Never enough. And, no, I’m not referring to the overplayed song from the soundtrack to The Greatest Showman. But since we’re talking about The Greatest Showman, did you know Gavin calls it The Greatest Snowman, and his favorite song is the very first one on soundtrack with the stomping? Well, now you know.
Do you ever feel like no matter what you do, how hard you work, how much you change for the better, that you’re always behind?
Do you ever feel like you are not doing well at anything? Or that when you succeed in one area, another lags?
I know my kids feel this way. They get a lot of criticism from both me and Rick. Here are some examples of what came out of my mouth within a 24-hour period:
“Why haven’t you started on your homework?”
“You haven’t cleaned your room well.”
“When will you plan ahead enough to make your own lunch for school?”
“Please stop listening to music with swear words. You’re exposing your whole family–especially your little brothers and sister to bad media and chasing the Spirit from our house.”
“Use your time wisely.”
“You should have prepared for that test.”
“Are you staying on task?”
“You didn’t do good work in the kitchen.”
“Get off your phone and do something worthwhile.”
“Treat your brother better. Be kind.”
“Your bathroom is disgusting.”
“Leaving your trash on the floor is lazy.”
“Clean up after yourself.”
“Stop wasting time.”
“Stop messing around.”
“You have a lot of laundry to put away.”
“Come back here and help in the kitchen.”
I’m sure there’s more. I sound like a grumpy nag. Not all of those phrases are bad, or even all that negative, but do they inspire greatness? What if I were to receive that much criticism and instruction in one day? I would feel like I was never enough. I would feel like I was never making progress. I would believe that any efforts to improve or change wouldn’t be recognized. So, why would I even try?
I do realize the critical remarks above were not directed at just one child, but I do know the proportion of negative to positive comments is way out of balance. I don’t dole out nearly so many words of appreciation, confidence, or encouragement as I should.
So, one night while Rick and I were away from the kids for a date, we talked about how our children need more positive communication and encouragement from us. As we drove home, I remembered that kind words and compliments can inspire greatness and help people to achieve their potential. I made a personal goal to be more positive and thought about how to inspire the kids to work hard without constant nagging and criticism. I considered my tone and my words. I thought about how I could recognize the good things and deliver hefty helpings of praise at each interaction while also encouraging them to push a little harder to do a little more.
And then Rick and I walked in the door at nearly 10 pm and I saw the mess in the kitchen, the TV on, homework not completed, kids not in bed, and nobody taking responsibility. My critical remarks started up again just like that.
It’s been a few weeks and I still haven’t changed. I am thinking, “Will I ever get better? Will I ever change? Will I ever be enough?” Because just like the kids, I constantly mess up and I often feel like I just can’t do anything right. And when I do something well, another area suffers.
Going to the temple is an example of this. I have been trying to make worship and service in the temple a higher priority. I feel especially drawn to do temple work because I have been doing family history work and have about 1300 ordinances just waiting for me (or my family and friends because I’ll share).
I have been able to go each week for about a month now. I love to be there. I feel peaceful and content and think that the sacrifice of time and energy is worth it. And then I come home and see that my family has suffered in my absence. The house is a mess. The little ones haven’t eaten or they’re not in bed. The kids have consumed way too much Netflix, and our home life doesn’t seem to be as happy and orderly as if I stayed home to care for everyone. For me, temple attendance is not just a sacrifice of time or gas in the car, temple attendance includes a sacrifice of my usual duties as a mother and it’s a hefty price to pay.
Time and energy are limited resources. Prioritizing tasks to fit these limited resources is one of the greatest challenges I face every day. I know I will never have enough time or energy to accomplish all that is good or necessary.
If I spend time reading with Brooklyn, the dishes pile up. If I keep the kitchen tidy, there’s laundry. If I focus on laundry, the yard is a mess. If I spend time working in the yard, the house blows up. Sometimes, I can’t make dinner because kids need help with homework or I’m driving them to and appointments and practices. Sometimes I have a church lesson to prepare during my limited “sit down time” and I can’t balance the checkbook or make phone calls. Sometimes I get headaches and I’m completely useless. And no matter how efficiently I work or how hard, there are tasks missed, and people who feel neglected.
I have noticed that when I am overwhelmed, overworked, or feeling unappreciated that I am much more critical. It’s like I’m begging my family to notice me and help me. Of course, it doesn’t work. Instead of coming to my rescue, they mirror my criticism. With my faults pointed out, I feel even more inadequate. My grumpiness spreads like a virus to my family. It’s a horrible cycle. Nobody is happy.
