It’s quiet. They’re gone. It’s just me, a glass of pinot grigio and my laptop.
I do love my kids, so very much. And yes, I often miss them when they aren’t here.
But also, I so very much love my time alone.
I love the quiet. No interruptions. Following my own rhythm through the moments, the days. No one to cook for, no argument to resolve. Yes, I very much like my time alone.
But it is more than that. More than a craving for the previous, pre-kid life when my life revolved around, well, me. It’s more than that.
It’s more than being tired after years of sleepless nights with littles.
It’s more than being bored of preparing multiple meals a day.
It’s more than a need for a reprieve.
Yes, this pull to be alone is much more than all that.
I think I’m different than many, but not all. It is our society that tells us that being alone is wrong, unfulfilling, something only one would want should they be damaged goods.
50 year anniversaries are what we’re taught to aspire to. Forever. Happily ever after. Always.
But I never wanted those things. Forever didn’t sound good to me. I was pretty sure I would change my mind about this, that and the other thing sometime between now and forever. How could I commit to happily ever after? How could I know today, or 10 years ago for that matter, what I would want every day after?
All I knew that I could depend on, all I knew to be true, was that I would be forever with my own damn self. That I would be spending every day, every moment, with me.
And that kind of forever, well it gets me all a-flutter. That kind of always feels juuuuuuust right.
I want my life to be my own. I want my days to be filled with my priorities, my dreams. I want to read when I want to and do the dishes later. I want to feed the kids cereal again and eat yet another bowl of kitchari. I want to be first in line. I want to be my own number one.
I know when I do this, I am filled with more joy.
I know when I do this, I have more energy.
I know when I do this, I mother a thousand times better than before.
It’s not easy, in a world of couple-privilege, to choose to be alone. To tell the world, no, I do not want a husband. And yes, I do own this house.
No, they don’t need a step-dad. And yes, I’m rocking this on my own. Thank you very much.
Because I got this, this alone thing.
It’s everything I always wanted.
That doesn’t mean I don’t love, that my time is so preciously mine that there’s no space for friendship and romance and community.
In fact, my life is FULL. Really full.
I’ve got good people. Ones to laugh with. Ones to call in need. Ones to help and ones to care for. I’ve got people, same as I’ve always had people.
And now I can love them the way I’m meant to. Now I can give them my best.
Because my best only shows up when I follow my own rhythm, when I make my own moves.
My best comes from the quiet, the solitude, the rest.
My best comes from the afternoon reading, the lonely kayak down the river, the hour on the deck with wine and my laptop.
I’m meant to be alone. It is not something I wish could be different. It is something I chose.
My sweetie, two kids and I are one of the many families that sold our way-too-expensive “family” home in Metro Vancouver and headed East. Way East, all the way to my little hometown in Ontario.
It wasn’t an easy decision despite the clear financial benefit. Like anyone living in Vancouver or the Lower Mainland, leaving is tough. It means saying goodbye to the mountains and ocean – the meeting of which truly do create one of the most beautiful places on Earth. It means leaving the mellowest Canadian climate, with winter temperatures that rarely dip below freezing. It also means leaving the very liberal mindset which is one of the biggest attractions for Canadians that are fed up with some of the conservative values more likely to be found east of the city.
For us it also meant leaving family since my sweetie was born and raised there – the family that had been there for the birth of my boys and every milestone after. They were, by far, the hardest to say goodbye to.
But before I tell you what led us to our decision to leave, I want to back up a bit and share a bit more of my story…
I moved to Vancouver nine years ago, at the end of August 2007. When I booked the plane ticket I was only planning on staying for a few months. I was a bit of a wanderer back then, usually spending winters in Costa Rica and summers in Ontario. But when I got to Vancouver, it didn’t take me long to realize my wandering days were over and I had found a place to stay.
