The Kind of Mothering We All Need

“To Mother, to me, means to nurture. To heal, to help grow, to give. And so anyone and everyone who is involved in the healing of the world is a Mother.  Anyone who tends to a child, or friend, or stranger, or animal or garden is a Mother. Anyone who tends to Life is a Mother.” –Glennon Doyle Melton photo by the talented Amy Paulson www.amy-paulson.com

“To Mother, to me, means to nurture. To heal, to help grow, to give. And so anyone and everyone who is involved in the healing of the world is a Mother.  Anyone who tends to a child, or friend, or stranger, or animal or garden is a Mother. Anyone who tends to Life is a Mother.” –Glennon Doyle Melton
photo of Rachel & Glennon by the talented Amy Paulson www.amy-paulson.com

 

*name has been changed to protect privacy

I recently went outside my comfort zone and made a ninety-minute drive in unfamiliar territory to hear one of my favorite authors speak. My hesitations about leaving the comfort of my home on a Friday night at rush hour in the pouring down rain all were abruptly silenced by three words, “I need this.”

You see, my friend Glennon writes words that offer me refuge. With hope spreading like my grandma’s arms, I feel understood and unalone in her space. I knew that hearing her speak her truths would be like an I.V. of pure goodness flowing straight into my blood stream.

Sure enough, the experiences and revelations Glennon shared from a comfy couch, shoes tossed to the side, made me laugh out loud, clap enthusiastically, and cry unashamedly. But when Glennon was asked what advice she’d give people trying to be the best parent, person, or human being they could be, I became completely still. Glennon said, “Find something that fills you up and then do it.” During a painfully low point in her life Glennon followed an intense urge to sit at the edge of the ocean for hours and hours. She realized that sound, that smell, and that feeling was vital to her ability to thrive. She knew that she needed to sit by the water’s edge once a week and so that is what she did … that is what she does. “Find beauty that is just for you … find beauty that will fill you up,” she encouraged.

Much to my dismay, the program came to an end. I began heading for the exit when someone tapped me on my shoulder. “Excuse me, but my friend loves your blog and was wondering if she could talk to you.”

Behind this beautiful woman I’d never met was another beautiful woman I’d never met—and she had tears falling from her eyes.

“Do you read my blog?” I asked as I held out my arms. She nodded, and for several glorious moments we just held on to each other. As I hugged this stranger who didn’t feel like a stranger, I thought to myself: I need this. 

My two new friends and I ended up talking for quite some time. I felt an instant ease in their presence as though I could just be me—no hiding, no explaining, no apologies—just me. With them, the laughter and truths came easy. We were delighted to discover that we all lived fairly close to one another. We made a date to go walking—my version of “Filling Up” that Glennon spoke about just a few minutes prior.

On our second walking date, my new friend felt compelled to tell me why she cried when she first met me. She explained that she hadn’t had the kind of parenting that I describe in my blog. Then she used the word mother in way I’d never heard before. “I come to your blog for mothering,” she said.

Mother as a verb … as an action … as a gift we can give ourselves sounded so powerful … and so hopeful.

I immediately thought of the desperate message I’d just received from Sarah* a bright and courageous seventeen-year-old reader of my blog. She said her greatest hope was for her mother to treat her like a human being with feelings, thoughts, interests, and opinions. Her mother’s constant comments on her weight, grades, hobbies, and short haircut had withered her down to her “almost breaking point.” It was through my blog that Sarah came to realize this was not the way all mothers treated their children and that there was a better way to live. She asked me what to do, and this was a portion of my response:

I completely agree with you that your mother’s treatment of you does not have to be ignored or accepted. You are worthy of love, acceptance, kindness, respect, and encouragement. But even if your mother does not say encouraging words to you now or ever, you can say them to yourself. You are seventeen and you can take ownership of that little voice inside you. Your inner voice does not have to be your mother’s harsh critical words. You have the power to silence that negative voice with the voice of a loving encourager. Start by saying these empowering statements to yourself: 

I am worthy.
I am a good person.
I am enough.
I am strong. 

