As I sit here waiting while my daughters are taking their piano lesson, the guilt factor of my upcoming hiking trip out West gets dialed up another notch. My stomach feels knotted, my breathing shallow, I feel slightly nauseous. I’m taking a rare 4 night/5 day trip to Utah to go hiking with my sister and stepfather at Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon. The kids and dogs will be in the care of my darling husband and close family friends have signed up to help schlep them around after school. They have all received their detailed itineraries laying out who goes where at what time and everyone else’s phone numbers, I’ve e-mailed and written notes to the teachers, I’ve confirmed with everyone at least twice. To say that I’ve overdone it a bit (type A anyone?) and am a bit anxious about leaving is an understatement.
The voice inside my head is having a field day shouting fears at me like, “Something will go wrong and you won’t be here!” “You’re selfish for leaving them!” “They’ll be scarred for life!” and added to the mounting evidence of what a horrible Mother I am, my six year old daughter has mastered the guilt trip by saying “If you knew we were going to miss you so much, why did you plan this trip?!” and “Daddy doesn’t know how to help me with my homework or put me to bed, how am I going to sleep while you’re gone?!” The piano teacher asks how many practices they will get in this week and as I mention I’ll be away, she begrudgingly erases the expected 6 practices and writes 4. So now, not only will my girls miss me, and be permanently and irrevocably damaged, they’ll also be lacking in their piano talents! No wonder I’m on the verge of a panic attack! Ahh!
It has only been a few weeks since school has started and between the various activities I signed the girls up for along with the volunteer work I’ve committed to at their school and in the community, it seems like the worst time to leave. I feel as though I’ve had to arrange an army of Moms and caregivers and my husband to take my place. I need to stay and take care of everything; it won’t run smoothly without me-my inner voice keeps nagging me. As I make my last minute preparations and remind my husband about what activities the girls have each day and kiss and hug my family goodbye at the airport the guilt continues. Reading on the plane distracts me a bit, but the knot in my stomach quietly lingers in the background.
Only when we get first glimpses of the beautiful red rock of Zion National Park against the clear blue sky do I begin to breath deeper, and release some of the unnecessary burden of guilt all of us Moms experience at one time or another. You know the gut wrenching guilt where if we don’t spend enough time with them we feel as though we’re both depriving and neglecting our children. When our mind goes to the extreme thinking that they’ll never have the skills to have healthy relationships and will end up broke and living alone with way too many cats. Not to be confused with the other side of the guilt coin in which they’re so attached to us, we worry that they cannot separate from us in a healthy way and will of course have to live with us the rest of our lives because they lack the basic independence skills and we’ve failed them horribly by not preparing them for the real world. You can see how my inner critic can get a wee bit carried away. I’ve had the “pleasure” (okay really pain) of vacillating between both sides of the guilt coin in my 8 years of Motherhood. Unfortunately, no matter what you do, us Moms have a knack for telling ourselves it’s not enough and we’re doing it all wrong. I hear it from my clients all the time, both my working and stay at home Moms. A fear my 8-year-old daughter confirmed shortly after I landed and over the phone tearfully and accusingly said to me, “Today was awful without you! Nothing went as it was supposed to go!” Gut punch-check, dose of guilt-check.
Never underestimate the power of taking a deep breath and breathing nice and slow. After I’ve calmed my daughter down and hang up the phone, I do that many times as I breathe in the fresh air and take in the gorgeous views. It takes practice to not get sucked into the swirl of negative thoughts that can so rapidly feed off each other and spiral downward to feelings of guilt, sadness and a feeling of somehow I’m doing it all wrong. But the fresh air and natural beauty help me rally and I’m feeling much more relaxed at dinner as we sit outside enjoying a nice meal, good wine and great conversation as my sister, step-dad and I catch up with each others lives.
But it is on our first hike the next day where it all melts away. The magnificent natural beauty fills up my soul and restores my spirit. I feel deeply connected to my core of peace and the Universe and feel a profound sense of trust in life. I know that everything is okay. I feel it with every fiber of my being and am calm with the serenity of this knowledge. I know that hiking in Mother Nature’s glory is exactly what I needed and it provides a direct and strong connection to my Essential Self.
I know that my girls will grow stronger from this experience and have memories of quality time with their Dad. I know that I am doing them a greater service by modeling healthy behavior where I’m nourishing my spirit and soul and filling up my own bucket. It’s hard to be a good Mom, wife, friend, employee anything when you’ve let your bucket go empty and you’re running on fumes. When I over-commit and under-nourish myself I have less patience, creativity, joy and energy. I feel tired, depleted, humorless and am far more likely to be a little (and sometimes a lot) cranky.
Connecting with my essential self also helps me remember that I am a good Mom. My kids are amazing, funny, smart, kind, sweet, helpful kids who also at times act up, melt down and in other ways act like every other normal 6 and 8 year old. But they are healthy, happy, well adjusted kids who have parents and family and friends who love and support them. How does that saying go? “Raising kids is the hardest job you’ll ever love.” The parenthood journey is chaotic, messy, exhausting, fun, exciting and full of mistakes and growth. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I am a good Mom. I am the perfect Mother for my children, exactly as I am right now, with all my human imperfections. Just as you are the perfect Mother for your child(ren) just as you are, right now. It is all exactly as it is supposed to be.
My sister, stepfather and I fall into an easy routine of going to bed early, getting up early, watching the sunrise and beating the crowds to the different and glorious hikes. The weather couldn’t be more beautiful, cool in the morning and evenings and sunny and warm during the day. My body compass is at a ++++10! It’s almost as if every cell in my body is vibrating gleefully. The energy and beauty of these places are breathtaking and awesome. There is a sacredness in these majestic massive red rocks, big blue skies and in this experience. Pictures and words cannot even begin to come close to describing it.
While it’s easy to connect to my essential self while I’m in nature, hiking and not caring for dogs, kids, household etc… it’s a reminder to me that I can and need to connect to my core of peace more often in my hectic chaotic everyday life. I need to carve out time each day to do so. I know that when I am coming from my centered self I am much more likely to make decisions for my family and myself that are loving, nurturing, patient and kind. I know this and teach my clients this, and yet as all of us do from time to time, I can get caught up in the “what needs to get done like yesterday” mode and I temporarily forget. I know I’ve forgotten when my inner critic is the loudest voice in my head. I know it when my body feels anxious, there’s a knot in my stomach and my breathing is shallow and my patience is running a little thin. And it’s okay to forget, because it’s another opportunity to learn and grow. It gives me a deeper respect for trusting that my body will tell me when I’ve forgotten or am a little off course. It gives me a deeper appreciation for how content and happy I feel when I do remember and make a practice of remembering.
As I sit on the plane home, I am excited to see my sweet girls and husband again. I have missed them, but feel grateful to have gone. I feel that I am bringing more of myself back to them.