Wednesday, October 27, 2010

the myth of the "perfect mother"

Years ago my Newsweek magazine sucked me in the instant it surfaced through email with it's image of a mother holding a baby and smiling at me from the cover. She was super-imposed with six extra arms, each one doing some sort of motherhood task. The words "The Myth of the Perfect Mother" stretched out above this mother, who seemed to be just that: quite perfect...as long as she could keep those six extra arms.

(Yes I'm totally nerdy and I still have the magazine.)

The articles enclosed discussed the intricacies of motherhood. The desire our generation has to "do it all." They talked about how some mothers feel that part of them died when they became a mother...mostly their sense of "self." They gave statistics, like how thirty percent of American mothers suffer from depression and how nine hundred and nine women in Texas told researchers that they "find taking care of their kids about as much fun as cleaning their house, slightly less pleasurable than cooking, and a whole lot less enjoyable than watching television."

I believe that we live in a generation that tries to fit so much into each day that sometimes we lose track of the really important stuff. I mean, maybe if some of those women back in Texas weren't trying to conquer the world at the same time as raising their children perhaps they wouldn't find child rearing so un-enjoyable after all.

Although we are not handed over an instruction manual in the hospital alongside that precious newborn bundle, we are bombarded with all kinds of instructions as we try to raise that sweet child in our care:

"Read with your kids!"

"Feed them perfect, balanced meals!"

"Volunteer in their classrooms!"

"Take them to tim-buc-tu three times a week for soccer practice if you want them to excel in life."

"Serve unquestioningly in the church!"

And even though we may put forth our best efforts, we sometimes end up slipping backwards down the slippery slope of good intentions. Sure, the desire is there to "be there" for our children. But along with "being there" we women seem to think we must do everything else and "save the world" at the same time. And we find that in stretching ourselves so thin there is a problem:

We don't have those six extra arms that were superimposed on that smiling mother on the cover of my Newsweek magazine. We only have two. And even worse, we only have one heart that can get broken and worried and overwhelmed over and over and over again.

The other problem we run into is that we are women by nature. And let's face it, women worry too much. We have guilt. And we tend to measure ourselves by comparing. We think we have to do it all. And we don't generally have the ability to say, "I'm sorry but I can't do that right now," because we see so-and-so who has even more kids than we do pulling it off without thinking twice. So we say "yes" with a smile on our faces while inside our hearts are screaming "no!"

Now, let me pause here to clarify that in saying "we" I'm really meaning "me" because Heaven forbid that I judge incorrectly that all women deal with my same issues. I just have a hunch that many of us are in the same boat. We try to do too much. If you are not in this "boat," please send advice ASAP.

I love the analogy of life being like a pickle jar. If you fill it up with big rocks first, you can fit in smaller rocks and sand without much problem. But if you try to fit those big rocks in after the sand and gravel you'll find they just won't fit. The big rocks have to go first.

In life we can choose what those big rocks are. If we let them be the fluff then the important stuff will never fit. But if the big rocks we choose to always put first are our families and our faith, other things will fit in as we allow them.

As for me, I've been frustrated lately because my "big rocks" tend to be more of the fluff. And when that happens I get so busy that I squeeze out all the "moments" that I want to be cherishing...yes, those moments that make motherhood so rich and rewarding.

Starting today my goal is to draw some better boundaries around what I say yes to, and to make better choices of what is "good, better and best."

Because although I don't believe in the reality of a "perfect mother," I do believe in the power of a "deliberate mother." One who knows how to prioritize what's most important...and that she simply can't and shouldn't "do it all." And one who relies on help from up above. Because she knows that those children she calls her own are really God's children. And she can rest easily knowing that they, along with that husband of hers are the rocks that fill up that pickle jar of life first.

I know, much easier said than done, but man alive I feel like the luckiest girl ever that I get to be with these guys every day:And I don't want to ever take that for granted.

40 comments:

Momza said...

Well said!
I'm linking to you today!

...You May Say I'm A Dreamer said...

