Musings on Motherhood, Guilt, and Creativity

I struggle with guilt. When I feel burnt out on being a stay at home mom (which happens at least once a day), I remember these years in my kids’ lives are short, that I am so lucky to have the option to stay home and that I am free to work on my writing or get things done around the house during their nap time. Then, I feel guilty for hating my life in that moment. Meanwhile, I re-joined the gym since Lady Bug has (mostly) dropped her morning nap. Now, I can drop her off at gym babysitting while Sweet Pea is in preschool and get a couple of hours to myself, either to work out, or to write in the lobby. But taking the two hours for myself provokes guilt, too. Instead of fully immersing myself in whatever I’m doing, doubts creep into my mind. Maybe I should do a shorter workout and not bring my computer to the gym so I can have a bit more quality time with the baby. If I could get up earlier, I could work out and write before everyone else gets up, and I could spend more time with the baby. I should sign us up for a music class instead of coming to the gym every morning.  

The guilt doesn’t push me to do anything differently. Rather, it’s a low grade annoyance, like the constant background noise of Sweet Pea, my three year old,  on an errand to Target, asking me if I will buy her she sees.

I didn’t know it when I downloaded it, but I really needed to hear Elizabeth Gilbert’s Magic Lessons Podcast today.

I am a big fan of Elizabeth Gilbert. I even give her some credit for my move to Boulder, and subsequently meeting Dan. In this podcast, she’s talking to a woman, Erin, who has two school aged kids. Erin wants to write a book, now that her children are at school all day. However, giving more attention to her creative life will take her focus away from her family, and she is afraid of depriving them of her best effort as a wife and mother. Elizabeth Gilbert tells her first to accept the fact that she will not be able to give 100% to anything else in her life while she’s writing her book, and that that is ok. She also tells Erin this:

I am a creator because my mother is a creator.

That statement brought tears to my eyes, as I thought of my mother, her creative life, and her pursuits outside of our family. When I was growing up, I remember my mom was always doing something or making something. I remember being three or four years old and sitting quietly with my books or toys in the corner of a conference room, while she attended our temple’s sisterhood meetings, where she served as vice president. I remember being five and watching as she sewed and stenciled matching curtains and crib bumpers for my baby sister’s room. When I was ten, she would drive us to the bowling alley, hand me and my brother a roll of quarters and tell us to play as many video games as we wanted, while she bowled with her league. She always made or helped us make our Halloween costumes (although I was on my own for Boy George in the second grade).  She hosted all of our birthday parties at our house, coming up with fun games and prizes herself. My mom always had a project or two going. She’d be caning a chair, working in the garden, mending something, her hands always moving. I never saw her sit down, except to smoke a cigarette, which she did once in a while when we were little.

As busy as she was, my mom always gave me her attention when I needed it. When I started at a new school in the third grade and I had no friends and kids were mean to me, she let me sit on her lap and cry for as long and as often as I needed. When I struggled with fractions, she explained and explained and explained until I got it. Whenever I needed to talk, she listened. When I was a teenager and I was sure everything she said was stupid and wrong, I was even more sure she was there and that no amount of my sass could keep her from loving me.

Maybe she didn’t always give me what I wanted, but she gave me what I needed, which is a far better thing to give a child. She also gave me some of her creative spark.

“I am a creator because my mother is a creator.”

Elizabeth Gilbert’s words remind me, you can be a good mom, even a great mom, because, not in spite of, your own creativity. One of the many things I want to pass on to my girls is my love for creating things. I hope I can do it the way my mom did it for me. I hope, too, that I can do it minus guilt.

I am a Creator Because My Motheris A Creator



Inner Peace with a Side of Guilt

Remember how I said I was going to meditate every day in December? I did it! Ok, I did it every day but one. The dilio was, I felt like I was going a little crazy, so I told Dan I thought this was a post-partum-y kind of deal and maybe I ought to schedule an appointment with a therapist. He suggested I stop talking about meditating and actually do it for a month, and if I still felt the same level of nuts, by all means, schedule with a professional.

