...And boy am I glad we did. Aside from the really great (NOT perfect - more on that later) day we had as a family, doing something completely new for us created a really great opportunity for us to see things about ourselves, our children and parenthood that I had never seen before.
We don't really care if our kids think we're fun police (although we do like having fun together as a family), but we did like the idea of giving our kids some responsibility (I think that this is what most of us misunderstand about a yes-day - its actually giving children MORE responsibility than usual, not less), and we were very curious about what they would choose for us to do together if they had (mostly) zero restrictions placed on how we do family time.
...but here are some things that I learnt about motherhood, myself & my children that really made the whole experience worth it:
I don't think that they derailed our day much, I was just surprised at how much anxiety the experience generated. I am not in a crazy shame spiral about it or anything - I choose to make it ok - in that I see it as something to see, know & learn from, not something to judge and heap shame on myself over. Like everything in life, we can't change or address what we can't see and I am grateful for the opportunity that this day gave me to see something that I am hopeful for change over :)
2. I set my own bar for "supermom" waaaaaaay too high
One of our greatest fears around a yes-day was that our kids were going to want something from us that we weren't capable of... that they were going to ask for something we couldn't give them... and so we just avoided ever making room for them to ask.
Meanwhile, our children's requests were simple and easy. Our children's wishlist wasn't insane, it wasn't even that indulgent (accrording to our standards anyway)... it was thoughtful, fun and revolved around simply being together. Swimming, water games, walks in the park, unlimited swinging, splash pads, more swimming, a visit to our old farm, more swimming, movies with slushies & more swimming & some Starwars.
It made me realize that I have been holding back from really embracing the simple joys I am able to give to my children, because I focus so much on the more extravagant and elaborate 'joy' that I can't.
3. A great day does not equal a perfect day.
Life doesn't need to be perfect to be good.
There is magic, but it doesn't look like the movies. It's much more special than that. We just need to be willing to see it without them (the movies that is).
I don’t know why I thought it would be a good idea. I was alone at the center of Waco's tourism hub with my 2 bigs, a very rambunctious toddler whose only speed is FAST, and no stroller.
Destination: The Magnolia Silos.
My oldest daughter’s choice: It was spring break and each big got to choose one treat and special outing - and she wanted Jo’s famous cupcakes and a stroll around the grounds in the sunshine.
I could have chosen a PDO day (I wish I had) but I believed in myself and Ellie (actually I didn’t - we were just out of time and I felt obligated to keep my promise).
The whole adventure was doomed to failure and I knew it from the minute we arrived at the parking lot.
Part 1: The cupcake line of doom
To procure a Magnolia Silos cupcake you need to wait in the Silos Bakery Co. line - which usually winds around the corner and up the street where you wait patiently, quietly, out of oncoming traffic for your turn. Noone told Ellie - we were chasing, catching, releasing her for about 30mins (how many gray hairs can a woman grow in 30mins?) before she was let loose inside the bakery while the other kids took their sweet time deciding which flavor cupcake to get.
I could feel the anxiety (and rage) bubbling up inside of me - this was DEFINITELY a BAD idea, but salvation was within reach - on the other side of my older two’s indecision was the green space where toddlers could run and play to their heart’s content.
Or so I thought.
Part 2: Green space (a toddlers playground)
Magical in theory.
Toddler is on a rampage sabotaging at least 5 different family’s game of corn hole, standing in and squishing the cupcakes I tortured myself to procure before realzing there are no fences in Magnolia- just lots of space, people, and most importantly - breakables. So many breakables.
After running after and retrieving her 6 times in an attempt to leave my bigs to enjoy what was left of their cupcakes in peace, I could basically hear the timebomb inside of me ticking away. We were on the brink of a maternal Chernobyl.
It's time to go home.
I didn't need to do much work to figure out what my boundaries were in that moment - what was required of me to create a fun-filled afternoon out at the Silos was not within my possession - we needed to try again another time.
This is where my morning nearly went even more pear shaped.
I am the mom. I am supposed to be the leader//strong//together//calm one - part of my cultural upbringing leans me into embodying this in a stern, no-nonsense, “because I said so”, armored-up posture with my kids, and especially when I am basically swimming in mom-shame to begin with. I need that feeling to go away, and when I don't catch myself on time, I become a jerk so that I can stop feeling so powerless.
What I have learnt about what I am pre-disposed to is that it cuts me off from my children in moments when we need connection with one another most.
I have learnt that I can ask for what I need, without demanding it. I can lead my children without controlling them. I can make an executive decision, and still be completely honest about where I am at and why I have decided what I have. ie: I can treat myself and my children with dignity, especially in moments when shame is doing its best to strip us of whatever dignity we have.