This is such a timely and important post! I think too many of us feel that we have to do it all...and we don't! We just have to prioritize and focus on what's really important. I am an empty nester and have been for about 7 years. I still beat myself up for not being "enough" to my grown kids. Then I re-focus and find balance in my life. I think we are all GREAT MOTHERS because everyday we wake up and do our best..sometimes we fall short, but we love our children and we do what we can...that makes us GREAT!
Have a great day & enjoy those AMAZINGLY BEAUTIFUL children of yours!!
~Mary

Nancy said...

I absolutely LOVE every single word. I want to be an intentional mother. I love the rock analogy too. Wonderful picture. Wonderful reminder. Thanks for the great read with my coffee this morning.

Loui♥ said...

Perfectly stated!!
thanks to Momza, I found you!
glad I did!!
ps.. send your article to the magazine!
warm sandy hugs..
Loui♥

Sarah said...

OH Shawni, this is SO good. Sometimes those big rocks (especially when there are a lot of them!) don't leave ANY room for anything else, and that is SO unacceptable today...and makes me mad! I guess that's why I find myself dreaming of a simpler time. It feels so unacceptable today to JUST do one thing well...I feel the pull from EVERYWHERE to do SO much.
Excellent post.

Holly Decker said...

here here.

pakosta said...

I just LOVE how you always say , "man alive"! so CUTe!
I love that photo and I too, LOVE being with my girls ALL DAY!
We recently started homeschooling and LOVE it and I feel like I got a bit of my girls back, seeing them all the time. and we feel way less stressed, of course that could be because we sleep in until 9am start school at 10 and take lunch breaks at the park!
You are a beautiful wonderful mom and I look forward to reading what you do with your children every day!
tara

meegz said...

I'm going to get my jar, fill it with big rocks with a sign or words written on the rocks...and put it above the kitchen sink. I'm a visual girl and I need my "rock reminder" thanks!:)

kiki comin said...

true, true, true. those kids and husbands deserve to be those big rocks..love that analogy! Thanks for the lift this morning.

Sue said...

Momza sent me over, and I'm glad she did.

Good advice. It's back to the big rocks for me!

Thanks!

AS said...

I was given your link by a friend while I investigate your church to see what a "great mormon family" is like. I am finding your "thoughts on life" hard to take however. You have so much. Parents who love you, a good spouce, a great body, obviously money and you have have the opportunity to birth children. Isn't more expected of you? You speak like life is overwhelming and you should be off the hook for some things...yet you have been give more support and advantages in life than so many of us. I know you mean well but it still comes across as shallow trying to be deap. You need to find time to really dig deeper into what those outside your world are really dealing with to gain some perspective. I live with family that has drug abuse, a neice in foster care, sexual abuse, no money, major weight issues, no family support and cancer on top of the daily bills etc. you complained about. That is what some of us wake up to on a daily basis. Life for many of us is so much harder than what you understand it to be and although that is not your "reality" and I would not wish it on you, your lack of sensitivity is offsensive.

donna said...

I needed this blog post today!
Thanks.. : )

Cardalls said...

AS..then don't read her blog. This is about her life and her reality. She is not trying to save the world, just her family.

Love Being a Nonny said...

Great post! I don't think you will EVER take them or Motherhood for granted! I love how intentional you are. I think I say that often, but I mean it!

AS said...

Cardalls, when you respond in such a manner it makes me want really tell you off for your own lack of sensitivity. I feel attacked and belittled while I was only trying to express my frustration. Will you please try to be more understanding of others suffering? I will not be viewing this blog any further after this altercation. HOWEVER this is an OPEN blog...meaning anyone is invited to look. If she does not want truthful comments from "outsiders" then she should have a private blog. She is the one putting herself out there. She also obviously is trying to "save" more than just her family as she is doing speaking engagements teaching others. (as related on her blog)Sometimes we only see ourselves clearly when we aren't being told what we want to hear.

Cardalls said...

AS I am truly sorry for your suffering. I am a compassionate person by nature, but admit it irks me when people criticize others for writing about their life. Whether this is an open blog or not, Shawni isn't trying to be insensitive at all and she isn't trying to offend you. My Dad always taught us, "don't take offense when offense isn't intended." I will keep you in my prayers today that God can help ease your suffering.