I remember walking north on Commercial Drive from Broadway that first day. The busyness of the neighbourhood, the groceries with their food out on the sidewalks, the gorgeous mix of people… I was enamored. In the days that followed – filled with yoga classes, hanging out in the park, chilling on patios and wandering the small organic grocery stores – I felt like all the parts of me had finally shown up in one place, with the majestic North Shore mountains watching over everyone.
And I decided, I would stay forever.
I met my love about a year and a half later. Our lives were typical Vancouver lives – we would head up to Squamish on the weekends for rock climbing, perhaps Pemberton for a romantic getaway. Winter days were spent snowshoeing on the North Shore. Life was beautiful from the tops of mountains and rocky crags. The beers at the Howe Sound Brew Pub after climbing The Chief on my 28th birthday were the best beers I ever tasted.
Then babies entered the picture and a few years later we found ourselves with a hefty mortgage, two kids in daycare and no time to play in the outdoor playground that surrounded us.
We tried. We really tried. We watched our budget. We made sacrifices. We understood that eventually it would be easier. Eventually we wouldn’t have the costs of daycare. Eventually the kids wouldn’t be so little and we would have more free time. We knew that was coming and we were waiting for it.
Then last summer, things started to shift… After years of dealing with serious body pain following a rock climbing fall and undiagnosed concussion, I had a major back spasm that kept me in bed for weeks. And despite the love I received on Facebook, no one showed up to help. I was barely able to walk and still had to manage all the day to day responsibilities of motherhood. Thankfully, my mom flew in from Ontario and got me through the last weeks of that horribly painful time.
And I don’t blame people for not being there for me. Rather, I see that as just a reality of life in the city. People are busy. It’s hard to support one another when there are big-ass mortgages to pay off and too many kid drop-offs and pick ups. On the path our lives had taken, our “people” were spread out across the Lower Mainland – from Squamish to White Rock, Kits to Coquitlam – a common occurrence when family life forces you out of the cute city neighbourhoods. So quite literally, there was a traffic jam between their houses and mine.
And as a small town girl who was used to community, I realized that this wasn’t OK for me. This wasn’t how I had ever wanted to live my life – disconnected, isolated.
Fast forward a few months and it’s Thanksgiving. Growing up it has always been my favourite holiday. In Ontario it means crisp, cool air, and nature at its best with red, yellow and orange leaves filling the landscape. After big family dinners as a kid, my mother and I created new traditions with great friends when she separated from my step-dad. It was always a big table. Always filled with love and laughter. People I had known my entire life would come together to celebrate, to connect, to eat.
But on this rainy Thanksgiving day in Vancouver, people were once again busy. And my little family was sitting at home, just us. I sat down to read my boys a book – Franklin’s Thanksgiving.
The story goes something like this…
Franklin’s grandparents, who traditionally come for Thanksgiving dinner, write to tell Franklin that they can’t make it that year. Franklin is devastated but in the days that follow he gets the great idea to invite others from his community to his family dinner. Unknown to him or each other, both of his parents come to the same decision and when Thanksgiving dinner rolls around their guests are so plentiful that they need to move the feast outside. And there they sit to eat, surrounded by community. Surrounded by love.
Reading this to my boys, I couldn’t hold back the tears. I thought of my community back home, sitting around a table together to feast and I was struck with one simple question:
Why aren’t we there?
Suddenly, with the biggest emotions since the birth of my children washing over me, I realized that I had to go home, that I needed my community. I realized that waiting around for the mortgage to become reasonable and the kids to get a bit older and new friends to become old friends was ridiculous. I needed my people. The ones that had always been there. I needed them to be happy, to be the kind of mom I aspired to be, to create the life I wanted. And I wanted my children to grow up with the same sense of community that I had been blessed to know. I wanted them to be raised by a village.
Six weeks after my tears fell upon Franklin’s Thanksgiving we sold our house and four months later, our plane touched down in Ottawa on a Friday evening. We were tired and pretty weirded-out by the fact that we had packed up our lives and left the city we thought we’d raise our boys in. My mom picked us up at the airport and we drove to our new house, in my old town. We pulled into the driveway and there it was:
Community. On our back porch, waiting for us.
