Shakespeare said it: “To thine own self be true.” But problems arise when we moms lose our way back to the unique creations of God we have been since birth.
Distractions abound: troubled marriages, our kids in a seemingly self-destructive mode, finances squeezed to the limit, an impossibly burdensome situation at work — not to exclude the left hooks of misfortune when we least expect it.
Over the years as a mom and a practicing attorney, I learned a valuable lesson (the hard way): If any parent cannot recognize the warning signs of trouble within herself or himself, then we are woefully limited in helping those we love as well as improving our own lives.
I cut back drastically on these former self-imposed obligations. The result? My doctor bills became virtually nonexistent.
Here’s a checklist to consider.
1.) Take stock of you.
Write two lists of what you feel are your strengths and weaknesses. From my own experience, the negative usually outweighs the positive. But don’t take this as a sign of falling short. Rather, it begs the need to revisit the question of who you are — along with your values, hopes, and dreams.
For example, I got to the point early on in motherhood of indulging myself in luxury items like an expensive strand of pearls. Having done my checklist, I realized the money would have been better spent in charitable endeavors consistent with my Catholic faith — obviously far more satisfying in the long run.
2.) Assess how you spend your free time.
Agreed, it is in short supply. Nonetheless, what you do here will reveal more truth of your life situation than what you think is the real you at the core of your being.
For example, when I realized that most of my free time was spent watching movies on my DVD player especially in the evenings, I could see the waste. Entertainment is something we all need — but in excess, it’s a red flag. I embraced a more balanced approach and joined my public library to spend evenings reading expert advice on ways to enhance my vegetable garden gone awry. It was infinitely more satisfying and productive in the long run.
3.) Analyze what you complain about the most.
This is a tough one. We moms have our good days and bad. Yet, if you follow your own pattern of complaints — it usually sounds, either overtly heard or as mutterings under one’s breath, as if it’s coming off an endless loop of tape recordings inside our heads.
For instance, I am a stickler for the house being spotless and orderly. OK — but complaining to my husband and son who don’t do-as-I-do (like cleaning up dirty dishes after a meal or putting away folded laundry promptly) is not worth the angst that too often leads to arguments and regrets. So — let it go (even if it gets to you) for the sake of your own peace and that of your family’s.
Of course, if your complaints involve serious issues like inklings that your husband may be cheating or your child is being bullied at school, then it’s time for No. 4 below.
4.) Keep a daily journal.
I have suggested this tool as a survivor skill for former clients as well as for family members stricken with a conundrum of problematic life situations. Best penned at night when everyone is asleep and all is quiet on the home front, thoughtful observations will emerge not only of what is seen or suspected but also how you are coping or not.
For example, in my first marriage to a high-powered senior litigation partner and race car driver (on the weekends), my ongoing journal began to include signs of infidelity, like dinners at home missed for a week or more, a lack of interest in joint outings socially and on our own, like attending events out in New York City, not far from where we lived then, or occasional Broadway shows.
Over time, the pattern emerged and while heart-breaking … at least the truth was finally within my grasp to make a decision and move on. After our divorce, we remained good friends, which I credit in part to my journaling that provided a solid basis in fact and emboldened me to deal with it head-on while not looking back.
5.) Be aware of how often you’re sick.
Your physical ailments — everything from headaches, to insomnia, upset stomachs, allergies, and susceptibility to what’s going around — may be more a reflection of internal distress than anything else.
While this is nothing new to most of us, moms of all ages have become adept at denying what is really bothering us because we can’t face failure, especially when it comes to those seemingly necessary daily sacrifices for our husbands, children, extended family members, and those within our circles. God forbid we actually admit to them and ourselves: “I feel like I’m coming apart at the seams and can’t do it anymore. Yoga, meditation, working out, eating healthy, and even prayer can’t fix this!”
This was a huge warning in my life as I powered through days and nights as a single mom with a special needs kid, while working ridiculously long hours and feeling compelled to continue as the go-to troubleshooter for those I loved, along with those I did not — but who nonetheless pulled at my heartstrings. When I realized over time that my ailments ran in tandem with overwhelming events and such time periods, I cut back drastically on these former self-imposed obligations. The result? My doctor bills became virtually nonexistent.
In the final analysis, what worked for me may not do it for you. If so, start your own checklist! If nothing else, you may move into an area of sparkling creativity that perhaps you did not realize was your greatest strength of all.
The author, a retired attorney, is a published poet, writer, and columnist based in Arizona.