I was thinking about this last night as I fell asleep and had a horrible dream. Our bathroom was flooding and I was trying to find the shut off valve to the water. The water kept gushing out from under the sink and filling the room. I tried a few times to swim down to the shut-off, but as I struggled with the valve, the entire knob came off, making the water gush even faster. I was drowning and I couldn’t stop the water. Everything I tried made it worse. I swam to the top and started screaming, “Please!!! Can somebody help me? Our bathroom is flooding and I don’t know how to stop it.” I knew my family was just on the other side of the door, but they weren’t coming to my aid. I thought I could hear them say, “She’s always making a big deal out of things. She can fix the leak. It’s her job to take care of these things. It’s not like yelling will solve the problem. She should stop yelling and take care of it. That’s what she gets for not fixing it sooner.” After a few desperate minutes, helpers arrived to stop the water, but they were angry and resentful. They had been inconvenienced by my crisis and were unable to complete the things they wanted to do because they had to help me. I felt horrible that they came to my aid. I thought that if I had tried harder, I could have stopped the leak on my own. I felt like such a failure.
Why do I have such horrible dreams? It really is so creepy to me how much they apply to how I feel. Not only do I identify with my drowning self in the dream, I understand the helpers. How often are my family members drowning while I stand by and criticize? “They need to work harder. They always make a big deal out of things. I can’t take on another person’s work because I have so much of my own to do.” When I do come to their aid, do they feel loved, encouraged, and forgiven or does my resentment and frustration cause them to feel like failures?
What is the solution? There will always be way more for me to do than I can do myself. I need my family to help. But will they help if they only hear criticism from me? How can I avoid those crisis moments when I’m at my worse, and how can I inspire greatness in my family and encourage them to see and tend to each other’s needs with kindness and love? Can “never enough” be OK as long as everybody is giving their best effort and responding to each other in generosity and kindness?
I don’t think I have many answers this morning. Honestly, I feel quite down about the whole thing. But I do have some inklings of ideas that might help:
I often worry if I’m spending my time appropriately. I try to start the day with a prayer and be sensitive to the promptings of the Spirit, but it’s not always clear if I am prioritizing how I should. It’s hard to figure out what is super important and what can wait another day. I always have a TON of mundane work–dishes, laundry, cleaning, organizing. Then there’s the important, but not eternal work–helping with homework, driving people to appointments, stuff for my calling in Primary, and facilitating family meals. Most importantly, there’s the eternal work–teaching children, strengthening my testimony, temple work, sharing the Gospel, service to others. None of these things can be completely neglected without consequence–even the mundane tasks. Henry B. Eyring addressed my concerns about time in this way:
“A morning prayer and an early search in the scriptures to know what we should do for the Lord can set the course of a day. We can know which task, of all those we might choose, matters most to God and therefore to us . . .On many days, doing what matters most will not be easy. It is not supposed to be.”
If I feel overwhelmed sometimes–even if I have brought the problem on myself–don’t my family members feel the same way? How do I want others to respond to me when I’m in crisis? How can I look beyond my own challenges to respond to their needs in a loving way?
I like these quote from scripture and talks from church leaders:
Elder Runland: “The Savior’s compassion in the face of our imperfections draws us toward Him and motivates us in our repeated struggles to repent and emulate Him. As we become more like Him, we learn to treat others as He does, regardless of any outward characteristic or behavior.”
4 Ne 1:15 “And it came to pass there there was no contention in the land, because of the love of God which did dwell int he hearts of the people.”
Proverbs 3:5-6 “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.”
This is an area which will require a lot of growth from me. I’d love to hear how you get the help you need from your family without nagging and criticism. These are my unsuccessful strategies so far:
Independent Woman: Do everything I can on my own without complaint. Since I’m not SuperWoman, I can’t get to everything and our family sprials into disorganization and unmet expectations.
Nag: Ask my family over and over and over and over until they help me. I almost always start with a nice request, “Don’t forget to hang your backpack up.” or “You have been great at keeping your room clean this week, lets keep it clean until Saturday.” But when action isn’t taken and I get to the 3rd or 4th time, I say, “Stop leaving trash on the floor for me to pick up!! I am not the maid. We don’t have a maid. You are being extremely inconsiderate.”
Neglect: When I don’t want to do it all on my own and I am tired of being a grumpy old nag, I just leave what I can’t get to and hope somebody gets the hint. This rarely works. Often, this causes the “resentful helper” to come to the rescue. They step in and pick up the pieces, but they’re not happy about it.
What are your ideas? I’d love to hear them. Especially since this post has been super long and I still don’t feel much better about things.
Here, maybe a few cute pictures will cheer me up.
Yep, that’s a little better. Now I can get to all those things I have been neglecting while I was writing about all the things I have been neglecting.