Write these messages on sticky notes and place them inside your dresser drawers or inside your school folders. Keep repeating these soul-building words to yourself until they become your inner voice. Only love today, sweet Sarah.

only love today

All at once, Glennon’s advice, my friend’s admission, and my encouragement to Sarah came together to form a tangible anchor of hope that I felt needed to be shared with as many people as possible:

We can mother ourselves.

No matter the degree of emptiness we feel, we can be filled.
No matter the lack of response we get, we can answer.
No matter the extent of brokenness we see, we can build.
No matter the weight of the burden we carry, we can move forward.
No matter the level of condemnation we face, we can rise above.
No matter what we did not receive, we can still provide.

We can mother ourselves. It is not too late for us. It is not too late for our children … nor is it too early. This last and final realization occurred to me when I took my daughters and their friend to the park—the same rustic park where my new friends and I walk.

We were only two minutes down the trail when my older daughter, Natalie, unexpectedly exclaimed, “I love this day!” She then stretched her hands towards the sky as if trying to collect sunbeams in the sleeves of her shirt. “Can you believe how the sun is shining in February?” she asked truly amazed. “Doesn’t it feel good?” she asked her companions. I noticed the other two girls agreed, but not quite with the same enthusiasm.

We finally reached their designated hut-building area. Two of the girls got right to work searching for fallen limbs and heavy rocks. As they chatted and collected, I watched Natalie crouch down next to the small babbling stream. She found a place where a small dam forced the water to trickle down like a mini waterfall. She closed her eyes as if in meditation or prayer. A few minutes passed and she turned back to me, suddenly remembering I was there.

“Do you hear that, Mama? Isn’t it beautiful? I wish I had the sound of this stream in my room. It sounds so soothing.”

As I promised my child we could come here anytime, celebratory tears filled my eyes. She’s learning how to fill herself. She is learning what soothes her soul. She’s learning what she needs to thrive. 

filling her soul 1There have been many gifts I’ve wanted to give my children, but knowing how to mother themselves was not one—until now—and now it makes so much sense. Given the state of the world we live in, perhaps it is the most important gift we can provide. We live rushed lives. We are bombarded by distractions both obvious and subtle. We are surrounded by critics. We are pressured to conform. We are stretched and depleted. There is little time for nurturing, soothing, and nourishing our inner needs. There is little time for meeting the inherent longings of our souls. But it doesn’t have to be that way—not with the gift of mothering. Take a look:

Child, let me mother you.
Let me take you to running streams.
Let me walk with you at your pace.
Let me play this beautiful song for you.
Let me fill your ears with soul-building words like: I love you just as you are, exactly as you are.

Friend, let me mother you.
Let me pray for you.
Let me bring you hot soup when you are sick.
Let me tell you how remarkable you are in a note you can read again and again.
Let me sit beside you in your despair—you don’t have to talk.

Self, let me mother you.
Let me take time to read the pages of this riveting book.
Let me visit this blog where I find hope and understanding.
Let me cry—I don’t have to be strong all the time.
Let me encourage myself: Who I am becoming matters more than who I once was. Today matters more than yesterday.

My friends, start paying attention to that little voice—the one that says, “I need this.” Listen and give it what it craves. There will be voices trying to dissuade you from this gift of caretaking, but do not listen to them. Those voices of negativity, pressure, and perfection will bleed you dry, steal your joy, and leave you hungry. They will not nurture you. Mother yourself so you can be the best version of you.

It’s not too late; it’s not too early. It’s the perfect time to fill the longings of your worthy soul … and possibly inspire others along the way.

Big people in the act of mothering themselves.

Big people in the act of mothering themselves.

 

Little people in the act of mothering themselves.

Little people in the act of mothering themselves.

***********************************************

Friends of The Hands Free Revolution, how do you mother yourself? And if you are lacking in that area, please share how you plan to start filling yourself up. The comment section of this blog always offers a wealth of inspiration and understanding.

