“Gratitude is a currency that we can mint for ourselves, and spend without fear of bankruptcy.”
Fred De Witt Van Amburgh
An expression of gratitude is a gift to both receiver and giver. Receiving thanks reminds us that our efforts are not in vain, that we are valuable to others. Giving thanks opens the windows of heaven; it allows us to see what we may have otherwise been blind to.
One of the more difficult aspects of motherhood is that our efforts are often unappreciated. Not only is its significance increasingly disregarded by society but even our own families often don’t acknowledge our sacrifices. Little children rarely think to thank you for making them a sandwich, or going through the hell of potty training. Husbands simply can’t comprehend the misery of the third trimester. This is a reality best accepted rather than resented.*
“Gratitude is a duty which ought to be paid, but which none have a right to expect.” –
Despite the ingratitude of others, we can live in thanksgiving as we adopt our own attitude of gratitude. Even without receiving it, we can spend grateful-currency on others, which makes us richer in the spending.
A few days ago I noticed my son, age ten, allowing his three-year-old sister to drag him around by the shirt as he pretended to be her puppy. This went on for quite a while and I could tell he was not loving this game. He moaned a bit as she pulled him up the stairs, but he generously allowed his persistent little sister to dominate him. She never expressed her gratitude to her older brother, but she was having the time of her life. After they finished playing I sat down next to my son and said, “Thank you so much for playing with her like that. I know you would rather have done something else but she had so much fun with you. You are a very kind big-brother.” It was obvious that this statement of appreciation meant a lot to him. We had a wonderful bonding moment together. He felt loved and I felt blessed to have raised him. It is sad to consider how many similar selfless acts I have ignored. It seems it is not just mothers that are unappreciated.
Thankfulness is only found when we step out of the humdrum nature of life and notice the miraculous around us. As mothers, we have before us perfect miniature-models of this capacity – small children. Children haven’t forgotten to look – they glory in observing their world. They discover new joys everyday as we become increasingly blind to them. When I first moved to the Hill Country of Texas, I remember being enthralled by the majestic Live Oak trees. Now I can go weeks without actually seeing one – despite their ubiquity. I took a walk with my toddler the other day. She inspected the cracks in the sidewalk and screamed excitedly as she discovered a string of fire ants. She lovingly gave me five dandelions to put in my hair. She chased an ill-tempered stray cat. Rather than the annoyance or disregard I typically give to all of the above, she, in actually seeing them, experienced their magic and joy.
But it is not enough to open our eyes, we must open our mouths. Children live in a spirit of gratitude, as adults we must learn to express it.
“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.”
William Arthur Ward
Now we can call up our mom and thank her for potty training us. We can thank our daughter for not complaining about her chores. We can thank our husbands for taking out the trash. With every acknowledgement of appreciation life looks brighter. In recognizing others good deeds, we see that our own have paid off. My son must have listened to my lessons on kindness, my daughter must be maturing out of her obstinacy, my husband notices the needs of his family.
It is an unfortunate truth that we are all tilted towards the negative, we tend to focus on the wilted rose in our beautiful bouquet.
“Man only likes to count his troubles; he doesn’t calculate his happiness.”
However, if we consciously decide to notice the joy in life, and acknowledge it – we unlock the joy that was hidden.
“No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. To those who knock it is opened.”
If we open our eyes as a child we see the glory of life. As we receive these riches we will live in a state of thankfulness, and become rich. If we spend our self-minted money of gratitude generously toward the oft-unappreciated efforts of others, joy increases. The world can become a truly glorious and miraculous place.
“Don’t worry about being happy. Just try to be grateful, and happiness just comes.”
-We are always grateful and appreciative of your shares, recommendations, and comments.
*There are things we can do to teach appreciation to our children, I hope to write a future post on how we can help our children learn the art of gratitude.
“The world is a looking-glass, and gives back to every man the reflection of his own face. Frown at it, and it will in turn look sourly upon you; laugh at it and with it, and it is a jolly kind companion; and so let all young persons take their choice.”
