Happiest Working Mama Mondays: Aim Low, Go Slow

I have to admit that the idea of aiming low is not one I’ve generally embraced in my life. I worked really hard in high school to get into one of the top universities in my state. I’ve always been somewhat of a perfectionist at my job and would recreate a worksheet before distributing it with a typo (because middle school students totally care about that stuff). During my last class of graduate school, which I was taking while on maternity leave and after I returned to work, I failed to redo two assignments which resulted in the only B+ I earned in my degree. This was a big deal for me and I struggled with putting aside my perfectionism for the sake of my sanity.

That is what this chapter of The Happiest Mom is all about, ditching a perfectionist attitude and embracing expectations that are more conducive to keeping calm and staying sane. My track record led me to believe that I’d score in the your-making-yourself-crazy section of the “how high do you set the bar” quiz but I was surprised to find I was more of a “realist” (not without some “blamer” added in, for good measure). So I guess, as a mother, I’m not as compulsive as I have the potential to be.

Still, answering some questions as a “Blamer” made me realize that I have to cut Mi.Vida a little slack. Sometimes he just doesn’t do things the way I would, or doesn’t know how to do them at all (he would admit that on occasion he is totally clueless) and I have to be patient when teaching him and open minded when he does things his own way. Just because a result might not reflect what I’d envisioned doesn’t mean it’s messed up. If I can remember this my relationship will suffer much less.

In fact, perspective was a big part of this chapter. Asking myself “What’s the worst that could happen?” or “Will this still trouble me fat into the future?” helps remind me that blueberry mish-mash puree all over Isa’s shirt is not the end of the world. In fact, it’s not the end of anything (except maybe the shirt – which she’ll grow out of anyway) even though at the time it can seem that way. When you’re budgeting a ruined shirt can seem like a big loss, but will you remember it a year from now? Probably not.

Another suggestion was to prioritize. Should creating Isa’s six to twelve month photo book be a top priority right now? Probably not. Those photos will be around next month (or next year). Is it okay if the thank you notes from Isa’s first birthday are another month late? It will have to be. (This is why I asked people not to bring presents! Why does no one listen?!) And illustrating my children’s book? Well, maybe I need to take the hint and realize that if “writing a book” is on both the author’s “don’t do now” and “don’t do ever” lists maybe I shouldn’t even be trying to illustrate one. Or at least I shouldn’t be putting any pressure of myself to do so.

Should I be disappointed that this Monday post will probably be read by everyone on Tuesday? Not when I’m late writing it because we were able to extend our vacation by a day! Just getting it out there is good enough for me. In fact, I offer my nonchalance of this post’s tardy time stamp as tribute to what I’ve learned this week. Before I might have been frustrated or felt like a failure when a post went up late. Now, not so much.

So this week I learned that even though I was already somewhat of a “realist” I still needed a bit of a reality check and and it is my intention to aim low and go slow from here on out.

Next week… trusting your gut.


13 responses

  1. Dude, I’m terrified to take that quiz- I KNOW where I belong.

    I think many mothers hold themselves to impossible perfect standards– we think it “proves” how much we love our kids. Sad to say that I’ve learned the hard way that people who do things “wrong” (Ahem, DH) love their kids every bit as much as I do and probably don’t give themselves panic attacks over things that don’t even matter.

    P.S. I read this on Monday!

    • It does seem like how we mother is the true test of who we are, like we know we’d do the best we could for our kids, so what we end up doing for them shows us what we’re truly capable of. Or, more importantly, what we’re not actually capable of. And to be honest, I found myself being judgmental of the woman we were staying with and the choices she made for her child. Then I would remember this chapter and the fact that every mom is doing the best she can. I’m sure the choices I make seem horrific to some too. You can’t please everyone, only yourself.

  2. I’ve been burned for my high expectations more times than I care to remember. I have a tendency to romanticize things and inflate a certain image in my head, and when things fail to meet that image I just crumble under the disappointment. I’ve been praticing keeping things more even and less internally hyped, and it’s definitely helping me to relax about certain things in my general life.

    In terms of mothering, I read something in one of my books that stuck with me: If something seemingly bad happens, ask yourself, “Is this something that years from now I will laugh about?” And if it is, why not just laugh about it right now?

    I’m stoked to hear more about this book! I checked to see if my library carries it…but it doesn’t.

    • I also fantasize and romanticize things in my head as well. I can get so disappointed if a trip or a special day doesn’t go how I’d hoped. I was really bummed out when Isa’s first birthday was a flop. If only I’d been expecting less I could have enjoyed it more. Instead I spent the whole time devastated that it was such a disaster. I really tried to make sure that I didn’t have too high of expectations during our trip. I wasn’t going to expect a beach trip or nice weather – just QT with Mi.Vida and Isa. And then we did get nice weather and the beach was great and I was so pleasantly surprised. It was nice.

      I love that line. I shall use it. I actually have used it before, but only for incredibly ridiculous things, like when Isa had the poop explosion in her sleep sack because Mi.Vida didn’t put her diaper on right and it fell of and she took a huge dump and then kicked it all over herself and the sleep sack. It was so ridiculous I couldn’t help but laugh. It’s funny that the smaller things always piss me off more than the bigger things.

  3. This is great advice, and something I am thinking about a lot today. Your description of yourself as a student and employee sounds EXACTLY like me- I’ve always had the mindset that if you are going to do something, be the best at it.

