As a mom, it’s hard to know how to define success. I am in charge of four beautiful, smart, spirited little children, whose decisions I don’t control. I love these people and consider them my greatest treasures. But I’m not going to lie–there are some hard times, and I occasionally find myself asking: Am I succeeding?
On Thursday, my two year old, Sam, had a neighbor friend over to play. Literally (I kid you not) every toy this little neighbor touched was received with “That’s mine!” I spent an hour and a half trying to keep my son from making our neighbor cry.
On Friday, I had to ask my daughters three separate times to take space from each other because my 9 year old, Ellie, kept making my 7 year old, Addie, cry with her “mean look.”
On Saturday, we were running late to get to Addie’s soccer pictures so I pulled up at the red-painted curb, turned off the car and ran her over to her team. I got back four minutes later to move the car and found a police officer pulled up, writing me a lovely parking ticket. Apparently, someone had called earlier to complain about all the cars parking in the red area. I tried to plead my case. “Are you a mom?” I asked. She chomped her gum and handed me the white paper. “Consider this a learning opportunity,” she responded. Gee, thanks.
On Sunday night while Ellie was trying to teach her well-prepared family home evening lesson about “seeing the best,” my 11-year-old son Zach couldn’t keep from flailing his arms around to make Sam laugh, despite our repeated requests that he stop so Ellie could finish her lesson. We ended up asking him to go upstairs. We finally wrapped up around 9:00–half an hour past everyone’s bedtimes–and past the time when Mom’s patient energy disappears.
I finally got everyone into their beds and found my husband asleep on our bed, breathing deeply after a full day of serving our neighborhood as a member of the bishopric and wrapping up preparations to leave town for work. That’s when I laid down, closed my eyes, and asked myself–“Am I doing this right?”
I have a quote on my fridge by Ralph Waldo Emerson about what it means to succeed. It ends with this line: “Whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition. To know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived, that is to have succeeded.”
I like that last phrase. One life. I got up off the bed after a few minutes and went into my children’s rooms to kiss them one by one as they slept. That is one of my favorite parts of the day. My last stop was at little Sam’s mattress on the floor (where he’s been sleeping since he started climbing out of his crib at 18 months). He lay there snuggling his favorite blue bear, sucking his thumb. Peace etched on his face.
It’s easy as mothers to see what we are not doing right, and to see what others are doing well. It’s easy for me to find my anxiety level rising just a bit when I get to church on Sunday and see another mom with daughters in matching dresses and lovely bouncing curls. Some days I have that going for me. Some days I don’t. Either way, I don’t think that’s how I want to define success.
For me, success isn’t about the size of my house, the make of my car, or the price tag on any of my family’s clothes. It isn’t about whether my kitchen is remodeled (it’s not) or how many Facebook likes I received for my last update. For me, success is that I made dinner last night when what I really wanted to do was keep reading my novel on the couch. Success is that when my daughter yelled this morning that she would NOT do her cello scale one more time without the blanket covering her fingers, I rolled with it and opened her music book. Success is snuggling up at night and reading two pages of our current chapter book, even though it was past bedtime. It’s going out to throw the football with Zach when he asks me to, and it’s taking Sam for a walk around the park to pet the dogs we see (his favorite thing), even when I have a long to-do list. Success is laying next to my tired husband at night and reflecting on our 17 years of doing this amazing adventure together.
I’m not afraid of failure. Those hiccups are how we all learn. And when I am in charge of four imperfect people who are learning a whole lot every day, I’m not going to set perfection in any area of life as my daily target. I just want to know that, because I was here, these favorite people of mine can say they breathed a bit easier. That, as Mr. Emerson would say, is to have succeeded. I’m going with it.