William Makepeace Thackeray (Vanity Fair)
When I was a freshman at university, I worked in the college Ice Cream Shop. I went through a vigorous fifteen-minute training, done by the creamery supervisor, a sage 19 year-old Sophmore. He demonstrated how to dip the ice cream scoop in water, sink it into the favored barrel, and put it on a cone. After one practice scoop, I had it mastered. He didn’t elaborate on the proper size of the scoop or how to interact with the customers – he didn’t seem concerned with such trivialities. The workplace can be quite relaxed when the management consists of disinterested college students. However, as I worked there I noticed that not everyone interacted the same way with ice cream, or customers for that matter. I discovered some truths about human nature, which have been repeatedly confirmed throughout my life. I realized that there are only two kinds of people in this world – big-scoopers and small-scoopers. Some of my coworkers would dish out wimpy scoops to a child or student, unaware or unphased by their disappointed faces. Others would push the boundaries of a “single scoop” and deliver a very generous scoop to a delighted customer. I was more the latter; in fact, customers began requesting me. After seeing the portions handed out by a tight-fisted employee, they would ask, “Is Ally working tonight?” Now, some would say that the stingy employees were more honest – and if the corporate policy was clear, I might agree. However, it was obvious that no one minded how much we put in a scoop of ice cream.
“For it is in giving that we receive.”
St. Francis of Assisi
I often wondered why someone, given the freedom to dish out a large scoop or a small one, would continually dish out small ones – especially after witnessing the celebrity status of the big-scoop employees. I noticed that those employees who handed out meager scoops, tended to exhibit other attributes. Rather than enjoying their job working at an ice cream shop, (literally every child’s dream), they came to work grumpy. Rather than interacting joyfully with customers, they acted bored or even rude. They discovered a multitude of reasons to complain about their work conditions or shift schedule. Why interact with the world this way? It certainly seemed this pessimistic view of life was making them miserable and building up their own personal hell.
“We are each our own devil, and we make this world our hell.”
Have we Become Miss Trunchbull?
I recently watched the movie “Matilda” with my children. The headmaster of the school, Miss Trunchbull, is a characterture of an angry and vindictive woman – someone that hates life and takes it out on innocents. Miss Truchbulls are all too common in our children’s lives. In school, children are chastised, “No talking during lunch!” “Don’t climb trees!” In Kindergarten my daughter was even reprimanded for hugging her friend, “No hugs allowed in school!” Adults become the oppressors of childhood joy. By focusing on the negative with children, we may be stifling their generous and happy nature and inadvertently creating a new generation of small scoopers.
We have all met real-life Miss Trunchbulls: a snippy store clerk, that curt librarian, or the lady you pray doesn’t call your number at the DMV. Negative women, and men, are easy to spot and we generally try and avoid them. However, for some reason, it is much harder to recognize ourselves as one of them. We may, in fact, be blissfully unaware that we have become a Miss Trunchbull in children’s eyes, or that we are now ungenerous scoopers. We are so consumed by our own suffering, our own injustices, our own stresses, that we don’t see the hell that follows us. We don’t see that our outlook on life is draining the joy of others around us, that our perspective is teaching our kids that the world is an ungenerous place, a place where ice cream needs to be preserved, not shared.
“Hell begins with a grumbling mood, always complaining, always blaming others… but you are still distinct from it. You may even criticize it in yourself and wish you could stop it. But there may come a day when you can no longer. Then there will be no you left to criticize the mood or even to enjoy it, but just the grumble itself, going on forever like a machine. It is not a question of God “sending us” to hell. In each of us there is something growing, which will BE hell unless it is nipped in the bud. ”
Why Debbie Downer and not Fezziwig?
“Life begins as a quest of the child for the man, and ends as a journey by the man to rediscover the child.”
There are many reasons we may have allowed ourselves to become ungenerous or negative. Perhaps we have lived a difficult life or have a disagreeable personality type. Perhaps we feel unloved or unappreciated. Maybe we have developed a scarce view of the world, believing in zero-sum happiness. Regardless of the source of our negativity, we must realize that we can never expect good things from life if we refuse to interact with it graciously.
If instead, we decide to take the opposite course, the cheerful-road less traveled, we will find influence that even the most miserly among us can appreciate and cherish. Ebeneezer Scrooge was asked by the Ghost of Christmas Present why he respected his old employer Fezziwig, who spent his money on frivolous amusements. Scrooge said, “He has the power to render us happy or unhappy; to make our service light or burdensome; a pleasure or a toil. Say that his power lies in words and looks; in things so slight and insignificant that it is impossible to add and count ’em up: what then? The happiness he gives, is quite as great as if it cost a fortune.” (Charles Dickens, The Christmas Carol)
So how do we start rendering others happy, rather than unhappy? What can we do to change our negative habits, personality, or outlook?
