My sister-in-law and I were recently texting about the abundance of encouragement that exists on social media for moms who just don’t have it together. If you are a mom, and follow moms, you know what I’m talking about. The long confessions of fast-food meals, messy houses, unfolded laundry, ignored children, lengthy Daniel Tiger binge watching, etc. In the name of sanity and self-care (both really awesome things!), moms are pushing back against #momguilt by confessing that some days we all just can’t take it anymore and phone it in on a whole list of home and hearth responsibilities, but these days- they do not define us. The unite us, in the fraternity of human moms trying to make it in the real world.
This can be really positive for those moments, days, and seasons that are just hard, where we survive, but only barely, and thriving just isn’t an option. But as my SIL and I were texting, she pointed out that in no other “profession” can we revel in excuses and failure without feel some sort of healthy shame. Many moms at home are quick to defend it as a full time job, but equally quick to revel in not always loving it. She said that we need “real grace, which is something like a slap of honesty, a hug of forgiveness, and the hope of actually getting a chance to be better tomorrow and eventually grow.” Because the truth is that if those moments, days, and seasons where the hardness of life becomes the excuse for all the ways we are failing our families turns into a perpetual state – something needs to change. We oscillate between the picture perfect social media mom who has it all together, and the one who is reveling in having nothing together. Both are unhealthy.
Instead, I’ve decided that we all need to pick a couple hills on which we die. I blogged last about creating an intentional family culture, and one of the practical ways that happens is deciding proactively what daily battles are and are not worth fighting. I hear it so often among parents, and I say it too, that some things aren’t worth fighting or correcting, that some lofty aspirations are no longer our hill to die on, that certain rules we wanted to adhere to aren’t worth the battle. It is a wise thing to be realistic in expectations and let some things go. But we shouldn’t let them all go, and somehow it seems like the dominant social media mom discourse has forgotten this. When we deviate from what we know to be best for our family and ourselves on a regular and habitual basis, we should feel guilt, and that guilt should propel us to getting back on track.
As I’ve been thinking about our intentional family culture, I’ve also been thinking about the hills that I’m willing to die on. The behaviors, rules, household practices, and principles that I am willing to dig in and fight for, as well as those that I have decided to recognize as good- but also not essential to what I want for my family. Choosing these hills allows me to sort what I should be striving for, and thus what guilt is good and real when I fail, and what I am just not trying to accomplish, and thus what guilt is silly and pointless and should be rejected.
For our family, a daily hill that I am willing to hurl myself on and die is TV. As a general rule, Henry does not watch TV. There are rare exceptions, like the occasional family “movie” night, where we cuddle up and watch about 20 minutes of a movie, which is why it took us a over a month to finish Moana. We break our TV rule for major sporting events, because James is intent on being a sports family, and Henry actively tries to play the sport in the living room as it shows up on the screen, something which provides no end of entertainment. We break it if we need to cut his hair, or if he is staying with a babysitter and needs a short distraction as we slip out. And there are even rarer exceptions where it was “needed” due to illness, but I am pretty hard on what constitutes that need. When Henry had HFM, we watched some TV, and one day my morning sickness was so bad that I couldn’t stop vomiting and finally turned it on so that he would stop crying behind me on the bathroom floor and trying to “help.” But TV is something we only allow for a designated and finite purpose, and boredom or bad weather or cranky attitudes or me needing a cyber-babysitter do not fit the bill.
Like all good hills, mine is chosen based on a combination of research, passion, and the particular weaknesses and strengths of our family. I have read the research about how early TV exposure correlates to delayed verbal skills, lower cognitive abilities, foreshadows later screen addiction (which has its own terrifying correlation to adolescent depression, suicide, and whole host of issues), and lowers creativity. But on a more practical note, I have seen how it turns my playful boy into a whiny beast and I cannot stand whining. 20 minutes of screen calm earns me seemingly endless days of whining.
And so, we go out. Day in, day out, in any weather, in every circumstance. We ride public transport and walk for miles, leave as soon as we can after breakfast and only come back for naps. We play hard in this city, and I feel insanely proud of the adventurer I am raising. I see the benefits daily. Some days it feels hard, like when it was sub 10-degrees for weeks in January and I really wanted to just turn on that TV. But by deciding ahead of time some of the things that are just Rules For Our Family, the decision is easy in the moment because it is already made. That’s what intentional family culture, and well-selected hills is all about: knowing who you are and knowing what you do and don’t do.
I am intentionally not linking to all those studies mentioned above, because you know what- there are other studies I ignore, ones that relate to different hills, different priorities. And that’s probably, hopefully, what you do to. We all find the data to support what we often instinctively feel to be best for our family. I know lots of amazing moms who show more TV than I do. Their children are different, the dynamics of their home and their needs are different, and they have different priorities that they have chosen to fight for. They are really great mothers, they just happen to be different mothers, with different hills. And I also know that this summer, as I struggle to juggle an infant (not my parenting strength) and a toddler, I will probably resort to some TV. But I hope that I feel that sharp prick of guilt, that reminder that this is ok for a season, but then we need to learn to thrive again the way that is best.
Here is the thing: picking your hills to die is about deciding who you are as a family. You cannot be everything. You should be some things, should have some hills that structure what your family values. I have spent these first years of motherhood deciding who I am and who I am not, and that allows me to prioritize.
I am the mom who does not use TV to entertain or babysit my child. I am the mom who will get us outside and moving every single day, no matter the weather or circumstances. I am the mom who insists that my child not take a bite until he has prayed, put his napkin in his lap, and allowed the cook to take a bite first. I am the mom who requires that he bus his own dishes and empty scraps in the trash. I am the mom who makes sure that meals are balanced approximately 65 percent of the time. I am the mom who lets veggie pouches and cheese sticks on the go count as lunch rest of the time so we can get out and about. I am the mom who really doesn’t care too much about snacking anymore. I am the mom who will not budge unless there is a please before commands and a thank you after. I am the mom who doles out childrens’ Mortin without hesitation. I am the mom who is a little neurotic about the schedule. I am the mom who makes sure her house is picked up and vacuumed each day. I am also the mom who lets my child make ridiculous messes, of himself and our house. I am the mom who cleans those messes and endless stains with mainstream, chemical-laden, cleaning supplies. I am the mom who mandates minimalism as a necessity more than a preference. I am the mom who lets my kid have plastic crap because he really loves it. I am the mom who loves her career and knows she is a better mom, wife, and person when she has a professional outlet.
I am not the mom who wakes up before her kids. I am not the mom who is good at getting in workouts. I am not the organic mom or the grain-free mom or the make-your-own bread mom. I am not the bone broth mom or the essential oil mom or the sustainable living mom. I am not the mom who requires all snacks to be eaten at the table. I am not even the mom who requires my toddler to stay at the table that long during meals. I am not the mom who loved nursing. I am not the DIY mom. I am not the mom who has an inside voice, and so I am not the mom who requires one. I am not the chill mom, who manages to be flexible with all things. I am not the mom who thrived with an infant. I am not the mom who will be cool with cancelling nap time to make fun happen. I am not the mom who manages to have her kid looking cute all the time. I am definitely not the mom who gets haircuts on a regular basis or remembers to change the sheets every week.
I know a lot of these moms and I am so glad they are in my life. I see them picking fights that I pass up, setting standards to which I fall short, and I have decided to be ok with that. Sometimes, their own zeal gives me pause and I do decide to reevaluate some standards I let slip. Other times, I shrug and thing, good for you, not for me. I do not have to die on their hills, but I should be ready to establish my own.