Recommended Resources: 

  • In addition to Glennon’s soul –building space called Momastery, I’ve been soaking up the authentic, uplifting truths written by Beth Berry at Revolution from Home for many years. I am thrilled that Beth is now sharing her wisdom and insight through wholelife coaching for anyone feeling “Motherwhelmed”. She can help you get clear on why you’re here, align your gifts with what the world desperately needs, and get those gifts out there. The first session is free. Perhaps this is your first step toward mothering yourself.
  • The Only Love Today bracelets have proved to be highly effective in helping people change their critical inner voice to a more positive, encouraging one. There are leather and non-leather options available. My wonderful sister-in-law will be selling the bracelets when I speak at the Indianapolis event on March 14. Indiana, please come see me in Carmel or Batesville! There is so much filling up that happens when we gather together!

A Moment Longer Than Necessary

“Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.” ~ William Arthur Ward

 

While growing up, I periodically told my sister something I never told anyone else. 

“I think I’m going to die young,” I’d tell her matter-of-factly long before the popular song made such a dismal fate sound glamorous.

“Don’t say that, Rachel!” she protested the first time I said it. But after that initial disclosure, my sister seemed to get used to me saying it, especially around my birthday each year. By my twenties, my sister’s reaction to my depressing prediction was always compassionate and often inquisitive.

“Why? Why do you think that, Rachel?” she asked me as we drove to the mall on a bitter cold January day to shop for my 22nd birthday gift.

I didn’t know why. All I knew is that I could envision my demise like an intense movie trailer. In my 30-second preview, I could see I was around 33 or 34 years old and it happened on an Interstate.

Much to my dismay, my husband and I moved from Indiana’s slow country roads to Florida’s six-lane super highways right before I turned thirty. Naturally, that time in my life held a subtle sense of foreboding. To add to my worries, it was necessary to travel on I-75 to get to many places I needed to go.

I’d driven on plenty of Interstates in the Midwest, but this particular thoroughfare was different. It was faster. It was bumper-to-bumper. There was no shortage of intimidating eighteen-wheelers barreling past. And no matter what time of day it was, I could always count on seeing numerous roadside accidents. By age thirty-two, I had a precious baby in the backseat of the car as I drove that 12-mile stretch. I remember my hands becoming so sweaty that I could barely grip the steering wheel. I remember praying the entire way, hoping that particular trip would not be my last.

But here is where the goodness came in …

[Read more…]

Knowing Where Your People Are

where your people are #HFM

“But I’ll kneel down,
Wait for now
And I’ll kneel down,
Know my ground
And I will wait, I will wait for you.”
–Mumford & Sons

At the beginning of any school year, there are always quite a few student information sheets to fill out. But when I came to the pink sheet in my second grader’s folder, I was forced to pause.

What are your child’s fears? What calms your child when upset?

As my pen sat suspended above the blank lines, I let my mind wander into dark territories. What situations would upset my child at school? I knew. Intruders and tornadoes. Thankfully she’d only experienced one of them first-hand, and the tornado did not have a direct hit. But it was close enough to forever alter her perception of storms and the fragility of life.

Thankfully, I knew exactly what would bring comfort to my child if either of these situations arose. She would want to know where her sister was in the building. She would want to know that I was coming for her just as soon as I possibly could.

In other words: tell her where her people are.

[Read more…]

Somebody’s Child

"Know what it is to be a child . . . To see a world in a grain of sand And heaven in a wild flower, Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand And Eternity in an hour." --William Blake

“Know what it is to be a child . . .
To see a world in a grain of sand
And heaven in a wild flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.”
–William Blake

*name has been changed

I still remember her baby fine blonde hair that hung  just above her shoulders. She had a freckle-dusted nose, Snow White skin, and a toothy smile.  The way her hair was combed till it shined revealed that someone took great care in getting this little first grader ready for school each day.

Grace* was a beautiful, well-behaved child who, at first glance, appeared to be any teacher’s dream. But within ten minutes of the first day of school, I knew Grace would offer an extreme test of patience despite my previous experience in the most challenging special education classrooms.

As if pulled by some magnetic force, Grace physically gravitated toward me. If she was not sitting at her desk, she could be found directly under my nose looking up at me with a concerned expression.

Why the nearness? Why the concern? You may wonder.

Because Grace was a Persistent Question Asker. Whatever inquiry popped into her 6-year-old brain came out of her mouth—and the question was always addressed to me.