1. Become a Spectator
“The best way to keep a prisoner from escaping is to make sure he never knows he’s in prison.”
Are we unaware of the prison of negativity and hostility in which we are residing? We need to become conscious to the way we are interacting with the world. We need to look at ourselves as an impartial observer. This should be done without judgement. If we become a spectator to our own behavior, we may see things we would never expect. Are we giving out wimpy scoops? Are we yelling at innocent children? Rather than feeling condemned by the imperfections we notice in ourselves, we should see hope – hope of progress. We have likely noticed we are unhappy – here might be a good place to start to rectify that. If we seek to improve our interactions with others, their reactions to us will also certainly improve.
Despite my previous notoriety as a Big Scooper, I regret to admit I have many moments of stingy behavior. It is interesting how I can become a witness to my own destructive behaviors, but seem unable to stop them. This is when I let my impulses overtake my free will. I observe a witchy woman – fully engulfed in emotionality, which I seem powerless to stop. I see myself displaying negative habits and reacting instinctively rather than with thoughtfulness and kindness. I see myself yelling at joyfully laughing children in the backseat. I notice myself unloading emotional baggage on my husband as he walks in the door from a long-day at work, without concern for him. These moments all seem to occur above a common denominator, stress. When we attempt to remove our own bias and see ourselves clearly, we can choose to react differently – more positively. Being self-observant has helped me identify my stress-triggers and prevent them.
2. Decide who you want to be
I used to have a distaste for the phrase, “Fake it till you make it” because I dislike insincerity, I always strive to be genuine and respect others I feel are authentic. However, I have found in marriage and mothering that sometimes if I am in a bad mood – I simply need to fake happiness, for the sake of myself and my family. I want my children to remember their mom as happy and nurturing. I want my husband to feel welcomed by a generous and loving wife.
An interesting and well-known study, now known simply as the Pencil Study, showed that people’s moods can be elevated simply by placing a pencil in their mouths – forcing them to use their smile muscles. It seems “faking it” can trick our brains into producing endorphins and serotonin. Doing charitable acts can make us more charitable. Directing our thoughts to others can decrease our selfishness. We sometimes need to force ourselves out of our negative cycles – improve our posture, take a walk, pray, be grateful. But most of all we must decide who we want to be and work to become that person. We must strive to be the hero of our story and shun the enemy we could become.
3. Integrate who you want to be with how you live
We can decide that we are not going to be a slave to a pessimistic view of life. We can freely choose to prevent such reactions and to interact with the world differently. But it takes using our attention and focus, especially if we are in the habit of reacting negatively.
We must prepare and prevent. We know when our own Miss Trunchbull is likely to emerge. For me it is 5:30 at night as I prepare dinner. My noise bucket is now full and my will-power muscle is worn out, so I start to get snippy with my children. If I do not change the conditions, the outcome will always be the same, so I play relaxing classical music or send the kids outside to play. If it has been a stressful day, I consciously decide to not complain to my husband until he has been home fifteen minutes, even if I have to tell Alexa to remind me. I usually find when 15 minutes are up, I have forgotten my complaints.
If we are going to successfully defeat our mean nature, we need to “negotiate with ourselves”, as Dr. Jordan Peterson says. First we need to become a spectator and witness the negative consequences of our pessimism and unpleasantness. Then we need to decide if we really are willing to become a more positive person. Finally we need to integrate that positivity into our lives. This might require a changing of routines, shifting our outlook, and even some moments of “pretending”. But there is hope that we can become a big-scooper again. As we see the benefit of positivity, our efforts will be a reward unto themselves.
“There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.” All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek, find. Those who knock, it is opened.”
C.S. Lewis (The Great Divorce)
Bring Heaven Down
When I look back at my days at the Creamery, I remember it as pure joy. I gloried in that ice cream and the happiness it brought. I want that “Ally” back for good. Some days she is here and other days Miss Trunchbull makes her appearance. I have hope that I can live the heavenly days of college again, and why not? I am now surrounded by my children and husband, whom I love dearly. Now should be the time I am most capable of building up my own heaven. I remain convinced of the truth I learned in college: there are only two types of people in this world, big-scoopers and small-scoopers. But now I know that the choice is before me day after day, moment after moment, who will I be? Will I make a heaven or a hell?
