“You always say that, Mom. Maybe you should write a list.” Smiling and nodding my head, I thought to myself, “You’re absolutely right. I wish I was the kind of mom who remembered to make lists.”
It’s one thing to forget you’re almost out of dog food, burn a few cupcakes or misplace a permission slip. (What? You’ve never gotten a text from your son’s teacher as the class is boarding the bus to the zoo?) These inevitable lapses are easily forgiven and fast forgotten in the busy world of modern parenting. As hard as I can be on myself, no one has ever died from being a few minutes late to swim practice or wearing an unwashed uniform. Recently, however, during an insightful conversation with a writer friend, I began to realize just how often I completely blank out about something much more important than any of these things. At least once a day, I forget who I am.
How does this happen? For me, an acute bout of this “Loss of Self” pseudo-amnesia starts something like this: My foot sticks to the kitchen floor, and I realize it’s been a while since I’ve scrubbed any surface in the entire house. Guilt over sticky floors quickly turns into a mental checklist of all of the domestic skills that I do not naturally excel at or enjoy (think cooking, cleaning and everything in between). Then I immediately envision the clean floors of all the other moms in America, especially the ones who manage to get their clean, well-fed kids to baseball practice on time. See where this is going?
When my kids were younger, I spent years wishing I was the kind of person who felt deeply satisfied by the sight of vacuum lines on a living room carpet. Eventually, I found myself sitting in a therapist’s office, trying to figure out why I felt so overwhelmed and unhappy in spite of my seemingly wonderful life. The simple answer is that being home all day and managing the tasks of a household is someone else’s wonderful life. It’s not mine. I’m not ever going to be the person who keeps her house “company ready” on a regular basis. I was not created to be that person—and the world needs my strengths and unique gifts as much as it needs everyone else’s. It’s my job to remember that. Chances are, there are plenty of women with well-kept houses who wish they could “let go” and “relax a little more”—we need them too. One mom’s clean countertop is another person’s messy craft table. Anxiety doesn’t come from doing things that naturally relax and fulfill us—it comes from forgetting who we are inside, and not listening to the quiet inner voice that already knows what we need.
For almost ten years, I tried to make marriage and motherhood fill me up inside. I mistakenly assumed that when life at home felt unmanageable, it was because I was doing too much. Kids were the obvious priority, so I gradually cut back on all of my personal and professional commitments—imagining that a simpler life was the key to inner peace and domestic bliss. This didn’t work, of course. One cold February day a few years ago, the only thing I had to do was get a 3-year-old child to swim class. That is all. I managed to get her there on time and half-way undressed in the locker room, when I reached inside the swim bag to find nothing but a hairbrush and a towel. I’m pretty sure it would be less painful to have a root canal without Novocain, than it was telling my naked toddler she couldn’t get in the pool as her classmates lined up next to the teacher. No swimming for Lauren that day, but plenty of self-flagellation for Mom.
Looking back now, it’s easy to see that the simpler my life became, the more depressed and anxious I was feeling. I also learned that the amount of free time in my day has zero positive correlation to the amount of housework I get done. Obviously, this isn’t true for everyone, and hopefully it doesn’t take ten years for most people to realize if/when they are chasing the wrong goal. But the influence of culture, society and neighborhood play groups are all powerful forces, and the sound of our true inner voice is increasingly difficult to discern. Somehow, it becomes easier to focus on who we want to be or who we think we should be than to recognize and celebrate who we really are.
If your inner dialogue sounds more like a bully than a friend, chances are you’re listening to the wrong soundtrack. Our true inner voice might be painfully honest and difficult to hear at times, but she is never mean. Please remember that. If you are prone to forgetting, like me, then maybe it’s time to follow Lauren’s gentle advice and make a list of the important things we need to remember. Not a grocery list or a To Do list—we need to write a “List of Me.” Ask yourself: What do I love to do? When do I feel most at peace? What lights me up inside? What makes me smile? What are my natural talents and gifts? These are the qualities and activities that we need to give our utmost time and attention, because when we honor and nourish our true self, the rest will fall into place. I promise. There’s no room on “The List of Me” for anything negative, or anything we wish we could be. And chances are the list will change over time, as people generally do. Let someone else be/feel/do the things that don’t belong on your list. And then your only job is to live the list. Each moment, as we decide what is the next right thing, or the best use of our time, we can ask ourselves the question, “Now what am I here for?” and we will always know right where to look for the answer.
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