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The Garden that Grew Guilty Flowers

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“I wonder what is at the root of your guilt… Serene?”

That was the question that was posed to me one Monday morning during an hour long conversation with a woman at my job. It was an impromptu conversation that came about from me just passing her office to say “good morning”. This woman happens to be a mom and a very spiritual person, so I always enjoy my encounters with her. However, this particular morning, my brief hello turned into an insightful conversation that left me in tears, with a new life-changing question to reflect upon: “I wonder what’s at the root of your guilt…Serene?”. I don’t even know how we got to the point where the conversation took such a thought provoking turn, but before I knew it, we were discussing our outlook on motherhood, work, and self care. It may have begun with the question, “How was your weekend?”, my simple response of “Oh, we went to church and I did the usual: Laundry, food shopping, etc”, somehow led to us both discussing the “Sunday Night Mommy Monster” that was all too familiar to us both. That monster, she came out each weekend due to the anxiety of only having two days to reset our homes for the week to come.

Until this conversation, I thought that I was the only one who transformed into that green creature with the purple ripped shorts around 6pm every Sunday.

I thought I was the only one whose family feel victim to the “Hulk Smash”, once she realized that she was not going to accomplish everything on her weekend-to-do-list. I thought I was the only one who single-handedly destroyed any trace of a great weekend, as I complained about failing to accomplish the goals of the weekend. I wasn’t the only one and this Monday morning conversation opened my eyes to that.

Then our conversation took another turn and, I was telling her about my insane need to sit at my desk all day at work, to complete a daily to do list that was longer than any human, or small team of humans could complete in a 7 hour work day. I revealed to her how hard it was for me to take a lunch break each day because I felt bad about abandoning my work for something as trivial as eating. She shared with me the struggle she once had with leaving the office on time to get home to her family. This made me realize that if it wasn’t for the fact that I have to pick my little girl up from the day care at 5:45pm each day, I probably would stay at work until the building closed. She explained how well she understood my struggles, because she had once battled with similar issues, but she went on to share how she had taken a stand against being a slave to her work and that she had even kicked the habit of coming to work on the weekends. She even shared how she had come to realize that it was so important to take care of herself and do the things that she enjoyed. She explained how by doing those things she had discovered a peace of mind that she had not known before.

I stood there looking at her with admiration, as my mind entertained all the things in life that I would love to do just for the sheer enjoyment.

I thought about how wonderful it would be to leave work while it was still light outside. I thought about how wonderful it would be to eat lunch without worrying about getting spaghetti sauce on the keyboard as I answered my work emails. I thought about watching a movie on a Sunday night with my family so that we can all feel relaxed before the new week begins.

Just as I started to feel comforted by all these thoughts, this awful feeling from the pit of my stomach began to rise up and dampen my whole mood. “I would feel so guilty doing many of the things that I would like to do because I would feel like I’m abandoning my responsibilities” I told her.

Her response was a sympathetic tilt of her head, as she looked at me and asked, “I wonder what’s at the root of that guilt? That’s the real question, Serene”.

She said those words to me.
We exchanged a few more words, she passed me a tissue for my tears, she gave me a few words of inspiration to meditate upon, and I went on to start my day of work. But that entire day, that entire night, that entire week I kept replaying that question over and over in my mind. What was at the root of my guilt? The funny thing about that question is that I actually knew the answer. Deep, deep, down inside I always knew the answer, but the voice was so small that as it whispered the answer, I always drowned it out by constantly keeping myself busy. Now that I was actually thinking about the question, the answer seemed to grow louder and louder until I couldn’t ignore it.

