All our lives, we parents have lived within a system of achievement and reward. We were conditioned to move toward a desired goal from infancy. When the outcome was deemed successful by the world, a reward often would be the result. As school children, most of us looked for the golden stars on our papers and the chance to hear our names at awards ceremonies. In whatever areas we excelled, whether sports, music, academics or all of the above and then some, we began collecting these prizes in our identity box and allowing them to define us.
For many of us, though, especially those who work within the home and not in the outside work force, we find this award system lacking during our parenting years. We can face an identity crises because there are fewer and fewer golden stars to tell us we’ve done well. And after having relied on these external identifiers up until that point, it can be challenging to find ourselves again.
This has come to the fore for me after taking part in a national communications conference, where the vast majority of participants were women who have been extremely efficient in their professional lives. As a freelancer with five children, I was definitely in the minority. I had to chuckle when one of the gals with whom I was chatting at lunch my first day there asked with amazement after learning of my family’s size, "You have five kids, so how is it that you look so relaxed?" "Well," I replied, "that’s because I’m here right now and not at home!"
I did feel a bit like a fish out of water during the conference. Certainly, not enough to take away from my enjoyment of the experience. But many around me had lists of achievements much grander than my own. Many had accomplished truly amazing things in their career and were rightfully honored for these endeavors. I was truly happy for them, but like most who have grown up within the awards-system mentality, I had to fight off comparing myself to them and feeling inadequate with my humble, single award.
It didn’t take long for me to put it all into perspective, though. I’ve learned the lesson before and will keep learning it, I’m sure. I reminded myself that my single award came about through diligently searching out a way to write in the rare, small spaces of my life as a busy mother. That award was mere icing on the delicious (and sometimes messy) cake that encompasses my life at home. But it was not the cake itself.
Even as I heard the long lists of achievements by some at the conference, I could feel authentic joy for those who are making their way in the outside world. There was no reason for me to feel outdone because I know not all of my awards and rewards as a mother will come in the form of a first-place certificate or trophy. Some of them will look more like this:
And yes, sometimes I have to remind myself of this — that my worth should come mostly through raising and loving my children the very best I can, and that in the end, that will be more than adequate and worthy of the highest prize.
It is human nature to want to be recognized for our accomplishments, but hopefully we won’t become so focused on the tangible trophy that we forget our very highest achievements are smiling at us, giving us a hug, showing us a work of art they produced at school, taking part in their first soccer game, writing us a love letter, telling us to have a good day. We all need a pat on the back every once in a while, but we need to challenge ourself to not fall prey to the achievement trap that the world coaxes us toward. We need to recognize that, just as we love our children whether or not they accomplish amazing feats in the eyes of the world, God loves and accepts us on the very basis our being, and all we really have to do to be successful is strive, each day, to provide for our kids’ needs and to keep ourselves healthy so that we might offer even more to them than we could otherwise.
Do you fall into the achievement trap, and if so, what do you do to get unsnarled?