I don’t want to regret this time raising my children, but only I can determine what that means to me and my kids. “Lowering the bar” is my commitment to reject the “tests” others try to put on me and it may mean that I appear less accomplished than other moms.  Maybe less put together or even generous.  It might mean that I appear flaky or disorganized, but it always means that I am responding to my kids’ changing needs all of the time.  And the last part, “being awesome” means just that, that I am happy about it because I’m living without regrets and “should-could-would haves.” I’m fully aware that I’m not cool, I don’t win , and that’s awesome.
My own mother holds a radical religious belief that is not considered doctrine in my Church, but she and I believe it.  It’s this:  She would tell us as children, that before we came to the Earth, as spirits in the premortal realm, when it was time to be organized into families (again, not doctrine), that she jumped up and down and said, “Please, please let me be Lisa’s mom!  Oh please—pick me!”  That was how my mom felt about being my mother.  And that was the first and lasting dialogue I have in my head about what being a mom means.
You should feel a little sorry for me because I have the perfect mother, but you won’t.  You’ll be suspicious of me and that statement and you’ll reason, “No one can get it right.”  To which I’ll reply, Hey, as mom’s let’s take back our idea of perfect or, the aforementioned “lowering the bar and being awesome,” not as an apathetic “there’s only one ideal and I’ll never meet it,” and not the illusive, “good enough,” but a third definition “fit for a specific need.” Take back the word “perfect”  “awesome.” Not the meaning:  “without flaws or shortcomings,” not the assumption “beyond improvement, “ but the third meaning, “exactly fitting the need in a certain situation or for a certain purpose.”
So why do I want sympathy from you?  Because every day, in raising and caring for five children, I know better.  I know what I should be doing.  It’s not elusive and I can’t pretend it’s not possible to do a good job. My mother taught me that I am enough for my kids.  They want me:  my time and attention, my energy, love, silliness, education, etc.  I don’t get caught up in competition because I want to be the best for my kids:  perfect for them.  That’s another reason why my mom is perfect—she prepared me for this environment of mothering before it even existed by showing me what were the most important elements of mothering. 
Growing up, it wasn’t uncommon for all the neighborhood kids to congregate at our house.  Regularly, they would come before school, after school and it became apparent to me that my mother was being taken advantage of. I confronted her about this and say, “Doesn’t it kill you that these people are taking advantage of you?  They’re totally using you for free babysitting.”
“I’m fully aware of the situation,” she would explain, “But if they’re not here, at our home, they’re home alone.  It’s the kid who suffers, not the parent if I turn the kid away.  Besides, I get to spend all this time with these great kids.  I’m the lucky one.” Not only did she not care that the other parents, or society at large, might think, specifically that she was weak and foolish, but she did the right thing for a lot of kids who, as you can imagine, still love her. 
My mom doesn’t expect me to be like her or agree with her on all things and certainly isn’t threatened by our differences. I don’t sew like she did, but I paint, and I make funny faces and make up stories like she did, and so much of how I mother is influenced by her.  But we’re different, too, and these things aren’t important elements to motherhood.  They’re individual quirks that are slightly interesting personality traits.  For example, my mom irons her sheets and pillowcases.  I do not.  My mother doesn’t do this out of obligation or appearances or for any other reason than she wants to do it.  She likes having ironed sheets.  Her idea of motherhood isn’t tied up with housekeeping.  She doesn’t care if I iron my sheets or not.  She never insisted I do it to be a good mother.  Mothering means more than that.  And yet, she doesn’t stop doing it, something she personally likes, for fear of being mocked or being seen as old-fashioned.  She does it.  She’s awesome.  
Modern mothering does not need more advice giving or tests that will, once and for all, give us a definitive answer at who is doing it best.  It does need a call to retire the jokes about our jeans.  We get it,--Mom’s used to wear elastic banded jeans that made their torsos look really nonexistent and their backsides really big.  That was funny.  Ha ha.  It’s not a thing anymore. How do we do “our job?”  How do we fully prepare for our children to live and thrive without us? By lowering the bar and. . . just kidding.  I’m not giving you advice. I'm not your mom.

72 comments:

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  2. You are awesome! Great job on your web series. And this post is amazing.

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  3. See, I look at you and I think "I want to be Lisa when I grow up" but then I really don't because I love my life and my husband and kids, and anyway, I'm terrified of being on stage or film. Thanks for the reminder that being the best mom I can right here in this moment is way more about being in this moment than comparing myself to others. Sure love you!

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  4. I love this and wholeheartedly agree!

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  5. Not related to motherhood specifically, but life in general, I've loved reading your postings for a while now and I've adopted your philosophy on "Lowering the Bar". It has made my life change in ways I never thought possible. This past weekend I finished the Portland Marathon by lowering the bar and accepting myself for who I am right now. Lisa, truly, my journey has been made lighter by your influence. Big hugs from Washington state.

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  6. This is wonderful, and I would love to see this idea go viral in the mothering community. We need to embrace each other for our differences. We need to love, support, embrace, and encourage each other, because being a mom can be HARD. And honestly, we are enough.

