Balance and Patience


“The only reason we don’t open our hearts and minds to other people is that they trigger confusion in us that we don’t feel brave enough or sane enough to deal with. To the degree that we look clearly and compassionately at ourselves, we feel confident and fearless about looking into someone else’s eyes. ”

–Pema Chödrön

This week my 12-year old had a root canal due to a tooth injury she sustained over the summer. The doctor came out afterwards to show me the baby tooth he extracted. Apparently, she hadn’t lost her full baby tooth, and the gum has been growing up around it. It’s probably been irritating her for a very long time. I realized that this would have probably happened right about the time that my baby was being born, when I was sleepless and preoccupied otherwise.

At that moment with the doctor, I felt this immediate rush of Mama Shame, believing that I had somehow neglected my oldest daughter’s oral health during that time (I’ve since talked to a few people and have developed a little compassion for myself).

Later that afternoon, my youngest (who is now almost 6) was telling me that her ears were popping (like when we go up the canyon), and asked me if I sounded different to her. I didn’t give it much thought because I was shuffling my oldest around between school and the dentist. This morning, in the wee small hours, I felt a tapping on my leg and heard a crying voice, “Moooom! My ear really hurts!” We just got back from the doctor and she has a raging ear infection. Again with the Mama Shame, only this time in reverse: much preoccupied with my oldest daughter, I’ve been neglecting my youngest daughter’s earlier signals that something was amiss.

I was engaged in an online discussion this week with several other women who worry that they are messing up their children’s lives. I admitted that I struggle with getting the laundry done—my son hasn’t worn a different shirt all week. (Eeek! I’m putting this out there on the Internet for ever and ever and for thousands of people!) I regularly fear that I’m That Mom. The one who will be saving up for therapy for my kids rather than for college.

Perhaps this is the kind of discussion that only perfectionists like me have (others in this world seem to have an easier time having patience with themselves than I do). Perhaps not. But I share here, with the hope to impart some compassion for us, with a little pep talk.

Being a parent is hard. Being in relationship with anyone, it is full of risks and rewards. Finding a balance between all of our responsibilities while guiding our kids on this journey, can be really difficult. Inevitably, we will fail. Because now that I consider myself to be a “recovering perfectionist,” I fully understand that the beauty of life comes from the great variation that exists in everything. The shades of gray are the tones that make a black and white photograph attractive.

But I hold strongly to the idea that we make meaning in life when we persist in engaging. When we dust ourselves off, forgive ourselves, and keep moving forward. Like Dori sings, “Just keep swimming.”

Or, as Theodore Roosevelt put it:

” It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

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