Wednesday, September 19, 2007

2 Sentences You Need to Know to Feel Valuable...the Hump Day Hmm for 9-19-07

Do you ever have one of these days?

The other day I woke up full of determination: today I wouldn't feel so tired, be so disorganized, slack off, skip things, and I promised to get things done and be a better mom. I would do the best I could in my life, and in the world beyond my life, too. Today I would be Me and the Person I Ought To Be.

The children met me in the hall and I chirped a cheery greeting at them. I was met with a stone face from Patience, and Persistence's usual whining of, "I hun-gee, Mommy, hun-gee, I want bakefest!" I remained cheerful all the way downstairs, to the kitchen, and during breakfast despite Persistence's persistent whining. I kept up the cheerful cadence and rah rah'd the children through their morning routine.

But I was flagging. Instead of a real cheer, I was now faking it. Already.

As usual I reminded Patience it was PE day and she ought to wear skorts or shorts, something to facilitate athletics. As usual, she came out in a dress, completely inappropriate.

As usual, Persistence wouldn't let me brush my teeth; she plagued me with incessant whining to help her tie her belt on her shorts, and then when I stopped to do as she asked, she ran off, "No, no do it Mommy!!!"

As usual I had to say at least three times to get downstairs and get shoes on.

As usual I glanced at the clock every ten seconds saying, "If we walk out the door NOW, we'll be on time...if we run out the door NOW, we'll be on time."

As usual I squealed up to the door with the other Last Minute Lucys. I kissed Patience goodbye.

As usual Persistence began her endless patter about, "I go my school today? I ready-a go to my school now, Mommy." As usual I reminded her that we had time to go home for a snack and a show and then we'd go to her school. As usual, she set up a hissy fit.

An hour and a half later, as I drove home from tiresome rounds of schlepping kids to school, I was exhausted.

I got home and I opened up my email and looked at the many messages I owed replies to. And I felt empty. I stared at my to-do list. And felt like a failure. I dug deep within me, and felt...nothing. No strength, no motivation, no ability. I try and try, all to no avail, I moaned in my mind, why won't be enough or good enough anyway.

It was only 9:45 and my day's grand plans had already fallen apart.

I thought back to the morning when I had first woken up, so positive, so sure that today would be different, that I could, by sheer force of willful cheer make today better and do more. It was with no small sense of irony that I realized I had possibly made it worse.

At this point in my life, I am so focused on rushing and doing in the now that I can't help but wonder---no, worry---whether I am creating any good in the world, doing anything worthwhile. I can't help but wonder if I hold any value.

Yesterday I talked about the disparity between expectations of moms and dads. I focused on how dads face challenges, too, some the same, some different. But at the end of the day, it seems like some people have more opportunities to feel valuable, for example, working people---men---versus stay-at-home moms, who seem to have more opportunities to feel valueless.

Society measures us---our value---by our quantifiable success. On a day-to-day basis, one can measure achievement within a job, at least by title, salary, or accomplishments. "He's successful," we say, referring to a man who just got a promotion and raise, moved his family to a larger house, and bought new cars. We say this as if material goods are the only valuable thing, even if in our hearts we don't believe it.

"What do you do?" people ask a woman, looking for a job, a measurable accomplishment. "I'm a mom," she replies. "Ohhh," the other person says, "That's nice. Hmm, look someone is motioning to me over there. Bye!"

After all, raising young...why even dogs can do that (yes, a Bill Maher slam). Plus, in this culture, we are what we do. I'm not just a person who is a mom; I'm Mom---this is the sum total of me. My focus is on my children, right? And who wants to talk about kids, except other Moms? Outside interest stagnates beyond names and ages, and for some reason, it's often presumed I have no topic beyond Patience and Persistence.

You see, the things I do as a mom are boring. I know this because I myself am often bored by it. Making lunches in the morning: boring. Additionally, it requires little to no skill, right? I mean anyone can make a packed lunch. What's to value?

It used to frustrate me endlessly as a writer and editor the lack of value people placed on writing and editing. These are skills, talents, finely honed abilities. I studied year after year, work and work to keep my expertise. Then someone would come along, and mistake "literate" for "ability to write."

"Anyone can write," this person would laugh, "I mean, we all do it. You just choose to make a living at it. Now...a doctor...that's a real skill!"