“At the end of things, The Blessed will say, “We have never lived anywhere except in Heaven.” And the lost will say, “We were always in Hell.” And both will speak truly.”
Thank you for reading. We would greatly appreciate your shares and follows and any comments. We are on Facebook, Instagram, and soon ThinkSpot.
This story is for independent women out there: the ones who think travel and new adventures are the height of fulfillment, that wanderlust is a deep-seated craving that must be fulfilled. You may not picture yourselves in a traditional role, ever—it would be too constrained, too much of a sacrifice, too much boredom and compromise. You are too unique to be confined by such a small, conventional model.
That was exactly my mindset…. and why shouldn’t it have been? The picture of a traditional feminine role is nowhere glorified. Try it yourself—do a Google image search for ‘drudgery’. Even without prompting from other keywords, the most commonly recurring image is a worn out woman, surrounded by housework.
I am from a liberal, progressive-values family and a liberal, progressive-values city. My family was, however, somewhat traditional; parents never divorced, bills got paid, the kids played sports, we all ate dinner together. That was about it for family culture, though. We had no organized religion (that was for people who couldn’t think for themselves), no larger community involvement, no large family tree. We were, well, nuclear.
Both my parents worked full time. To me, this was perfectly normal—but I point it out to mention that I did not have a mother who stayed at home with children. My mother did everything well, or tried damn hard. She had a career, a beautiful home. She was, and is, a creative. Everything she makes—food, art, clothing, floral arrangements–puts Instagram to shame. She was the epitome of the Martha Stewart feminine, where women can and should do everything and do it well. She used to iron the sheets….…yet I also remember that she didn’t want to play. She was tired. Most of the time her craft space was filled with stuff that needed sorting, laundry, bags of junk. She was on hold, while she raised us, worked full time, and made everything appear lovely.
At 17, I left for college and hardly ever returned. I wanted nothing to do with the security of ‘home sweet home’. I exploded into freedom and adventure after adventure. I wanted to try everything and go everywhere, read everything, and never be held back. I worked outdoors for the US Forest Service in the summers, traveled in fall and winter, then enrolled in school just long enough to qualify as a student for rehire the next summer. I backpacked alone, road-tripped to Central America, jumped out of planes, ran a marathon, met a goal and then picked another and tried to reach it.
I was concerned with ideas too—traveling showed me a very different world than I had been raised in and I became interested in inequality, environmental problems, governmental corruption, and global politics. I was busy having fun, but I wasn’t a hedonist. I wanted the world to be better and I was willing to work at it.
However, I really struggled to curb my enthusiasm for all things and pick one. I was worried that I would have to leave things I loved behind and that I would lose out on new or better opportunities. Jordan Peterson has a brief clip on what that feels like—the process of moving from pure potential into a being that is disciplined. He equates it with moving from childhood to adulthood, where, after a period of ‘narrowing’, the sky opens again and your transformed being can accomplish much more than it could as an unformed entity. You become ‘somebody’ rather than potentially ‘anybody’.
When I was 21 I was married for the first time—rather impulsively. I fell in love, and believed that was the key to a successful relationship. I dropped out of school and moved to follow my husband’s career. I was isolated though, and quickly unhappy—we lived on the far edge of an island in the middle of the Pacific. He worked sometimes 16-hour days and had our car all day. I paced the apartment, then the bit of beach nearby and the tiny strip mall. I had no job, no friends, no purpose.
I found out I was pregnant and when I told my husband, he just said—no, we can’t. Years later I still don’t quite know how to understand that, but I relented and scheduled the procedure. (It may sound I am glossing over the fact that I had an abortion- it’s a point in my life I have tried very hard to forget, or maybe to not see, so I apologize if I sound distanced. It is not because I don’t care, it’s that I haven’t wanted to let myself for so long.
