God always has a sense of humour:
In the middle of me pulling together a huge mountain of evidence that ‘science’ is increasingly coming to the view that parental emotional neglect is at the heart of pretty much every mental and emotional difficulty you care to mention, from the biggest to the smallest, I suddenly realized that I’m spending far too much time typing, and not enough time interacting with my own family.
Thankfully, my daily dose of hitbodedut, or personal prayer usually helps me to catch these problems while they are still relatively small, and to hopefully nip them in the bud. So it was, that as I was mulling over the whole concept of the ‘good enough mother’, and related ideas about being a ‘good enough Jew’, that it struck me that I spent most of yesterday ignoring all my family so I could get another few thousands words of my next book typed up.
One kid had just spent two whole days doing a bunch of amazing volunteer mitzvah activities with Bnei Akiva – and I was too tired to ask her anything about it. Another was clearly bored, but I gave her some cash to buy a ‘NeoCube’ and then went back to my computer, relieved to have got out of having to do anything more ‘hands on’ and interactive.
And my husband?
What, that guy that takes out the rubbish and sings zemirot on Shabbat? Well, he got back from Uman a couple of days’ ago, and I’ve still only heard a fraction of his stories and experiences.
Not unusually in my life, things had got out of balance again.
When my kids were small, and I had a career (that actually paid me really good money…) I realized I had to choose between putting my family first, or working, because I couldn’t do both. When I quit work, it was the best decision I ever made – and also the hardest. Writing is in my blood. Interacting and communicating is my life-force. But I just knew that if I didn’t take a few years’ off from pursuing ‘my interests’ my kids were going to end up emotional and spiritual wrecks.
The last few years, I’ve had to fix so many things spiritually in myself, and I came to a point last year where I thought I’d learnt enough lessons about what was really important to risk pursuing ‘my interests’ again. And generally speaking, I think that’s probably true.
But I’m learning that every day is still a balance, and every day I have to take the time to ask the question again:
Am I being a ‘good enough’ mother?
A ‘good enough’ wife?
A ‘good enough’ friend?
A ‘good enough’ Jew?
And recently, the answer has been coming back a bit too often: “no, you’re not! You’re getting too preoccupied with minutiae again, you’re losing track of the importance of people, of the beauty of a walk or conversation with someone you care for that isn’t ‘goal-orientated’.”
I bet you’d like to know how I’m defining ‘good enough’…
Well, it’s like this: Good enough is definitely NOT full-time perfect, 100% altruistic and angelic. If it was, no-one could achieve it, which would kind of defeat the whole point.
‘Good enough’ is a state where generally, I put my kids and husband and God and my own soul first enough of the time to let them know I care about them, I love them, and that they are the most important things in the world to me.
That doesn’t mean that I immediately stop what I’m doing every time my kid or husband wants something, for example, but that I stop enough times for them to know that if I didn’t stop on this occasion, either what I’m doing is really important, or what they want is really not.
Being ‘good enough’ means that when I know I’m dropping the ball, I don’t just sweep that understanding under the carpet or make excuses; I try to fix the problem.
So today, once I realized that it wasn’t ‘good enough’ that I hadn’t taken the time to ask my kid about her volunteering experiences, I decided to walk her to the bus-stop this morning, so she could tell me a little.
I was so pleased I did. I felt like the balance was starting to swing back again towards ‘good enough’, before I’d done enormous emotional damage to my child and made her feel unloved and invisible.
Being a parent, being a mother, is a huge responsibility, especially in this generation of emotional disconnect. If not for hitbodedut, I shudder to think how bad things could get before I’d take my head out of the computer and realize that my family, my children, my marriage were melting down.
And I don’t have wifi at home…I don’t have an i-Phone…I barely spend any time at all doing ‘extra-curricular’ activities with girlfriends, and having hour long catch up sessions on the phone.
And I’m still struggling to be ‘good enough’.
I know this isn’t easy reading. But I want you to know, dear wife, dear mother, that you, me and all of us CAN achieve that level of ‘good enough’ where our kids will turn out emotionally and spiritually-healthy, and know that they’re loved.
There’s a few things that will help us along the way:
- Brutal honesty that often, we’re not ‘good enough’ and that the internet, the TV, the Facebook, and all the other external ‘fluff’, materialism and superficiality is still taking up far too much space in our lives
- Huge amounts of self-compassion – that we want things to be different, that we want to be ‘good enough’, that we really do love our kids tremendously, and at least WANT to be ‘good enough’ for them
- Massive amounts of humility – that without God in the picture, and regular doses of personal prayer, we’re not going to come anywhere near to really being ‘good enough’
- Optimism and hope – that even when we’ve messed it up, and wrecked the relationship, and acted consistently selfishly, that it often only takes one sincere gesture, one genuine apology, one attempt to validate and accept the other person’s hurt feelings, to tip the whole thing back over into the measure of ‘good enough’ again.