I was about to blow-up at my children, so we needed to leave. But my daughter had been looking forward to and planning this outing for weeks - In an attempt to save face, nurture my wounded pride and hide away from all the mom-guilt and mom-shame that was piling up inside of me by the second - I could crush her creative spirit with one solid - “because I am the mom and because I can”...
This is what I chose instead:
“Guys, I am very sorry to have to do this - I need to take responsibility for how poorly I planned out our week. I chose the wrong day for this and I own that. I also didn’t plan for the support I would need to have a blast with you today, and on top of all of that I am feeling very overwhelmed with fear for ellies safety, for your safety and to be honest, for what I am imagining the people around us are thinking about me as a mom. My fear and my pride has bubbled up out of me as anger, frustration and impatience. Please forgive me for being unkind, and for cutting our time together at the silos short. Please let me try again another time.”
My big kids looked at me blankly for what felt like an eternity before they leaned in and gave me the biggest, bestest group hug I didn’t even know I needed. Ellie even climbed in for some of the action.
“Ok mama, but could we try taking Ellie to the garden section for a minute first. I bet she would enjoy playing with us on the toadstools in the corner.”
“Ok. Let's give it a try.”
They were right - they all had a blast, the toddler was more or less contained and I got to sit for 5mins at a time.
We made it to the car in one piece and then drove through Cameron Park with all the windows open while we sang at the top of our lungs.
The Silos were a bust, but we had a pretty awesome day, and we got home exactly how I hoped we would: more connected and closer as a family.
Mama friends, here is what I hope you hear:
You’re allowed to acknowledge you can’t do something if you don’t have the capacity to do it.
You’re allowed to/should be setting boundaries with your kids if how you’re doing motherhood right now is filling your heart with resentment and frustration.
Taking responsibility and being held accountable doesn't have to have anything to do with shame. I think they're badges of honor.
You don’t have to pretend to be something you’re not to be a great mom.
Don’t take your two your old to Magnolia without an extra pair of grown-up hands, leash or a stroller with industrial strength straps. It's just not worth it.
I shared in depth about this experience in a Facebook I created and moderate called “Healthy Boundaries for Heart-Centered Women.” - If you would like to watch it, and catch up with a whole bunch of other free resources like:
- How to say no without ruining your relationships
- 31 Things I have learnt about boundaries from the Bible
You can hop on over and join by clicking here.
Last Friday, at the end of a full, exhausting, amazing, frustrating and overstimulating week, I sipped my morning coffee, opened up Facebook and was greeted with a memory from my feed that basically took my best efforts at just keeping it together, and obliterated them.
Two years ago, I was in a car accident which had left me with months of excruciating pain, daily doctors, chiro and physio appointments, and lots and lots of tears. Shortly after that, Noah (my then 3 year old) had an accident in which he fell nearly 5ft, face-first, into a concrete floor, snapping his jaw, and breaking it cleanly in two places (don’t even ask).
18 months after immigrating to the United States from South Africa, I found myself plunged into a season in which I was “working” from home (who are we kidding?) with a 3 and a 4 year old, in pain that was so severe that for weeks I could barely get out of bed or off the couch, at daily physio appointments that left me reeling, with a three year old who couldn’t eat, no money for childcare, increasingly crippling anxiety and, with no family nearby to lend a hand or do the things that families do when mothers can’t move, or spend all day crying.
It wasn’t ideal.
It was also completely disorienting: our lives had turned upside down overnight and I felt completely unprepared and ill-equipped to just take it all in my stride. I thrived on being the mommy who was pretty resilient, a pillar of strength, competent, completed her to-do lists, and quite frankly, whose needs didn’t intrude too much (at all) on the people around her. When that car hit ours and a month later, when my son’s face hit the floor, I morphed from that “powerhouse of a woman” (again, who are we kidding?) into “hotmess-express-mommy”, “mommy-who-just-cries-a-lot”, “mommy-who-is-always-in-pain”, “mommy-who-can’t-do-the-things” (any of them), and “mommy-who-always-feels-scared-and-anxious”. What a resume!
I had spent my entire adult life cultivating, maintaining and worshipping that superwoman (and later mom) idea/idol, and relishing in her strength, capacity and ability to be the helper. Now, she was gone - and all that was left was a mountain of anxiety, shame, fear and frustration as I navigated a season of life I had not planned or prepared for, could not control, master or see beyond, and all of it just shouted: inadequate, failure, not enough. Sure enough, the waves of shame, anxiety and fear came rolling in.
So not too different to the Spring of 2020.
Here’s what many of us tend to do when we’re feeling that kind of overwhelm, inadequacy, and vulnerability:
We turn away from the people (and the love) we need, and who need us more than ever. We choose busyness, distraction, to-do lists, screens and shallow.
