I recently applied for a job where I was asked to provide a written response to the statement: Describe a major challenge in your life, and how you handled it. Four years ago I would have said that attending full time university while balancing my full-time job, or navigating the mental and emotional rollercoaster associated with a horrific workplace accident my father was involved in. This year, however, my answer is much different. And, quite frankly, my response was littered with more questions than answers.
To date, the greatest challenge I have encountered in life is parenting. I have two delightful daughters, ages one and three. Parenthood is a series of questions, dichotomies and either-ors. The challenge, of course, is that I am supposed to be the leader, developing character whilst instilling value, ethics and fortitude. With each question I engage in, I confront choices related to my own character and attitudes. On days where my tenacious three-year-old chooses to exercise her free will and continuously challenge my requests, will I have enough self control and discipline to remain calm, consistent and kind? After a night of multiple wake-ups due to my child’s illness, rendering me depleted and exhausted, will I choose to see how privileged I am to show love and meet the needs of a sad, sick baby? When I have thirty other tasks on my list of things to do, will I stop to read or paint or snuggle? When teaching the importance of manners and proper behaviour, will I practice patience and model respect? And when I fail, will have the courage to apologize?
During those moments where I am faced with the opportunity to develop my own character, I do my best to remember that life’s greatest challenges provide perspective. In order to understand true joy, one must understand sorrow. Consistently my children provide me with perspective. Since becoming a parent, I have much deeper appreciation for sleep, silence and microwaved coffee. Since becoming a parent, I have become more self aware, gracious and generous. Since becoming a parent, I have an increased sense of gratitude for my own mother.
As a stay-at-home parent, I have a much richer perspective on both the day-to-day and long-term challenges and decisions my parents–especially my mother–were confronted with. Decisions that impacted her own personal aspirations and goals.
My mom stayed home with my brother and I during our toddler years, choosing to go back to work when we were around ages 5 and 3. When it became clear that the commitment to community committees, coupled with work demands and the overall busyness of life was impacting our family negatively (I was sick all the time, for example), my mom made the hard decision to remove herself from all commitments outside of the home. (Thankfully, my father’s business made enough money that she could choose to quit her job and devote herself entirely to the family.)
As a kid, I know I took her presence in the home for granted. For every meal prepared, bandaid applied or hug needed, she was there. For every birthday party, figure skating competition and drama performance, she was there. I never doubted her attendance or support. I just knew she would be there, because that’s what my mom did. Consistently, she put her family’s interests over her own, choosing to intertwine her identity with ours.
From my perspective as a kid, this transition seemed relatively effortless, but I know now that it was difficult for her. Not difficult in the sense that she didn’t want to be a part of our lives; rather, difficult because the balance of being involved in our lives and having our lives become her life is a very fickle one. Why fickle? Because kids don’t often make decisions based on how others will be impacted. I didn’t understand this until I became a mom.
Early in our teen years, it became evident that my brother and I needed a change of pace from the small town we grew up in. So at the age of 15, my brother left for boarding school. A year later, when my mom saw that the use of drugs and alcohol was my way of dealing with depression, she provided me the same option. She knew that I needed different opportunities and a fresh start. Consequently, 3 days shy of my 14th birthday, I left home.
Yet again, my mom (and dad) made an incredibly difficult decision for the betterment of my brother and I. For 15 years, she intertwined her life with ours, making herself physically present as well as emotionally and mentally available. For 15 years, she kept the home afloat while my dad worked incredibly long, hard hours. For 15 years, we were her priority. And even when she knew that us leaving meant tearing away much of her purpose, she did it anyway. She chose us over her.
When I consider all of the personal sacrifices my mother made on behalf of our family, I am filled with gratitude and thankfulness. Gratitude for her selflessness, and thankfulness for her choice to be present–truly present–in our lives.
And now, over 15 years later, my mom has completed her Bachelors in Social Work and has almost finished her Masters in Counseling. While I know going back to school later in life poses a different set of challenges than parenthood, I am so proud of
her. I am proud of her determination and perseverance. I am proud of her desire to grow and not be stagnant. I am proud of her for
choosing her goals and her aspirations–she didn’t let them die, she simply put them aside.
Finally, Mom, if you are reading this, thank you for modeling courage to me: courage to set aside and modify your aspirations for awhile, and for the courage to pick them up again. You’re an inspiration to many. Happy Mothers’ Day.