Sure, everyone can write. But who cares about that? We care about people who can write well. That, of course, is also where editors come in. We make sure the book also reads well.

People respect good writing, but in my career, it's the rare person who truly values it, as in Values it.

Similarly, motherhood is valued, but it's not Valued.

So I wondered: how do I matter? Do I matter? What do I do that is valuable, outside of being a mom?

Just as this question weighed on my mind and heart, the co-leaders of my mother's group and I met to discuss this year's curriculum. I got a book I was to review for a six-week course in the spring, You Matter More Than You Think by Dr. Leslie Parrott.

In the early part of the book, she quotes a well-known writer from a famous book. The quote says

Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don't be impressed with yourself. Don't compare yourself to others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your life.

That was written by the apostle Paul to the Galatians (6:4-5).

"Don't be impressed with yourself."

This direction I have little trouble taking, hence my difficulty perceiving myself as worthy, valuable, making a difference...leaving things better when I depart than when I arrived. It's not humility, it's lack of esteem.

"Don't compare yourself to others. Do the creative best you can with your life."

That's the bit I have trouble with.

On Monday, at the playground, my friend and I sat on the bench and she tearfully told me of a good friend of hers---mutual acquaintance for me---whose doctor gave her devastating health news: a large mass in her pancreas. This lady had been fighting major health problems for years, and my friend---a nurse---knew the inherent risks, dangers and odds of a mass in the pancreas.

"I want to be there for her, but I don't know what to do."

As we talked, it became clear to me that my friend wanted to be there at the hospital the following day with her friend, to help support her, and help her understand the medical process and jargon the doctors would throw out.

"I can watch your daughter," I told her, "If you want to go. All day if you need, it's no problem. Actually, it would help because she and Patience play together so nicely."

"Thanks," my friend said with a hug, "I feel better already, knowing I can be there for her."

She's such a good friend, I thought, always there for people, always doing for others, knowing what they need and how they need it. I wish I could be a good friend like that. I'm just so oblivious to what others need sometimes.

Late yesterday I read further into the book.

"In what random fragments of your life do you see meaning? Even a little?" asked Dr. Parrott.

She answered the question for me in the same chapter, with another quote, this time from poet Edwin Everett Hale
I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. And what I can do, I ought to do.

And I suddenly realized something: I wasn't the friend who went to the hospital to sit for a friend undergoing surgery. But I was the friend who helped the friend so she could do that.

That was valuable.

When I considered it more deeply, I realized there were countless examples of times I had dismissed or invalidated my contribution. I easily accept fault and blame, and take responsibility. I rarely accept credit or compliments. On the ironic flip, I am frequently frustrated when I feel as if my efforts are unnoticed, or wasted.

That last sentence is exactly why I think it is so essential to realize the valuable effort, realize it on our own. Look within ourselves and acknowledge the contribution, and know that what we do matters.

Because otherwise, we can quit, cynical, exhausted, and disheartened. We feel inadequate. We sit in our safe zone, our comfort zone.

Dr. Parrott cites Kent Keith, who wrote the famous "Paradoxical Commandments" that so inspired Mother Theresa. In 1968 when he wrote this, he was a 19 year old sophomore at Harvard. He hoped his list would inspire people to continue trying, despite obstacles
I saw a lot of idealistic young people go out into the world to do what they thought was right, and good and true, only to come back a short time later, discouraged, or embittered, because they got negative feedback, or nobody appreciated them, or they failed to get the results they had hoped for. The challenge is to always do what is right and good and true, even if others don't appreciate it.

This isn't suggesting we be bulldozers and ignore everything around us, nor, I think, is it a perfect statement because "right and good and true" are so subjective. But the intent behind it is great and echoes Paul's message, along with another proverb about ends and means: do your creative best for its own sake.

In another part of the book, Dr. Parrott asked what others had done for me that I found valuable. It was much easier to list that, and I found I treasured small things: the time a friend sent me a card, the meals neighbors brought when my baby was born, the anger a friend expressed towards my difficult doctor...and so forth.

Why can I value others doing the little things, they things they can, but not value that in myself? I wondered.

Dr. Parrott explained that it's because I feel inadequate, and reassured me that this is a common disorder in women.

She told me that I needed to see that who I am, what I do, does matter, whether it is large or small, "You want to make a difference. And you are making a difference. You make a difference with a tender human touch. You make a difference when you care deeply."

