Parents: You Are Not Self-Indulgent If You Do What You Love

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In my book, Good Enough Is Good Enough, I discuss the challenge of leaving my full-time job in order to stay at home with my small children.  I wrote:

 The switch from the life of a full-time teacher to a full-time wife and mother was hard. Before, I had managed classrooms of at least thirty kids and delegated responsibilities in afterschool clubs, and now I changed diapers and fed babies. Before, I had attended meetings and strategized plans for student success, and now I meal-planned and folded laundry. Before, I had run clubs, sports teams, and classrooms, and now I lived a private life with my small children and daily chores. Who was I, now that I wasn’t contributing something valuable and tangible to the workforce? What grand accomplishments did I have to share after a long day of child-wrangling and disciplining? When my husband came home, my reports included updates about organizing the pantry and keeping the toddlers out of the street (which is a heroic task, depending on the kid—let’s be honest). As difficult as that work was, I struggled to see the value of my role as an at-home mother in the same way I was able to see the value of my work at the school.

I liked my job, my coworkers and the strong sense of accomplishment I felt at school, but my work at home was more…well, complicated.

I loved my children, of course, but I struggled with knowing how to use my God-given talents when I was living a life so hidden and obscure. I also didn’t anticipate how bored I would feel sometimes while toddlers ransacked my house. The monotony of filling sippy cups and doing laundry and changing diapers came as a surprise to me. I didn't realize I would not be intellectually challenged like I was in college, graduate school or when I worked professionally. 

I quickly realized if this whole at-home motherhood thing was going to work, I needed to find something to do outside of taking care of my family.  I needed a hobby—an interest to engage me while I fulfilled my main responsibilities.

I took an inventory of Things I Might Like To Spend Time Doing So I Don't Lose My Mind (or something like that) and one of those things turned into a blog.  For over a decade, I wrote on my online journal, telling funny stories or sharing spiritual insights I had. 

 I wrote some really, really bad stuff but I kept writing...

in the morning,

late at night,

during nap time,

and while I burned dinner. 

I wrote and wrote and wrote and over the years, my writing got better.  I joined a Writer's Guild, went to a few conferences, read some writing books, made some contacts, and published a few things online and in print. 

This spring, my first book will be published by Ave Maria Press.  (Get yours here!)

I Wasted Time Worrying

Ok, Great, you might be thinking, you found a hobby you enjoyed, devoted some time to it and it all worked out?

What’s the big deal, Colleen? 

Well, the problem with my hobby was I felt guilty devoting time to it, I felt like I was a negligent parent.

One of my biggest character defects in my tendency towards black/white, right/ wrong thinking and this type of thinking most certainly affected my ability to enjoy a pursuit I loved.  

In my mind, a good mom was All In

She didn’t take the time to develop herself as a person (It makes me cringe to admit that I had that thought, but it’s true.)

I wondered if my writing time was too self-indulgent; shouldn’t I just devote myself to raising good kids instead of writing about raising good kids?

The result of this type of thinking was I wasted a lot of emotional energy because I was so fearful I was warping my kids while I worked.  I thought they would feel slighted by my desire to write or that they would feel they weren’t important enough.  I worried about this to such a degree that it robbed me of some of the joy of writing because I thought I was being selfish and self-indulgent.

How could I be a good writer and a good mom? I wasn’t sure it was possible…

When the worry would reach a fever pitch, I’d pull back, shut my computer and go about my day.  I’d abandon my writing for a few weeks or maybe even a month, but I always went back to it. 

The kids would so or say something so outrageously hilarious or sweet or God would knock me over with a spiritual insight so deep, I felt compelled to share it.  I’d type up an article and it would be published, in spite of me I often felt, not because of me.

My Professional Calling Outside My Home Was Real, Not Imaginary: 

Even though I worried about how I spent my leisure time at home, I couldn’t ignore the fact I felt called to write and to improve in my craft.  I sincerely enjoyed the process and even enjoyed reading about writing, but I also felt I never did enough to develop my professional skills.

(My black and white thinking rears its ugly head everywhere I go.)

Instead of feeling confident in my decision to plug away as best I could when I had the time, wherewithal, and energy, I worried about all I wasn’t doing professionally. There is so much “advice” out there for writers today that it’s overwhelming.  There are online classes on how to grow your audience, how to be a better writer, and even how to be a social media maven, but I didn’t know how to balance my time writing, promoting my work, and taking care of my children.

So, I wrote and didn’t focus all that much on the other recommendations mainly because I didn’t have the time...yet I still felt like a failure, like I wasn’t doing all I should do to grow in my field.  I judged my work harshly and was hard on myself for not being more organized, professional, goal oriented, etc.

