I went to a visit with a counselor recently, and talked about the persistent feeling of failure that is always there in the back of my mind. Logically, I know that I am taking steps to be a better parent, that I have changed so much about how I relate to my children, and yet most of the time I feel like I am a “bad mom”. Why? Because I could have more energy, do more fun projects, keep the house cleaner, never have grumpy days, in short, I could be perfect. Yeah, that perfectionism thing still dogs me.
The feeling hits me in other ways too, why haven’t I been able to pin down what exactly I want to pursue education in? Why can’t I make more money? Why do I still have so many insecurities and fears?
Why can’t I figure out how to make the time for my writing? The time is there on the weekend, but I am not a morning person, especially after working 8 hours the night before, and then in the afternoon we spend time as a family for the first time all week, and in the evening I am back at my job again. The time is there during the weekday when I am at home with the kids, but even as I write this on a Monday morning my 18 month old is climbing up my arm and whacking me with a toy, and my 4 year old is calling me from the kitchen to come and see the picture she just finished painting. Focus becomes something difficult to maintain.
One thing the counselor brought up is how recent all this change has been, only 3 years since the decision to stop parenting punitively, only 2 years since acknowledging and getting help for my depression, a year since my religious perspective changed, less than a year since we came out and started over and I got my first job. Despite our boring steady routine life, we have in fact been going through a lot of change in the last while.
This is new, and very different from my previous life. I have 25 years of messages about the role and capability of women to combat. I have 25 years under my belt of beliefs that people like me, women who worked outside the home, weren’t heterosexual, submissive to the man in their life, and ideally married and having baby after baby, were failures. When I think of going back to that old life, I know I would not survive. I would rather die than live like that again. But that doesn’t mean that those mindsets from not so long ago have been eliminated from my brain. And it doesn’t mean that the decisions I made then don’t affect my life now.
There is a sense of loss, grieving things never experienced, opportunities lost. I can never go back and re-live those years I spent buried under the weight of depression. I can never get back the hours and hours spent repenting and crying and praying for relief. My earliest understandings and experiences of my sexuality will always be tied to so much shame. And the decisions I made then still impact my life now, a constant reminder of how much I held myself back and how I can’t change who I was then.
When my counselor reminded me how much of my life is brand new, it didn’t seem to be that profound. But as the weeks have gone by I’ve begun to think about how many people are going through life with baggage from things in their past that they can’t change. Whether it’s regretting a soul-sucking relationship that consumed years of one’s life, or still paying down debts for something you no longer want, our past doesn’t just disappear. It can be a constant companion or a distant memory waiting to be triggered at a moments notice, but it is always there.
For me, it gives me a renewed challenge to live in the now, even when the now includes young needy children, low wages, and a constant tiredness. To accept who I was then, to have compassion on who I was then. In the midst of grieving time wasted and opportunities lost, I can not only give myself permission to live, but also permission to love, permission to be tired, permission to ask for help, permission to make mistakes, permission to be imperfect.
The other night I was chatting with a coworker about starting over, and how in the last few months with my wages and tips combined and the help of government supplements to cover food costs, it was looking like we were going to make it through the winter just fine. That’s a good feeling. My co-worker responded “You should be proud of yourself!” and I found myself smiling ear to ear as I realized that…
I wrote this yesterday which was a positive day, and today woke up feeling overwhelmed and down. I resonated strongly with this post from Bethany on the Day In and Day Out journey to keep the bad memories and past messages at bay.
We who start again are not alone.
We can accept the past, embrace the present, and look forward to the future.
We who face today with love and acceptance for ourselves and each other, change the world tomorrow.