The other day I was taking a walk with my almost 2-year-old, Lucy while wearing a sleeping Baby Gwen. The September sky was deep blue through the pines and the wind was blowing away the corners of the oppressive blanket of Florida heat. Lucy was carefully choosing spots to sit down on the nature trail and let the sand run through her fingers. She found leaves, flowers, and butterflies and asked me about them. Sometimes she would just breathe deep and smile.
But you know what I was doing? I was crossing things off of a mental checklist of parenting productivity. “Every minute needs to count for something,” my brain was telling me.
Outside Time — sensory experience, good for brain development. Check!
Nature Study — early learning about botany and zoology. Check!
Exercise — crucial for childhood health. Check!
And it felt so wrong. “Why am I trying to account for every minute? Why am I viewing motherhood as one big checklist? I don’t want to be like this,” I thought.
I’ve been pondering this for the past few days. Why this shift in how I view mothering? Why this pressure?
Then I read this fabulous article by a professor from my alma mater that helped me sort out my confusion about my perspective.
There’s a strain of thinking about homemaking that comes from the misconception that mothering should be treated like a professional career. But mothering is incredibly different and being a SAHM after performance-based academic study was a huge adjustment for me. There is no “end” to the project of motherhood, and no grade to bolster me.
I struggle with my “people pleaser” personality which thrived in an academic setting. I could re-read the complimentary notes a professor penned on the back of my most recent essay. Any negative feedback was black and white and offered a clear path to doing even better next time. I could swell with pride because so-and-so offered to write me a grad school recommendation. It all made me feel productive, special, important.
As you can see, it wasn’t the best environment for my soul which might be why God intervened and moved me onto a different path after the birth of our son. (Let me be clear, academic life is a great path for some women and I applaud them for using their talents to do what God created them to pursue.)
But it’s not just academia that has this sort of performance mentality. It’s any career path, right? How much did you accomplish? How did you move forward? How productive was your day? How can you improve efficiency? And for those of us that step from one world to the other….it’s confusing. I’ve always worked so hard to be the best. The best dancer getting the roles I wanted so badly, the best student becoming a national merit scholar and getting the full scholarship. You name it. I wanted to excel and succeed and usually, I did.
But there’s no award for being the best mother. You never achieve enough and the job is never done. Because mothering is an entirely different animal. And if I obsess over productivity and efficiency, I lose sight of the real point altogether.
If I feel discouraged because I didn’t declutter that room, do the early learning homeschool craft, strip the cloth diapers, meal plan for the week, get new books from the library and return last week’s, switch out the summer clothes with winter clothes, mop the floors, and do enough tummy time with the baby….maybe it’s because I have the wrong perspective entirely. Mothering isn’t about productivity.
If I get frustrated because it’s taking forever to get three kids under the age of five into the car to the park and maybe if I’d only organized the items we need the way I saw it done on Pinterest or if I were only such-and-such blogger whose life seems so organized and if only the four-year-old wouldn’t insist on wearing a sweater in the summer in Florida….maybe I’m missing the point. Because mothering isn’t about efficiency.
Now there’s a lot of good things that can help a household run more smoothly. Am I interested in those things? You bet. I’m not saying we should ignore the tasks before us and eat bon-bons on the couch.
But I’m not the CEO of our household and my children aren’t little employees. I’m a mother and they are children and that entails a whole messy world of unproductive inefficiency. There’s a place for productivity and efficiency…but they aren’t virtues, they’re just tools.
I cannot examine motherhood with the lens of any other sort of job. When I do, I feel frustrated and dissatisfied. I need a different pair glasses to see the beauty of motherhood. And I think it’s as simple as this: I get to nurture little souls each and every day and that journey is slowly sanctifying me.
I just need to live and enjoy these precious days. Because there’s not a performance review or an exam I can mistakenly place my personal value in. There’s just the hope that I loved my children well today and that the struggles and joys of the day made me a teensy bit more holy (maybe not, but here’s hoping!).
I have so much to learn from my little ones. I want to walk in the woods with my kids simply because it’s beautiful and good. I want to hold my daughter’s little hand, breathe deep, and smile.
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