"Life is change. Growth is optional. Choose wisely."

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Measuring success in motherhood

I have decided that I need a checklist - not the typical one that is full of all the tasks I need and want to accomplish in a day, but a realistic one that reflects my highest values and goals.  Concrete measurements for success as a mother really don’t exist.  I mean, come on - I don’t think any of us will really know how effective we have been until our kids turn 18 and leave the house.  Even then, they have agency to act for themselves, so who is to say their behavior is reflective of MY success as their mother?  I find the ambiguity of measuring my success in life discouraging.  I long for a feeling of real accomplishment - and most days it completely eludes me.  Often I feel like a failure.  I am striving to look at myself differently, though, because I want to live an empowered life.  I want to inspire others, not by showing them how perfect I can be (which is a joke anyway, because I am so painfully far from perfect in every aspect of life), but by exuding happiness and genuine confidence in the face of life’s challenges.  I always think of my mom - cheerful and positive, encouraging and hopeful, never pessimistic and virtually never expressing disappointment in us! I want to be more like that.

Being negative is not in my nature…so when I start feeling pessimistic or critical of people, something is off.  The kind of positivity I want to exude is borne of genuine happiness, and happiness is only possible through a feeling of progress - of working towards a defined goal that inspires and motivates me.  I think most people are this way!  My mom remains my main life mentor, so I first think of her.  She found her sense of motivation, progress, and enthusiasm for life largely through her professional goals.  The happiness that came from her pursuit to serve others through her business truly created a sense of excitement and progress in our home.  I never heard my mom complain about the difficulty of life (although she faced a fair number of extraordinary challenges)!  Instead, there was a lot of emphasis on goals and on focusing on what we wanted to create in our lives. 

I want to be this way, too!  I have come to the realization recently that what I lack is the feeling of happiness borne of PROGRESS.  For too long I have been in a state of survival.  Sometimes that is ok, but I think over the long haul it can suffocate a person.  I understand now how easy it is to just get into the rut of survival mode.  It begins with a legitimate crisis.  But regular life can feel like an endless barrage of difficulties, even when there is no real crisis.  It is hard to reach higher to attain some goal beyond surviving when you already have way more on your plate than you can handle! And that is one of the lessons I have learned these past 10 years as a mother - you will NEVER have a manageable number of things on your preverbal plate.  NEVER.  People say you ought to prioritize.  Well, what are you supposed to do when the VERY most important priorities aren’t all doable in the same day?  The realization that I am utterly incapable of staying on top of even the most basic “must-do’s” in life has been a difficult pill to swallow.  I have fought against it for years.  Surely, there must be some way to do it all!  And by do it all, I really just mean do the basics.  I would be rich if I had a dollar for every unrealistic to-do list that I have written and failed to complete in a day. 

Just recently, I have had a new idea.  I am tired of struggling with disappointment and living in survival mode.  10 years from now, if I were to look back on this day, how would I gauge my success?  Certainly it wouldn’t be determined by how clean my house was, or ruined by the fact that I didn’t get dressed until 3pm that day and went to the store looking like a hobo (and inevitably ran into someone I knew).  

Looking through a clearer, more perfect lens, what does a successful day look like at this point in my life?

This is the question I seek to answer for myself.  My goal is to create a checklist, one that I can look at throughout the day to keep myself on track, and by which I can reflect honestly on my success at the conclusion of each day.  
I know it is going to be a work in progress, and I know that this method will be flawed too.  But this feels like a better direction - one that will lead me to be more authentic and hopefully find a greater degree of satisfaction.  Here are some of the ideas for this check list so far:

*     Did I offer a genuine prayer today, humbly pleading for the Lord’s inspiration and sincerely thanking                  Him?
*     Did I strive to keep the Spirit with me today and stay open to any promptings I might receive?
*     Did I strive to let love dominate my interactions with my children (and others)?
* Did I spend at least 5 minutes of one-on-one time having real conversation, playing a game,                      learning together, or doing something with each child today?
*     Did I spend at least 10 minutes doing one of the following: reading, playing piano, writing, or creating
        something that brings me joy?
* Did I do real exercise for at least 10 minutes today?
* Did we do family scripture study and both morning and nightly prayer?
* Did I read to the kids?
* Did the kids do math, reading, and writing today of some kind? (I homeschool, so this is a must!)
* Did I learn something new with the kids today?
* Did I find a reason to thank each of my kids today for something?
* Did I tell Jason how much I love and appreciate him?
* Did I reach out to someone today, if even just through a text?
* Did I make at least one really good, nourishing meal for my family today?
* Did I take my supplements and have the kids take theirs?
* Did I go to bed before midnight?

Monday: FHE - was the Spirit felt, even if just for a brief time?  
Sunday: Did we write in our family journal? Did I ask the kids all about what they learned in church today?

I will inevitably need to make adjustments, but it is a start.  And certainly some things on this list are more important than others, but I am trying to introduce an element of progress in there without overwhelming myself (hence only 10 minutes of exercise a day)! What do you think?  I am interested in suggestions, although obviously this is the type of thing that is highly personal.  The goal is to essentially determine what success means to you, and then focus on creating it by consistently doing the small and simple things to create it each day.  And even when a million things go undone that do need to be done (but that don’t determine your true progress as a human), you can avoid the ache of despair that sometimes accompanies such a day.  You will know that your day was, in fact, very much in line with your larger life goals - and recognize a genuinely successful day for what it is.  Is this not one one the most formidable challenges of motherhood!?  Please share any insights you may have on this topic!  How do you measure your success as a mother?