I have a secret for being the perfect mother. Wait, no… I have two secrets for being the perfect mother.
Secret 1: There is no such thing.
Secret 2: There are times I actively do not think about my kids.
Number one is an open secret that every mother instinctively understands the first time she pretends to not hear the baby crying at 3 AM, forcing her partner to stumble down the hall, bleary-eyed, in their PJs. Number two is complicated, and I want to tell you about it before you decide to start judging me.
I titled this blog “The Gift of Solitude” because I wanted to talk about one of the most important ways we can recharge, but as I write, I’m thinking of renaming it because solitude isn’t quite the word I’m looking for. So, buckle up, friends, we’re going on a word search together.
For years, I fell victim to the narrative that so many parents are fed: if you aren’t always plugged in and available to your children, you are lazy and selfish. It’s a staple of American life these days for other pursuits as well; your boss may expect you to answer emails on the weekend, your spouse wants your focus despite your exhaustion, or your friends don’t understand why you can’t return a text immediately about a sample sale, their hot take on Schitt’s Creek, or anything else for that matter. In the modern world, with seven hundred social media and messaging apps on your phone, you’re always on, always connected, always there. And it is exhausting, isn’t it? I use the experience of motherhood to explore this phenomenon and how to alleviate that pressure because my performance as a mom is part of a long list of judgements of which I have been on the receiving end. Although to judge is human nature, for those of you who know me, I think it is a complete waste of time to care about what other people think or say about you.
The connection I have naturally and the connectedness I have built with my four children are the most rewarding, fulfilling, and Earth-rattlingly joyful things in my life. But it is informed by me being the best version of me that I can be, and if you look at my biography, you know that I am many things: mother, wife, teacher, author, podcaster, friend, et cetera, sometimes seemingly ad infinitum. There are moments in the still of night when the children are asleep or 3,000 miles away, Michael is entrenched in study, and I am tasting the sensation of aloneness for the first time in days, and those moments are when I can rearrange, reorder, and refocus on all of those titles I’ve been called. I can sit in solemn silence with my thoughts, dreams, feelings (both good and bad), and desires (including the desire to do nothing at all) and recharge.
“Conversation enriches the understanding; but solitude is the school of genius.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
When we were babies, we were in a constant state of learning new things, experiencing life and the wonders around us for the first time. It is exhausting and if our parents were trained as well as we hope, they recognized the stresses of that constant bombardment. They insisted on naps, quiet time resting on their chest or in our crib, or asleep in our car seats cruising the neighborhood.
As we got older, perhaps pre-teens, we started to see the cracks in the dream that was the world around us, and in order to keep our magical sense of a life worth living, we were encouraged to take time-outs, played dress-up, and had extended periods of imaginative – incredibly silly in my case – daydreaming.
Here’s the thing: we’re still in that constant state of learning. We should, every day, experience some new wonder for the first time. We are often reminded that the dream of life has sharp edges, and it still tries to cut us down. And so, I am an advocate for the grown-up time-out.
There are few people left telling us to take a break, to look after ourselves, and no one to give us permission to do so. I believe that while we vaguely recall these lessons from our youth and, perhaps, are passing them down to children of our own, we shouldn’t be afraid to parent ourselves. We need to play. We need to daydream. We need to sit silently in our bed and collect ourselves from the onslaught of pressures. So why don’t we give ourselves that permission?
There are the previously mentioned pressures of the world and the society that has built up around us, but more dangerously, I believe, we feel guilty and scared. Guilty, because we entertain thoughts like, ‘you put all these things in motion: the mortgage, the job, the lifelong commitment of marriage, the children… and you’re too weak to hack it 24/7?’ Scared because we worked so hard to get to where we are, and as we get older, we’re still struggling to achieve what we set out to do. So, what happens if we slow down? Will we run out of time? Does it all just go away?
Maybe. Maybe it will. Maybe if I go live on an island or climb a mountain and reside in a cave for the next thirty years, you’ll forget about Monica Berg. But I’m not talking about ditching your careers or dreams or (God forbid) your children. I’m talking about finding moments in the turmoil of our lives that belong to no one but us and the source of what we are. I’m talking about finding patches of quiet where we can rest and reconnect with who we believe ourselves to be so that when the time comes to welcome our friends, partners, and children back to the forefront of our thoughts, we have the strength of our true selves to share with them.
I believe there is a reason that in all the world’s major religions, leaders like Moses, Mohammed, Buddha, and Jesus had major breakthroughs in their own journeys while withdrawn from their contemporaries and disciples. And those moments of solitude and connection to their sense of the universe made them more powerful teachers and more in tune with the needs of their peoples.
I’ll get into the specifics I use to reconnect to my true self soon, but this week, I just wanted to give you permission to give yourself permission to find your patch of quiet. I think the rewards for yourself and those around you will surprise you.
And look at that. It wasn’t solitude after all. It was “a patch of quiet.” Let me know what you call it in the comments below.
RETHINK MOMENT: If you feel like you’re occasionally neglecting loved ones in favor of yourself, shouldn’t you pause and consider making yourself a loved one, too?