I've always struggled with the idea of surrender. It sounds like a total loss of self, and while I understand intellectually that this isn't the case (or is it?) I've never been able to give in completely to anything. And when it comes to motherhood, this can create some very interesting dilemmas.
I don't know if it was because I never wanted to be a mom before my first daughter was born, or because I saw how unfulfilling my own mother's life looked when she was nothing but someone's mom, either way... I was terrified that motherhood would swallow me whole. That I would be entirely consumed by the process of parenting, and nothing would be left of me when it was over. Maybe that sounds stupid, or selfish, or small-minded. I don't know. But it's very much how I felt when I became a mother. And in some small ways, it's still how I feel.
And what happens when someone feels dragged along against their will? Think about it. They dig in their heels. Push back. Fight to regain ground. And so my house became my battleground.
Have you ever been in someone's home and the walls are covered in their kid's art and photos of their children, and the certificates their kids have earned along the way. A giant mishmash of framed scribbles, photos cataloging the years, and soccer participation trophies. I know that many people would look at that house and see it as a loving shrine to the most important thing a person could have in life - their family. But all I could see was suffocation.
"Have you lost yourself in all this mother-mess?"
I would look around and want to ask the mother, "Where are YOU in all of this? Where are the things you're passionate about? Where is the stamp your soul made on this home?" So that became the place I dug my heels in - my house. I refused to have a living room overflowing with kid's toys, a rug whose patterns started as 'spiral nouveau' and evolved into 'modern milk stain', or a bedroom where the decor was lego-meets-sippy-cup.
I felt like being a mom consumed so much of my time and my body and my mind and my heart, I wanted something left for me. Something that was mine. Something that I didn't have to sacrifice on the altar of motherhood. And so my house became that thing. I refused to give it up.
I know I have friends who secretly think I'm a bit of an asshole (I can totally tell, and they might be right) because I have always made my kids pack up all of their toys and take them back to their rooms when they're done playing in the living room.
Because my kids built elaborate forts in our family community spaces, and when the game's over I insist they break it all down and take their stuff away, back to their own spaces. Because I hang other people's art on my walls, and not my kid's art. (I put my kid's art on the fridge, in case you're wondering, and when the fridge gets full I take it all down and pack it away in a box for safekeeping, and start over again.)
I finally broke down and put up kid pictures in the hallway.
I caved last year and created a collage in the hallway, using pictures of my kids. I bought an assortment of different frames - black and white and silver and gold - and framed all my favorite pictures of my children, and hung them down the length of the hallway. I had just repainted the hallway blue and wanted something new.
And then there was the fact that I'd made a smaller collage of my favorite kid photos on the wall of my office, but because I'd put it together before becoming a foster mom, it didn't include any pictures of my foster daughter (another thing I felt guilty about). So when I gave up my home office in order to let all of the kids have their own bedrooms, I took down all those pictures and realized I couldn't pack them away in a box in the basement (I would feel bad!) I needed a new place to hang them, and because the hallway was freshly painted and waiting for something to decorate the walls… voila! Problem solved.
Anyway, the whole point of this word salad, is because my foster daughter came home with a soccer trophy a while ago. She was extremely proud of it (as she should be!) and looking for somewhere to display it. I suggested her bedroom. After all, it's her trophy, and her room is her space, full of her things. A match made in heaven, right? Nope. She wanted it in the living room. We went back and forth, her not-so-obviously trying to make me see how much better the bookshelf or side table would look if she could put her trophy next to my succulent display, or hand painted pots. And me trying to explain how much nicer it would be if she could see it every day among her things, in the same space as the framed picture of her soccer team. But my subtle suggestions just weren't connecting. So I had to be blunt.
"Honey, I'm very proud of you, and I'm very glad you got that trophy - you deserve it! But I don't want it in the living room. It's yours. You should put it in your bedroom."
"But I want it out here, where we can all see it."
"Show everyone - then we'll all know what it looks like. Then you can put it in your room."
"But I want it out here."
"Nope. It doesn't match my decor. It goes in your room."
"Probably. But there you have it."
Maintaining your sanity is an important part of not being a crappy mom.
Does that make me a bad mom? Maybe. Does it mean that I'm selfish because I haven't surrendered every scrap of my soul (and my home) to my children, and their needs and wants and desires? Most likely.
Maybe it does make me a bad person. Or at least a less-than-awesome mom. But what it definitely also makes me, is sane. And not resentful. Because when I come home and walk into my house, nine times out of ten I think, "Ahhhhhh, I love my home!" And I'm pretty sure if I lived in Legotopia, the kid-art kingdom of endless parenting mess, I wouldn't think that. I would probably end up walking through the door and thinking, "Ugh. When are they going to move out?" And I don't want that.
Because I love my kids. I love being with them (most of the time). And I love their art and their creative games and their weird little minds. I just don't love their mess, and their L.O.L. Dolls and their uncapped markers and their barbie shoes and legos and scraps of paper and stick-on gems and rocket ships and slime and dirty socks and stupid squeezy toys with no purpose. Dear Lord.
And I love my sanity.
So if you needed someone's permission to stay sane by finding something you weren't willing to surrender on the altar of motherhood, then this is it. No, I don't think you're a bad person for wanting to keep something for yourself in the midst of all those sacrifices you make every day for your kids. And you shouldn't think that about yourself either. You're welcome.
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