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Today, as I was leaving a place full of crowded people, my two-year old threw a tantrum. (As two-year olds are prone to do from time to time.) I emptied my stuff-filled arms. It seems that my hands are always full these days, especially in the middle of the crazy. I had to put down what I was holding onto so that I could pick up my distressed daughter and hold her. I whispered calmly into her ear, and we walked out together.
Now–it doesn’t always happen this way. To be honest, I totally had an internal meltdown while dealing with my daughter’s very public meltdown. Thoughts like these were among the hurricane of words in my mind:
Everyone is staring at me.
What in the world do I do?
Why do I have so much stuff?
What does she need right now?
This is so very embarrassing.
Let me tell you, nothing shatters your pride like motherhood. Especially when you are tasked to handle a tantrum in the middle of a crowd of people. If you are type who cares nothing of what others think, by all means teach me your ways and I will take notes. I admit that I care very much, probably a bit too much about what others think at times. I worry about being judged, as if any of the witnesses knows anything about me or my kids and has the power to validate me as a parent. Seems I have quite a bit of pride that needs shattering.
When I say pride, I’m not talking about a healthy sense of self-esteem. I’m talking about the feeling that makes you put up walls for fear of humiliation and rejection. I mean the feeling that puts up those walls to keep out shame, but actually obstructs connection and intimacy with others. The truth is, what other people think of me is none of my business. There is no possible way to know what they are thinking, and even if I could–that knowledge would in no way improve my quality of life or parenting.
The whole tantrum situation made me realize there are a few heavy things I’ve been carrying for a while that need to be let go, so that I can grasp what matters most.
The need for perfection.
I am a perfectionist by nature. Some people are hard-driven toward perfectionism during childhood, and some are just hard-wired that way. I am the latter. I was the straight-A student who needed to be the best at everything she attempted. There is nothing wrong with achievement, as long as we remember that we are more than what we do. By the time I became a mother, I realized that perfectionism wasn’t serving me, but it took years for me to be ready to let it go. To be honest, I am still a work in progress. When you hold yourself to super-high standards, it is difficult not to impose those standards on all of your relationships. If there is no grace within a relationship, there can be no intimacy. If you are disappointed when things are not perfect, who would feel safe enough to share the less-than-perfect tidbits? Healthy relationships are built on trust and connection thrives on the ability to be vulnerable. Some of the most amazing moments happen at the least opportune times. Sometimes they even inspire a blog post. See what I did there?
The need for validation.
Who doesn’t want to hear “you look great” or “you’re such a good mom”? Especially after dealing with tantrums and sickness and diaper blowouts, as well as the other not-so-glamorous moments. When I quit my job to become a stay at home mother, I struggled with the fact that there were no parameters to determine whether I was actually good at this full-time mom gig. When your self-worth is wrapped up in achievement, it is tempting to find validation in your child’s good behavior and success. There are so many times when I feel like the work I am doing does not matter because most of it is unseen.
Children are not raised by accident. Parenting takes a lot of intentionality and consistency, especially in the most eye roll-inducing, mundane daily moments. To be honest, it can be pretty freaking exhausting. Someone once said (about childhood) that “the days are long but the years are short.” This is so true. I have four children. They are generally well-behaved, but at any given moment, at least one of them could have me out in the streets looking stupid. Especially when I have to scrape the screaming two-year old off of the ground and people are asking if everything is okay. Or the child with social anxiety runs through the mall screaming because he spent too much time around tons of people that day. I almost didn’t type that part, but look at me—being vulnerable and practicing what I preach here. Can I get a high five?
The need for control.
When I think of someone who needs control, I see a stern, austere, dictator type. And that is not me. But when I take a deeper look, my schedule tells another story. My reaction to change and embarrassment tells another story. The secret addiction I’m holding onto tells another story. Even the slightest effort to manage others’ perceptions of us is a telltale sign that we fear losing control. We keep calm and carry on so that we don’t look like a basket case. We take on more than we can handle so that we can prove we are capable. We make sure our kids behave in public and brag about their achievements so that we will be seen as good parents. We hide our flaws behind concealer, filters, and closed doors so that no one will judge us.
If no one can judge me, does that mean no one can see me either? If no one can see me, how do I reach the connection that we’re all craving, deep down?
A great resource for anxiety and perfectionism is The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown, Ph.D. This book has helped me to let go of some heavy things so I can deepen my relationships. If you could use a little help in the vulnerability department, I think you will enjoy this book.
What are you carrying during this season of life that is begging to be put down? I would love to share together in the comments!
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