That marriage ended rather quickly in divorce. I was treated more as a roommate and not as a wife. There was no priority it seemed to make a life together, only to have fun. He did not want children yet, and so I returned to college. I realized that my intellectual needs were not met, and that it was already as good as it was going to get. There was not room for growth. I thought I could do better, and at 24 I certainly had time to look around. And it seemed to me that before I was married, before I tried to rely on someone, I had done more, had been more of a real person. I felt invisible after a few years of marriage
I initiated the divorce by having an affair with a close friend of his. Because I was a rather modern lady, and relativistic in my thinking, I thought that breaking social conventions wasn’t that big of a deal. I was very wrong. I can’t begin to tell you the amount of suffering I caused, not only to others but to myself. Peterson has been ripped in the press for discussing an idea called ‘enforced monogamy’ and he takes pains to clarify that he means ‘socially enforced monogamy’, not legally enforced monogamy. It is the idea that we reinforce the social codes through our reactions to others when they break them. I can tell you firsthand that this is a real thing, and if you break social conventions, at least one of the big ones (think Ten Commandments), you are going to pay.
It was the first time I saw that the code of social norms was a real thing, that I couldn’t simply make up the rules and ignore the ones I didn’t like. Once you’ve transgressed in a big way—you can’t just shrug it off. You inhabit a different mental space than other people, and your encounters with the social world are colored by that transgression as well—you are handled differently, even by those who love you. There were only two people who treated me the same despite my behavior, and knowing that someone thought I was redeemable absolutely carried me through that time. It was the first time I ever considered the notion of redemption, or that I might need to be forgiven to be able to clear my own head and heart and move forward.
Not only did I feel myself separate from the social fabric, I had somehow also proven to myself that the conventions I had followed weren’t useful– love doesn’t conquer all, marriage is a trap where your soul dies, and if you try to escape and manage it badly, you will suffer all the more. I couldn’t see a way to move back into anything like a traditional lifestyle–it didn’t make sense to try and make something work that just, didn’t work. I would try to live outside the norms instead.
I reasoned that I would be better off if I stayed unattached romantically. I spent the next five years being ‘free’: traveling, moving, seeking, studying, saving nothing, planning never farther ahead than the next few months, and living in a sort of amoral wilderness of my own making. Marriage had proven unreliable, so maybe ALL the conventions of dating and loving another person were up for examination, Maybe they could be discarded. I dated serially but never wanted to commit to anyone. It just didn’t seem safe. I might lose myself again.
I moved around a lot, to different apartments, different towns. I drove up and down the coast and studied at different libraries just to escape. I finished another degree. I studied literature, but what I recall most were heaping doses of critical theory, postmodernism, deconstructionist thinkers, etc. I mention the imposed philosophical leanings of my time at university because I believe they entrenched my sense of being lost even further. I was steeped in the idea that no version of a text, or a life, was better or more valid than another–and that truth claims were just patriarchal voices drowning out those they had colonized.
It was an elaborate study in nihilism and the unraveling of western culture’s belief in itself. For someone already existing on shaky ground, this was not a good footing. Literature had seemed a place to find an historical exploration of big ideas, of truth. But then, under postmodernism’s gaze, nothing was objectively true. I couldn’t claim that I found anything true or good at all: my job was to dismantle the text, to criticize the writers for their withered attempts and point out the obvious class divisions, the sexism, racism, etc. After I finished my master’s I walked away. I didn’t read another novel for six years.
I lived in different states and two different countries, traveled here and there, and just could not find a way to rest my head or be found. I loved cities, I loved the country, I loved people, I had a great time. But I was lost. I was using the serial shift in spaces and in relationships to cover the fact that I was not okay. Yet I don’t think that I ever gave the impression of being unhappy in a deep way. I appeared to others as a free-spirited wanderer, a lifestyle highly prized by modern cultural standards. I don’t think anyone looked at me, ever, with pity. Most of my oldest friends would comment that I had all the fun, while they worked, stayed in one place, lived more conventional lives.
My ‘last hurrah’’ was still rather interesting– I was living in New York City, in the middle of endless options for fun. I was working multiple part-time jobs, having crazy adventures, and I even had a plan. I had taken the LSAT and applied to law school. My application essay was on my goal to be an immigration lawyer and offer clinics and services in the US and Southern Mexico, so that families who had loved ones trapped in the legal system in the US could make sense of what their options were and how to navigate the immigration process. I had many close friends from Mexico who struggled with immigration issues and was truly passionate about my plan.
I was offered an interview for a chance at a full ride scholarship and I got it. And when I received the offer letter, I was thrilled. But then something just felt wrong. I did a quick bit of mental math that had honestly never occurred to me before. I was 29. If I started law school in the fall I would be finished at age 32. I would need to prove myself at a firm or establish my own, find capital for my project, dedicate myself to it for at least 3-5 years just to get going. That put me at 35-38. I realized I would probably never have a family. Was that what I wanted? If I became a successful lawyer, would it matter to me that I never had a family? I sent a thank you email and declined the offer.