After nine years away – I had fallen in love, had two children, changed careers – there they were. With food, drink and helpful hands. With smiles. With tears. With love.
The books are written very differently – Love Warrior is a true memoir whereas Present Over Perfect is a collection of essays. What the books have in common with each other, and no doubt the reason why women have pushed them both onto the bestseller list, is the deeper WHY underlying both authors’ need for personal transformation. It is the same why that is so ripe in my own life and that I see repeated again and again by the women around me: the struggle women face in their determination to be “enough”, to be the woman they think they are supposed to be.
Although my actual reading experience has been wonderful with both of these books (think nights spent up too late, snuggled on the couch with a cup of tea), I have also been saddened by my realization that this is reality for so many women. The striving. The never enough. The absence of real joy, of true gratitude, of meaningful moments.
Yes, I too write of the busy-ness I experience. I too have lamented over the “never enough-ness” of me in my life… but for me that intense self-judgement only came once I became a mother and even still, I don’t strive for clean floors or perfectly dressed children or a magically blemish-free face (I’m #makeupfree on the best of days), or any of the many other things that seem to take women down these days.
In fact, as I’ve shared my own stories and immersed myself in those of other mothers (and especially entrepreneurial mothers), I’ve realized that I’m different from the women who have been fighting this fight long before babies and businesses came along. I’m fortunate that the pressure both authors felt to become something they weren’t wasn’t a pressure I faced as a child, teenager or young adult.
My childhood was not typical. I grew up in a big old farm house in the country, in a community of homesteaders and draft dodgers. I went to a one room schoolhouse and spent summer days at the local lake. Our family, though not without its problems, spent almost every evening around the dinner table together, spent afternoons walking through our fields to visit neighbours, we camped, cross country skied and played board games. I remember countless evenings watching the sunset and Saturdays were spent on the big porch swing with a pile of books and a blanket.
But once motherhood and entrepreneurship took over my life, and I found myself living far away from my country paradise in a city filled with over-achievers, I started to buy into the busy. I started to accept the “never enough-ness”. I started to compare myself, horribly, to the picture-perfect social media profiles of women living lives I thought I wanted. Despite the very different values I was raised with, it was easy to fall into the trap of constantly striving for more, for better, for perfect.
I began to feel frustrated that my parents hadn’t demanded more of me, that I wasn’t pushed to have a big career, that nobody sat me down to talk about life choices when year after year in my twenties I quit jobs to go bum around the beaches of Central America. I felt like I had missed important things when new friends would talk about the crazy corporate career they left behind when they chose to start their business. I worried that my skills and knowledge were lacking, that I would never be able to catch up and master the business smarts they’d already gained.
Very quickly, the dreams of self-employment that I had had since childhood seemed like they too were “not-enough” and I got caught up in the bigness of it all – the 6-figures dream…
The dream that was never actually my dream.
But the drive for more, for bigger, is everywhere. Rampant really. Last week my wonderful, whole-hearted business coach asked me if I could double the numbers of the intimate program I’m creating for next year. A year ago if she had asked me that I would have reluctantly agreed to try, thinking that if I didn’t I wasn’t trying “hard enough”, that I wasn’t a real “business owner”. But last week, with so much more clarity about what I truly want out of life, I said “No. I want the program to be small. The “more” that I am striving for is not a financial more. It is an expressive more.”
An expressive more. Yes. That.
Because my dream is to write, to have meaningful experiences, to create a playful and present childhood for my children, to love extremely well in my most important relationships, to show up for LIFE, not business and money. I’m not here to make myself crazy chasing the 6-figure goal.
[Tweet “Chase the dream that is true to your soul, not the one created by the pressure to do more.”]
Now don’t get me wrong, if while going along living my meaningful writer life I end up with a few bestsellers and making some bigger bucks, I won’t complain. But pushing my bank account balance beyond what I need to live a comfortable lifestyle isn’t a goal I’m going to spend my precious time working towards. I want weekends off. I want to go to bed early. I want to spend holidays and summers with my kids.
