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The beauty of giving up

February 1, 2011

It’s all fun and games until the flying monkeys attack.

When the kids were 6, 4, and not quite born, I gave up. It was one of the most important, life-changing things I’ve done as a mother.

We lived in Oregon at the time, far from family support. My husband was underemployed (a constant state of being for him) and I was pregnant with our third child. The older two were 6 and 4 and home with me more often than not. Considering our relative poverty and lack of familial support for two active kids (and then two active kids and their infant sister) I lived in a state of near-constant anxiety, stress, and frustration. All day long I tried to stem the tides of chaos that rolled over me. All day long I fought with my reality and struggled desperately for Zen.

I wrote about it a couple of years ago, so I won’t repeat myself too much here. But I would like to elaborate on that stressful situation by saying that my then-husband was an alcoholic, though I didn’t completely know nor want to know that at the time. Despite denial, his drinking, and the emotional distance that came with it, exacerbated the stress that pervaded our household.

Regardless, our days in Oregon taught me so much, and later I would realize that the stress, frustration, constant chaos, and lack of support offered me a wonderful opportunity to let go.

Granted, that was the last thing I wanted to do, at the time.

My kids were tiny despots who spent most of their waking hours rushing about either naked or only partially dressed spreading their toys liberally from wall to wall with wild abandon. Mired in this koyaanisqatsi was me, and at nine+ months pregnant, I was planetary. Everything I believed about gestating and birthing was being put to the test by the defiant little resident in my belly who refused to come out. She lingered happily for 11 extra days, before making a protracted entrance one hot morning in late August and adding to the general din I was soaking in.

The noise level increased. Dinners became near impossible to prepare. Going out was….forget it. I didn’t set foot out of the house past dark in months. And my husband worked nights. I was it, and I was outnumbered.

Under duress, I slowly began to realize that there is something strangely fulfilling about running up against one’s boundaries over and over. Though I didn’t always appreciate the lessons in the moment, I eventually came to understand them for what they were–an opportunity to grow past my own perceptions.

I learned that I could choose a different reaction to a given situation…and change the outcome entirely.

I learned that speaking softly (sans the big stick) was more powerful than yelling.

I learned that plastic spiders in my neatly raked Zen sand garden did not sever the last thread of my sanity. Not really.

I learned that having the kids sit down on the stairs for five minutes when they were fighting wasn’t the worst thing that could happen to them…and that it offered me a few quiet moments to choose a new reaction to the situation.

I learned that when the 4 year-old bites the 6 year-old on the nose–hard–during a mandated quiet moment on the step, it’s best to have them choose separate steps to rest on. Next time.

I learned that I didn’t have to threaten…didn’t have to cajole….didn’t have to plead for my kids to do something. I just needed to do what I required of them during every interaction: ask nicely. Of course, I also had to build in some transition time, offer direction where necessary, and hold a reasonable expectation for them to succeed.

I learned that this last point–holding a reasonable expectation for them to succeed–was the cornerstone of motivation, and that it didn’t need to be indulgent nor limiting.

I learned that I needed to step away, sometimes, to nurture myself. When Chiara was tiny, I’d rise early after nursing her….tiptoe out into the house as the thin dawn light was sifting through the living room curtains, and in the gentle hush of morning settle myself at my desk for an hour or so of uninterrupted writing time.

And little by little, I gave up. I decided to pick my battles, as it were, and stop fighting against every nuance of my reality. Little by little I began to relax.

Interestingly enough, so did the kids.

A side effect of this letting go was the rather sudden realization that I was mostly immune to the guilt-inducing judgment I’d sometimes endured from other mothers. Sometimes the judgment was silent. It was in a glance….or the way another mom at the park took perfectly packed snacks out of her $250 diaper bag shortly after I pulled open a Ziploc of mostly broken goldfish. In the eyes of the other moms I hung out with I was mostly doing everything “right,” but there was always something to measure myself against. I breastfed, cloth diapered, co-slept, and responded to my babies immediately. I even tried babywearing for a while. So I wasn’t judged for these things, of course, since I wasn’t alone in doing them, but I could still feel that judgmental gaze from time to time. And when I did I let it sink in a little, examined it, rolled it over in my mind…and came up with this:

Judgment is stupid.

Nobody walks in my shoes but me. I walk in nobody’s shoes but mine. I don’t, nor should I have to, agree with choosing bottles over breast, for instance, but it’s none of my business what other mothers do with their babies. One of my very best friends bottlefed her first child and was judged harshly for it–often without the benefit of people trying to understand her situation and offer her support. Turns out, she had no good breastfeeding guidance and her baby never latched correctly. She was mortified, depressed, and deeply wounded that she couldn’t make it work, and all of that was exacerbated by the judgment that was heaped on her. Judgment that didn’t help anyone.

Judgment polarizes. Judgment creates disconnect. Judgment hurts human relationships.

That doesn’t mean I don’t feel passionately that breastfeeding is the best choice…I do believe that is true, for a host of reasons I won’t detail here. But that’s part of the beauty of choosing non-judgment–I don’t have to give up or justify my ideals and I don’t have to try to make you share them! What could be more liberating than that?

It’s not an easy thing to accomplish, for it’s far easier to see oneself, and one’s values, reflected in the world. But damn, it sure is a liberating one.

I would encourage every mother to give up….just a little. Let go. Let the chaos spill over you and through you and laugh. Laugh until you cry.

And if someone judges you, silently or not, just look them straight in the eye and smile. Just….smile. Smile and change the subject, if you have to or want to….but keep smiling.

And give up caring what they think anyway. 🙂

Giving up was one of the best things I have ever done, and best of all….it brought me closer to my kids. And myself.

Tomorrow or Thursday: The importance of maintaining connection with kids and…a horror story.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. February 2, 2011 1:08 am

    Another great post. I’m in the early stages of a letting-go phase and it feels marvellous, and you’re right everythin is falling into place. I also agree about the judgment – it is extremely disconnecting, and I think says more about the judger than the judgee. (I think I just invented that word!)

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