In this short clip, Peterson discusses the shifting priorities of women who DO find success as lawyers and professionals. Once they become mothers, they focus on parenting rather than climbing a ladder. Even highly competitive, career-minded women who choose to become mothers prioritize that role.
A few months later I packed up a rental car, quit everything and moved home to my parent’s basement. I didn’t know exactly what to do, but I just wanted to start from a sense of the known. I still was having trouble ending my wandering patterns and didn’t have a way of orienting myself. Often I felt like a worldly, educated failure.
I went online and wrote a dating post and kept it simple and honest. I am looking for a partner- not just fun, not serial dating. I want children, I want goats, I want acreage. That was about it. The first person I went on a date with was my husband of now going on 7 years. We have three children, 60 acres, goats, sheep, and projects from here to eternity.
I have to say, I wonder at the absolute miracle of finding the kind of partner I did from a single dating post. I was looking for a man who was not only responsible enough to have children, but successful enough to be able to support them and me, educated enough to keep me interested, serious about rural living AND capable at it, conscientious yet also open to new things, empathic but also masculine enough to attract me…. and who was ready to have kids RIGHT NOW. Not everyone on a dating site would fit that list. When I met my husband for the first time I liked him, but the impression I most remember is: ‘this is an adult’. I wasn’t even one by my own standards— but that was coming.
Here is a clip of Peterson describing what women at 29 who want families are up against:
Switching over to being a wife and a mother was very difficult for me, because of my own attitudes toward those roles. I was still highly suspicious of conventional life– for years. I refused to get married until our second child was on the way. I was adamant that I would keep my independence, so when I had our first and second child I didn’t quit my job, in fact I ‘leaned in’. I wanted to feel competent and to keep up with my husband’s schedule. I saw the measurement scale of worthiness as one of productivity. I never valued the work I was doing in our home.
The real failure of the model of ‘strong women can be anything a man can be’ is that it reduces the true value of what women as caregivers bring to the table, to zero. Women then internalize that model. People often try to ask if you do something besides parent, or are you ‘just a mom’? I’m not offended by this–I just think it’s time to move on from this standard of measure.
It’s ridiculous to assume that since there is no monetary value there is no actual value to home and child-focused labor. Is there any greater spiritual task than supporting lives with your own? Seriously– no yoga teacher, no trip to Bali or India, will get you to the level of self-awareness that having children can. There is no way not to see yourself clearly- all your faults and limitations- when your child reflects it back to you, or pushes you to your limits, day after day.
My notions of independence crumbled when I left my job to stay home with our kids—once there were three of them. I had been clinging to my identity as a ‘modern female’ through work outside the home. I did not really relate to moms who loved being home all day with their children. It didn’t ‘fit’ me. I liked my kids, I loved them. But I did not love monotonous days of food prep, clean up, poop, bathing, laundry, etc. It felt, often, like I was suffocating, like I was dying a bit today, and a bit the next, and that every day was going to be like that.
I felt powerless and started to act strangely—lashing out and starting fights with my husband for seemingly minor issues. He would bring home groceries on his way home from work to help me out and I would loudly criticize the brand of lunch meat he’d purchased (So sorry honey). To him it was just ham, to me I had lost control over every part of my life. All of a sudden the food I put into my body became a war for the last thing I had any control over.
It sounds Cray-zy. I know. I did seek counseling soon after. Then we went to counseling together, and then we worked out a basic schedule that went like this: Tuesday night was date night, Wednesday was mom’s night out, Thursday was dad’s night out. We both started to get some freedom back, and our kids still had a set schedule they could rely on.
I know now that the dying a little every day was true. It was the formation of someone else coming into being. I was narrowed, limited, feeling that old self losing out to someone who was more patient, less willing to run from difficulty. I could stand to do something day after day for a longer term payoff, for another person’s well being. My former self just couldn’t exist side by side with the person I needed to become. I hear other moms talk about ‘getting their groove back’ and I’m happy for them. But that’s not how I feel. That lady died. And now I’m here. I don’t miss her life, and she never would have been able to handle mine.
