I’m sure I’ve mentioned before that I enjoy self-help books. I like creating projects that will make me a “good” (or at least “better”) mother, wife, woman, teacher, etc. I’ve attempted weight loss and exercise projects, healthy eating projects, financial lock-down projects, and house-cleaning projects. I’ve thrown myself into each of these with varying fervor, and have met my goals with varying levels of success.
Each project has always been A BIG THING that I spend a lot of time planning and executing, and that DRAMATICALLY ALTERS a huge part of my life. I generally have to create definitive rules and then commit to following them ALWAYS. I’m absolutely an all or nothing kind of girl–for instance I find it much easier to eat NO DAIRY than to eat dairy in moderation, or buy NOTHING for a month, than sticking to a specific spending limit. I’m much better at cutting something out completely than restraining myself. That has always been true for me, for as long as I can remember.
Sometimes I want the changes I make to be permanent (being more frugal, house cleaning regularly, etc.) and sometimes I know they are just for a limited time (like all the many dietary changes I’ve implemented for TTC, thrush, etc). The only common thread between all these self-improvement attempts is that they have all, ultimately, failed. None of them fail outright, but eventually, I stop doing what I’m trying to do, and always, always, I go back to the way I was, a sense of failure hanging heavy over my head.
But now that I’m done with family building, I feel a distinct change in the way I think about these things. Two things have shifted: one is that I have more bandwidth to think about things because the significant portion of my brain that used to be occupied with: I want to babies. Will I be able to have babies? What if I can’t have babies? What if my babies die? Why can’t I seem to have babies? What do I need to do to have babies? Babies, babies, BABIES! is now conspicuously silent. All the circuitry that used to be clogged up with TTC! PREGNANCY LOSS! INFERTILITY! BABIES! traffic is now available for other thoughts. The second shift is that now that my family is complete, I’m no longer waiting for some future date when things will be different. My life is now. I know (as well as I can know) what my life will look like, and so I can make decisions about my future, accordingly.
With those changes–and the resulting mental bandwidth made available because of them–I seem to have found a significant measure of peace. I no longer have the mindset of, I am (or my life is) clearly broken: how can I fix it, I need a plan to fix it, what rules can I follow to fix it, I must be better so I’m not such a fatso/slob/wasteful bastard. Instead I feel a lot of acceptance about who I am and what my life looks like (and by that I mean, the parts of my life I have control over). That doesn’t mean I don’t want to change things–I definitely do–but the attitude I have ABOUT those changes, and HOW to make them, is so, so different.
These days, I seem to be taking a step back and thinking about all the different aspects of my life as pieces of a larger puzzle. Each makes up a portion of who I am, but none of them overshadow any other area, or define me in my entirety, anymore. It used to feel like, I am bad mother/wife/woman because I don’t cook and I can’t seem to keep my house clean. Now, with a great deal of emotional clarity, I can recognize that I want to make more homemade meals for my family, and I want our house to be cleaner, and I can think of what small changes I can make, now or eventually, to make those things a part of my life. And I can do this without judging myself for not making the changes RIGHT NOW.
Before it was all about plans and strategies that I found elsewhere–projects from books or websites or self-help gurus. Now it feels more natural, more organic. Over the years, I’ve tried so many different strategies that I’m aware of what I can and can’t do, what will make me feel successful and what will push me to deem myself a failure. Instead of framing it as, I will be a horrible mother if I don’t make my family a healthy meal at least X times a week, I think how great it would be if we could incorporate more home-cooked meals into our hectic lives. How might I be able to manage that? What does “homemade” mean to me and how can I achieve it? What small steps can I take to start? What would be an acceptable jumping off point? These questions are asked without pressure or judgement. There is no fear of failure, no all-or-nothing attitude. With this frame of mind, just one healthy, home-cooked meal would be a success, not a failure because I never got around to making the second healthy, home-cooked meal.
I’m not sure if I’m explaining this very well, with all my train-of-thought-narrations written out in italics. It’s not just the words that have changed but the tone behind them. I think, for the first time in my life, I’m allowing myself to create a vision statement for my life, and I’m investigating how I might achieve this vision. I’m letting myself explore possible lifestyles and discover my own priorities. And I’m doing all this with curiosity, not judgment. This isn’t about chiding myself for all I’m doing wrong, but encouraging myself with all the ways I might do things differently. Instead of drastic strategies, I’m embracing small scale, organic shifts that just feel right. I’m sitting with my own suggestions, taking days and weeks to ponder how I might make them a reality, being honest with myself about what probably what won’t work, and be patient when it’s clear a change is best left for later.
I’m not quite sure where these attitude shifts came from, but I appreciate them more than I can say. For the first time in my life I don’t feel this pressure to be something I’m not, to adhere to the societal and cultural obligation to be something I’m not. For the first time I’m exploring possible changes because *I* want to make them, because *I* think they are important, or might make me happier. And for the first time, I’m not in any hurry to make them work, to prove to myself that I can do it, that I’m “good” or “better” or “enough.” I hope that, as I spend the time and effort to figure out what I want my life to look like, I’m able to become the person I most want to be.
Of course, it will probably take a while. I’m not in any hurry.
What is your attitude about making changes in your life? Has it changed over the years?