I felt pulled in both directions: pulled to focus exclusively on my family and pulled to develop the talents God gave me and I wasted a lot of time worrying.

Even though I was unsure, I plugged away at both: parenting my kids and writing.

Eventually, after many years of practice, Ave Maria gave me permission to write a book for them, despite my fears and limitations about all I wasn’t doing enough on all fronts.

Parents, Do What You Can And Leave The Rest To God:

Of course, there were plenty of things I should have focused on before I had the opportunity to write a book.  I’m not as well known in the Catholic writing world as I could be…and I know it.

But in the end? It didn’t matter all that much. 

The publisher took a chance of me because they believed I not only had something to say but I had the ability to communicate it (which was the skill I really focused on honing all those years I sat at my desk banging out blog posts).

I used all the time I had to do what I could and I let go—however imperfectly—of the time I wanted to have to “develop” myself more and better.  When it came time to submit my proposal, the publishing company saw that my skills and platform were not perfect, but they were Good Enough.

Which leads me to my point:  To those parents--who are like me--and worry about balancing it all when you have a slew of kids to take care of, maybe a job, and some wild dream you want to pursue:  

Put in the time when you can, work hard, read a lot, develop your talent and then leave the rest to God. 

Trust him to fill in the gaps, all the spots you’ve missed (because if you are raising kids and pursuing a dream, there will be gaps, I promise you.)

If you truly are doing His work, He will see you through to the end.

Don’t waste your emotional energy worrying about all the things you could be doing to be a better writer, to be more well known, etc. And don't waste time worrying you are warping your kids by developing your own talents.  

Do what you can and leave the rest up to Him.

It All Comes Out In The Wash

A few weeks ago, the publisher sent me a box of my new book and I handed each of my six children a copy. 

“This one if for you,” I told them.

They stared at my name on the cover. My girls hugged their books to their chests.

“Can we bring it to school to show our friends and our teachers?” they asked.

“Of course you can,” I told them, and they did.

When they came home, they regaled me with how impressed their friends were that their mother wrote a book.

One of the kids told my son, “Your mom wrote a lot of words.”

“She writes thousands,” he said in response.

My kids are proud of me and they have celebrated the accomplishment more than anyone I know.

Their response to my book project made me realize just how silly it was to worry so much about being All In as a mother.  I’ve realized through this entire process that the best way for me to serve them is to make sure I have something to give in the first place (which is, ironically, an entire chapter of my book.  See? I’m a work in process.) 

And writing renews me in such a way so that I actually HAVE something to give them.

If you are a mom who worries about cultivating a hobby that is good for your personal well-being:  stop. 

Don’t do what I did.

The truth is, it was so, so good for my kids to see their mom actively engaged in a worthwhile project.  The work I do outside of the time I care for them reminds them they are not the center of the world, nor should they be.

It wasn’t selfish of me at all to try to discern how God wanted to use my gifts while parenting my six children.  In fact, he put that very desire in my soul.  I have something to say because He gave me the inspiration.

It would be wrong for me to ignore it or minimize the call. 

He wants me to parent my children, yes, but he also wants me to serve my larger community and I want to answer his call. 

I don’t have to live either/or; I can choose both/and!

I remember seeing an Oprah show once years ago where a bunch of empty-nesting women were bemoaning the "wasted" years they had with their children, years where they served without appreciation, years where they lost their identity without anything in return.  I was sad when I listened to those women speak, but I remember being fearful that their experience would become mine.

But it's not.

The world tells women that motherhood, if you let it, will rob you of your identity and your body, your mind and your intellectual pursuits.  And while there is a hefty dose of self-denial that comes with it, mainly motherhood has enriched me as a person.  It's made me a better version of the young girl who married John fifteen years ago.

Motherhood has not robbed me of myself.  God has used my vocation to reveal to me who I really am.

If you let him, He'll show you too.  

Now, Go, Set The World On Fire.  I want to see what you can do.

When A Stranger Called Me Out On What's Really Important

On Sunday morning a few weeks ago, my husband and I road tripped through rural mountains to pick up my children from Grandma and Grandpa’s house. The weather was perfect:  crisp and sunny and the trees were dressed in their very best shades of gold, red, orange, and green.  I radio played favorite tunes and I nursed a road coke as I drove. It was a rare treat to be with my husband on a gorgeous autumn day and I was soaking in the moment, that is until a blue truck cut me off. 