Becky said...

well said. when i look back on my days, the best times are when i do enjoy my moments playing/creating/imagining with my children. The most frustrating times are when I try to do too much and that's when playing with them becomes a burden and that's not fun. thanks for your post!

Jen said...

I think it's so sad that so many women feel like they lost themselves and are unhappy as mothers. I believe that in order to love motherhood, we need to devote ourselves to it, meaning we give our all to be a good mother to our kids - not just "being at home" while we work on "other things," but actually being there with our children, teaching them, feeding them, playing with them, etc. It requires a lot of sacrifice and perspective, but I have found that in "losing myself" in the service of motherhood that I have truly "found myself." I have learned and grown so much during the past 10 years! I have continued my education in child-rearing by reading all sorts of books about raising kids - how to get the healthiest sleep, how to teach/educate children academically and spiritually. I am continually researching how to cook healthier and better-tasting food, I attend my children's music lessons (violin, cello & piano) so I can coach them properly at home. And let me just tell you that I am an expert in dinosaur lingo (something I despised before having a son who obsessed over them). I know that in the times when I have tried to "do my own thing" then yes, kids feel like they are "in my way." But I am never happy like that. I do take my own time and find ways to get little breaks here and there to recharge, but I am happiest when I consider my career as a full-time mother my true career - I take it seriously and I love it! There is not a better job on the planet. It is also, I believe, one of the toughest jobs, but hands down has the greatest rewards.

Balance is crucial! I can't count the number of speakers in the past two General Conferences who counseled us to avoid distractions and to focus on the best, most critical things for our families. That is a real challenge, but it is key to our peace. When we are doing the best things, the less important things either find their place or get eliminated, and we realize that they weren't all that important after all. Everything is a choice. We don't have to sign up for everything thrown our way. In fact, I don't believe that we can find that simplicity about which Pres. Uchtdorf spoke if we are signed up for too many things. There is beauty in doing less. I've said too much already. :) Have a great day!

Dani said...

You don't know me but I just wanted you to know how much I appreciate your blog! My friend Jessi had a link to your blog on one of her posts a few months back and I've been following you since then. I usually don't follow blogs of people I don't know but there is just something about your blog that is special and makes me want to come back and visit! I appreciate so much your honesty and positive outlook. You're not afraid to be REAL! That is so refreshing. I can relate to so many of your ups and downs as a mother. Motherhood is such an amazing, roller coaster of a journey and it feels nice to relate to other moms going through the same kinds of things as me. Thank you so much! You're good at what you do : )

Jamie said...

Well Said!! I was just wondering today how I became so crazy busy and how I don't want to miss out on having great moments with the 4 people who truly matter. Thanks for the great post!!

Keri said...

I have never posted a comment before, but I felt like I should considering the negative comment left above. I've silently read your blog for a while because it is uplifting. You have great thoughts, and an ability to put them in writing beautifully. After all your thoughts on life are not going to be the same as the thoughts on life of a drug ridden family. Each of us have our own battles in life, none more insignificant than anybody elses, just different. You have a beautiful family, and seem to be a wonderful person and a wonderful mother and wife. Don't let the words of AS above weigh on your mind at all, or allow you to reconsider expressing your thoughts through your blog. To the hundreds of us that follow you, you bring so much inspiration, and I am not LDS but I am inspired by the faith that you have in your church, and that you don't belittle others for their beliefs either.

shawni said...

Dear AS,

I am truly sorry to have offended you.

I agree with you: I am so very blessed in my life. To be honest, that's really one of the big reasons I write this blog in the first place. I feel that I have been given so many opportunities in life having grown up in such a great family, being part of a religion that I believe in with all my heart, and having my own family I can't get enough of that a blog is one (albeit teeny, tiny) way I feel I can "give back." If I can share ideas about mothering that motivate and uplift others then at least I'm taking steps in the right direction.

The last and furthest thing from my mind is to make people in different situations feel bad.

I know I have a lot to learn and it sounds as if you and I have quite different life experiences, but I can only write from my perspective because it's all I've got. I wish I could reach out and help with the specific needs you are dealing with, but of course I can't because I have never had to deal with those things. I would love to try if you want to give me the chance...