Or we turn towards them, but in a mask and full armour. We choose posturing on social media, increased irritability, frustration and anger (because we aren’t in control or getting our way), pretending and being overbearing. (this is me by the way)
Both are a way that we choose darkness and isolation rather than exposure, light, and connection: being seen for all of our glorious mess, weakness and ineptitude.
Two years ago, during my impossible season, even though we were literally spending every single moment of the day together (for months), I started to realize that my inadequacy allergy (or simply my sin of pride) became a tendency towards masks and armor, and was cutting me off from my children when they needed me, and when I needed them most. I realized that I was also teaching them that doing was more important than being, unless we were being perfect, and to hide their pain and weakness from the people who loved them most.
I noticed that even though we had unending proximity, shared DNA, and the same last name, that we were heading down a path that was setting our family up for isolation (from one another and others). When we needed one another, or others most, we turned away and called it self-care. We started to see that we literally left everything we had and knew to build community with strangers on the other side of the world, we were failing to forge it in our own home.
That season taught me to embrace humility, to turn towards my children in my weakness, and to create space for them to turn towards me. I learnt that children have a remarkable capacity for compassion and empathy, and that they can minister generously and gently to the hearts of their parents (and others) if we give them opportunities and permission to do so. I learnt that childlike faith prayed the best prayers, and that I need to lean into “my grace sufficient for you, and my power is perfected in weakness” and that it can apply to a 4 year old too (they are actually the best teachers for this one!). I learnt that when I invited my children to sit in the front row of this battle, to walk alongside me, to contribute their gifts, their fishes and their loaves, that they would also be right there when God showed up, answered prayers, and proved his faithfulness. I learnt that my children would start collecting and telling their own faith stories.
Recalling that memory made me weep; It was the hardest season of my life. But what a sweet reminder of the grace that carries us, that is sufficient for us in our weakness, and that by it, we have hope for weathering the storm that brews around us today.
I am worried about the almost impossible burden of motherhood, in addition to all the other pain, grief and worry over COVID-19. I am concerned that in the wake of what truly is a heavy and exhausting load we have been given to carry, that we will turn to either pride or despair, posturing and pretending, that we will turn away in our (inevitable) failure and shame, and isolate the ones who need us, and who we need most.
As we stand on the edge of what may feel like a dark, uncertain and difficult future, may I invite you to consider God’s faithfulness in the dark and painful seasons of your life you weren’t sure you would survive?
In moments when pride, self-comfort, distraction, armor and masks feel safe and tempting, may I also invite you to consider spending your days humbly turning toward your children rather than away from them?
On days when you feel inadequate, when you have zero idea what you are or should be doing, may I invite you to remember that you were chosen as a gift and provision for them mama, that they were chosen for you and that his grace is sufficient, and that his power is perfected in all of your weakness?
When the hard and heavy burden of mothering during COVID-19 becomes unbearable, impossible and exhausting, may I invite you to remember that He invites his disciples into days marked by the unforced rhythms of grace and rest, and that the yoke he offers you is easy and light?
When isolation is the easier path, may I invite you to consider forging and leaning into life- giving and soul-restoring community, not just with your life group or faith community, but with your babies as well?
When hope feels far away, may I invite you to recall that all of your and their days have been recorded, that all of your and their hairs are numbered, and that maybe just maybe you and they were born for this moment in history, and for the glory of God?
I have been spending a lot of time thinking and praying about what I want my children to remember about this moment in history, and about what God wants to do or forge during this (pretty intense, and frankly seemingly unending) time together. As I do, I often think about how the people of God, as they traveled through the wilderness towards the promised land would commemorate the faithfulness of God with physical memorials that they would build together and then generations later, would remind them about who God is, and the things God had done. My prayer for my own children, and for yours is that somehow, somewhere, the memories of this season would one day tower over their lives as a memorial to first-hand accounts of the goodness, faithfulness, love and power of God through his people.
I am tempted at this point to provide you with a checklist because I know how much they satiate our anxiety and desire for control, but I am not sure how a checklist would ensure a change in the posture of our hearts. Turn towards the Lord, speak to your friends and your spouse, confess your struggle or your sin.
Turning towards your littles could mean putting your phone down and putting a movie on. It could mean turning the TV off and going for a walk. It could mean burning the schedule or instituting one. It could mean switching off the news or it could mean serving your neighbors together. It could mean becoming a human playground or it could mean instituting a daily house-wide quiet time. Whatever you do, do it not to avoid being seen, but because you ARE, and loved still.
“Now may the LORD of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The LORD be with all of you.” - 2 Thess 3:16