    I’m learning that being the “best” mommy means loving my child with all my heart, but realizing that not everything is going to go according to my plan. I was DEVASTATED by my breastfeeding experience, and now am struggling with feeding Grayson the “right” solid food as well. I have decided I just need to CHILL OUT about it, because I am getting myself just as worked up and setting myself up for disappointment every time I introduce some organic, high calorie, nutrient rich concoction and Grayson spits it out with a “what the hell is this?” look on his face.

    And the Daddy does things “wrong” thing- GUILTY, GUILTY, GUILTY am I. And you know what I am most mad at him about right now? That he isn’t as stressed/concerned/upset about the food thing as I am. Ridiculous.

    Here’s to low expectations! (And I’m glad I had this to read on Tuesday while I ate breakfast).

    PS Let me know what you decide you want for Isa’s painting 🙂

    • I was totally thinking of you today when I spent all this time preparing Japanese sweet potatoes for Isa because I was sure she’d tolerate holding them and thus feeding them to herself. Instead she screamed and writhed until I’d feed them to her and then after five bites refused them all together. I’d been trying to remember to make them for AGES and I was so proud that I finally did and she didn’t want anything to do with them. I was like, oh Elizabeth, I feel you girlfriend. I so feel you.

      And I shall email you about the painting ASAP!

  4. This IS good advice. Lately, I’ve been thinking about how much easier this mothering gig has become for me in recent months when compared to g’s first year of life. I know that age has something to do with it and it’s easier as communication improves but I believe it also has a lot to do with my approach. I was a nutcase in the early months and I operated with the underlying assumption that any mistake I made would have dire circumstances (diaper changes have to occur immediately!, he hardly ate this feeding – he’s going to starve!).
    The only bummer about this advice is that it can be harder to take to heart that it sounds like it should be. I was told to relax plenty during those early months but, you know, easier said than done sometimes.

    • So easier said than done! I was saying to Elizabeth (above) that today I found myself all worked up when Isa refused, yet again, to feed herself even though I made her favorite thing. I was so upset and disheartened. Then I realized that some day she would be able to feed herself, even if it wasn’t for a year or so, it would happen and in the end this would just be a phase I looked back on. I’m not actually worried she will NEVER feed herself, I’m just frustrated that she won’t do it yet when everyone says she should be. So yeah, aim low, go slow. Just got keep getting back to that place, over and over again.

  5. I think it’s more like “aim differently, go slow.” Our expectations are not about “height,” but about our measure of success … which is completely different from how other people measure them. So it’s not that they do “less” but that they achieve on a completely separate scale.

    (Your own to-do list is another story … that’s about setting expectations for yourself that match the time you have, your goals, your heart’s desires.)

    Why do the dishes need to be done as I’m cooking? Because *I* need them done as I’m cooking. My husband is a “clean at the end” kind of person. We achieve similar results, but the process to get there is different. Why does laundry need to be folded as it comes out of the dryer instead of after the fact? Why does Ian need to eat some foods first and not others (or eat his whole lunch that I pack him)?

    We need (I need!) to remember that the expectations are mine, not others’. Ian often tells me “I’m the boss of myself.” And while I tell him not to give me 4-year-old-sass, in some respects, he’s right, and it’s not a bad lesson to learn.

    Neither, though, is compromise. 🙂

    • I think I’m going to have to beg to differ on this one. I think sometimes it is about aiming lower than you would, not differently. You’re talking about different ways of doing things but sometimes I’m not doing something differently as much as less ideally than I would like. For example: I want to feed Isa homemade food all the time. But I just don’t have enough kinds stored up in the freezer to do that anymore so I’m feeding her more and more jarred foods. That is not a different expectation, but a lowered one. Of course she is eating good food but it’s not the best food I could be giving her (which, in my opinion, is homemade food). So I do feel that there I am lowering my expectations and being okay with that. On trips I would rather bring cloth diapers but the reality is I’m too lazy to do that so I let myself put her in disposables. That is me lowering my expectations. Ideally she would be in cloth and I wouldn’t be using disposables but I’m allowing myself to do what is not ideal to keep my sanity in tact. So while I think that being okay with different ways of doing things, as you mentioned, is great, I also think that lowering our expectations can sometimes make us less crazy and more sane. But maybe I’m misunderstanding your point…

  6. I don’t know…I can see Justine’s perspective in your last comment’s examples. Homemade food or good jarred food–different ways of doing the same thing: putting nutritious food into your daughter’s body. Certainly you expect and hope to be able to prepare her food with your own hands, but what exactly is tied up in that expectation? Is it about meeting your need or Isa’s need? What do you accomplish by making Isa’s food? What do you gain from that? (Just food for thought, pardon the pun.)

    And I think there is something incredibly valuable about honoring your limitations. I can completely understand your using sposies on vacation. There is widsom and practicality in ceding one expectation (using cloth) to another (a relaxing, less hairy vacation). It still feels, to me, like “aiming differently.”

    • I guess I can see how they could be described as different expectations but they still seem distinct to me than the examples she gave above. Whether you wash the dishes during or after cooking they still get washed just as well, the only difference is when. Whether you dry the clothes right out of the dryer or from a basket, they still get folded and the end result seems exactly the same to me. The end result of feeding my daughter homemade or jarred food does not seem the same. One results in her eating fresher, tastier and more nutritious food than the other. And while I understand why using sposies on a trip is valuable (that is why I do it) the end result is not the same as using cloth – the difference is some 30 odd diapers in a landfill, which feels worse than no diapers in a landfill. So I still think these are lowered expectations which are different than the different expectations Justine mentioned above.

  7. Hm, I’m more laid back as a mom than I had thought I might be.

    At work, I’m a realist with blamer too, I would think at first glance. I’m trying to aim lower in that department.

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