Category Archives: Fulfillment

Motherhood shouldn’t just be a drudgery. Find fulfillment in your most important calling–mother.

Can you spend too much time with your kids?

Real Simple magazine recently reported that as of 2010, mothers (working and SAHMs) spend an average of fourteen hours a week on childcare—up from ten hours a week in 1965.

To which I say, um, what?

I realize I might be in the most time-intensive phase of parenting right now, where I still have young children at home, but I spend nearly fourteen hours a day with my children. And even if I my children were older and I were working, I would still have at least four hours a day in their presence on weekdays, and at least that on weekends.

I’m guessing (slash hoping) “child care” here means more than just “spending time with your child,” since I also have a hard time imagining mothers in 1965 shunting their children off for all but 85 minutes a day. I’m not “caring” for my children every single second of the day, but I’m still mothering them, whether the TV is on, whether they’re playing in the backyard, whether I’m on the computer—I’m on the clock, doling out food and punishments and advice. (So how is that not child care?)

But according to the Real Simple article, even two hours a day of caring for your own children is too much:

One study suggested that children who are the center of their parents’ universes may grow up to become more neurotic adolescents. The Free Range Kids movement, started by author Lenore Skenazy, has gained traction by advocating for unstructured and less-supervised play. Elisabeth Badinter, author of The Conflict, suggests that motherhood need not be a full-time profession. “Some parents believe that a good mother puts her child’s needs before everything else—and that’s not healthy,” says Badinter. Nor does it make us the best role models. After all, if our ultimate goal is to have our kids find personal fulfillment, perhaps we should lead by example: By putting ourselves at the top of our own to-do lists.

Wait, seriously? Somehow we’re saying that spending more than an hour and a half a day caring for your child is not only making them the center of your universe and putting yourself last, but also creating neuroses and makes us bad role models?

I think we’re conflating several very different things: taking care of our children, spending time with them and not making ourselves a priority. A very young child will not be able to tell the difference, but I would hope that an adult could. The difference isn’t something you measure in minutes: it’s measured in a mother’s mindset.

Yes, my children are my top priority and the biggest segment of my day right now. Honestly, whether you’re working or staying at home—heck, whether your children are infants or adults—if your child really needed you, would you say, “Oh, honey, I’m having my me time. I’ll help you with that impending peril/broken arm/unplanned pregnancy during your allotted two hours”? Is that really the way to be a good example of personal fulfillment?

Yes, we want our children to find personal fulfillment, and (obviously, I hope) we all want to find that ourselves. HOWEVER, I personally feel that exemplifying personal nirvana isn’t the main goal of full-time parenting. I have taken charge of my children’s formative years because I want to teach them the most important things in life—how to treat other people, the way to find true happiness (hint: it’s not by focusing only on yourself!), and the things we believe that will take them there—and that’s important enough to me to be willing to put in the time necessary to accomplish it.

A mother finding fulfillment in motherhood—in life—can put herself neither first nor last. Her children’s needs will come before hers quite regularly because she recognizes the level of commitment motherhood warrants, but she’s not going to forgo all meals until her children are independent, successful and grown.

She does model someone who sets personal goals, always learning, and devotes personal time to her own sanity and development. But she manages to do that in a very careful balance, managing her priorities and most of all her children and their physical and emotional needs. And importantly (to me), she looks for that personal fulfillment in the time she spends with (and caring for) her children, too. It is never easy, but it is worth it.

What do you think? What’s the difference between spending time with your children and “child care”? Can you spend too much time with your children?

Photo credits: watching timer—me!; multitasking dad—Henrik Betnér

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Mother’s Day: do you measure up?

(Hint: the answer is probably YES!)

In our church, we have members of the congregation testify and preach to us each week. The leadership of the congregation gives the speakers their topics in advance. These assignments are often a little terrifying (unless you’re a member of my family, I guess), but today of all days, the assignment to speak can be fraught with peril. I know because I have spoken on Mother’s Day FIVE times (you can read the last time here).

It seems there’s just no good way to address everyone in the congregation on this day. The emphasis on motherhood can break the hearts of the childless. Those who did not have a good relationship with their mothers are reminded of their open wounds. And often extolling the virtues of mothers only succeeds in reminding the mothers in the congregation how short they fall of that standard of perfection.

(Forgoing talks on the subject altogether is a special kind of sin in my opinion, and quite possibly the most offensive alternative.)

This year, our leadership was inspired as the made the assignments. Not only were our speakers very good, but the article they were given as a subject was absolutely perfect. The article, “Look Up” by Elder Carl B. Cook, appeared in the January 2012 Ensign magazine.

In the article, Elder Cook talks about when he was called to serve as a missionary to Germany. Missionary calls in our church are different from those in many other churches: the leadership of the church decides where each worthy applicant is assigned for his/her/their service. So Elder Cook didn’t pick Germany out of any great love for the people or the language; someone he’d never met was guided by the Lord to assign him to Germany.

