The past year has been filled with unprecedented challenges and grief for parents and their children. But through it all, there have also been some unexpected bright spots. Mighty Mommy takes a look at four of them in this Mother's Day reflection.
Mother's Day has always been my favorite celebration each year. After conquering a 5-year struggle with infertility via adoption and then having seven babies, I've always relished this special day, not because it's a Hallmark holiday, but because it's a milestone day that celebrates the most important role I'll ever have in life.
I've always relished Mother's Day, not because it's a Hallmark holiday, but because it's a milestone day that celebrates the most important role I'll ever have in life.
I created a tradition for myself 28 years ago when I first became a mom. Each year on the eve of Mother's Day, I write myself a letter of celebration. The letter recaps the ups and downs of my year as a mother. Although I focus mostly on gratitude, I keep it honest and jot down any challenges I had to overcome. When I'm finished, I review the letter, laugh and cry, then seal it and put it away to read the following year on Mother's Day. As May approaches, I excitedly anticipate reading last year's reflection. Not only does my annual letter to myself showcase the ups and downs of motherhood, but it also reminds me of just how much my family and I have grown over the past year. I encourage you to give it a try, yourself!
If you'd like to send an email to your future self instead of writing on paper, try FutureMe.org. You can write yourself a letter and then FutureMe will hide the letter from you (to preserve the surprise) and deliver it to your email inbox on a future date that you've set.
This year, as I reflect on what's happened since Mother's Day 2020, I'm looking back on a year like none other—the year I parented through a global pandemic. It can be hard to look for the bright spots after living through a year like this one, but looking for the positives is in my nature. I discovered four ways that the pandemic has influenced motherhood for the better, and I'd like to share them with you.
The definition of raising a successful child has shifted
When I first laid eyes on motherhood, I had grand notions of everything I wanted my child to be—intelligent, engaging, self-sufficient, and distinguished, with the ability to change the world for the better. It's a big list, but I believed in aiming high.
Raising a child with a list of rock star accomplishments is far less important to me now than raising a child who's thoughtful, considerate, trustworthy, and looks out for others.
Raising eight kids with such diverse personalities and varied learning abilities taught me that I didn't have to have the next President of the United States in my midst to have a perfectly wonderful child. Instead, I shifted my focus to their unique skills and traits. Raising a child with a list of rock star accomplishments is far less important to me now than raising a child who's thoughtful, considerate, trustworthy, and looks out for others.
The Washington Post's article, "How covid-19 is changing the way mothers parent their daughters," captured this dynamic exceptionally well. Grant McCracken, a cultural anthropologist, studied how the relationship between mothers and children is changing during the pandemic. Because of schools, daycares, extracurricular activities, and so many other regular outlets for children shifting to online venues, moms were now spending a lot more quality time with their kids.
Spending this extra time with them during the pandemic has caused them to re-examine some personality traits they wanted to foster in their children: kindness and compassion over competition, and empathy for those who may be struggling were key.
As difficult as this past year has been, it did allow us to pause and reflect on what constitutes our definition of success. We've seen countless random acts of kindness from young and old alike, and continue to learn how life-changing these displays can be for our children and their futures.
We welcomed the gift of downtime
For the five long years, I longed for motherhood to come knocking on my door. Before I became a mom, I had one thing on my hands—lots of time. Back then, I didn't see that as a gift because I was wishing it away for the days when I would have a family to care for and call my own.
One of my favorite ways to spend my empty days was visualizing all the incredible ways my life would change once I finally did become a mom. (Apparently, I'm a master at visualizing. Eight kids in one decade are proof of that!) I imagined with great detail all the amazing things I'd do with my kids as they were growing. I could see my calendar, chock-full of dozens of activities they would enjoy and thrive upon. I vividly saw them immersed in engaging extracurricular activities and all of us living a well-balanced lifestyle.
Being super busy isn't necessarily what our kids need to have an enriched life.
In reality, my overzealous approach was suffocating. I didn't leave my kids enough room to lay low and enjoy their downtime. Luckily, I figured this out. And so did many parents as a result of the pandemic.
