I wrote the following piece with the editorial help of an online magazine. After a couple rounds of working with my embarrassingly crude initial draft, the editors rejected it. I’ve never known why they put in so much work only to discard the results. In keeping with the content of the piece, the experience taught me a lot and revealed just how much I stand to learn in the arena of publishing my writing. That was over a year ago. Since then I’ve thought about the points that I was attempting to share with a twinge of regret since they never made it out into the world. In any given piece of writing, it is the content that matters more to me than other elements. Perhaps that puts me in the minority and will ensure that I never become more than someone who writes for merely personal gains. In the case of this piece, I recognize that the quality may not be great, but the points I was attempting to make were nonetheless important to me. Furthermore, I’ve had enough glimpses into others’ experiences to know that what I say here doesn’t just reflect my reality, but also that of other moms working their darnedest to balance their professional and parenting ambitions. Currently, I’m wrapping up another round of hard-won lessons in that very area, and my MFT reminded me that while I may have thought that I was working on a project based in this material world of ours, I was actually working on some spiritual growth. I’m always grateful to have the trusted insight of another person to help me put together the story of my life because it can be tricky to craft a version that leaves me with no regrets in spite of what I’d aptly describe as failures. I’m grateful to have this independent space in which to present a summary of that analysis that’s polished just enough for public viewing. There is real healing for me in that multi-staged reflective process. With that said, today is finally the day to stand by what I wrote, even if it’s not exactly what a couple editors deemed appropriate for their publication.
Since becoming a mom, relentless obstacles have been my daily routine. What had begun to feel like a continuous stream of suffering shifted into a discovery process as I figured out how to confront what challenged me. My process of reflection began in earnest when I realized that I was engaged in the unpleasantness of growing, and that the impetus for so much of what challenged me was the choices that I had made with respect to the very thing that I had wanted for so long, to be a mom. Once I was able to see that I had placed myself in each predicament expressly to learn and grow, I was empowered to do so. Along the way my understanding of the personal growth process deepened. I’ve gathered my principle insights, along with the strategies that either helped me discover them in the first place or to keep them in practice, into a list of notes to self. Because there will most certainly be a next time, and I’m hoping to make it through with a little more grace and a little less pressure.
Growth Note One: Hardship is a sign of hard work being done beneath the surface
Given that I often felt depressed and completely void of confidence in my early days of motherhood, it was no surprise that things in my life were not going too well. But beyond that simple cause and effect relationship, I came to see that there was more going on. I’m not sure that it’s important to extensively analyze our life’s circumstances, but I have come to see that it can be very helpful to remember that there is nearly always more at play than meets the eye. In the case of my foray into motherhood, I had built up a romanticized view of growth and parenting as principally positive experiences.
I was due for a reminder that growth is messy and painful. Only then could I enjoy a reinvigoration of my self-discovery process that reminded me of my own personal tendencies, namely that I’m something of a personal growth enthusiast. Once I realized that I was in the power seat, my sense of empowerment was primed to grow as I learned to fully inhabit the life I’d created for myself. I arrived at that clarity of understanding by continually changing my thought patterns around the situations that were frustrating to me. In short, I kept my mind moving. I have found that when my mind feels stuck, there is usually some other way to keep moving. Chores, taking a walk, running an errand, and visiting the park, have all been instrumental in shifting my perspective. In all likelihood, I got the idea to redirect myself from my son, and the non-stop pace of engagement that so typifies us in our early years. More often than not, he is with me when I’m feeling stuck and it turns out that he’s quite happy with a change of scenery too.