[Read more…]

Before Today Ends

before today ends handsfreemama.com

Today I hear …

Whining about her sister having a bigger scoop.
Slamming doors.
The relentless buzz of the dryer–a load needs folded … again.

But I also hear …

“This dinner ‘tasteses’ good, Mama.”
The C-chord sounding a bit like heaven on a tiny ukulele.
Tender, loving words in her sleepy bedtime voice.

This is what my life sounds like today.
And if I close my eyes and listen very carefully, that which sounds heavenly can overpower the noise.

Today I see …

Wet towels carelessly abandoned upon the bathroom floor.
Toothpaste blobs inhabiting the sink.
Weeds where flowers used to be.

But I also see …

Gentle hands putting dolls tenderly in their place.
A hole where a tooth used to be—her last baby tooth to go.
A love note written in kid penmanship resting on my pillow.

This is what my life looks like today.
And if I open my eyes and look very carefully, that which appears divinely perfect can outshine the mess.

[Read more…]

What the Children of Sandy Hook Taught Me to See in My Own Children

"When you're gone, colors seem to fade. When you're gone no New Year's Day parade. When you're gone, colors seem to fade."  -Amos Lee

“When you’re gone, colors seem to fade. When you’re gone no New Year’s Day parade. When you’re gone, colors seem to fade.” -Amos Lee

I’ve come to the conclusion that I would make a lousy reporter. When national tragedies strike, the fast-acting reporters and up-to-the-minute bloggers start firing away on their keyboards. Without delay, their carefully chosen words and eloquently expressed opinions appear in news feeds, hot and fresh for eager readers.

But not mine.

When it comes to the heart-breaking happenings in our world, I require time to process and ponder before putting my thoughts out into the atmosphere.

It’s been one month since the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Today I am writing about its impact on my “Hands Free” journey to grasp what really matters.  I hope you’ll agree that it is not too late and never will be.

This is my story …

[Read more…]

Remembering Sunscreen and Butterflies

I think Christy would want us to remember sunscreen … but also everyday miracles like butterflies and the feeling of a child’s hand in our own.

When I decided to share my “Hands Free” journey with an online community, I had no idea what insight this would bring me. There I was striving to grasp what really matters and it appeared, what matters most in life, right in my inbox.

[Read more…]

A Window Opened

One of three factors that contributed to this moment.

I was recently honored to have my story entitled “A Life Changer” chosen as part of the launch for a new non-profit wing of the hugely popular parenting blog, Scary Mommy.

In the days that followed that first post at Scary Mommy,

a window opened …

a friend sent me an article …

and my child wrote her name on her closet wall.

As a result of these three factors, I hopped on the treadmill  (also known as my “writing desk”) and wrote a story. Upon completion, I sent it to several people for feedback. This is what I received:

My ‘editor’ (my husband) whose typical feedback is: “That was good,” promptly emailed back saying, “I LOVE this post!!!” And then he forwarded it to a colleague that he knew would love it, too.

My cyber-friend, Kristin, who I have yet to meet in person, happily reported she no longer sees me as ‘saintly,’ delighted in ‘hearing’ me swear in print, and decided we MUST hang out soon.

My mom said she laughed and cried all the way through the post. (That’s nothing new for her.)

But most importantly, they all said, “This could be your best post yet.”

Some things just happen at the right time. For a reason.

This is just me, Rachel; there is no halo. And this is my story …

Saturday #286

 

Love Without Question

When it comes to matters of the heart, refrain from asking questions. Instead, just go with it.

*Name has been changed to protect privacy

Thanksgiving 2011 was one of the best I can remember.

It had all the makings of a fabulous holiday experience:

*hilarious moments (let me just say four words: “Awkward Family Photos Game”)

*inspiring moments (running in “The Drumstick Dash” alongside my husband and 15,000 other people with all proceeds going towards hot meals at the local mission)

*peaceful moments (having a the loveliest tea party for two with my precious 16-month-old nephew.)

*thankful moments (counting the number of freckles on my five-year-old daughter’s exquisite nose as she rested her sleepy head on my lap; BTW, there are 34)

[Read more…]

One Happy Island

I recently wrote a post about the fourteenth wedding anniversary excursion I went on with my husband. Many readers saw the sunset photos and inquired where one can find such surreal beauty.