I just needed to believe it. Easy to say, of course.

So I am starting small. This morning, when I made my daughters' lunches, I said to myself, "This matters, I matter." When I kissed and hugged each of them goodbye, I told myself, "This is the human touch and it matters a great deal. I gave it to my girls, and it will matter to them today. I matter."

I have become too focused on measuring my life by societal standards of success: what have you accomplished in a quantifiable way lately?

Have you

---had a written piece published for money?
---released a best-selling book recently?
---earned any money?
---set up any group homes for domestic abuse victims?
---quilted any blankets for runaways?
---couriered any necessary supplies to hurricane relief?
---received any profit from any venture?
---gotten any public recognition for accomplishments and success?
---had a great title like vice president of... bestowed upon you?

This has caused me to feel discontented in my life, the one I am living and that I chose! Without my professional accomplishments, I have been feeling a little...unworthy, unvalued.

The subtitle of Dr. Parrott's book is What a woman needs to know about the difference that she makes.

I'm not marching in a big protest in Washington DC. I'm not flying helicopters that save lives. I'm not running a homeless shelter, training women to be self-sufficient, or mentoring schoolchildren through a mentor program. I forget to return phone calls and sometimes take too long to reply to emails. I have a lot of "round tuits" such as calling to check in with friends and home repairs. I don't always see the immediate need around me. My head is frequently in the clouds. I'm not good at baking casseroles, or doing many of the neighborly female valued things.

But I am doing other things. I'm doing my creative best. I am making a difference, and my life does matter. I may not know it in that moment---or ever, possibly---but that's true.

So the two sentences I think everyone needs to know?

"I am making a difference. I matter."

And from now on, I'm going to see the effect of my actions---Gaia Hypothesis style---from big, to small. Instead of thinking, "I should be more like..." I'm going to think more, "Who am I and what can I be?"

I'm going to compare less and see more.

And what more is there on this topic?

See for yourself what others had to say about how they value themselves:

Thailand Gal Chani wrote Dancing in a Sparsely Populated Forest....

Lyrical Catherine wrote It all matters

Lawyer Mama wrote On Becoming a Lawyer

Snoskred wrote Internet Scams - How I Make A Difference.

Sarcasta-Mom wrote Hump Day Hmm - Why I Matter

Within the Woods wrote Wednesday Matters

After the Ball wrote I Matter

Sephyroth wrote A Helpful Kind of Guy

Learning & Laughter wrote If I Were a Beauty Contestant

Come on along wrote Thanks. I needed that.

Crib Chronicles wrote Matter

Write your post, link to me, send the link my way at j pippert at g mail dot com and I'll post a link to you!

Also, I've added in more links on the breastfeeding topic to my invisible dad post prior to this one, so check it out if you missed it!

P.S. If you liked this post, vote for it at Sk*rt. Invisible dad (previous post) is there too! You can search for them using "artfulflower" as the search term. (When you get your results, scroll to the bottom of the my experience the results are listed with newest at the bottom.)

Copyright 2007 Julie Pippert
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Christine said...

"I easily accept fault and blame, and take responsibility. I rarely accept credit or compliments. On the ironic flip, I am frequently frustrated when I feel as if my efforts are unnoticed, or wasted."

yep. me too.

julie it is easy for to see the difference you make in the world. i hope someday you can see how you matter the way we see it

kim said...

LOL at the "If we walk out the door NOW, we'll be on time...if we run out the door NOW, we'll be on time." Me too.

I think you and I are both in the process of recognizing and accepting our place in the world.

"do your creative best for its own sake" And I would say for your own sake. Sometimes it's more about staying true to yourself than the benefits to others.

Emily said...

I think as a mom it is easy to forget how MUCH what you are doing does indeed matter to the little people who count on you so much. But it does. It matters a ton. And you are right -- you can make your day worse by trying so hard to outdo yourself instead of being in the moment of doing for them.

Lawyer Mama said...

It's funny how we have similar feelings even though I have a "job" that others place value upon. I look at what I do and think, "but I'm not doing anything BIG." So I guess we all feel inadequate.

Most men I know don't have these feelings of inadequacy though. I know my hubby doesn't. But then, his job really does matter. Sigh....

Kyla said...

