This is the question I’m struggling with right now, especially as the new school year starts, as new routines and schedules get hammered out. I’m also putting more focus and energy into other areas of my life that I’ve put on hold to be a parent, and once again, I feel myself dealing with the question: Am I enough?
Am I doing enough?
Am I good enough?
This is straight-up tied to being a perfectionist, something I’ve struggled with over the years to let go of, to be who I am, to do the best that I can and celebrate in what I have accomplished. And yet… every once in awhile… my perfectionist finds a new way to creep on in, to sneak into my subconscious, to create doubts and negative self-talk. A little, tiny voice nagging that I should do more…
Read more with the kids.
And, of course, there’s always more we could do, more to focus on, more to strive at being better…
A couple months ago, I dealt with how my perfectionist came into my writing process, and it wasn’t the usual way either. It wasn’t during the actual creation, when I put words on page and have learned to trust those words (and my unique author voice). You see, I’d already dealt with that part. Instead, my perfectionist had taken a stranglehold during an entirely different process: the end process. The part where my stories get out to readers.
I would stop dead in my tracks when it came to the editing, the copyediting, and straight-up, the publishing part of my business.
I was surprised. Shocked, actually.
I had no idea my perfectionist, my critical voice, had been sitting there, happy as a clam, completely stopping my work from, you know, actually reaching readers. Since then, I’ve worked through that part of the process, and am even making really awesome, fun strides with my publishing business.
And yet, that’s exactly one reason why I’m now dealing with this question:
Am I enough?
You see, as I focus on my business, it’s taken my attention away from other areas of my life. Mainly, my family. I’m not connecting with the kids as much, we’re not playing as much. Not enough board games or sitting down and doing art together.
Which… if I actually step back and look at my life, I would (hopefully) see how silly my worry is.
I mean, yes, I am putting attention and focus on my business — but that’s part of my self-care. This is super important, this focus on self-care. Especially too if I want to function as patient and kind parent, someone who has the energy and the reserves to help my kids through their big emotions, to even want to get on the floor and play a tickle game, or to drive to the LA County Fair or go to Disneyland.
I am important too, and I’ve finally reached a point with my youngest that I can put energy to this other area, a very important area of my life, which I had happily put on hold to grow our family.
And yet… the worries and the self-doubt are still there.
A huge, huge part of the problem is my brain, of having lived through my own childhood, of living in this American culture for 35 years, still has all these labels, this hierarchy of what is deemed as important.
And, what isn’t.
Sitting on the couch and reading books together, or learning by playing board games (especially as a homeschooler): important.
Swimming with friends for hours, playing with dolls, playing Mario 3D World with Kate, dancing with Eric: not important.
And that, really, is ridiculous.
I intellectually know this. I do.
In fact, I’ve been working on letting go of all these thoughts and worries, of what our world deems as ‘learning’ and ‘education’ ever since Kate was two years old and yet… yet here I am, questioning the importance of play and joy.
For myself. For my kids.
I know I’m feeling more pressure this year (and really, right at this moment) because, technically, Kate should be in kindergarten. I mean, she’s a baby five but, according to most states, she’d be in kindergarten and therefore:
Learning great things of importance! Learning things that are clearly not hanging out with friends and playing!
Agh! It’s enough to drive me crazy.
I know how I feel about education and self-directed learning. I know the value of simple play and social interaction… which is exactly what she’s getting. Right now. Every week. Every day.
And yet, here I am, mentally beating myself up because somewhere inside me, it doesn’t feel like not enough.
Which is my perfectionist speaking.
My perfectionist that can look at the day we had, completely filled with trying to meet everyone’s needs, of driving up and visiting with grandma and grandpa, playing with their big-ass dogs (and my helping Eric to work through feelings of his safety and growing comfort). And then after, going to the park to play with a whole bunch of other, older kids. I can look back over our entire day, and somehow, in some area, my perfectionist finds it lacking.
Here’s what my perfectionist points out to me:
You didn’t play when Kate asked you too.
Why didn’t you join her with painting? Or coloring Pinkie Pie’s tail?
You should put your own work aside. Stop typing up those notes for your online workshop. You’re neglecting her.
(Never mind the fact that I facilitated how many days playing with friends, swimming and playing with dolls, even video games? Not to mention the outings this week, from rock climbing, visiting an ice cream art museum, and spending a ton of quality, fun-time with Grandma??)
Which my perfectionist then chimes in:
Well, what about Eric??
Were you really connecting with him enough?
My perfectionist, with all her negative self-talk, doesn’t stop there either. She’ll point out: See? He’s sorting those colored Legos on the floor. By himself. Why didn’t you join him? Why didn’t you use that as an opportunity to work on his sounds and his growing comfort with turning his voice on??
(Never mind that every moment he’s awake I am aware of his speech, finding new and fun ways to play sound-games that are natural for him and me. That we play tickle games and hide-and-seek games like crazy. But hey, those moments just don’t count.)
This is my own struggle, dealing with my perfectionist and the negative voice in my head that some days (like, right now) feels like I’m in a constant, epic battle with.
You’re getting a glimpse into all these thoughts I’ve got going on, but I recognize them for what they are… and I’m trying to work through them.
I’m trying to pick apart the threads and figure out the real cause of why I’m having them in the first place. And generally, if my perfectionist is involved, it has to do with fear.
Fear, and protecting.
Clearly, some part of me is afraid of something, or feels that I (or my kids) need protecting. Maybe from the great ways I can single-handedly Screw Them Up —
Which, is just silly.
I literally just got off the phone with a friend who, after I told her what my week had been like and everything we did (as well as mentioning my struggle with these these negative thoughts) she said:
“It sounds to me like you’re doing plenty.”