One of the pandemic's silver linings was the blank slate of time that opened for our families. In the blink of an eye, schedules were wiped clean of most structured activities and events, and we gained the unexpected gift of time. One of the items I'm going to reflect on with great appreciation in this year's Mother's Day letter is how grateful I am to have gained endless hours of family time. We indulged in lengthy family meals, quiet afternoons at home with our dogs, and even scored extra time to reorganize our living space. Being super busy isn't necessarily what our kids need to have an enriched life.
If you'd like to learn more about visualization, check out my episode How Visualization Techniques Can Improve Your Parenting. I share a fun tool for creating a vision board!
We discovered that self-care is essential
Under any circumstances, parenting presents challenges. But add all the new pandemic challenges and we were in a tailspin trying to navigate significant changes to our family's lifestyles, let alone processing the collective grief a year full of trauma and uncertainty piled on.
The role of parents shifted drastically. We became instant teachers, daycare providers, technical support staff, and caregivers. And that was all while continuing round-the-clock meal preparation, overseeing the upkeep of our always-occupied homes, and juggling our careers ... often remotely.
We were in a tailspin trying to navigate significant changes to our family's lifestyles, let alone processing the collective grief a year full of trauma and uncertainty piled on.
Stress levels skyrocketed. UCS Healthcare targeted the adverse effects in their article The Pandemic's Impact on Moms: Why Mental Health Needs to be a Priority. The article explained that it's completely normal to struggle during these surreal times. But more importantly, the message was that we need to take care of our minds and bodies in healthy ways and not rely on unsafe habits as coping mechanisms.
We've all heard about the benefits of regular self-care, but this past year it became evident that we moms must incorporate dedicated chunks of time to staying refreshed.
In my episode 10 Creative Ways to Indulge in Regular Self-Care, I offer some easy and fun ways to unwind. One of my favorites is my tip on "nexting." In a Washington Post article about self-care, Shane Lopez (a Gallup senior scientist and author of Making Hope Happen) noted that studies show that vacation anticipation can bring just as much psychological reward as the actual vacation. He referred to this as "nexting." (How incredibly clever!)
When you take the time to meet your own needs, it's a win-win for all.
I'll be doing some "nexting" as I prepare for Mother's Day and plan on recommitting to saying "yes" to me! I believe we moms need to remember that when you take care of yourself, in essence, you're taking better care of your family. When you take the time to meet your own needs, it's a win-win for all.
Our creativity soared
As a writer and mom to a large family, I've always searched out ways to keep my creative juices flowing. I'm not shy with the use of bold color, mixing up the design of our living spaces, or cooking with spicy and zesty ingredients. I once stenciled our bathroom to reflect a tropical aquarium, complete with seaweed and sand! The process of designing that vibrant space for my family left me feeling jazzed for months. My kids loved showing it to all their friends and were sad when we remodeled it a few years ago.
As my kids grew and became involved in more outside activities, the extra snippets of time I had to pursue my creative outlets slowly disappeared. As I mentioned earlier about how we gleaned the gift of downtime throughout the pandemic, another unexpected bonus was the ability to get more creative.
Now that we weren't rushing from one appointment to another, we began looking for ways to liven up our home environment. (Being cooped up 24/7 allows you to see your space in a whole new light!) We also started eating all of our meals at home again, which opened the door to exploring delicious new recipes. I even took up sewing, making funky curtains for our tired bedroom spaces.
Getting crafty isn't the only creative twist to our homebound time this past year—we all found better ways to use our time in between virtual learning sessions. Stepping up our time with nature, learning to stay connected to friends and family with old-fashioned letters and phone calls, and enjoying the art of binge-reading has swept us out of our ruts. We're even engaging in interesting conversations more regularly, thanks to the extra time we're all enjoying in these creative realms.
As life slowly returns to a "new norm," I hope to harness this creative edge that has resurrected during these wild months. Hmm, maybe it's time to recreate that aquarium bathroom! It could be a fun family project to wrap up the twists and turns of this past year and celebrate the many gifts motherhood has given me.