Thriving (not just surviving) in motherhood

I’m at a point in my parenting career where it is starting to be really fun. My third child is beginning to seriously potty train (finally, at almost 3). The brain drain is finally slowing down – it could be due to the fact that finally she’s taking the hint that nursing is coming to an end. I’m finally finding more focus. I’m no longer just “surviving motherhood”. I feel I’m starting to thrive in this environment. The good days are definitely outweighing the bad.

I’ve been able to cease my quest to find reassurance that I’m doing exactly what I need to be doing at this point in my life. Believe me, this has been no easy task. I’ve been looking for that reassurance for almost 5 years now, or ever since I quit my job as a laboratory supervisor at a medical genetics lab on a beautiful campus in a big city.

It’s a bit shocking to actually see how long I’ve been gone from my career. Not in the panicky kind of way that I used to feel – like all my skills and talent are going to waste. At least not any more. But more in the sense that it doesn’t feel like 5 years. It only seems like yesterday that I just came home to be with my girls – truly, the time has evaporated just like that – poof!

I haven’t forgotten the stress of juggling three little ones under 3.5 when my littlest was born. I haven’t forgotten a major breaking point when I finally had to admit defeat when my littlest was 15 months old- when I spent more of my time in tears because I couldn’t handle my children’s ever-present needs. I admitted defeat by going on a low dose of Zoloft to take the edge off. I ended up stopping them within three months though. Not because I didn’t need them, but because I was feeling some side effects that I decided I should stop. I haven’t forgotten the time last year sitting in the parking lot of a store crying my eyes out because I was so bone tired I didn’t think I could be a mother any more. I was supposed to be picking up last minute supplies for a long road trip to Pennsylvania to see my brother get married. Instead, I just wanted to take my car and drive it as far as I could and start a new life somewhere else without kids.
If anyone has ever read the Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood and the sequel, Little Altars Everywhere, you may remember where the one mother had a breakdown, left her children, and ran off during the time her children had a terrible bout of sickness. Before I had kids so close in age, I would have thought that woman was a terrible mother. Having children so close in age, I totally got where that woman was coming from and felt just like her.

In fact, I had that image of her running off for a major sanity break in my mind when I sat there in the parking lot that day. I had just dropped off my children at my mother-in-law’s, and I had realized I had never been so tired, or so discouraged in all my life. While I didn’t have any wonderful places to run to, I really wanted to chuck plans for the trip (which would have seriously hurt my family), and take my car somewhere far away to a hotel where I could just rest and gather my bearings again.

But, since I had put such impetuous acts long behind me, I just sat there in the parking lot, allowed myself to cry a bit, and rested long enough in the car to realize that I would fall asleep in the car if I didn’t get moving. So I cleaned myself up, did my shopping, and went on to have a really nice mini-vacation with my husband and daughters. It was pretty exciting to go on a road trip with the kids.

Now that my youngest is almost three, I’m really starting to marvel at the fact that I have some really cool kids, and that I helped make them be who they are today.

How different I feel today than I did a year ago. My oldest daughter started kindergarten this year. I realized how tense I was worrying about how she would adjust. She was a shy child too, but unlike my other daughter in the post below, she outgrew her shyness when she entered preschool, and has continued to blossom in kindergarten.

(Warning – proud mama’s shameless bragging ahead). She is doing very well academically and she is already reading at a second grade level. She went from not really reading before kindergarten (though she was read to a lot) to rapidly progressing through to her current level – which is second grade, and yes, she is comprehending what she’s reading, because they test that at school. She’s a book lover just like me. I try to navigate my way with the right amount and right kind of praise – so as to encourage her to look within herself to keep motivated to work hard and achieve, but not look to outward sources (like me, or her teacher) to keep excelling. Of course I want her to, but she has to do the work to get those good marks, and more important to me than getting good marks (as tickled as I am about it), I’m more concerned with making her understand that her effort is worth just as much if not more than the actual outcome.

With my second daughter, because I’m more clear headed and rested than I have been in a long while (and have taken up journaling as a hobby), I have been able to renew my efforts to keep in close contact with her – especially in light of the fact that her severe anxieties are going to require me to be there with her, physically and mentally, as we find out how best to meet her needs. The therapy for selective mutism will require a multi-person approach to reduce her anxiety levels. The good news for her is that I am in a much healthier mindset now than I have ever been. I can give more of myself because I have more to give. All of her creativity and intelligence can really blossom now because we are no longer gripped in power struggles as we once had been. Fortunately attachment parenting and grace-based/positive discipline helped me to see the end goal, even if I messed up a bit along the way. We have managed to maintain that connection even when it was sometimes difficult to do so.

My third daughter has also amazed me. Despite the fact that she was hardly speaking a year ago, and I even got her evaluated for speech delays, she has come far in the past year. Now she is even singing in the car (which has cds of Laurie Berkner and Veggie Tales). Even more than that, she’s becoming quite adept with the computer. She’s not even three and now she vies for time on the computer playing games on PBSkids and Starfall. How is this possible? I never even learned computers until 6th grade, and that was even before the days of personal computers as we know them today. It was a TRS-80 – basically a keyboard hooked up to a TV screen. Now I’ve got my toddler surfing the net on a sleek flat screen computer with a 1.7 GB hard drive.

So, yeah, things are so different for me than a year ago. Now, I’m beginning to have feelings where I don’t want to run from my children anymore, but be there completely – physically and mentally – while they learn some really cool things. Because if the last 5 years could evaporate in an instant while I wasn’t paying attention, maybe I could slow down time by actually savoring the moments I now have with them.

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