Setbacks and Comebacks

May 8, 2020

Have you ever watched a baby learn to walk?  It is such a powerful story of perseverance.  Their sweet little hands grip the couch as tight as they possibly can.  Once they grab hold, they use all their strength to steady those squishy, wobbly little legs.  Many times, their legs give way and they fall back down on their diapered tush.  Over and over, they repeat the ritual of pulling themselves up.  Then suddenly it clicks and the legs hold.  They stand with a big grin of satisfaction across their face as their hands white-knuckle the edge of the sofa.  Yet, that isn’t enough.  They are not satisfied.  It’s just a temporary milestone and they want to go.  Little hands cross gingerly over each other as they cruise along the top of the coach, sometimes requiring a grab as the legs attempt to move underneath.  The determination pays off and walking while holding onto the sofa quickly becomes easy.  Then the focus changes.  The bar is raised as independence is so close.  Carefully, the little body turns away from the coach.  The goal is bigger.  The coffee table is calling.

We were so excited to be part of the process.  It was like history in the making: our baby was learning to walk!  With one parent on either side of the rug, we would cheer them on as if they were a marathon runner on the final leg of their race, edging closer to the finish line.  The three feet distance between Mom and Dad was the goal.  With arms outstretched we would let go as they did their best to make their legs move.  The course ahead was to cross the carpet from one set of hands to the other.  

It’s not graceful, falls happen, but eventually their perseverance pays off and they master the skill.  But here’s what I find so incredible.  Our precious babies don’t quit.  They don’t sit down and berate themselves.  They don’t say, I should already know how to do this.  Or I should have accomplished this goal last month.  They don’t say, well Kate and Hannah have been walking for two months already, what’s wrong with me?  They do none of that.  They get back up.  They try again.  With arms flailing, they pull themselves up and try again.  Then the magic happens and they make it to the finish line, once.  Completely the task is all the motivation they need because that little pumpkin knows if they can do it one time, they can do it again.  And that is exactly what they do. 

Getting those little legs comfortable walking was only a step along the way (pun intended!)  Even though it may have been the hardest part of the journey, it is certainly not the final destination.  In what seems like a millisecond, that little sweet pea has gone from wobbly walking to full-on sprints.  We called this phase total destruction because no surface in our house was safe.  The table they couldn’t reach before, fair game.  The doorknob that up until now kept the bathroom door closed, not anymore.  And oh the cupboard handles that were now in reach literally opened a brand new world.  

Now my kids are 9, 7, and 3 years old and they don’t even remember the struggle.  Walking, running, jumping, and skipping are all second nature.  All simple activities that are easy now and not even a thought on their radar.

So what happens?  When do we lose that kind of perseverance?  What happens that steals our ability to go completely all-in on a goal and see it through to completion no matter what? I’ve got a few ideas.

I Care Too Much

We care about what other people think (or might think).  What if they think my idea is dumb? What if they laugh at me?  What if I try my best and still fail?  What if they were right and I can’t do this?  What if I look stupid in the process? The what if’s are endless.  Somewhere along the way, we got it in our heads that we can’t make mistakes.  As a recovering perfectionist, this one speaks to me on many levels.  For years, I cared so deeply about what others thought of me and it was paralyzing at times.  I wanted their approval so badly. Did I mention, I’m also a recovering people pleaser? I felt loved when people told me I did a good job.  This showed up in how I worked and my need to constantly be doing and moving forward.  I carried this into all of my relationships, including my marriage.  But here’s the truth.  No amount of approval is going to fix that hole in your heart.  I say this with the utmost love and I hope it saves you a lot of time spent chasing what other people think of you in order to feel whole.  Trust me, I have definitely paid my dues learning this lesson.  

My sweet friend, you don’t need your Mom, Dad, boyfriend, sister, friend, fill-in-the-blank, to give you the green light in order to reach for your dreams.  Or buy the sweater you love because you think you look awesome in lime green or live in the neighborhood you have on your dream board or plan that vacation on your bucket list.  So long as the dream on your heart protects your own safety and does not cause harm to others, then I think you need to have the courage to seriously consider going for it, even if it might mean ruffling a few feathers. 

Here’s why.  