At the beginning of his two-year mission, Elder Cook attended the Language Training Mission (now replaced by the Missionary Training Center) to learn German. Many missionaries are blessed with the gift of tongues as they learn their mission languages—but some, like Elder Cook, are not. He struggled with German and felt he was falling further and further behind his classmates. Finally, one day, he sought the Lord in desperate prayer for help to learn the language. Says Elder Cook (with my emphasis):

The Lord answered that prayer. I felt this thought come into my mind: “I never called you to master the German language. I just called you to serve with all of your heart, mind, and strength.

Sometimes, as mothers, we feel we’re called to raise perfect children—and they have to be perfect by the time they’re 5. It’s so easy for us to look at other families and how well behaved their children are, or how well they get along, or how well they dress, even, and feel like we’re falling short.

But that’s a deep, deep mistake. As mothers, we’re called to build our children into good people, and that will be the effort of our lifetimes. We have a lot to teach them, but every child learns at his or her own pace. As long as we strive to love and teach our children with all of our efforts, we are doing enough.

Elder Cook continues (emphasis mine):

I immediately thought, “I can do that. I can serve with all of my heart, mind, and strength. If that’s what the Lord has called me to do, I can do that.” I stood up feeling tremendously relieved.

From that point on, my measuring stick changed. I no longer gauged my progress and success against that of my companion or other members of my district. Instead, I focused on how the Lord felt I was doing. Instead of looking to the side to compare myself to others, I began to look up, so to speak, to know what He thought of my efforts.

I don’t know that I learned the language much faster or much better from that point on, but I no longer felt the concerns I once had. I knew what the Lord wanted me to do, and it was in my power to do it.

And that’s a message anybody can learn from—and love.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Photo by Tatsuo Iwata

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Motherhood in perspective

A repeat of an oldie but goodie, from the days when I had only one child!

When something goes wrong for Hayden, he sometimes has a tendency to overreact. I take away his current play thing, he screams. The ribbon from his balloon gets caught in his toes, he squeals and kicks. We try to see if he has any new molars, he arches his back, struggles and wails.

I’ve called him a bit of a drama “king” before. But really, I don’t expect anything different from someone who has no outlets or resources to draw upon when he’s frustrated. I also don’t expect anything different from a child of mine. I’m hardly any better than Hayden at handling my frustrations, despite decades of knowing better.

I’m trying to help Hayden learn other ways to deal with his frustration, even though they can’t really help him right now (things like, “You don’t have to scream, you can ask for help.”).

But really, both of our frustrations come from the same problem. It’s a larger problem than simple impatience. For me, it’s as if I develop tunnel vision. I can’t think of anything else in the world other than this insignificant thing. I always say, “I just expect things to work right.” And it’s true, I get frustrated when something doesn’t work as expected.

But really, my problem is that, for those moments at least, I lack perspective. Hayden isn’t old enough or experienced enough to see the big picture, but I should at least be developing that ability.

Perspective is often difficult to obtain. Sometimes one of the most difficult things to put into perspective is the big picture. For example, I know that in the big picture, I’m a mother. But what does being a mother mean?

The perspective that we’re given today says that motherhood doesn’t mean a ton. Darren Rowse at ProBlogger wrote an equation this week that struck me:

Personal Worth = What You Achieve + What Others Think of You

He was speaking in the context of blogging, of course, but acknowledged that his thoughts applied to other spheres. He continues:

The problem with this equation is that in every sphere of life (especially blogging) it is very difficult to live up to this equation. There are times in all of our lives where we fail or fall short of what we set out to achieve and where other people’s opinion of us are not high.

Rating our worth as a person in this way can be a trap and as bloggers it can be an easy one to fall into.

On a good day where traffic is up, people are saying nice things, all the blog ranking tools rate us highly and we’re getting good press it’s easy to be on top of the world – but when it all falls in a heap the lows can be very low if we tie our personal worth to how our blog performs.

Personal worth comes from something deeper than what you do (or fail to do) and what others think of you. I won’t push my own opinions of where this worth comes from (for me it’s tied to my spirituality) – however I encourage bloggers to do some realigning and gaining of perspective in this area.

Fulfillment, which today I’ll define as contentment with your assessment of your personal worth, doesn’t come from external factors. If we continually rely on others to give us fulfillment, we’ll find ourselves emptier than before.

Like Darren, my personal worth, my contentment with my role as a mother, comes from my spirituality (I’ve expounded on those beliefs recently). For me, my spirituality is one way of internalizing the big picture.

The big picture is that mothers matter. The big picture is that the greatest impact my life will create will probably not be the great American novel, even if I do write that novel. The big picture is that the most important thing that I can do with my life is to raise my son to be a good person.

I still struggle with the day to day frustrations, but keeping motherhood in perspective keeps me grounded. It helps me to recognize my personal worth. It doesn’t come from awards or professional achievements. It comes from recognizing the importance of tiny triumphs.

And for Hayden�and for me�a day without frustration would be a triumph indeed.

