This post has been in bits and pieces for over a year. I'd write some and then just not be able to finish it. I feel like I can now!
A year ago we adopted two cats. It turns out that one of them was pregnant. She wasn't much older than a kitten herself, and the poor thing got so huge she couldn't even clean her own bottom! She had five kittens. When the kittens were about three weeks old, I noticed one night that the mama cat (Bubbles) was acting strange- twitching and crying and she had a fever. Turns out she had what is called "milk fever" which is when the mama doesn't have enough calcium in her body for both herself and her babies, and she develops eclampsia, which can quickly lead to paralysis and death. We took her to the vet and got her stabilized, and we were told she couldn't nurse the kittens any more. So we started bottle feeding them, and I would let her in after their bellies were full so she could try to top them off, and more importantly, she could clean their bottoms and help them defecate because I wasn't having any luck with a wet washcloth! At the times when she had to be separated from them, she would sit outside their door and cry, and clean any paw that they stuck out at her, and when we opened the door she would rush in, calling to them, trying to lick them all at the same time, and then settling down to nurse them. She was such a dedicated, giving, self-sacrificing mama. And it almost killed her. And we had to keep her from doing what she
wanted to do most in the world because if she did, she may have gotten past the
point where she had nothing left to give.
Watching this, being the surrogate milk feeder, trying to keep them all
healthy AND happy, had me reflecting on my own mothering journey. And it brought up for examination a BIG subconscious belief- "the more I
sacrifice for my children, the better mother I am". Wow. And I could see
it, in my reluctance to leave my kids with ANYONE (including their
father) so I could take care of myself, or be by myself. There was always
been this knot in my stomach about leaving them, and about doing things
for me, and I didn't know what it was. It was that belief. Because if
I stopped doing for them and started doing for me for a bit, that put me
closer to the middle of the scales that weigh out the good moms and the
bad ones. And I just wasn't comfortable being there, in that wobbly
zone. All the images and voices I had stored in me of what a good mom
is- the one who gives the choicest cuts of meat and best food to her
husband and children, and takes what's left for herself. The one who
"would do anything for her children". I never wanted my children to be
able to look back and say that I didn't care about them. I wanted them
to look back and see how I gave EVERYTHING to them, so whether they're
happy with the way I raised them or not, at least I never held back.
Just recently I've realized there is another piece to this. The desire to have given enough, done enough, sacrificed enough, that NO ONE would be able to look at my life and say that I should have done something else, or didn't do enough, or should have done more. That even if something went wrong, no one could say that it was because I didn't do something I obviously should have. Sometimes there has been this desire to do it "by the book", do everything to the most extreme, to the letter of the theory (this has come up around food especially) so that if the results I'd hoped for didn't happen, it's at least not because I didn't try hard enough. At the root of all of this was the desperate need for others to see me as a good mom, or at least not see me as a bad mom. A desperate need to prevent anyone from criticizing me. Because if I truly "get it right" then there will be nothing to criticize, right?
As much as that may have been true in school (if I followed the rubric and gave the teacher all that was requested, then the teacher would have no reason for criticizing) it's just not true in real life. I could completely sacrifice everything for my children, give them everything they needed, been completely focused on them so much that I completely neglected myself, I could even DIE for them, and if our story ended up on the Huffington Post, there is no guarantee that there would be no hecklers. How many martyrs in history still get criticized? Heck, according to the Bible Jesus died for all the people in the world, but that doesn't stop people from talking negatively. My freshman year in high school, our band director talked about "Joe Schmoe Popcorn Eater"- the guy sitting up in the stands who couldn't have cared less about the band and who quite honestly never may, no matter how dazzling and amazing a performance he saw.
Criticism does not feel good. We are trained to avoid it- if we do the "right" thing we get praised, if we do the "wrong" thing we get criticized. Great behavior modification technique. It has brought many of us to where we are today. Tried something, got brutally made fun of and laughed at, and we decided we'd never do it again. For some of us all it took was someone rolling their eyes at us. Or dead silence after we poured out our hearts. It didn't feel good, so we decided to avoid it. The thing is, it is NOT possible to actually live life in a way that prevents us from ever being made fun of, ever criticized, ever seen by someone else as "wrong". And attempting to live that way is a little bit like living in a cave and just scuttling out to grab something necessary every once and awhile, and completely missing the beauty of the sky and the trees because we're so intent on avoiding getting stepped on. Some of us have tried to carry protection around with us in many forms, but it often ends up slowing us down and we live life inching along at a snail's pace while we long for the freedom to swoop and soar like the birds, but not enough to let go of the shell.
I've known for a long time that it's impossible to please 100% of people 100% of the time, yet part of me has still tried to make it happen. And I realize how much of my life has been wasted trying to live in a way that others will approve of. When my focus has been on preventing others from criticizing me, I've been too afraid to be true to myself and allow myself to embody who I truly am. It's impossible to feel confident, secure, and peaceful in what I am doing when one eye is watching out for the person who is going to pull the rug out from under me. And I WANT to feel confident, secure, and peaceful in what I am doing! A freedom came to me when I realized that no matter what I do, it will never be enough to prevent others from criticizing. I can never get to the point where I am "enough" in the eyes of others so they will leave me alone. There will never be a time when I have proven myself so completely that everyone in the world says "Oh yes, we see you know what you are doing, we will now support and trust you as you finish out your life." And now that I can see that, I can decide to stop even trying as it is a waste of my time and energy and there are fantastic things I am missing by focusing on avoiding the pain of criticism.
Eleanor Roosevelt said "Do what you feel in your heart to be right – for you’ll be criticized anyway." Wow, there is such a freedom that comes with that! There is no avoiding the possibility that someone else will think I am wrong, all I can do is listen to my heart and do what feels right to me. And if it turns out badly and other people chime in with their "you should have done. . "s I can go back to my heart and ask to be shown what I am meant to learn from the experience, trusting that I did just what I needed to do even though the outcome wasn't as I had planned. Others can never truly know what is right for me. At times it may be right for me to be sad, to be angry, to be in pain. It is my experience, and there may not even have been a way to "do it right" that allowed me to avoid those feelings. In fact, it may have been "doing it right" for me to have felt them, experienced them, moved through them! I can choose to decide that the fact that it happened meant that it was supposed to happen, and let go of all of the shoulda, coulda, wouldas that get in the way of seeing the wisdom that came from the experience.
There is no such thing as being "enough" if the goal is avoiding criticism or uncomfortable situations or pain. And there IS no "enough" to strive for if the goal is being worthy of love- we just are, nothing needed. We need not compare ourselves to any measure at all- we are all completely amazing in our own unique ways, experiencing life as only we can, adding to the variety and brilliance of our planet in ways that can't even be fully described. We just ARE, and no amount of criticism can ever take that away.