Lessons learned in 2013

It’s been a while since I’ve taken the time to look back on a year, but I decided to do it this year. Here are some of my reflections from 2013:

[Addendum: I apologize for my horrendous numbering system below (no 4 and 2 6's)! I edited this post literally 15 to 20 times before hitting 'publish' but I completely neglected the numbers. I've decided not to fix it, however, since some readers cited by number the items that resonated with them. I'll leave the list as is for reference :-) ]

1. The world is kinder when I change the lens.

I’ve always had a tendency to look too much into things. If someone consistently fails to say hello or respond to some of my emails, my mind reaches for the negative: I’ve done or said something wrong, or she thinks I’m a bother. I’ve been reminded not infrequently (usually by books and male friends) that when something like this happens it says more about the other person than it does about me.

This year, I began trying to give others the benefit of the doubt. The acquaintance who appears cold and does not respond in kind? Perhaps something is going on in her life right now, and she is not in a place to extend herself. My world became softer and kinder when I changed the way I made assumptions about others’ motives.

2. It does feel good to not beat myself up.

The comments were so innocuous (or regular) that I couldn’t even see anything wrong with them until a therapist pointed it out to me. Judgments like “I’m such a mess” or “I look awful” or “I’m such a bad mom,” when piled up day after day, year after year, can do a number on your psyche.

3. My child is not perfect, but he is terrific.

All my unrealistic expectations of myself trickled down to my child and I struggled this year to let go of the fear that every flaw signals potential trouble ahead. My son will make mistakes. He will forget things. He will miss answers on a test. He will be careless. He will get overly emotional. He will be tired and he will be hungry and he will be stressed and he won’t always be able to put on a happy face in these situations. The thing is, what human being doesn’t do this every now and then? I’m living proof of the damage that can be done when the bar is set to the sky, and now it’s my responsibility to bring it within reach for my son.

5. There’s a certain decibel level of my voice that no one should ever have to hear.

I would never have labeled myself a yeller, but in fact I do yell. Or I did. I am trying to make that the past tense. There is nothing in my life that warrants shouting. My son’s behavior is never so beyond the norm that it cannot be addressed by a regular or at most firm tone of voice. And even if he ever really did cross the line, I doubt that shouting would be effective or productive.

6. I need to be kinder.

Not more polite and not gentler but actually kinder, whether it’s mumbling criticisms about a waiter at a restaurant or judging someone’s behavior or arguing with my husband.

6. I want to remember the man I fell in love with. 

Twelve years of marriage and almost ten years of parenthood have turned our pre-parenting memories to black-and-white. Something triggered an old romantic memory the other day, and I allowed myself to go with it, to rewind through the last 10 years to a time when it was just the two of us. I realized that those memories are an important anchor in a family dynamic that has since changed so dramatically.

7. I deserve at least 2 hours to myself each day.

My busiest two weeks of work are ahead of me, but so far I’m holding firm to my new rule of not working at night. I am not a rescue worker and no one’s going to die if I don’t respond late at night. After Fred goes to sleep, it’s me and my books or my writing.

8. My emergency oxygen mask is this, in this order: sleep, water, exercise, a (reasonably) tidy home.

I blamed everything from hormones to depression this year when in fact what I needed was basic self-care. I need to have all 4 of the above before I can care for anyone else properly.

9. We all speak different languages.

I’m planning to write more about this in a future post, but it really hit home for me this year how certain conflicts I’ve felt have been a result of the fact that loved ones and friends and I speak different “love languages.” Example: Max shows love through actions while I show it through words. In fact, I view and relate to the world through words but I realized that not everyone does.

10. Motherhood has more than one job description.

At 4 Fred drew a series of t-shirt designs for each of us. On his dad’s shirt he drew the American flag; on his he drew a dinosaur; on mine he drew a computer. He said that it was because I liked to work.

