Here’s the finished draft of a submission I made to an online magazine for mothers of kids ages 0 to 5. It wasn’t accepted for publication (and I never even heard back about it at all), but at least I tried! I think that this was not what they were looking for since they don’t really stress the personal growth narrative in mothering. They are more about “the tribe” of motherhood and less about actually improving personal effectiveness. The suggested topic was exactly this: Three Ways to Know When to Embrace Those Unflattering Characteristics of Who You Are or When to Seek Out Help to Change Them. So I took it and ran with it (maybe a little too far!). Here it is.
Grant Me the Serenity: Three Ways to Know When to Embrace Those Unflattering Characteristics of Who You Are or When to Seek Out Help to Change Them
Many of us have heard of “The Serenity Prayer,” attributed to Reinhold Neibuhr, which starts off like this: “God grant me the serenity / To accept the things I cannot change; / Courage to change the things I can; / And wisdom to know the difference.”
When it comes to raising our young children, it seems like parenting them gives us a valuable (and universally-experienced) opportunity to get to know the parts of ourselves that we’d rather not have to deal with. No matter how nice, funny, smart, creative, outgoing, committed, loving, spontaneous, organized, patient, or generally put-together we might be (or would like others to think we are), we all have humanness in us that comes to the surface periodically as we journey the path of motherhood.
Any number of physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, and social issues could become a problem for us before we are ready to admit it. If we are being honest, it may feel like some days we are floundering (rather pitifully) to keep up with managing ourselves while we are doing the best we can to care well for the children entrusted to us.
Since raising human beings is serious stuff (yet we don’t have to be serious about it, per se), at some point it might be helpful to us (and our children) if we consider the possibility that what we would rather call unflattering may in fact be a life-controlling issue that requires deliberate time and attention to overcome. How do we know when we should just embrace what makes us unique individuals or when it’s time to undergo a focused kind of self-development process whereby we seek out help (whether professional or self-directed or both) to change these unfavorable things about us?
Here are three ways to know which way to go with the characteristic in question.
- Does it make your personality sparkle, or does it cause you pain (even a little)?
Our points of uniqueness are what make us us. But if something in daily living creates more chaos for us than calm, it may be time to make a change. For example, creative types are known to be messy, but if messiness is left unchecked for too long, it can turn into an anxiety-inducing environment. If your characteristic in question brings pain to your life, even in the form of chronic discomfort, it might be time to seek out help and make the adjustments necessary to live a freer kind of life.
- Does it enrich the lives of those around you, or does it hurt them (even indirectly)?
As the mothers we are, our influence is profound on our children, our spouses/co-parents, and the community around us. But if something in us keeps causing others to feel hurt, then we may want to examine the triggers and see what we can do about our part of the relationship equation. For instance, we may have an extraordinary ability to see things from a critical perspective, but sometimes this can morph into unnecessary discord, unreasonable irritability, and an anger-infused atmosphere. If your characteristic in question creates hurt in others, even those who happen to hear or watch what’s going on from the sidelines, then it’s worth taking the step of finding out how we can participate in the process of transforming our personal unpleasantries into powerful points of healing and recovery.
- Does it reflect positively on God and his good nature, or does it detract (even slightly so) from the Golden Rule of treating others the way you would want to be treated?
Our faith is the bedrock of all that we do, so if there’s something about our words or behavior that creates confusion about the loving God we put our trust in, we may need to consider a change in our day-to-day lifestyle choices. For example, we might enjoy knowing information about everything and everyone, but our interest in knowledge may lead to talking excessively (and/or negatively) about other people who are not in the room (otherwise known as gossiping). None of us would appreciate it if others did this to us (especially if we found out about it or overheard what was being said). So if your characteristic in question detracts from the Golden Rule of applying genuine empathy and compassion to everyday situations, even if no one else knows the extent of the detraction, then it may be a good time to look at how we can go about consciously making positive changes to the things we think, say, and do.
As “The Serenity Prayer” reminds us, it’s important to learn to accept the things that we can’t change. But if we have determined that a change is needed and that it’s in our power to make, then let us do what we need to do (even if it’s hard) to bring about the positive changes that we and our families and our communities deserve.