At the root of my guilt, there was my idea of perfection. My idea that a perfect mom makes sure that the kids have everything they need and most of the things they want, a perfect wife gives her husband the time, the attention, the affection, the support that he needs at all times, the perfect daughter fits the mold that her mom intended for her to be. The perfect director runs her program in a way that pleases all her staff, all the parents, and keeps the company CEO pleased at all times with her work. The perfect friend calls her girlfriend multiple times a week to laugh and cry about life. And the perfect Christian woman never complains while achieving all of these goals. That was at the root of my everyday belief. I believed it because I thought this was how I was suppose to operate based on the responsibilities that were given to me.
However, the thing that stemmed from that root was disappointment in myself for falling short of that belief. At times, my children would want something that I couldn’t give them and on those occasions, I’d think: I failed them. At times my husband would want intimate time with me but I’d be striving to be the perfect director, so I’d be doing work in our bed, all the while thinking: I failed my husband. At work, teachers would complain, budgets would go off track, and I’d think, I’m not working hard enough: I failed as a director. My mother and I would argue over the simplest things and I’d think: I failed as a daughter. I’m not hanging out with my friends cause I can’t find the time: I failed as a friend. Then to top it all off, many days as I worked to achieve this perfection, I’d grow tired and weary, I’d complain and I’d think: AND I failed as a Christian.

Ideas of perfection at the root, thinking I failed everything at the stem. All that blossoms from this kind of plant is GUILT! And there it was!!!

My epiphany!! I discovered the root, I had figured out why my guilt had grown and why it was choking me so much. I had allowed the garden, that is my mind, to be inhabited by weeds. I had watered roots that needed to be pulled before they had a chance to flourish. Then the thought that I failed as a gardener started to cross my mind as well, until I quickly recognized what was happening again. I snapped that thought out my head. I told myself, I must be thankful for the revelation that I finally received and now I had to do something about. It was time to take back the garden of my mind. I declared from that day moving forward, I was going to pull every single weed that disguised itself as a precious flower.
And this is where I am in my life right now. I’m gardening. I’m detecting the weeds of my mind. I’m discovering that some of them are so big, they are so hard to pull, but I’m pulling. I’m clawing at them. It’s a messy job, but I know that I must do this. Not for my family, not for my friends, not for my job, not for my mother, not for husband. FOR MYSELF!!

Talk to you soon,
Serene “Sweetpea” Stevens

Share with me: What’s growing in the garden that is your mind? How are you nurturing it each day?


 

Pot of Sweet Peas

Oh Well!!

This world is full of standards.  The New Oxford Dictionary defines standards as “A level of quality or attainment”.

There are standards for how one should conduct themselves at their place of business. These are listed in one’s job description. There are standards for what a child should be doing by a certain age. Depending on the setting these can be called milestones, benchmarks, or if you work in a New York City public school, Common Core Standards.  There are even standards for how much you should eat as per the suggested serving size on any given food item.  The list goes on.  And then there are unwritten standards that we place upon ourselves in our daily lives. My house must look a certain way, my children must be in a certain amount of activities, I have to look a certain way, or wear a particular type or brand of clothing, or this is the bar that I’ve set for my spouse or the person that I am dating.  All of these standards.

Now before I go on, I don’t want anyone to think that I am “Anti-Standards”, if there is such a word. After all, I do recognize that “If you ‘stand’ for nothing you will fall for anything”, which to me,  can mean that if you don’t set a level of expectations, then anything goes, which also means you may end up with no job, a house full of children that have no goals and aspirations, and a spouse or partner who just does whatever because there’s never been a conversation about expectations.  Those type of standards are not quite the issue I’m having at this particular time.  The standards that I’m having a problem with are the standards that we set for ourselves, that we almost kill ourselves and hurt others to achieve. The standards that make us feel intense pressure and threaten to crumble our worlds if they are not reached. The standards that make us feel like we are complete failures or not worthy of our titles if somehow we drop the ball.  The standards that we punish ourselves for not achieving by depriving ourselves of sleep, hanging out with friends, and spending quality time with our mates all because we didn’t finish doing something that has no impact on anyone or anything whether it is achieved or not.