When we don’t pursue the passions of our heart and we put other’s expectations ahead of our own, then frustration starts to grow.  It might be small at first, but eventually it permeates and seeps into our daily life.  I know, because I’ve lived it.  As I’m writing this, my dream has been to share my heart and write about things I love and care about.  As one of my favorite authors, Elizabeth Gilbert puts it in her book “Big Magic,” the pursuit of creating must be for the sake of creating.  We have no idea how people will respond to our work and that is ok.  In short, other peoples opinions of me are none of my business.   I have no idea if anyone will read this or even like it.  But my restless heart has been tugging at me for a while with this big dream. 

Writing has always been a part of me and for many years I channeled it through songwriting.  In recent years I have been tugged to write in a different way and it makes my heart explode with excitement every time I think about it.  That is why when I have tried to push it down, it whispers louder.  I feel the friction of not telling the stories that are inside me.  The distractions of life are endless and constantly pulling my focus.  The daily grind is just that if there is no passion in it.  I know my frustration spills out onto my family when I don’t feel like I have anything of my own.  I yell at kids, I’m short with my hubby and I don’t have the bandwidth to really be a good friend or daughter.  Why? Because I’m deflated by constantly feeling like I’m taking care of everyone else’s needs and saying no to my own.  My proverbial cup is empty.  I have a hard time being present because I’m distracted by the little voice that reminds me of the dream I’m not pursuing.  I’ve come to realize that I can’t drown that voice out and living in that kind of headspace is not good for anyone.

Comparison: Her Life is Better

I’m so, so guilty of this one I could tattoo it across my forehead with how much time I’ve spent in this awful pit.  The next way we hold ourselves back is when we compare ourselves to others.  Remember the quote, “the grass is always greener on the other side?” So simple and yet so dang wise.  The idea that someone else’s life is better because it looks better on the outside is this false idea that somehow they are living a life free of difficulties, which we all know isn’t possible.  I’d argue that with the dawn of social media, and the constant highlight reels, we have an even more skewed view of what someone’s life is actually like.  My first year in MOPS (a mommy group at our church called Mothers of Preschoolers) I had a one-year-old and three-year-old.  I was a young, completely overwhelmed mama who felt like she was failing every single day.  Having two babies in two years was harder than I ever imagined and having a husband who worked from 7 am-8 pm or 9 pm, five days a week challenged me in ways I didn’t know I could be challenged.  My stamina and patience were definitely tested during those years.  

One day when I was at MOPS, a mentor mom with older kids shared a gem of wisdom that almost 7 years later I still frequently lean on.  She said,

“You can’t compare your inside with someone else’s outside.” 

Boom.  

She went on to say how we don’t really know what might be happening behind the scenes in someone’s life, therefore we cannot compare ourselves to them.  Of course I knew this truth but having it pointed out at that time in my life made me face it. It hit me hard.  I was living a few hours away from my family and really missed my mom.  I was drowning in housework, diapers and the mommy guilt of being so exhausted I felt like I wasn’t showing up and being the mom I had dreamed I would be.  I felt so alone and missed my husband when he was away working such long hours to provide for us.  I only had a few friends with babies and sometimes the stress of leaving the house was greater than the chaos of staying home.  I was exhausted in every way possible.  And yet, there were moms that I saw playgroups, playgrounds, or at church that had make-up on and were wearing cute, matching clothes.  They had manicures, highlights, and arm definition and in my mind they had the whole mommy thing figured out.  They balanced a baby and toddler with ease while I was barely hanging on.  

Did I also mention that my oldest was a runner? When she was two until about three, for no reason at all she would get this smile in her eyes and declare “It’s a game!” Then bolt, as quickly as she could away from me.  This happened one time when I had my second daughter strapped to my chest in a baby carrier and my oldest took off towards the parking lot when we attempted to attend a local playgroup.  I didn’t know the other moms that well yet and oh man the embarrassment of my wild child not listening to me was so tough.  Plus, I’m sure it was a sight to see with me chasing her with my other baby strapped to me.  My firstborn on the other hand was absolutely delighted, she thought it was one of the best games ever.  Bless my sweet 2-year-olds heart.  My anxiety and fear (and wounded ego) were next level and I kid you not, I didn’t leave my house with the girls by myself for a month after that.  

