As an insecure mother, I don't really know what I'm doing. It's a "learn-as-you-go" kind of thing and I feel like I'm failing. With two kids, it's required a lot more fails than wins to nail down my own particular brand of motherhood. It wasn't until I moved to a small community and was subsequently surrounded by great people — especially a mother of eight — that I started questioning my ways. Of all the things I've learned from a mom that parents differently than I do, the one I've implemented most is trying to let my kids be kids. Sounds easy enough, but with my anxiety, my brain fights it with abandon.
Due to my Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), which is described by the National Institute of Mental Health as "a common, chronic, and long-lasting disorder in which a person has uncontrollable, reoccurring thoughts (obsessions) and behaviors (compulsions)," I've battled germs, dirt, and schedules as long as I can remember. Some of it stems from my childhood, and some from the way suffering through postpartum depression (PPD) changed me. My brain is constantly fighting with itself when it comes to letting my kids do what their friends are doing, instead of keeping them within my regimented bounds. I feel guilty, but simultaneously can't seem to change any part of it (even through multiple therapies).
Living where we currently do, I've had the distinct pleasure of getting to know a lovely family next door. The mother is someone my partner went to school with years ago (part of living in a small town) and, honestly, one of the greatest women I've ever met. When we first moved in, I was reluctant to let my guard down for anyone. I'd just had my son (he was 6 months old at the time), and lived a private, secluded life I was quite content in. Working from home while my partner worked long shifts meant it was me and my kids, on my schedule, with my routines. It was a breeding zone for my OCD and is still something I struggle through.
We settled into this new house, one full of memories from families past, and this amazing family of 10 gradually pulled me from my shell. Each one of them, for different reasons, are significant to my growth as a mother over the last five years. While this matriarch and I have much in common, I'm in complete awe of how she makes motherhood (and life in general) look so effortless and full.
Needless to say, I've learned a lot watching her over the years and I'm grateful for every lesson she's shown through action. Here are some of the parenting techniques I'll take with me, wherever I go, because everything she represents is forever apart of me. The best way to say "thank you" is to implement these lessons with my own life.
Let Kids Be Kids
I wish my kids could do things their friends do, but laying outside, getting dirty, and making messes all trigger my anxiety. It's not fair, I know, and in watching the mother next door, I've learned how important a child's care-free days truly are. Having a bumpy childhood where things were continually unsettled, I don't really know what "care-free" means. I forget my kids deserve to run around the yard, laughing, playing, and getting into (innocent) trouble. They deserve to spend their days hanging out with buddies or drawing with sidewalk chalk, riding bikes and every damn thing my anxiety steals from them.
For so long (and even still), I fight allowing them to do these things for no logical reason other than it elevates my anxiety. It's selfish and all-consuming. Maybe it's fear of something happening to them, someone getting hurt, or just plain fear of letting them grow up without me. Regardless, when I look out my window, I see any number of my friend's beautiful children, happily living life just the way kids should do.
Routines Don't Have To Be So Rigid To Work
My life revolves around schedules and routines. They're often stringent in order to feed my OCD and calm my anxiety (which is ironic since it sometimes makes it worse). My kids don't know any different because to them, I'm just "Mom." However, the times my daughter is invited over to play with her best friend — the neighbor's daughter — they may do things differently. They may eat later, play outside longer, and live freely.
I only realize the discomfort of our lives when my daughter returns, bragging of the greatness she feels from being inside their house. They let her be free, just as she should be at 10. While I can't as easily let go of my need to stay on task, I admire this family's ability to let life take them wherever, whenever.
The Outside World Doesn't Have To Be Scary
Just as I fear letting my kids play outside for any extended period, I'm pretty much afraid of everything, everywhere. I was raised in a paranoid home where it was instilled in me that danger was always near. I've learned to hide from the world, inside the safety of our walls, where there's not a lot of living going on. My kids feel the effects of this. When I deny them the right to go somewhere, I feel so guilty and so inadequate.
Next door, this wonderful family is always coming or going and at times I daydream about what that feels like. To sit alongside them and experience life through their eyes. As content as they appear, it forces me to reevaluate the way I love my life and the ways I wish to change it.
Breastfeeding Can Work Despite Troubles
I've mentioned my breastfeeding struggles. I attempted with my firstborn, but was quickly too frustrated to continue. I was too anxious, battling severe postpartum depression, and didn't stick it out because it interfered with our bonding process. I didn't even attempt with my son because I had such a strong, negative reaction to breastfeeding the first time around. My darling neighbor has breastfed all her babies. She hasn't always had an easy time, and I know there've been issues with milk supply and mastitis, but bless her heart, she kept at it.
While so different than the way I fed my children, she taught me what it means to follow through, despite hardship. It's not uncommon to see her holding her youngest to feed and every time, I feel that pang of regret for not trying just a little bit longer. Maybe it's because she makes it look so easy or maybe I'm realizing I want to be just a little more like her when I grow up.
Family Is The Most Important Thing
With such a large family (and bred from a large family herself), my friend reiterates what priorities are. Of course this isn't all that different than the way I parent, it's just on another level. She lives and breathes family whereas I've let my anxiety and insecurity strip me of important moments too many times.
I live a state away from my extended family, so without my partner and children, I'm alone. When I think of what a family looks like, it's my neighbors and all the love that encompasses them. They are what I only hope mine can be, someday.
It's OK To Let People In
It's probably clear by now, but I'm a master at isolation. Being introverted, creative, and skeptical all at once, it's not often I make new friends or tell a stranger my life story (except through the grace of writing). I even have difficulty letting my partner in when he's had a long work week. It's part of the coping mechanisms I learned growing up between divorced parents and something that's grown in strength through my adult years. Honestly, it's really lonely. However, next door there's always someone stopping by or visiting. This family has a lot of people who care about them and it's because they do the same to others, in return.
Clearly, I've backed myself into a corner I can't find my way out of. I hadn't realized how isolated I'd become until late in the summer of 2014. I'd just had a breakdown and sought drastic treatment for my mental health. I wasn't sure how to talk to people I knew about it, so instead, I wrote on my blog. It wasn't a few minutes after pressing "publish" did my neighbor run over to give me a hug, something I didn't know I needed so badly. I spend my whole life living inside my head (even with a loving partner and kids), but when I look at her, I see the importance of opening up and allowing others to care about you.
Forgiveness And Grace Go A Long Way
I'm not very forgiving of myself. As a mother, I feel like I'm failing at some part of the job nearly every day. Watching my friend parent the way she does has taught me what it means to find the grace to forgive yourself when motherhood feels like the hardest thing (because it often is). I know she has hard days, too, and yet, unlike me, she dusts herself off and finds a way to get through while I spend far too much time wallowing and questioning.
She and I may not parent the exact same way (what two mothers do?), but with all I've learned from her ways, and all the other mothers who do things differently than me, that's a good thing. Seeing things from other perspectives is the only way to evolve. Thank you, friend, for helping me grow into the kind of mother I've always wanted to be. A mother like you.