My mom and I have a recurring conversation. It usually starts with me talking about some parenting struggle, to which she offers some encouragement or a little wise counsel, and then she says something like “I was never good at that.” Or “I was too strict with you.” Or “I wasn’t strict enough with your brother.” Perceived failure. I say “perceived” because she was a great mom, and while imperfect like all the rest of us moms, we knew she was always giving us her best. The problem is that she has never believed her best was good enough. After one of these recent conversations, I went home thinking about success in the realm of Motherhood. And how difficult it is to define. It isn’t like success at work, where you earn a promotion and a bigger paycheck for a job well done. It isn’t like success in sports where you earn a trophy, a medal, a ribbon, or a title for your accomplishments… But for so many of us, this Mommy thing is our profession. Our life’s work. And who doesn’t want to feel like they have achieved some measure of success in the thing they have poured their heart, soul, body, sweat, tears (and yes, sometimes blood) into?
We could wait and see how the kids turn out… That might be a good measure of success… If it weren’t for this pesky little thing called human nature, which means while it is never too late for a “bad” kid to turn “good”, or for a prodigal to come home, unfortunately it is also never too late for a great kid to “break bad” or for a grown adult child to wander from what he/she has been taught… So we might be waiting a while to measure our success using this method. I don’t know about you, but I am not really that patient.
We could look at their accomplishments… How many awards they earn at school, their ACT scores, how many scholarships they receive…. Or how many baseball trophies are on their dresser (by the way, trophies these days are no measure of real success, in case you haven’t noticed), or even how many mission trips they have been on. Sure all those things make a Mama proud. But in our hearts, we know that those are not really our successes, though we certainly played a role in helping our children achieve those things.
Success in Motherhood is a hard thing to measure. That’s it in a nutshell. But I am weary of falling into bed and recounting the day’s failures. Of remembering every harsh word and wondering how many opportunities I missed to connect with the hearts of my children. I just need a way to SEE that I am maybe not messing this up as royally as it sometimes seems.
Life has been stressful, and some days downright hard for us lately. And I wear that stress on my face. I did not realize this until Gracie (my 5 year old) started saying to me on a daily basis, “Mommy, you don’t look very happy.” Usually it is because I am lost in thought over some difficulty, and not that I am truly “unhappy”, at least not with her, but in her eyes, if Mommy isn’t smiling, something is wrong. And I started thinking about the importance of a “happy face”. You know, “if you’re happy and you know it then your face will surely show it” kind of happy face. And to a 5 year old, if my face isn’t happy, then maybe in her eyes, it’s because I am not happy with her… That made me shudder. What if, in the eyes of my daughter, the measure of success is simply a smile? And what if I began to make that my goal each day? A smile is a visible way to love. You can measure smiles in all kinds of ways… How big was that grin? How many times did we laugh together? Did I make a point to show love with my face today? Did my countenance toward my family show unconditional love and acceptance? Did it reflect to them how delightful I think they are? In the hard moments, did it communicate forgiveness and kindness?
What if all I need to do to make each day a success is to put on my happy face?
What if the only questions I need to ask myself at night are these: Did I smile today? Did I laugh? Did they?
If the answer is YES to those three questions, can I call it a successful day?
I believe I can.
Every time you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing. -Mother Teresa
I know to some this may seem overly simplistic. Certainly there are things more important than my facial expressions. But the thing is, I can always choose to have a happy face. I might not always be able to control other things in my home and in my life, but I can choose to control what my countenance communicates to my children. Mom is smiling. She is ok. So we are ok. We can smile too.
The best part is, when we start with our face, our hearts will usually follow. My pastor has said something like this several times “You don’t feel your way into action. You act your way into feeling.” A simple choice to smile might just determine how we feel about the whole day. And how our kids feel about the whole day. And days turn into weeks, weeks into months, months into years, years into a lifetime… I want to give them the gift of my smile. Every day. No matter what.
There is a song we sing at bedtime called “Happy Thoughts”. I think it is from Yo Gabba Gabba or some other painfully annoying show, but I will leave you with the chorus of this sweet little tune:
Think happy thoughts, happy thoughts… That’s what you gotta do. Think happy thoughts, happy thoughts…
And a smile will come back to you.