Now with three kids in tow, I’ve learned to deal with that better but back then, I cared so much of what the other moms might think of me.  How could I not control my kid?  Why didn’t my daughter listen? What kind of mom monster was I? Well, this was the tape in my head.  And here’s the truth. Toddlers are not rational people.  They do wild things, like run and yell because it’s fun.  They don’t listen sometimes and they certainly think they know best.  

Here’s the second truth, I’m not even sure the other moms noticed, or if they did, it was a blip on their radar. Why? Because they were dealing with their crazy kiddos, chasing them around, keeping them alive.  If they did notice, maybe there was a bit of sympathy for relating to my struggle.  And if there were any judgments, well who cares? Really, who cares? 

At the time, I did…a lot.  But now as a mom who survived the toddler years, three times, I can tell you those short moments in parenting don’t define you as a mom or a human.  In the trenches of parenting is where you earn your stripes.  Learning how to discipline your kids is part of the process of loving them.  It looks messy and each stage brings new lessons.  Parenting almost 8 and 10-year-olds looks different than 1 and 3-year-olds, but it is all founded in love.  The other side of that parenting coin is grace.  I want to wrap you up in the knowledge that showing up for your kids isn’t always easy but it is always worth it. When you feel like you’re falling short grace is the best way I know to bridge the gap between expectations and reality.  Your intention of raising happy, healthy humans is so good and your kids will definitely be better because of it.

I wish I could tell you I have the magic solution and that I’m cured from comparing myself to others.  For me, it has been a slow journey in flexing my gratitude muscle.  The only way I know how to combat those feelings of inadequacies is with a grateful heart.  By recognizing the good things in my life, the green envy in my eyes is able to fade and I can actually see the many blessings I have.  The fact that there is breath in our lungs is a miracle and a clear sign that we still have good left to do.

I’ve seen comparison raise its ugly head in my work life as well.  When that happens I refer back to this awesome quote by Rachel Hollis.  In my fantasy, we are best buddies that hang-out all the time talking about big dreams, goals, and how we can make the world better.  I absolutely adore her and even if she doesn’t know it, she has certainly mentored me.  In one of her books she shared this bit of wisdom and I think I reread it at least five times, it was that good.  Like that quote my mentor had shared at our MOPS group years before, these words rang true and were a powerful reminder that we are all on unique paths with very different life experiences and stories to tell.  Our backgrounds, relationships, hiccups, and setbacks are not a hindrance.  They are an asset.  It is a beautiful reminder that no two lives look exactly the same.  And they aren’t supposed to.  Here’s what Rachel said: 

“Don’t compare your beginning with someone else’s middle”

Preach, Girl! What she is saying is don’t compare the beginning of your journey to the middle of someone else’s because each life is unique.  This was such a truth bomb for me.  Thank you Rachel Hollis for pointing this out because I’ve been so guilty of this.  I’ve beat myself up for years thinking I should be further along.  I should have seen around that corner, acted sooner, tried harder.  I should have already reached that milestone or checked that off my list. 

The should’s are the worst.  They steal so much joy and leave no room for creativity or forward motion.  The feelings of defeat color the whole process and I know for me I can barely move when I feel that beat up and sad.  Those fits of disappointment have left me paralyzed and defeated.  The vicious lies include thoughts like there’s no way I can do that as well as she can, so why even bother.  But here’s the truth, I won’t do it like she will, but I will do it like me.  My timeline will be different, I will learn different lessons along the way, I will face different struggles.  I may crash and burn, but it is my choice how I respond.  Because defeat is only the end of the story if I choose to stop there.  

Another quote I love and I wish I knew who said it first because I’d love to give them credit, is a lesson about our perception.  

“A setback is a set-up for a comeback”

So, I’ll ask you the hard question, what is your set back? What has knocked you down? Where has defeat shown up? And what are you going to do about it?  What if the very lesson you need to learn right now in this difficult time is actually the perfect setup for an even more incredible comeback than you could have possibly imagined?  What if the business that just imploded had to make time and space for a new and better venture?  What if the doors have felt closed because you’re meant to find a window?  Friends, I feel like so much of my life has been defined by climbing out the window and bypassing the door altogether.  I’ve shared a bit in other posts about my husband being very sick and completely poisoned due to a ruptured appendix.  By God’s grace he is still here and is much healthier now.  Even though the experience was absolutely awful and terrifying, there were good things that we learned too.  Our marriage grew stronger and the window that was opened in our lives was the addition of our third baby girl, Paisley.  Had we not gone through that incredibly difficult time in life, we wouldn’t have this precious girl in our lives. 

