When I was four years old, I went to Junior Kindergarten. From there, I entered into first grade and eventually, completed eighth grade. I attended high school, and from there proceeded to jump into university. After completing a Bachelor of Arts in psychology, I began a two-year Master of Social Work program. My daughter, Lily was born approximately two and a half weeks after I walked across the stage to receive my Master of Social Work degree. With that slow waddle, I walked away from the only measure of success I had ever known – that is, success measured by how well I performed academically; success scored with a grade and pinned to the refrigerator.
When Lily was born, everything changed. There was no one patting me on the back when Lily reached her developmental milestones or slapping a big “A” on my refrigerator because I chose to make my own baby food. Regardless, I poured my whole self – my time, energy, love – into this child. I loved her through the newborn cuddles, teething cries, first foods, first steps, and into toddlerhood. I did it without any measure of success, minus the occasional coo or smile that made me feel like the luckiest mama in the world.
But as Lily grows, I find myself looking in all the wrong places for measures of success. (Ahem, Pinterest.) I find myself trying to put motherhood into a box, with detailed lists of how to run my life and the lives of my girls. I find myself with to-do lists a mile long, with aims of keeping a spotless house, making three healthy meals a day, achieving financial security by managing my family’s finances well, and so on. None of these aims are inherently bad, but I find myself feeling as though I have failed before I have even begun my day.
I have always been an overachiever, a perfectionist if you will. My parents tell me that when I was in elementary school, I would lay out my clothes on the floor in the shape of a person the night before I planned to wear them. I would even go so far as to tuck the socks into the bottom of my pants and lay a hairband where my hair would be. My desire for perfection has undoubtedly carried over into my marriage and duties as a mother. I often find myself with a picture in my mind of how things should be, only to realize that the picture in my mind is that of a perfect world. It’s what motherhood would look like if sin wasn’t a part of this world. The problem then, is that my aims for myself and my family are not attainable.
The other day, I was in the grocery store with my kids. I was trying to figure out what bacon was on sale while my baby screamed and my two-year old jumped up and down in the stroller demanding a treat. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a woman, noticeably pregnant, walking through the store with five children. That’s right. FIVE. And one on the way. My jaw dropped open and my mind began whirling: “How does she do it? How does she survive?” But the fact that she had five children with her was not what caught my attention. It was the realization that she had a smile on her face. Not a fake smile, or a smile to suggest that she was just trying to make it through the day, but a genuine smile that communicated love for her children and peace with her current situation. All the way home, I was thinking, I want to be like that. I want to be genuinely happy and at peace with my current situation.
But how? How can this overachieving, perfectionist mom find joy and peace in this make-your-own-schedule, measure-your-own-success life? How can there be joy in the snotty noses, in the diaper changes, in the third load of laundry today? And that’s when I see it.
This is precisely where the joy is. It’s in the cries for mother’s tender touch, it’s in the up-at-3 A.M. to feed the baby, it’s in the bedtime routine and the scabbed knees. For too long, I have scrutinized and looked to the lives of others, the cleanliness of my home, and the latest bank statement in the effort to measure my success as a wife and as a mother. And in doing so, I’ve missed the joy that has been right here all along. May you, this very day, be able to set aside worldly measures of success and look deep into the eyes of your children to see the joy that is yours for the taking.