Growth Note Two: Change is Integral to Being a Parent
Becoming a parent initiated such a large degree of change in my life that it took me a while to get my bearings. Now that I have settled into my new identity as a mom, it seems so obvious that my struggles were par for the course, and that I could approach them with the same spirit of expansion that I’ve embodied throughout my life. Perhaps the enormity of the change that parenting brings is intrinsically disorienting, as to make us forget some of our most common strategies for responding to the circumstances of life. At this point, I’ve had enough fellow parents confirm my assessment to have established something of an expectation. Of course the content varies, but everybody tells me the same thing: your life will never be the same. Mostly I take this open-ended statement as a consolation and a reminder to be kind to myself. Whatever the inevitabilities of parenting are, we have a choice as to how we respond to them and I tend to think that kindness is a reliable guide.
Growth Note Three: Unlearned Lessons Get Repeated
I am enamored with the idea that through cycles of growth we are given multiple opportunities to work with our most private matters, the beliefs about ourselves and our place in the world that are so ingrained in our thinking that we are completely blind to them. Being eager to shed whatever keeps me from growing, I’m inclined to honor my subconscious and work to remove the blinders. It has become apparent to me that spending so much time with my son is a very effective means of doing this. By witnessing my son’s progression through the many stages of development, I’ve found a way of uncovering what lurks in the recesses of my mind. When I have a bout of what most of us would call negative thinking – feeling angry, defensive, anxious, argumentative, anything unpleasant – I’ve come to understand that a long forgotten memory is surfacing. That’s an invitation to take a little more time and care with myself in order to figure out what it is and how to address it. I believe that I have discovered and healed many personal wounds only because of the nearly constant companionship of my son, another person passing through the age at which I was originally wounded. No one else could trigger such insights because I’m not so close to any other person of his age. Given the intensity of practice I’ve had in the past couple years, it has become easier to identify the messages hidden in my emotions and to recognize the influence they wield even though they rarely come to the surface of my consciousness. I’ve come to embrace the unpleasant thoughts when they arise because I have learned how to deflate them once I am aware of them.
Growth Note Four: We Each Have Our Time
I’ve come to see our family of three as a continually expanding entity. Usually one of us is in the growth hot spot and that designates the rest of us to support roles. While we do indeed grow the most in the earliest days of our lives, that type of growth is distinct enough from the more intellectual rigors of adult growth that the two can occur simultaneously. Perhaps some divine design is at play, I have often marveled at how I could be tending to my son’s needs with apparent success while addressing my intense emotional ones. In a way, I feel that it has been to our benefit that I was equally engaged with my own personal work as he was with his, it seems to have given us each a space of our own in close proximity to each other. As I finally catch my stride and anticipate slightly smoother terrain ahead on my own path, it seems reasonable to expect that I will be more available to support my son as he takes on his own increasingly complicated challenges. My practice of self-care has served me well, so much so that it has become habitual and the foundation of my career. For me, self-reflection goes hand in hand with growing and having some space for that is essential.
Growth Note Five: We All Learn From Each Other
The general parenting idea that has yielded ongoing inspiration for me is the notion that we are all equal in the arena of learning. Just as my son learns from me, so do I from him. With respect to growing pains, little ones experience many: teething, the frustration at the slowness of the tongue in comparison to the quickness of the mind, the rage of disappointment when good ideas are not realized; and I am constantly reminding myself that growth and suffering are two sides of the same coin. In time I realized that my son’s growth experiences could serve as signposts to my own and that simply paying attention to what is happening with him can provide me with lots of learning opportunities. I cannot think of a better framework for learning than one of curiosity and enjoyment. And so it follows that the natural act of taking joy in my child’s company can set my learning in motion.
I’ve been a mother for a little under three years, and already I feel that I’ve undergone extensive transformation. I am currently enjoying a hard-won respite from the demanding lessons of recent years. In all aspects of my life, I seem to have progressed beyond what challenged me. I take this as validation of my interpretations, and a possible guarantee of future successes. I am now more comfortable with the reality that my continual expansion will bring me face to face with the inextricable pairings of challenge and triumph, anguish and joy. I’ve worked with these ideas enough now to have faith that the next time I’m overwhelmed by the mess and the pain of growing, the grace of a blessing is within my reach.