I’ve felt guilty for almost the entire time I’ve been a mother, because I’d failed to live up to my image of the “ideal” mother. I don’t do arts and crafts, I don’t cook and bake more than I have to, I don’t enjoy playing, and I am not all-sacrificing. It was thanks to your responses to a post I’d written on the subject that I began to swap out the old picture for a more realistic one that depicts the kind of mother I actually am: a travel-loving, book-loving, word-loving, conversation-loving, thinking-loving and independence-loving mom. I realized that I don’t need to trade in who I am in order to love and raise a child.

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23 comments on “Lessons learned in 2013

  1. naomi88 says:

    Wow. I think all these things you’ve touched on are so universal and we all need to be reminded of them regularly. I especially struggle with #1 and #10. I think all mothers out there, at some point, feel as though they are not the mothers they imagined themselves to be. Also, I think #3 can be so hard to keep in perspective, but so important for a happy and peaceful household.

    • Cecilia says:

      Thank you so much, Naomi! I’m so glad this post resonated with you and that I’m not alone. I especially appreciate knowing that I am not alone in #3…sometimes the more we love, the more we worry, don’t we?

  2. Kate Hopper says:

    I love this, Cecilia. You have done so much work this year (not work-work, but work on life, living, on realizing who you are and who you want to be and what you need in order to be that person). What an inspiration! Happy New Year, my dear! I’m so grateful for you and your words and your wisdom.

    • Cecilia says:

      Aw, thank you, Kate! Well, I was going to say “I am not doing enough” but I now know to NOT GO THERE ;-) Thanks so much for stopping by. I always love hearing from you. Happy holidays to you too! xo

  3. I woke up thinking just these same things, Ceci. I was laying in bed, a mess around me as usual, I began with “why can’t i ever keep a clean uncluttered home for the kids” and then I said, NOPE. I give what I do best: myself. My laughter, my joy, my hugging and kissing, my talking to them like the intelligent, cherished people they are. I give them me.” I love your words, Ceci.

    • Cecilia says:

      YES – “why can’t i ever keep a clean uncluttered home for the kids” has been such a common refrain for me. I’m always cursing myself for not having a neater or cleaner house. What I gather is that your home is filled with such love and laughter. I think you are an amazing mom! Thank you so much for your words here too, Alexandra. xo

  4. Akshita says:

    This is an extremely honest post, hence very brave. I can especially relate to 2 and 5. Just this morning, a simple message about some workshop made me so upset about not being proactive enough with respect to work. The thing is, we fail to see the things that we are doing or are good at in the face of the stuff that we think we are supposed to be doing. I also happen to start yelling when things are not going exactly as per plan, though I chide myself for it. It isn’t anger that causes it but anxiety in my case.

    I would especially like to tell you something regarding #10. I’ve seen my mother over-do things; she would come home from work at 7, then play with me or help me with homework, or take me out in case my father was on a business tour (that was quite frequent during certain years), lest I feel that enjoyment can’t happen without my father being present. On weekends she would cook snacks for me, or try something special for me. Years of overdoing stuff take their toll. The truth is, I never expected her to do so much. I appreciated it, but even at that age, I knew that she was making way more efforts than required. It’s not that children need you to do so much, it’s more of an unrealistic notion that the society has created. People talk of mothers being able to do so much, but fail to see that mothers aren’t superwomen, nor should they be superwomen. I’m sure that your son appreciates your mothering exactly the way it is, the same way that I would have for my mother. Every mother-child bond is different.

    Sorry for the long comment, and again, great post! :)

    • Cecilia says:

      Not at all, I really appreciate that you took the time to write such a thoughtful comment, Akshita!

      Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts about your own relationship with your mother. It is really eye-opening. We share so much in common. I too felt the exact same way growing up. My mother would wake up at the crack of dawn to prepare my breakfast and lunch for school and do so many other things, but I honestly didn’t feel that I needed it all. I would have been happier and less stressed to see her taking some time to herself. Maybe she too worried about being a good enough or perfect mother. You raised many great points!