I don't know how long you have been reading this blog, but I want you to know that I do try to say how GRATEFUL I am for life on a regular basis. I surely do not want to come across as complaining, which it sounds like I have in the last couple posts. I truly do thank my Heavenly Father for life every single day (you can ask my husband about that one if you don't believe me...I am thankful to the point that he starts rolling his eyes). I also pray that I will be able to "give back" in any way I can.

The ongoing conversation my husband and I have is HOW can we contribute more to the world at large. We believe that because we have been given much we do have the duty (and a very serious one) to give back (as you mentioned). Yes, I believe more is expected of us for sure. That's why I have my fingers in so many pies and I get so easily overwhelmed. I am trying to write things that uplift, start a couple different mothering projects with my sisters, write another book to help mothers, I do quite regular speaking engagements and my husband and I have a dream of starting our own non-profit company some day. Sometimes I just get frustrated that I can't do it all right now as I wish we could. Because right now our children have to come first. And right now they really need us, especially Lucy who we have deep worry about every single day. All that other stuff I'm doing to try to "give back" is so important, but if I let it take over my life by letting my family not take my own center stage I wouldn't be helping anyone.

The trouble with blogs is that there's no perfect happy medium. If you focus on the positive and portray your life as always hunky-dorey people feel offended that everything seems to go perfectly for you. And then when you happen to have a bad day (and I know we ALL have them), and you share it to share that you are REAL, people think you are complaining. Sometimes it seems that you just can't win with some.

Please know that I really am trying my very best and I hope that you can forgive me for my apparent lack of sensitivity to you and what you are going through.

I wish you the very best luck and thank you for reminding me of another perspective.

Love, Shawni

shawni said...

Jen, you know I agree with you whole-heartedly, right?

See this post:
http://71toes.blogspot.com/2010/09/clarification.html

Laura said...

AS, thank you for the reminder. I, like Shawni, have many advantages. I appreciate your reminder that others are struggling with issues we don't ever have to face!! In addition, I think your perspective highlights the importance of Shawni's words and what each of us is trying to accomplish with our own families. We can see the enormous pain in families that are dysfunctional. We want so much to create homes and families where each person can grow to their potential, and not have to face much of the suffering you are faced with. Being a Latter-day Saint doesn't instantly make it all better, but we certainly have a lot of support for families and a lot of teachings and practices to help us strengthen ourselves and our families.

shawni said...

Oh, and I can't believe I forgot to add a p.s. to sweet Cardalls: thank you for looking out for me.

Traci said...

Amen to that Shawni! You said it perfectly with "deliberate mother." That is my goal, and I'm constantly regrouping to acheive it! It is hard in todays world. That's why posts like this are so inspiring. Thank you :)

jen said...

This is eerily similar to my post today. If you go to it, you'll find a link to a recent talk given by Sister Beck about prioritizing.
Thanks for backing me up on this ;)

Eyrealm said...

So right on Shawni! It's a constant juggling dilemma throughout motherhood to keep all those imaginary arms moving! But keeping the "thick things" in our lives as first priority helps to keep us from getting into the thick of thin things!

Kristin said...

Thank you!

Anne Marie said...

AS, God loves you and you are his daughter. Only God really knows and understands the pains you carry each day of your life....the pains we each carry around. I grew up in an abusive home and grew up with very little. The best thing about the gospel of Jesus Christ is that it's given me hope and a forgiving heart. It's taken years (and I'm still working on it) to love my parents and forgive them. But, the love of Jesus Christ can slowly, gradually heal us and change us and allow us to be different people than we might otherwise be. Wishing you the very best in your journey. Hoping that you can feel Christ's love in your life bit by bit...that you can have bits of light in the darkness you find yourself in now.

Shawni, thank you for sharing so openly and honestly on your blog. Thank you for your articulate wise words.

Travis, Sarah, Sydney & Macy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
April Honey said...