So, I committed to meditating daily for a month. Most days, I meditated for ten minutes, although occasionally it was for as little as five minutes. Here’s how I did it:

I found that it was easiest to do it in the same place at the same time every single day. This way, I didn’t have to think too hard about it and just do it. My preferred time was first thing in the morning, after brushing my teeth and having a drink of water. My preferred place was in the den, sitting on the loveseat. On days that I got up super early to work out, I did it before my workout. On days when it was Dan’s turn to work out early, I somehow made myself get out of bed just a little bit before I absolutely had to, and instead of feeling guilty for not sitting down with my family for breakfast, I walked right by them and headed to the den for my routine.

There, I would sit and listen to a free, guided meditation from a free meditation app called Insight Timer and do my best to do whatever it said to do. This never included thinking about my to do list, what I might wear that day, all of the cleaning and laundry that needed to happen in my house, reminders to myself about bills that I needed to pay, although those thoughts frequently entered my brain, unbidden. Whenever I noticed my mind wandering, I re-focused my awareness on my breath. Whenever I noticed the guided meditation was more annoying than I could tolerate, I turned it off, and just breathed on my own until my Insight Timer chimed at the ten minute mark. This is the price you pay for using a free app.

During my meditation, if I heard the kids screaming or crying, I ignored it. This is not actually too different from my daily life, so that was easy. If I heard Dan doing any childcare or household related task in a way that was different from my way of doing it, I kept my mouth shut, even if I was unable to bring my focus back to my breath. This was very different from my daily life, so it was quite a challenge. (Note: Mom’s meditation practice has benefits for Dad, too!)

On days that I really had no time to meditate first thing in the morning, (read: I pressed snooze too many times), I did it at night, sitting up in bed, with the bedside lamp on, to ensure I wouldn’t accidentally fall asleep.

After I meditated (nearly) daily for a month, I noticed that I felt more centered. What I mean by that is, I felt calmer and more focused throughout the whole day when I meditated first thing in the morning. My mind wasn’t racing as much. While I also feel this way when I exercise first thing, meditation doesn’t require nearly as much time. When the month was over, I no longer felt I needed professional help. My state of being wasn’t perfect, but where I felt like I was at a 7 on the 0-10 crazy scale at the beginning of the month, by the end of the month, I was at a 5.

While the benefits of my practice were not immediately apparent, I stayed motivated to do it every day because  of a deal I negotiated with myself (and Dan). Please let the record show, I feel like a poser using the term “my practice.”

I decided that if I meditated every single day for a month, I would allow myself to sign up for a meditation retreat at an ashram. My best friend from college lives and works there, which is how I found out about it. She told me she thought I should try it. I told her I thought she was nuts. My doing this would be like a person who has never run before deciding to run a marathon. But then she described it, and I was sold.

The retreat is in the mountains. You check in at 3pm and you check out at 1pm the following day. You meditate and do yoga in the evening and again in the morning. You have an opportunity to wear a badge that indicates you’re being silent so please, nobody talk to you. I’ve never been silent for more than an hour or two (unless I was asleep) but silence sounds very appeals to me right now.

It’s been 26 days since my almost daily December practice. I still have not signed up for the retreat. I have Dan’s full support. I have Lady Bug (finally) sleeping nine consecutive hours at night, most of the time.

I also have guilt.

Some part of me feels I don’t deserve to leave my family for a night. Even if I could convince myself that I totally deserve it, I would have trouble letting myself fully enjoy sitting by myself  in a cabin in the mountains where all I needed to do was breathe. It feels almost too luxurious to imagine eating three meals in a row that aren’t punctuated by requests for more milk, or hurried through in an attempt to get the baby to sleep before she completely melts down.

Meditation has helped me cultivate the peace I am so desperate for, but I have yet to come up with something to hold my guilt at bay.

meditation  photo

Photo by Moyan_Brenn Imagine that guy is me, the cliff is a loveseat I got on Craigslist and the canyon is my den and that’s me, meditating.