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  7. This is just great. I love your mom's philosophy and the way you've tweaked it to fit your way of mothering and being awesome.

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  8. Thank you so much for putting my thoughts into words, saved me a lot of time. Every time I start to compare myself to other moms I have to remind myself that I am doing what's best for me and my family. We are happy and that is the important thing.

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  9. I love you. I love your Mom. And really, I DO love Zupas. Want to go?

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  10. Wendy, don't you dare go to Zupas without me! (or if you do, or, worse yet go to AMIGOS, don't show me any pictures. Cruel!)

    Thank you everybody. I really love my mom and I wish everyone had her influence in their lives.

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  11. Lisa, this is the first time I've read your blog and I love it. Your mom sounds alot like my mom and aunt. The house had an open door and whomever needed love, a meal, and sometimes even a bed always had a place to go. They thoroughly enjoyed being a second mom to those who would be at home alone, or in a situation far worse. I know I've struggled with feeling the mom competition and without knowing 'lowered the bar' just by choosing not to compete. Just be. And somehow, despite all those years in Lincoln I've never been to Zupas...how did that happen?

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  12. Thank you. This is so wonderfully written and so very much my thoughts. It is so tiring to constantly be comparing ourselves to others around us. My children tell me all the time that I am a great mother and I don't believe them. I will now, because I am what they need to be happy :)

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  13. So happy to hear from you, and -- *applause, applause!* -- for these wise words!

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  14. Great writing Lisa! You're a great mom and so is your mom xx

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  15. I love this- well written! It reminds me of how I learned from my mom to try to not care what everyone else thinks- I didn't think it would apply to motherhood decades later, but it really does in some ways. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! You are a great example.

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  16. I came here from Design Mom. A woman I admired once said that she didn't pray for healthy children, she prayed that the Lord would send her valiant children. I felt, at the time, kind of lacking. It never occured to me to plead for valiant children. As the years have passed I've come to think that she was incorrect. Did she mean she wouldn't want a child in her family that struggled? I like your idea of being in the spirit world and begging to take a certain child. (Don't know if it's true but it doesn't matter.) I always figured the Lord would send me amazing kids, and I prayed that I would be able to give them what they needed. I don't want to screw them up any more than necessary. I'm trusting that the Lord knows me, and knows what I can and cannot give. Hurray! that you've found out early that you are enough for your kids.
    Cathy
    http://bestlovedchild.blogspot.com

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  17. I also found this entry through Design Mom, and I'm so grateful that I did! I'm a new mom with a 2 month old, and boy, I needed to hear this today. Thank you, thank you, thank you for helping me feel more capable and find the courage to set aside expectations and conventions and just be the perfect mom for my little one. Thank you!

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  18. Love this whole post. And I personally don't like the elf on the shelf thing either.

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  19. Thanks so much Lisa for your humorous outlook on motherhood...I shared this with my sister who has two little ones and is trying to navigate the waters unfortunately without our Mother who passed recently. Keep up the great work!

    Best wishes,

    Sheri
    www.pompanobeachgardening.blogspot.com
    www.createdecorateandinnovate.blogspot.com

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  20. Lisa!
    You don't know me, but I finally connected all the dots to know who YOU are. (Promise I'm not a creeper.) I'm a friend of a friend of Courtney K's, and a few months ago started watching your mini show, which is awesomeness. Then I found your blog via Gabby's this morning, and realized you are the daughter of the awesome S. Valentine, who works with me at BYU. Small world.

    Love your blog. It's great. THanks for the lowering the bar tips. What a great reminder. Sending you hugs--
    Nora

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  21. I really loved the simplicity of this philosophy. Thank you for sharing it. Over the last couple of years I've realized that in regards to my parenting I'm exceptional in some ways, average in others, barely passing in some, and an utter failure in a few. It's a jumbled series of things that make me, me. I think teaching my children that in my uniqueness and originality of skills I make up the person that is the "right" or "necessary" mom for them is one of the most important lessons I can give them...because then maybe they'll believe the same is true about the parts that make up the person they are...just perfect to be themselves. The wording on this isn't perfect...but you know what? Good enough. ;)

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  22. Hi Lisa,

    I'm new here, too. I recently saw your web series and really enjoyed it! I recognized you from BYU - my friends and I went to a lot of The Garrens shows that year!

    Anyway... You hit on something I've been thinking a lot about. I constantly struggle to be the best mom I can be to my amazing and often challenging three kids. And I often get caught up in comparing myself and feeling like I'm not doing enough. I've got to lower my bar, ignore the world, embrace my kiddos, and just be awesome. However that is to my kids. Thanks!!!!

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  23. I was lucky enough to be involved with the 30 Strangers Project this year. I listened to you give this essay at the reception and sat there in awe as it felt as though you were putting everything I have been thinking about into words. It was like listening to myself in some odd out of body experience! Haha! There is so much pressure in this world to be everything and a pair of spandex pants... and it's just not possible, nor is it being true to ourselves. Thank you for giving me permission to lower the bar and just be awesome. Your words touched my heart and pricked my conscience, 2 good signs of great writing.

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