Yes, yes, yes. Exactly.

And, you visited me in the hospital. You are that friend. And more.

Bon said...

Julie, this is an amazing post. so full, and with so much for me to chew on and consider. i was daunted by the topic, i'll admit...i haven't written anything because i seem to vacillate, particularly in my written voice, between thinking i sound too impressed with myself and thinking that what i'm writing about is unimportant and can't really be said to Matter.

i'll give it one more shot.

PinkPowerSuit said...

Oh, I so feel what you're saying. The beginning of your post reminded me of the video that Kristie at Slacker-Moms-R-Us posted the other day with the Bedtime Song.

And some of the rest reminded me of my feelings of disappointment at the lack of reciprocity I've been experiencing lately. I posted it today. And I thought it was long. Until I came here. ;-)

Great post.

Lori at Spinning Yellow said...

Great thoughts! I read this and saw myself, a little differently, but still. The desire to do something BIG. The feeling that being a mom isn't valuable. I so relate to starting the day with the "Today's the day" feeling and by 10am I've already given up!

Your writing is valuable, b/c you put into words (and tie thoughts and ideas together) what others might not be able to.

Aliki2006 said...

Great post, Julie--great thoughts as always.

I wish I had time to sit and think about how I value myself--thoughts for another day (soon) as I have too many papers to wade through.

slouching mom said...

Oh, darlin', I can enumerate so many ways you matter, and I've never even met you.

I wish that you could do the same for yourself.

Here's one: you make people think. I mean really THINK.

liv said...

Sweetpea, for someone who feels a little deflated, you certainly are the master of the long and thoughtful post! I think we're all questioning our place, our value, and our purpose from day to day...I know I do. I get up, take the kids to school, go to work, pick them up, feed them lunch, naps....go to work again, and then bedtime. It seems never ending. And then, once again, it's midnight.

Mamma said...

Every day in the car--to and from work--I make a list of all of the accomplishments I want to make that day.

And then I lay down to go to sleep at night and I've done none of them.

Thank you for reminding me to look at the small steps I make. And I do know that the time I spend interracting with my family and my friends is what will be remembered by the peole that count to me.

Madame M. said...

It's funny (and not in a ha-ha way) how easy it is to dismiss yourself, especially after becoming a mother and having to care (and actively caring) more deeply for people who have no problem voicing their needs.

Nice post.

Christine said...

julie--i've been thinking about it and i've just come back to remind you again of how you matter here on the blogosphere. the supportive comments you've left for me and others, your thought provoking posts, and your very presence is important. you have brightened my day and enlightened my mind numerous times. you matter here. you matter to those girls and your husband, your matter to us all.

Gwen said...

I think the stumbling block for so many of us is the external reinforcement. It's one thing to tell yourself that even the little things matter, and that you matter because you do them, but if that idea is never fed from another source, it's ridiculously hard to keep believing it. I don't know how you combat that, that need to feel appreciated by more than just your own head.

Oh, and hey: lunch making IS a skill. :)

Or so I tell myself.

Julie Pippert said...

I have some thoughts and feelings, but can't articulate them just now. I'm processing.

But I do want to tell each of you thanks for your comments, especially the support and validation.

And thanks for your own thoughts on this, too.


painted maypole said...

being a good parent is so valuable. You are raising 2 little girls to grow up and be citizens of this world, and the details it takes to do that are valuable! :)

PutYourFlareOn said...

Dear Julie,

I have to say that your post really said something to me. I have recently become a mama and decided to change careers from working a generic marketing job to becoming a stay at home mom to my son. I personally felt this was my calling in life but as I told people the decision I made to stay home, there came the looks of disbelief or disapproval. And some even saying what will you do for money? Or that isn't a "real" job.

They are missing the point.

The point that you so well explained here. It isn't about the material things or money, it's about the little things. It's being there in the now for my son. And you writing about how we need to remember the little things we do make a big difference is so true.

Just last night I got up before my husband did to check on my crying baby. Before he even stirred because I knew he had a hard day at work ahead of him. He woke up this morning thinking the baby had slept through the night and he felt refreshed and new. I smiled and wished him a good day and felt good inside because I helpd him get a good nights sleep. Maybe not important to someone else but like you said, the little things do make a difference.

Thank you for writing such a great post.

kristina said...

These words matter. Thanks. :)