And where do these standards come from? Well, I can’t answer that for anyone but myself.  For me, they come from outside influences that sneak into my thoughts and whisper things like, “you don’t know how to ‘keep house’ if you go to sleep with dishes in the sink”, “your children won’t be well-rounded if you don’t put them in piano, soccer, pottery, karate, and Spanish lessons all while making sure they are on the path to the honor roll in school”, and the best one that knocks any ounce of self esteem that you have post-pregnancy is the voice that says “you have to hurry and get back to your pre-pregnancy weight quickly and it doesn’t matter that you just got home from the delivery room two weeks ago.

These are the standards that I am sick of!  These are the standards that cause me to miss out on the real things that matter cause I am so busy trying to achieve a 48 hour job in 24 hours all the while complaining that there are not enough hours in the day!! These are the standards that create tension because hey, do you know how hard it was to rub every grass stain out of your football jersey to prepare it for your game tomorrow!! NO ONE NOTICES ANYTHING AROUND HERE!

So today I’m making a stand of my own.  Today I am setting a new Standard for myself and it’s called “OH WELL!!!”

Under the OH WELL standard I will set a goal, I will attempt to achieve that goal and just when I feel like the attainment of that goal is going to almost kill me or at least exhaust me and drain me of all strength and energy I am going to say OH WELL!! I am going to be satisfied with knowing that I gave it my all. I’m going to realize that I am only one person and I can’t do it all.  I am going to understand that I operate under a higher power but I, myself AM NOT that higher power.  I am going to sleep when my body needs it, I’m going to postpone some extracurricular activities for my children when I feel like we are coming and going as if our home had a revolving door.  And I am going to leave a cup or two (or three) in the sink over night and trust that the dishwashing liquid will still be there in the morning.

And when that little voice comes around to say “Hey, that’s not what you are suppose to do!!”, I’m going to stand up tall (as tall as someone 4’11” can be), I’m going to place my hands on my hips, squint my eyes and shout “OH WELL!!! You are not the boss of me!”

Talk to you soon – Serene

Share with me: What are some standards that you aim to achieve on a daily basis?

Children Learn What They Live

When it comes to raising our children, we always try to keep in mind that whatever we expose them to will have long lasting effects on them and it will shape who they become as adults.  The job of parent is one of the most important jobs in the entire world.  Just think about it:

Many of us are products of what our parents did and did not do or did and did not give us. 

And because there are so many different types of parents, our world is full of many many types of people (I know that you know a few who you can only sigh and shake your head when you think of them).  

More food for thought: Think about your own childhood and how it relates to who you have become. Think about the things that shaped you.   Pretty deep, right?  Parenting carries A LOT of weight.

When I first had my children something that always stood out to me was the poem by Dorothy Law Nolte, Ph.D. titled, “Children Learn What They Live”.  Because this poem meant so much to me, I printed it out and it hangs framed in my living room.  And now I would love to share it with you: 

Children Learn What They Live

  • If children live with criticism, they learn to condemn.
  • If children live with hostility, they learn to fight.
  • If children live with fear, they learn to be apprehensive.
  • If children live with pity, they learn to feel sorry for themselves.
  • If children live with ridicule, they learn to feel shy.
  • If children live with jealousy, they learn to feel envy.
  • If children live with shame, they learn to feel guilty.
  • If children live with encouragement, they learn confidence.
  • If children live with tolerance, they learn patience.
  • If children live with praise, they learn appreciation.
  • If children live with acceptance, they learn to love.
  • If children live with approval, they learn to like themselves.
  • If children live with recognition, they learn it is good to have a goal.
  • If children live with sharing, they learn generosity.
  • If children live with honesty, they learn truthfulness.
  • If children live with fairness, they learn justice.
  • If children live with kindness and consideration, they learn respect.
  • If children live with security, they learn to have faith in themselves and in those about them.
  • If children live with friendliness, they learn the world is a nice place in which to live.

Talk to you soon!

Share with me: What kinds of things do you make sure your children live with and what do you hope they will learn from it?