  5. whatmeread says:

    It sounds like you have been trying to meet very high expectations all your life, and it’s good that you’re recognizing you don’t want to put that kind of pressure on your son. You don’t have to be a mother who plays games and does crafts if you’re a loving mother.

    • Cecilia says:

      Thank you, Kay. It’s been a challenge to rewire my way of thinking but I think I’m doing it slowly. I agree that as long as I am there for my son then I am doing enough!

  6. Great Reflections – thanks so much for sharing! Love #2, #7 and #8:) I need work on #6 too – get back to that couple that is back in the puppy love stage again – cannot keep our hands off each other – ha! Happy Thursday:)

  7. Carolyn O says:

    All true, and beautifully put. I’ve been practicing #1 this year, trying to imagine that the person who ran a red light may be rushing to see a loved one, for example. Some days I’m less successful than others. And I think it’s good for your son that you take time for yourself; then you can come “back” to parenthood refreshed and unresentful. :)

    • Cecilia says:

      Thanks, Carolyn! Yes, your example of the person running a red light is a perfect one. I try and remind my husband of that, too, whenever crazy drivers push his buttons. Gut reactions come so automatically though. I’m also hoping that by giving myself personal space I am teaching my son to respect boundaries.

  8. Emily J. says:

    Again, you and I have so much in common. What a beautiful list of things learned this year, and it reminds me that I learn some of these, and then have to relearn them. Why am I so forgetful, especially when it comes to perceptions and self-esteem and being hard on myself? Thank you for writing this. One of your best posts ever. It should be Freshly Pressed!

    • Cecilia says:

      Aw, thank you so much, Emily! Alas, I wish you were one of the WordPress editors ;-)

      I’m so glad that you can relate to these. I agree – it is so easy to forget these things. I actually had to look back to a post that I wrote a year ago to remember that I had promised to be kinder in 2013. I felt a bit ashamed that I didn’t do a great job of it this year, so it’s something I have to continue to remind myself of.

  9. Cecilia,

    I relate to many of the points you talk about here. #1 hits home for me. In the last few months, I’ve tried to really look at my expectations of myself, my family members, and friends, and realized that maybe I need to take a kinder approach in all my relationships. I lament over actions that in all likelihood have very little to do with me.

    These words and your willingness to talk about these subjects are so important. I love the vulnerability in your voice and I am so grateful that I’ve found you in the blogosphere.

    Here is to realizations and learning from them. xoxo

  10. Denise says:

    This is brilliant. Everything you say is so wise and true it’s difficult to pick one out! But the languages thing rings very true with me. I’ve been reflecting on how sometimes relationships fall apart even when you love each other – it’s not enough. You have to make an effort to understand the other person…. but also to convey who you are. And sometimes this involves trying to understand and speak each other’s languages.

  11. Justine says:

    I found myself nodding to everything you said here. Yes to being okay with how we parent our child, even if it doesn’t conform to the norm, yes to a different love language – in fact, that’s a pivotal realization for me when we were struggling before -, yes to less yelling, and an unequivocal yes to the oxygen mask, which was a parenting breakthrough on my end. First the self, then others, because only then would I be capable of being the kind of partner, mom, and friend that I hope to be for them…

    Great insights here, Cecilia. I love being on this journey with you!

  12. I love all of these lessons and can relate on many levels to them all. I think your lesson about languages has been huge for me. In my marriage, I have found that much of my and my husband’s discord results from us speaking different “love languages.” For all of my life, I had this thing in my head that told me that my language was the only kind of language there is. I taught myself that unless others spoke my language then they didn’t really (love me, care enough, fill in the blank). This isn’t true, I’ve learned, especially when it comes to relationships made across genders. We all have our own language for communicating love, our values, our fears, our courage. Embracing them and that there is not one language for all these things is the only way that compassion and true love can happen, I’ve realized.

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