Which, I am.
I mean, I know I am. Helping them through their emotions, taking the time to connect, to empathize, scheduling fun outings with friends as well as stuff for to do as a family (like rock climbing). Then there’s keeping the house in somewhat order, and the endless dishes, cleaned. Oh, and let’s not forget preparing and cooking real food (at least most of the time).
I know I’m doing the best that I can, and I know that my life, and my kids’ life, will look completely different than everyone else’s. For example, a lot of kids Kate’s age are focusing on school, on learning to read or beginning math. But for me, my focus is continuing to help her with language.
I’m getting her out with friends, focusing on my modeling and recasting, having new experiences (ice cream museum or meeting Moana for the first time at Disneyland). Those experiences are a fantastic jumping off point for more words, more language, more conversation.
That’s my focus for her, right now.
And what’s super amazing is all the people in our life who matter most, grandparents, close friends, they all intuitively understand that too. I’m not getting badgered with Kate and reading or anything else that might look school-related. Instead, I’m getting these smiles and looks of amazement over what Kate said or how she interacted with someone.
But other than language, I’m really tuning into what learning will look like for us as a family, and specifically, for Kate.
As a family, we believe in self-directed learning. You might not, you might send your kids to school or you might follow a more classic, homeschool approach. But for us, this is what we believe in… following a child’s interest, helping them to facilitate in an area they’re excited about. It means I need to be aware of Kate and her passions, and when I see something, ask myself: how can I help that grow?
For example, Kate’s aunt was over the other day and she was rolling some dice to build a character for the Dungeons and Dragons campaign Sean’s running. As her aunt was rolling those dice, she was getting quite passionate about what numbers she was rolling. She was trying to create a sorcerer, so having a high strength number and not a high intellect number, was bad.
So Kate’s aunt was having emotions about the outcome.
She was having emotions… about numbers.
Her aunt would get a set of numbers, write them down, and usually, be pissed about some number not fitting into the sorcerer character she wanted to build. So, she’d start rolling again.
And Kate, interested, came to the table and watched. At first she got a paper and pencil, and started drawing. Then, later, I noticed she was writing the numbers.
Thirteen. Four. Eight. And entire page-worth of numbers.
I was shocked.
This was the first time I’d ever seen Kate write numbers or even have an interest in numbers. But there she was, writing them all down. And then the day after, waiting for food at a restaurant, she started filling in numbers for a Sudoku puzzle all on her own.
So I asked myself: what can I do to help facilitate this interest?
Let me tell you, just rolling a bunch of dice and writing the numbers down didn’t mean squat to Kate. She just started coloring.
And that’s when I had my realization of why Kate had been drawn to the numbers in the first place, why she started writing the dice numbers down with her aunt…
It was because of the emotions. Those numbers meant something to her aunt. They had meaning. They had a purpose.
And, they were fun.
Kate wanted in on that.
I’ve already come up with some ideas, of how we can go forward from here… like, when we play our weekly Dungeons and Dragon session, to start the game earlier. That way Kate can participate or just watch. I’ve also picked up a role-playing book for My Little Pony (yes, there is such a thing) and am thinking about running a campaign for her and her friends. Sure it will require some adjusting, but it’d give her the chance to have her own emotions about numbers, about gameplay and cooperation, all of which, of course, will continue to build on her language. I even got a board game that mimics a playing style similar to a role-playing game that can scale for different ages. I’ve already put this in motion, inviting a few friends to come over, to try out the role playing game, then get into some amazing board games I have as well…
And this, this right here, is why all my worries are just plain silly.
I know what I need to do. I know what I am doing, and gosh darn-it, it’s enough.
I am enough.
I know this won’t be the last time I struggle with these thoughts. I know too it’s just not my perfectionist at the wheel here. Self-esteem is playing a huge roll, in my comfort to stand up and say, “No. I am going to walk this other path and I’m going to be comfortable doing it.”
The comfortable part is one I’m still working on and I plan on diving down into what this means for me, in how it’s manifested out of my own childhood and experiences. Journaling and really delving into what’s causing these different negative voices and anxiety.
Let me tell you, this self-exploration thing is a never-ending journey and it feels like every time I clean up one wire and one connection under my hood, I find a half-dozen more that need fixing. And, I’m okay with that. I like this feeling, this feeling of moving forward. Of learning about myself and why I tick the way I do.
As long as I try to balance my needs and dreams, of being a writer and an entrepreneur, with being a parent, I’ll be struggling with these thoughts. I doubt they’ll ever leave me… but as I said, I think I’ll get better handling this anxiety, this stress. I feel more confident in my abilities and in what I’m doing.
And also, I know parents who’ve chosen a more normal, mainstream life (meaning school but who are also engaged and supportive in their kids’ lives) also have these same doubts. That they aren’t enough, that they need to do more and more, to give even more of themselves.
I think it’s a normal part of parenting.
Also normal: when you do something different from the mainstream… like homeschooling or being the primary speech partner for your kids or being an entrepreneur —
All those doubts hit you extra hard.
And then you beat them down…
Until the darn things find yet some other way to come at you and try to take you out at the knees…
And you go through the whole process again.
The truth is, I am doing my best… my best to provide the right kind of learning, the right kind of environment and opportunities for my kids. No way in hell will it ever look perfect or will I ever be perfect. There will always be more I could add to my day, more connection time, more reading time, more social time. In fact, we could swamp our lives with more and yet, still feel like it’s not enough.
And that’s just bullshit.
All I have to do is look at my kids, at their joy and smiles, look back to where we started out journey and where we are now.
Because the truth is, I am enough, just as I am.