I discovered Peterson’s lectures in 2015, after hearing his first Joe Rogan podcast. When I listened to them, I felt like I had already lived through so many of the psychological realms he explores. Archetypal stories often sound archaic to the modern sensibility–do they even function?? But anyone who has lived through a day with toddlers knows that ‘beating back the chaos’ is very real. Anyone who has watched themselves lose their temper with a tiny person who can’t possibly defend themselves can understand the need to integrate the shadow, and learn to manage their own inner monster.
There was a lot I already sensed, the magnitude of the shift for example, yet he could articulate it in a way I hadn’t been able to. I found the lectures on suffering, the lectures on mythology. The Maps of Meaning series totally changed how I see the function of religion. It helped me move from a period of intense re-formation to a point where I could begin to see a bigger arc in my own life, and to talk about it.
A few years ago we sold our farm and moved across the country to live nearer to my husband’s family. We found a small church we love. We reorganized our priorities. The sense of life as drudgery has lifted as the kids have become a bit older and I can see the enormous potential of what we can make of our lives, and the self respect that comes from shouldering a heavy load.
We bought another farm and are now shepherds, homeschoolers, and run a small plant nursery. We have taken on the animals and the nursery because that fits in with our goals of supporting our community through sustainable farming, and for me of being a (mostly) full-time mom to our children. The nursery is open two months of the year and that two months is electric for me. I get enough adult interaction to counteract that lingering sense of being ‘just a mom’.
I am a creative type and a homemaker like my mother, but it takes last priority after family, farm, and exploring faith. I still struggle with limiting myself to a few tasks, and I often have to re-calibrate and push some things off the table. Long trips, long books, backpacking and brunch still don’t get on the schedule very often. I try not to get so overbooked that I can’t do the first things well.
At the same time we were leaving our other farm, my family went through a particularly difficult time. We lost my nephew just before he was born, and my sister in law was very ill. The gift my nephew gave me was a realization that I was able to carry others through hardship. I found that I was a lot stronger because of the work I had done- the caring for others, the limiting of my own impulsivity and personal desires for a longer term plan. It was incredibly helpful to have heard Peterson’s lectures on the nature of suffering. There is a point, maybe the most important one from that time, where he says something like this: that who you might want to aim to be is the most together person at a funeral. Here is a bit of that lecture:
That time completely changed the landscape and the way I view myself in regards to others. I saw that I could simply do more now, that I had come through fire, that I was tougher. I am no longer outside the social fabric- I create it and uphold it when others need it. Becoming a mom did that–not having a classroom, or a job outside the home. I already had confidence from my earlier life experiences. I had sought my own capabilities but I never found their limits elsewhere. I have never felt more fully capable, or less limited, which is testament to that strange paradox of the narrowing of your potential selves into an actual future self.
Peterson has said that we are at a point where the feminine archetype needs to be re-articulated, where the woman who is not ‘simply a caregiver’, so to speak, must be accounted for. I also think he is sensing it should come from women speaking about it themselves, and has hesitated to attempt it himself. I appreciate having that space to move into. Many women end their thoughts on the feminine at the idea that it has been historically oppressed and requires reclaiming, but then they reclaim it in reactionary ways– hating masculinity, disrespecting women who embrace traditional roles, or justifying their own hedonism in the name of a grand cause; aka chocolate, wine, and shopping as an identity.
There is something else, something deeper than consumerism and a ‘you deserve to have it all’ lifestyle. I’ve offered here a look at what that original transformative process of the feminine might still hold for modern, independent women. It is still valuable to let yourself be narrowed and re-formed, even if you end up at your wit’s end arguing over lunch meat. It is still a valid pathway for women to find challenge, meaning and purpose, and a career is not necessarily an equal substitute. (And how on earth could it be?)
A second look at motherhood, as invaluable for the mother, is necessary before we can modify that archetype. Modern feminism is not helping, proposing models that undermine the traditionally feminine and women who make life choices on that spectrum. It does very little to ‘revivify’ the culture, as Peterson often says, and more often tears at the social fabric in ways I find unsettling.
Thank you so much for reading. I want to thank Ally for inviting me to share some of myself here. After some correspondence we found that, although we agreed on many things, we were coming from two very different backgrounds— I was not planning a traditional family or marriage and ended up with both. I could not have arrived at where I am without the love, trials, and inner searching that was becoming a mother and a wife, even with–and perhaps especially because of– the drudgery of staying at home when I pictured myself as ‘so much more’.