I want to go back to my roots of watching sunsets without external expectations tearing me away just so I can pursue some messed up version of the bigger, better life.
The bigger, better life IS the sunset.
So Glennon and Shauna, thank you. Thank you for being brave enough to explore your depths and write about them for us. You can know that your books are out there doing good work in the world. Thank you for showing me that I have everything I need inside me to live life a little differently, that I was taught the way of life that truly is present over perfect. This is a truth about myself that I have been waiting to rediscover ever since getting lost in the life of mom and biz owner. Now that I am reconnected to that truth, I can show up in this life the way I have always dreamed of: as a writer, as a mother, as a lover, friend, daughter and sister, as a sunset watcher and collector of meaningful moments.
If you haven’t read them yet, you can check out these two beautifully written and incredibly moving books here:
I’m well known for being a passionate woman – mother, business owner, teacher, writer, friend, daughter, sister, niece. Doing it all. Every day. No matter what. And everything to top quality, of course, there’s no other way in my mind.
Which honestly converts to: Tired, overwhelmed, frazzled.
Drowning in life.
Because this is the state of motherhood today…
Check the list.
Check the list.
One more thing.
The urgency is simmering just under my skin.
Squeeze in a yoga class so I don’t go over the edge.
But no matter what I’m doing I think…. When is this over so I can get onto the next?
And the next.
I feel the urgency… seriously, right under my skin like my nerves are on constant high alert.
Devour a chocolate croissant for a moment of pleasure.
On to the next thing.
Check the list.
Add to the list.
Kiss the kids.
One more email.
Say yes. Again.
One more thing.
Then lay awake at night thinking…
I didn’t do that well enough.
That still needs to get done.
The nerves on high alert, tingling right there under my skin.
Day after day, night after night, doing it all. Being it all.
Late nights up past 1 am to do all. the. things.
A random bottle of wine on a Wednesday just to get through it all. The common prescription for mother’s stress these days – an counterproductive attempt to settle those nerves.
Day after day, with the never-ending fucking list.
And then there’s all the things that don’t even make the list…
Summer clothes that need to be swapped out for winter.
Dead plants in pots.
Pictures waiting to be hung.
The craft project abandoned.
Laundry, in all its states.
Endless decisions to make with decision fatigue being a real thing.
How long is it possible to live this way? How long can we fool ourselves into thinking THIS is “having it all”?
Until our bodies refuse to cooperate… until we’re stuck on the couch for days on end, with a head full of sick and we’re forced to say no, to say stop, to say I can’t.
Quiet days, one after another. Slow days. Cozy days.
Days where the nerves under the skin take a break, eventually.
Days to make us realize we’re not living the life we wanted.
But of course, the option is there to keep going. Most of the time the sickness passses and on we move, full steam ahead. Passionate. Able. On our way.
With our own agenda, and others mixed in.
And we do it again…
Check the list
Add to the list
One more thing
We’ll do it over and over and over again.
That’s the state of motherhood today.
Will we go on living it this way?
Or do we dare to stop and redefine it?
Because this is not what I want.
At no point in my life did I dream of being sucked down a rabbit hole of too busy and never enough. I don’t want to live my days with my head consumed by items on a list. A crazy, never ending state of go faster and do more.
[Tweet “The state of motherhood today: An endless to-do list punctuated by “go faster” and “do more”]
It stops now.
Making them count this time.
Revel in the gratitude.
The nerves settle.
We breathe together.
The supposedly perfect life we’re striving for is so far off from what we actually want, but we go for it, day after day to prove… something… to someone. But a much more “perfect life” can be claimed. One with less. With simplicity. With the important things put first and the rest gracefully forgotten. It’s not easy, as motherhood demands so much from us to can truly feel like we are drowning, but the power is in the choice.
As mothers, WE can choose what our life will be like, how our days will flow. We get to decide if we will buy into the frazzled, never enough urgency. Or if we will take deep breaths that count, spend more time laughing and wholeheartedly choose to live the life we want, while creating the time to enjoy it.
