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Unpopular Thoughts, Part 2

alec vanderboom

I'm eight years out of the workforce. That's a huge number for me. I was an approval junkie and an achievement junkie. I couldn't get enough awards. I could get enough special projects to fill up the hollow feeling in my chest.

God has a really good sense of humor. He fashioned my soul to be a stay at home mother! That was the fast track for getting over my horrible workaholism and advancing in humility. Rebecca, I remember in pre-cana the presenter saying "your spouse comes first, ahead of your job." I remember looking at my fiance and thinking "Well, not on weekdays!"

So I feel like I'm finally in a place where the dust has settled. I'm not actively seeking out new trauma, or distractions. I'm pretty still. I'm around healthy people. I've got a special ops mission from Jesus to be loved and to show love.

Everything is sweet. I've got a husband who writes me love letters in the morning and teaches himself how to fix our yucky kitchen floor. I've got five kids. A dog. A cello. I'm starting to form friendships that are based on mutual respect and affection rather than "drama."

Now it's time for the grief to come.

It's like I didn't have a safe space to grieve when I was a child. Then I spent most of our early marriage running around trying to "fake it"--fake being healthy, fake knowing how to be a wife and a mother, fake being close to God.

That's been a huge part of recovery. Stop faking that I'm already a Saint. Just be with Him. Just let Him love me. And recognizing that intimacy is hard for me. Intimacy means quiet prayer with God. Sex with my husband. Causally hanging out with my girls at the breakfast nook. There is always a tendency for me to bolt just when things start to get interesting. If I force myself to stay, just a hair longer than I feel comfortable---really beautiful things start to happen.

We have a strong cultural tradition that says "Never say an unkind word about your mother!" That's a hard cultural taboo to have, when you become a Mother yourself.  There's venting behind the scenes and then there's a false public front--but the reality is this complex gray in between. I think you've got to strive for peace with that mixture if you're going to be busy with motherhood yourself for large chunks of each day.

I found that when I stopped saying "everything my Mother did was right!" I had more space to stop thinking "everything I'm doing is wrong." That gave me space to breathe. I'm no longer walking around with this vague fear that there is this trip wire that I'm going to hit that is going to make everything fall apart for my family.

As in strangers would say "Oh, you enjoy your kids when they are babies. Just you wait. Things all fall apart when they become teenagers."

There's an ease in my chest now. I don't wait with fear that things "look fine now" but they will all fall apart in the future. I know now that my Mother's relationship with me is in stasis. Pretty much the way things were between us when I was six weeks old, is the way things were at 6, 16, 26, and 36. There's less of a need to get surprised again and again.

But the difference now is in me. I know "I'm not my Mom" intellectually--and now I'm trying to feel that concretely in my own emotions, absorb that truth into my own body.

A little distance from my own Mom, makes me a better Mom to my kids. I'm no longer feeling these huge swings between "I'm the best mother in the world to my daughters" or "I'm the worse Mother in the world."  I feel much more like "I'm their Mom." The good, the bad, the in-between--I'm their Mother. I don't have to do extra stuff to feel like "a great Mom." I don't freak out if I'm having a rough patch. There's a stability about my mothering now--a new calmness.

Ironically, with that comfort, I'm much more introspective. I don't walk around saying "I'm the worse Mom." But I do think "Hmmm, there are some things that could use improvement." And the things that need improvement are "doable!"

For example, I realize that I don't put my older kids to bed. In our house, Dad handles all bedtime routines for the "older kids." Now six weeks ago, I would have had all sorts of reasons why this routine happened in our family. Jon is better at it then me. I need a break. The kids really enjoy their special Daddy time.

But the real subconscious reason was that I was horribly uncomfortable around our kids at bedtime. I would sit on the couch reading or blogging while Jon spent an hour putting the kids to bed. I would start to get really angry. "This is taking too long!  We're missing out on our couple time!" It's embarrassing to admit, but I must have started at least 50 arguments over this issue during our 9 years of parenting. (Maybe more, right Jon?)

This Advent, I was more open to the grieving process. I sat still on the couch and listen to my husband lovingly put our kids to bed. I thought, "I didn't know you could do this?" I didn't know older kids could get put to bed. I went outside and walked our dog. I started crying a little. I told myself, "I have no memory of being put to bed--ever."

I pieced together that is why I'd been getting angry. I told myself "kids don't need this much cuddling at bedtime, it should be a simple affair" because it hurt to realize how much my nine year old and eight year old like it. My husband was showing me what Love looks like. I didn't even know I missed out on it, until I'm suddenly in this stain glass window of a grace-filled family life.

I'm taking a small step forward. I stopped beating myself up for not praying the family rosary upstairs at bedtime, or waiting to hear full chapter of the latest Sci-Fi bedtime read. I decided I'd take the small step of working backward. Right now, I go upstairs and draw the sign of the cross on each of my children's head at the tail end of the bedtime routine. It's small. It feels awkward. But it's doable. And I'm enriched. Because my kids like to see me at night--in that intimate moment.

So that is what recovery feels like. You go through life. You start to cry over something that seems simple (like an excited friend who posts glowing updates of her daughter's engagement). I think "I didn't know you could do that." It's not just like "Oh, I didn't have that." It's this deeper sense of loss "Oh, I didn't know you could have that." This thing with our kitchen was so beautiful, so affirming. Then I had to be sad for a few hours because "I didn't know you could teach yourself how to fix your house." I thought some people were just "unhandy" and you just had to live with the house you bought.

Right now, I let myself grieve. Then I try to transition back into the moment. I try my best to get back into the current reality of the day. I feel grateful and sad at the same time. I also have a lot of Hope.

I'm not falsely claiming that I'm doing everything right as a Mother to my kids. But I have great Hope for them. I can see the family pattern getting dramatically better. I know my girls and I are emotionally close. I watch the Holy Spirit help us get even closer. I have confidence that God is at work in me, and that He's more than capable to heal any emotional cracks that are left over when they become adults.

Mary, Mother of God, pray for us!