Life Lessons At the Grocery Store A Lesson on What's Important by Colleen Murphy Duggan

I turned my blinker on so I could merge, but the truck driver in the lane next to me refused to let me over and he sped up to block my entrance.  When we hit a red light, I got behind the truck and I did something stupid:  I made a hand gesture that sarcastically communicated, “Please, after you.”

My performance aggravated the truck driver because he leaned out his window, turned to look at me and then used this his one hand to signal that he was going to slice my throat open.  He dragged his one long pointer finger across his throat and pointed at me with his other.  Then he used both his hands to simulate fake guns, pointed them at me and pretended to shoot me.  He mouthed, “I’m gonna kill you.”

A counselor once explained to me that when a person faces confrontation there are two gut responses:  to flee or to fight.  I’m ashamed to admit this but my instinct in the midst of sticky situations is never to run away, but is always to charge into battle.  The stranger’s threats activated my fight response and despite my internal warning bells ringing loud and proud, I made a split second decision to pretend I wasn’t afraid.

I shoved John’s shoulder to shake him awake and said, “That guy is threatening me!” Then, I reached for my phone to call the police, which made the driver in the vehicle ahead of me even angrier.  His hands flailed in the air, simulating the kind of violence he was going to do to me. 

John begged me to let it go.

“That guy is crazy, Colleen! Quit antagonizing him.” 

John’s nervous admonitions penetrated my anger and though I was furious, when the light turned green, I let the driver speed off and I stayed a great distance behind him.  My stomach lurched and I was shaking all over. I was scared of the man but what frightened even more, though, was my poor response to him.

Why wouldn’t I back down when someone threatened me?

The incident stayed with me and every time I thought about it, I was unsettled by my behavior.

A few days later, I watched, like the rest of the nation, as the country elected Donald Trump as president.  The nation was in emotional turmoil—some people jubilant from the victory and some people devastated and even destructive.  The volatile nature of the country’s sentiments prompted me to extend extra kindness to the strangers I encountered.  I was sensitive to the plight of those who felt threatened by Trump’s politics and demeanor.  

On the Wednesday after the election and just a few days after my fight with the road warrior, I found myself in the aisles of our local discount grocery store.  My toe-headed three year old, Edward, accompanied me as I filled my cart with produce, meat, milk and cheese.  While we meandered through the store, Edward and I kept bumping into this couple making their way slowly through the canned goods and cereal aisles, the produce section, and the frozen meat department.  Every time I turned a corner, I bumped into these two who were focused on their list. 

By the time I got to the check out counter, I had an overflowing cart and a cranky toddler and I was hoping for an open checkout aisle.  When I saw one, I rushed over the lane, which is when I saw the man I’d followed while I shopped.

“I’m so sorry,” I said to him, “Am I cutting in front of you?  I don’t want to cut you off.”

The man flashed me a wide grin.

“No, ma’am,” he said, “You go right ahead, I’m waiting on my wife,” he said and he moved over so I could maneuver my cart through.

“Are you sure?  I don’t mind waiting…I don’t want to be rude.  People are so crazy these days.  Let me tell you what happened to me this weekend while I was driving.“

I’m not sure what prompted me, but I relayed the story to the stranger about the out of control driver.  I also told him I acted like a jerk too.  When I finished, he hung his head and shook it slowly.

“Man,” he whispered, “People really are nuts.  You just don’t know what people are gonna do these days.”

I agreed and he looked at me out of the corner of his eyes.  I had started unloading groceries onto the conveyor belt and he said,

“That’s your little boy?”

“Yes, sir.”

“And you have a husband at home?  Maybe a few other kids?”

“Yes, “ I answered again.

“I hope you don’t mind me saying it, but you have a lot to lose.  You don’t have time to engage crazy people because that little boy needs you.  You need to learn to ignore what isn’t important.  You need to let it go.  Your have more important things to worry about.”

Have you ever had someone tell you something and you knew you were supposed to listen to it?  That’s how I felt when that man spoke to me in the middle of the Aldi’s check out counter.  I knew I was supposed to listen to what he said because what he said was the truth.

I turned and grabbed the man’s hand.

“Yes! “ I said.  “You are so right.  I should never have fought back.  I do have too much to lose.  Thank you so much for the reminder.”

He grinned at me again and walked off to find his wife.

I finished paying for my groceries and bagging my groceries and before he left the store, the man tapped me on the shoulder.

“Remember this,” he said “Learn to ignore.  Some things just ain’t that important.”

It’s a message I’m never going to forget.

Life Lessons At the Grocery Store A Lesson on What's Important by Colleen Murphy Duggan