[Tweet “A call to redefine motherhood: No more urgency. No more perfection. #honestmotherhood “]
Because this is motherhood. This is our life and we define it.
Let go of the urgency. Let go of the perfection.
Breathe deeply and look around. This life is yours to live, mama.
The first day of school…. A day I always looked forward to as a kid. I loved school. Especially with fresh empty notebooks and a new pack of coloured pencils. The opportunities seemed endless. The excitement palpable.
And as a parent, I thought I would love it too. I would celebrate this new start, taking their photo on the first day every year just as my mom had.
It would be momentous. It would be meaningful.
And this year, my oldest starts Grade 1 which feels like a big deal… except I’m doing everything I can to not make it a big deal. There’s no excited talk in this house. Rather, there’s a quiet mix of anxiety and worry.
Last year my son didn’t adjust so well to Kindergarten. Despite the fact that he is a polite and lovely child in the classroom with teachers who loved him, it was a different story at home. It was almost always a fight to get him to school in the morning. In the afternoons when I picked him up he would be exhausted, unable to walk the block to our parked car (when we lived in Vancouver) or the 3 blocks to our new home after we had moved. Embarrassed, I would arrive with the stroller and he would gratefully climb in, closing the roof of it over his face. He would retreat. Done for the day.
Of course I asked what was up, why he didn’t like this environment that I thought he would thrive in as the smart and sociable boy I knew him to be. He would complain of boys being mean or the room being too loud. He would tell me he missed me. That he just wanted quiet days at home.
And on and on it went. By the end of the school year he was staying home at least one extra day each week but still he struggled. And as his struggles often do, this turned into angry and explosive behaviour. Which meant we all struggled.
We were all hurting.
But school was supposed to be fun…
So ya, as we face the start of a new school year I do so with some hesitation. I’m not building it up. I’m not getting excited. I’m trying to just let it be what it will be.
And I am hoping, with every bit of my heart, that the big decision we made this summer will change things for my son.
We’ve decided to send him to a small, parent-run community school in the country, the same one I went to for Grades 1 and 2. Here there are only 14 kids in the whole school with 2 teachers in the classroom and regular community volunteers. The school week is only 3 days and he will be home for “independent study” on the other days. The classroom is quiet and structured. Adults are present to help the children through conflicts and older children support the younger children as well. It is a peaceful place and one that fosters a true love of learning while honouring creative and sensitive souls.
I believe that in this space he will feel safe. He will feel loved and respected.
And on his extra days at home he will be with me, playing quietly by my side as I work (the dream of every mama who works from home, let’s see how it really turns out…)
So maybe next year, when the start of Grade 2 is approaching, we will be celebrating. We will be excited and looking forward to the first day. I hope that becomes our new reality. I hope this special little school that touched my heart as a child, laying the foundation for so many years of academic success, works the same bit of magic on my sweet and sensitive little boy.
Once upon a time I wrote a blog called Mama Truths. It’s actually how all this came to be, and although I have set aside my mommy blogging ways I was honoured when Alex of In Essence Coaching asked me to contribute to the Find Balance Feel Joy Blog Tour. It feels wonderful to once again share my honest experiences from motherhood and I hope what I have written here helps you in some way. There are many other brilliant mothers contributing to the tour – take some time to read Racheal Cook’s post from yesterday and Pleasance Silicki’s post tomorrow.
The first few years of motherhood were the hardest years of my life. Sleepless nights and a sensitive baby who turned into a sensitive and often angry toddler, who still today at age 5 screams and throws things when something is slightly askew in his world. Our second son was an easy going little chubber but his arrival almost destroyed us as our first son responded with jealousy and aggression. For the first year as a mother of 2, I couldn’t let my eldest get within arms’ reach of the baby for risk of harm.
And along with the stress of being consistently on the lookout for bites, hits and kicks, my own body was deteriorating because of an undiagnosed concussion, an undiagnosed autoimmune disease and a lifetime of depression and anxiety.