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A contributing member of society

A blast from the past here on MamaBlogga

gilbert_keith_chesterton2We’re often told raising our children isn’t enough: we should be “productive.” We should have “real jobs.” Strangers ask us to justify raising our children when we’ve obtained higher learning. We should “contribute to society.” I promised you a rant on how nothing contributes more to society than raising children will, but lovely guest blogger G.K. Chesterton (at right) has taken that up for me.

He was way ahead of his time, you know. I mean, the man died seventy years ago, and he had the foresight to write this post for me. Okay, okay, so really this is just a long quotation. Emphasis, images and paragraphs breaks added.

Woman is generally shut up in a house with a human being at the time when he asks all the questions that there are, and some that there aren’t. It would be odd if she retained any of the narrowness of a specialist.

Now if anyone says that this duty of general enlightenment (even when freed from modern rules and hours, and exercised more spontaneously by a more protected person) is in itself too exacting and oppressive, I can understand the view. I can only answer that our race has thought it worth while to cast this burden on women in order to keep common-sense in the world.

But when people begin to talk about this domestic duty as not merely difficult but trivial and dreary, I simply give up the question. To be Queen Elizabeth within a definite area, deciding sales, banquets, labors and holidays; to be Whiteley within a certain area, teaching morals, manners, theology, and hygiene; I can understand how this might exhaust the mind, but I cannot imagine how it could narrow it.

globeHow can it be a large career to tell other people’s children about the Rule of Three, and a small career to tell one’s own children about the Universe? How can it be broad to be the same thing to everyone, and narrow to be everything to someone? No; a woman’s function is laborious, because it is gigantic, not because it is minute.

G. K. Chesterton, What’s Wrong with the World, p 118-119

Thanks, G.K.! (Note that this is taken slightly out of context, but seriously, it’s a lot better this way. Don’t bother reading the stuff that comes before or after it; it’s not quite so “enlightened.”)

Photo credits: question mark—Svilen Mushkatov; globe—Sanja Gjenero

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Measuring your life

Every once in a while, we pause and take a look at our life, wondering how others might remember us, taking stock of what we’ve accomplished. We’ll think of our degrees and our jobs and our accomplishments. But a friend recently quoted a story in church that made me think a little deeper.

When Clayton M. Christensen was diagnosed with cancer, he had one of those life-measuring moments. He was a Rhodes Scholar, the Kim B. Clark Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School, the originator of an important theory in business and marketing, a White House Fellow and a sought-after consultant. He had a lot of occupational accolades he could feel proud of—but he also had the wisdom to use the right yardstick to measure his life (emphasis added):

I have a pretty clear idea of how my ideas have generated enormous revenue for companies that have used my research; I know I’ve had a substantial impact. But as I’ve confronted this disease, it’s been interesting to see how unimportant that impact is to me now. I’ve concluded that the metric by which God will assess my life isn’t dollars but the individual people whose lives I’ve touched.

I think that’s the way it will work for us all. Don’t worry about the level of individual prominence you have achieved; worry about the individuals you have helped become better people. This is my final recommendation: Think about the metric by which your life will be judged, and make a resolution to live every day so that in the end, your life will be judged a success.

There are a lot of great insights in the full article, which was originally a speech given at the Harvard Business School, and next month will be published (expanded, of course) as a book, How Will You Measure Your Life?.

But when my friend shared that thought in church, I instantly thought about not just friends and neighbors whose lives I hope I’ve touched, but the people who are the most important part of my life: my family. As a mom, my top priority is helping these individuals become better people. And as long as I remember to do that, I think it doesn’t matter what measuring stick anyone else uses: I will have done the most good, earned the biggest achievements and enjoyed the most success that anyone can hope for.

What do you think? What does this quote mean for you?

Photo by Vitor Antunes

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Easter (and cute things Rebecca says)

Rebecca is pretty dang cute—and she’s the reigning Princess of Precociousness around here. Her latest cute saying:

“Mommy, can I p’ay a game with you? Wike ‘Who Can Hide Da Most’?”

“Ah, my c’ean, wef’essing waday.” [Water]

We visited the St. George LDS Temple this week, and Rebecca was talking with one of the missionaries. He asked her why she thought the Christus statue had his hands outstretched. She replied, “I dunno. Mayme he’s a angel or sumping?”

Her first talk in the children’s Sunday School (“Primary”) was this week—she did great!

(Okay, this is from Easter, but she mentioned it in her talk!)

The Easter Bunny remembered how in years past, Peeps have not been very popular with my kids. Fortunately, the Easter Bunny (well, the EB’s mom) erred on the side of caution, and pink Peeps garnished their baskets Easter morning. Rebecca promptly bit their heads off:

Ate them, and then asked for “Mowe ‘mingos?”

“Mingos?”

F’amingos.”

Flamingos, folks. And last night, she proclaimed “Fuh-fuh-f’amingos stawt de same aw Fuh-fuh-F’ancesco!

True.

Christus statue photo by arbyreed

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