AS- I would like to tell you how amazing you must be, to be suffering through so much in your life and still standing. I have never expierenced anything close to what you must feel but my heart goes out to you. I know that frustration and anger can come from looking at others who seem to have everything while you are struggling to hang on. Although I do not profess to slightly understanding your pain I know that I too find frustration in my life if I only see others joys and fail to realise that they too have pain. None of us get to escape this world with out pain. I know it does not seem fair that some people's suffering is greater than others. It is an age old question in all religions. BUT I do believe that Jesus Christ can heal all and suffered all to help us with our infirmaties. Others have obviously treated you in a manner that is not acceptable and for that I am so sorry. Please know that there are many in the world that although we do not truely understand your exact pain would love to be there to support you while you heal from yours. Much luck and love.

Pam said...

I love this post Shawni..the rock analogy is the best. I love that someone wrote about putting a jar of rocks on their counter. I think I may do the same..what a great lesson to teach the kids. Thanks Shawni and meegz!

Webers said...

Wonderfully spoken! This is so true. When I'm looking at these with the right perspective, I'm reminded again & again how AMAZING mothers are. We are so important & I wish more mothers loved their "jobs" as mothers.
Thank you for sharing this.

Dana at StrawberryTart! said...

I love this. I am definately linking to you today instead of posting because your post hit at the perfect time. I was thinking about the big rocks this morning.

Nyree said...

thanks!

DownEastStallings said...

Dear AS,
I have been thinking about your criticism of Shawni and her blog, and I would like to weigh in if I may. Your main point to Shawni was "you have been given so much-- more should be expected of you." What Shawni seemingly has been "given" are in fact "given" to a lot of people-- loving parents, a comfortable life style, good children, etc. but many of those people, including me, do not hold a candle to Shawni because it is her positive attitude and pure heart that make her so admirable and even enviable. In fact, what makes Shawni's life through her blog so appealing to so many mothers, and so enviable to many others, is not what Shawni has been "given," it is what Shawni MAKES each day in her life. If you knew Shawni and her family, and you can also read this in her historical posts, is that Shawni "earns", if you will, most of the things we may envy through her consistent prayer, goal-setting, hard work, creativity, patience, and her overall spirit of striving to be like Christ and enduring to the end. I can tell you that I think I am a relatively deliberate and blessed mother, but I am only nice maybe 80% of the time and the other 20% of the time it is hard for me to be nice-- like at the end of the day when I want to drop kick my kids into bed because my patience is over. These are the moments when I think of Shawni because Shawni is nice when it is really hard to be nice-- that last 20% of the time when you are tired, or when you want to be doing something else, or when you are so frustrated you just want to scream. These are the times, more often than not, when Shawni exercises discipline and spiritual strength and manages to be nice. This is hard-- it requires mental strength, unbelievable discipline, consistent prayer, and most of all humility. Make no mistake, what you read on Shawni's blog may seem easy and blissful but know that Shawni, her parents and her family members are doing the work to make it that way. Being nice, having a positive attitude, and striving to become better take WORK and Shawni is willing to do it just about every single day.
My best to you, AS.
Monica

Amber said...

I am teaching a lesson in RS this Sunday about this! I am going to "borrow" your term deliberate Mothers, if that's okay! It's great! We do have so much on our plate, and it is a lot of fluff, and the substance get's unnoticed.

Tiffany said...

i just gave a YW lesson on the pickle jar analogy, and i quoted the good, better, best talk too! and i was just going to post about today being a Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, like many of my days when I don't have anything scheduled and plan to be wonder woman/mom at home.

now i'm going to link back to this.


p.s. could you change your comments to pop up in a new window so i can refer back to your posts when commenting? if you prefer it this way, that's fine too:)

but you DO seem like you have 8 arms:)

Jamie C. said...

I always say to my kids, "Why is it that mommies only get two arms, while octupus gets eight?" And then when they ask me to do something and I tell them I can't right now (because I'm already making breakfast, doing dishes, braiding hair...), they say in their cute little voices, "Because your not an octupus."
I know that if we mothers were given eight arms things wouldn't be easier, it would just mean that we were doing MORE things that really didn't have to get done. I try really hard to stop myself and make sure that I'm doing what I should be doing with my day and not over scheduling, ignoring, or shewing my children away so I can get what I want to get done. I appreciate the reminder. And, of course, I showed my girls the picture on the magazine...they just laughed.

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