It Gets Hard

I had this idea of how I would be as a mom.  There was a whole narrative in my mind of what our lives were going to look like.  When I found out we were having our first girl, I dreamed of the adorable nursery and all the cute outfits I’d dress her up in.  It was such a sweet picture of motherhood and even though I didn’t know it yet–it was also totally unrealistic. 

When my beautiful daughter arrived on the scene shortly after Mother’s Day, she had other plans and the reality of what this new life was going to be was overwhelming to say the least.  Nursing was excruciatingly painful for the first month, even with weekly trips to a lactation consultant.  My little one wasn’t gaining enough weight so I had to supplement with formula, I felt like a huge failure.  She would scream, refuse to nap, and nights were incredibly difficult.  Those early months were a blur and postpartum depression set in.  My husband worked long hours and my family lived a couple of hours away.  I was alone most of the time with our baby and the isolation was awful.  I didn’t have many friends with kids and was too ashamed of my feelings to say anything to anyone.  I kept all my fear, sadness, anger, frustration, and depression inside.  Reality was definitely a far cry from the post-baby life I had imagined.  

Looking back, I wish I could wrap my arms around that new mama and weep with her.  I would bring her dinner and tell her to go take a shower.  I would tell her she’s not alone and that this too shall pass.  Maybe this resonates with you? Can I take a minute and say a quick prayer? My dear mama, you are so loved.  You are chosen and the perfect fit for your baby.  I pray for your courage and strength through this incredibly difficult season.  I pray for your physical and mental health as you navigate this new normal.  You are strong, you are capable.  God doesn’t call the equipped, he equips the called.  It is no accident that you have been called to be your baby’s mama.  Give yourself grace to get your bearings and please know you are not alone on this journey of motherhood.  And the dirty dishes in the sink really can wait. Thank you, Jesus, Amen.

For me, I’ve learned that the best way to survive an incredibly difficult time is by shifting my focus.  It is the only way for my mind to get a break because life gets hard in a million different ways.  We are challenged constantly physically, mentally, emotionally, financially, etc. When I’m able to set my eyes on something hopeful, it changes everything.  When the post-partum depression had set in there were days when my body felt like it weighed a thousand pounds and even putting on real clothes felt like a huge mountain to climb.  At some point, I knew I had to get out.  Literally in order to escape my mind. After some fumbling with the baby carrier, I finally figured out how to get my squirming baby strapped in and out the front door we went.  

The sun felt magical.  At the time we were living in a small apartment surrounded by neighbors and in my home, I felt totally boxed in.  The other part I didn’t anticipate was the joy I felt from seeing other people.  We would cross the street and walk down to the neighborhood park just a block or so away.  I remember walking the path, seeing big kids playing and, not being able to fathom my baby being that big (I still can’t believe that was 10 years ago!).  The memory is vivid because changing my mindset was how I was able to survive that difficult transition to full-time, all-in, 24/7 motherhood.  

After that day, my precious baby and I went for a walk as often as we could and I could tell she enjoyed our daily outings too.  Even if she was fussy at home, she would quiet down and take in the world with her sweet little eyes of curiosity once we were in the fresh air.  Looking back now, I wish I would have said something and sought help.  I thought those feelings were just part of our new normal.  I wish I would have shared what was going on and the thoughts I was having from day one.  If you’re struggling with postpartum, there is absolutely no shame in telling someone and seeking help.  Your feelings are real and there are resources available.  My only regret is that I didn’t ask for help sooner and now 10 years later I feel so compelled to share my story because I want other new mamas to know they are not alone.

I’ve learned now, that when I share my feelings, accept the meal when someone offers it, take advantage of Amazon and all they deliver to my doorstep, take a nap when my body needs one, and say no to things that steal my joy, I know that I’m a better mom for it.  That might also look like talking to a therapist (I sought help for five years and it absolutely changed my life) or finding other resources that serve you well.  Your mental health is just as important as your physical and it is not selfish to take care of your baby’s mama.  In fact, it might be one of the bravest decisions you ever make.

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