The answer is Aruba.

And believe it or not, the sunsets are only a fraction of its appeal.

This island is very much in its natural state, void of expensive landscaping and “showy” sights.  This island and its people are authentic, satisfied with simply showcasing their natural splendor without worry of living up to typical vacation destination standards or expectations.

I slowly realized the island had a motto when I began seeing the same three words everywhere. In fact, the slogan was affixed to every license plate on the island.

Aruba: One Happy Island.

At first, I was merely delighted and amused by the fitting phrase of this welcoming piece of paradise. But the more I thought about it, I realized it was a motto worth adopting.

What if I could be consistently happy in my own skin regardless of what the media claims as fit or beautiful?

What if I could be happy with my life pursuits regardless of what society deems as a worthy life goal or defines as success?

What if I could be happy with who I am without the affirmation or justification from others?

What if I could be a happy island?

As a sensitive, “people pleaser” all my life, it is sometimes difficult to be a happy island. Too often, I allow outside factors to determine my own happiness.

But on this Hands Free journey, I am working on grasping what matters.  And something that matters is being happy with ME and not allowing outside forces to threaten or undermine that happiness.

I am fairly certain I have made progress in the area of self-validation during my past year of living Hands Free, but now I have a slogan to inspire me in those moments of insecurity and doubt.

One Happy Island.

Thank you, Aruba.

And as if fate knew about my determination to live up to my newfound motto, I was tested.

In fact, the test was waiting for me when I opened my computer upon arriving home from my trip.

Oh really, Rachel? One Happy Island? Let’s just see about that.

I debuted this blog eight months ago and never once had I received a mean comment. That is, until a few days ago. Granted, I have received a few comments that respectfully challenged my Hands Free concept or politely questioned a view I expressed in one of my posts, but those types of comments are quite different from a personal attack on me as a person and a mother.

The comment in question pertained to my blog entry, “Must You Go So Soon?” In that post, I describe the life lessons my family has gleaned in our efforts to stabilize the water in our new fish tank…a necessity to keeping the fish alive.

Without any editing, here is what “Tom” wrote:

I think Your a little nuts, sorry to break the news to you but fish don’t have feelings. This isn’t finding Nemo. I really think your parenting skills suck. And your kids are going to grow up to be sheltered sissies. That have no clue how this big bad world really is.”

A year ago, I may have read this and gotten a bit offended. I may have had to seek affirmation from a few talented blog writers like Lori or Wendy who have posted glowing reviews of my writing and my parenting skills.

A year ago, I surely would have had to show this harsh response to my husband or best friend so they could tell me Tom’s comment was about as accurate as his grammar usage.

And I surely could not have gone to sleep without drafting a curt and disdainful rebuke to this man who clearly missed the entire point of the post.

Lastly, Pre-Hands Free Rachel may have actually considered his words and wondered if there was any truth to them…not once, but many times….unable to simply let it go.

Now things are different. Thank God, things are different.

Do you want to know what I did when I read Tom’s comment?

I laughed.

In fact, I laughed out loud.

I laughed the way I do when my daughters and I watch silly YouTube videos like “Charlie Bit My Finger,” or “Baby Dancing To Beyonce.”

And before I slid Tom’s comment into the deep, dark blogosphere “trash,” I had one more good laugh.

Then three words came to my mind: One Happy Island.

I’m getting closer. Yes, I am.

Thanks, Tom.

****************************************

How often do we allow other people’s cruel words, negative comments or harsh criticisms threaten what we know is true about ourselves? Whether it is from a co-worker, neighbor, family member, friend, the media, or even our own inner voice, life can be littered with insults. But it’s up to us what we do with them.

Being joyful is a choice…letting other people sabotage it is, too.

So the next time someone tries to ruin your party, shrug it off; have a laugh.

Retreat to your island and be happy.

*I leave you with a photo of my ultimate One Happy Island role model wearing her new One Happy Island t-shirt. My four-year-old daughter loves life. Actually, she loves her life and nothing anyone can say or do will change her mind or her attitude about that.

The epitome of One Happy Island..