It was far from the snuggles and giggles I had imagined. The cute outfits and family walks… the special moments caught on video, the relaxing Sundays spent hanging around the house playing games… Rather, there were many days that in fact, felt like torture.
Which of course made me sad – horribly, desperately sad. There I was, with a great husband, two beautiful boys and a lovely home. Life was supposed to be good. I was supposed to be grateful. But instead I was depressed, deeply disappointed and feeling guilty for all of it.
Like I said, the hardest years of my life, at least to date.
A few months after we celebrated our youngest’s first birthday – when the tantrums were still awful but a little less regular, when my body still hurt but was slowly getting better – I felt myself come up out of the fog, just enough to breathe. I then realized I wasn’t going to wake up one day in a new life, with a happy family. That if I wanted our life together to change, I needed help. I wasn’t going to be able to get past the sadness and frustration on my own. And that in fact, expecting myself to be able to do that wasn’t fair, not to me or my family.
As mothers we often think our whole purpose is to take care of our children, to do whatever needs to be done to make them happy, to always be there, to always put them first, to always push aside our own needs and make sure they have everything they could possibly want. But here’s what all kids want: A happy and healthy mother. They want a mother who has the capacity to smile, to relax, to play, to be present.
My first choice in my new commitment to self-care was one of the hardest I’ve ever made. I had long boasted that I was able to manage my sometimes tumultuous mental health without the use of antidepressants but at this point in my life I was humbled. I could no longer put my pride above my family’s quality of life. After over 10 years being medication free I started taking Zoloft and my only regret, my biggest regret, is that I didn’t start years before. There is no shame in choosing wellness. There is no shame in choosing joy, presence and fulfillment.
I didn’t stay on the medication for long – about 5 months – it felt long enough to shift my perspective, to reconnect me with my old self. But I knew when I chose to stop taking it that I had to dedicate myself to self-care. I had managed my depression and anxiety before kids with daily, even minute to minute decisions to care for my body, my mind and my soul. I knew it would be so much harder to dedicate myself in this way as a mother, which is why I had lost myself so intensely in these years, but I had the biggest motivators right there in front of me. These two beautiful children of mine deserved a happy and healthy mother.
But going from burnt out and stressed to balanced and joyful isn’t an overnight thing. Just the idea was daunting. I had done plenty of reading about the self-care practices of other mothers and they seemed to take up so much time, time I hadn’t yet found. So I started small with 5-10 minutes of yoga almost every day. And sometimes that was child pose for the whole time. And sometimes I missed days. And other times I would just lie there and cry. But what I had learned as a mother, is that imperfect is OK. If I didn’t do it one day, I could still do it the next. All that mattered was that I always came back to it. I began to meditate – easy, short guided meditations. All together my self-care practice took me about 20 minutes each day. Which honestly, at the time and sometimes still, feels huge! As mamas, we all know it’s not easy to find 20 minutes for yourself every day.
Me on my mat, happy at home.
I never put grand expectations on my self-care. I knew that would set me up for failure. It was 9 months before I made it to an actual yoga class and when I did I chose restorative yoga – my suggested style for any tired and stressed mother. It’s now been a year and a half since I made the commitment to those 20 minutes and I am finally a regular at my local studio. In this time, self-care has become easier, it has become more normal. It’s become something I prioritize, sometimes even over my children which is still a hard choice to make. But I’m here for the big picture, for the long-haul. I want to have the emotional stability and strength that tells my children they can depend on me today, in 10 years, in 20 years and far beyond. I will no longer put aside my self-care so I can get one more load of laundry done. A real smile on my face when my son gets home from school is far more important.
Our job as mothers is NOT to meet our children’s every need. Our job is to love them more than anything in the world. And if we love them that much, we must take care of the person they love most: their mama.
I’m Parrish Wilson, and I’ve been working and writing in the field of mental health for over twenty years. Weaving together the worlds of psychology, creativity and spirituality, I craft introspective and transformative writing experiences for groups and individuals.