I am a M.O.M. Not a mom, but a Mother Of Many. This, by no means, makes me a better mother. It just means I have more opportunities to learn (probably the hard way) what being a good mom to my own kids looks like. I have 8 kids. Yep, EIGHT. As of this writing, they are 26, 24, 21, just about 20, almost 14,12, 7, and oh-so-close to 5! We have a little bit of every age group, especially if you throw in our 7 month old grand-baby for good measure! My kids have taught me more than I ever thought they could and more than I ever thought I needed to learn.
It is these little people in our lives who help us discover some of the most important things about ourselves. They have a way of peeling us back, one layer at a time. They can teach us (without even realizing it) some of life’s biggest lessons. One of the hardest lessons I have had to learn as a mom is something that seems so simple. It’s so simple a baby can do it. Laugh. Something as pure and as easy as laughter, yet the older we get, sometimes the harder it becomes to do.
I started out thinking that this mom gig wasn’t such a tough thing because my first dear child was naturally, “of course I will, Mother Dear,” compliant. I (probably with a heaping measure of arrogance) thought I was just a really great mom. My second, “no, I will not be compliant,” dear child came along, took note of the situation and proceeded to educate me in the many ways of “No”. My third, “you have no earthly idea how non-compliant I can possibly be,” child came along and completely blew out of the water any notion I had of how “easy” being a mom might be. By the time my fourth, “hey, I’m so cute I don’t even need to be compliant,” child came along, I was woefully outnumbered.
At that point in my life I experienced pain that I never anticipated. I fell headlong into the deep pit of postpartum depression. I fell so deep, in fact, that I could no longer imagine sunny, cheerful days and I became passive-suicidal. I was officially diagnosed with Major Clinical Depression and an anxiety disorder. It took two years of medication and counseling to save my life. During that time, I had some realizations. I realized that in addition to having four children in six years, I also had a completely unrealistic expectation of what our life and our family should look like. I wanted us to be the ever-upwardly mobile American family who lived in an impeccably decorated, spacious, two-story center hall Colonial with a perfectly manicured lawn. My children needed to be stylishly dressed (often in adorable coordinating outfits, the girls’ hair fussed over and fixed with matching bows), always perfectly behaved and respectful to all. Why I ever thought that would be achievable short of Hollywood is now beyond me, but the dream of that is what drove me. (Drove me over the cliff of near insanity is more like it!)
I had been so fixated on living this fantasy that it caused me greater and greater stress over time, in addition to the normal stresses of everyday life with children. As I learned at my diagnosis, prolonged stress left to fester like mine can lead to physical manifestations. A continued spiral into deeper depression and panic attacks were my manifestations. I just lost all joy of living. I lost sight of the things in life that really mattered; my husband and my children. I realized I needed to reevaluate what a fulfilled life looked like. Maybe I really had one and hadn’t realized it. Maybe I was overlooking what I’d had all along.
Slowly, I looked at my life and saw a beautiful thing. And in response to recognizing the beauty that my life truly held, I learned to laugh again. It was something I actually noticed and other people noticed about me. It started (just like a baby) with simple smiles. Smiles became giggles, and before I knew it, I began to find the joy in a moment and allowed myself to laugh. I learned new coping skills and I released my children from the bondage of my unrealistic expectations.
I began to live in the moment and to even try to appreciate some of the inconveniences of life. Anymore, in our house, when we hit an unexpected bump in the road or our plans fall through, instead of responding with anger or frustration we label those experiences “adventures”! Let me tell you, our family has more than its fair share of adventures! But, looking at those negative things in a different light has allowed me to also find the humor in some of those situations. My children are exceedingly accomplished now at turning most situations into really funny experiences. We work, play, live, learn, and laugh through it all. I laugh more now than I did for a very long time!
Now, please don’t get me wrong! I’m NOT saying we should allow our children to be unruly, disrespectful, and undisciplined in life and then laugh along! Children are childish. Children behave childishly. Children think childishly. Children perceive things childishly. It is our responsibility as mothers to diligently correct, train, and admonish our children to outgrow their childish ways. Behavior that is rude or obnoxious or unkind should not be permitted to continue.
It is for the child’s own sake that we seek to see them leave their childish ways behind. And yet, at the same time, there are some childish moments with such a sweetness to them that it should cause us to pause for a short while, open our eyes, open our hearts, and savor that moment before it passes us by. Other moments may well require a bit of grace, but might also be adorned with a smile, a giggle, or a wholehearted laugh. Oh, I know that the days drag on, but that the years fly by!
I think it is better to have lived and loved and laughed than to have lived and loved (by shallow words alone) and barked orders all day long for years and years. Learning to laugh, for me, is an ongoing process upon which I seem to improve year after year. Just as “practice makes perfect” in music and sports, I believe sustained concerted effort in this area will also increase your ability to greet life with a smile. My kids have played an integral part in helping me learn and are dutiful and faithful teachers who never seem to diminish in the creativity with which they employ during my “lessons”. Just so you can see that your family is not so “out there”, here are just a few of the means by which my children have attempted to help me learn to laugh.
- If your brother drops a banana peel on the kitchen floor at the precise moment you are running out of the kitchen, you will fall flat on your bottom just like in cartoons, causing your mother to break out in hysterical laughter.
- If you attempt to land on your feet after performing a double backflip on the trampoline, but instead land on your bottom, which causes your knees to hit you in the eyes, resulting in two black eyes, your mother will probably try to hide the fact that it made her laugh.
- If you attempt to paint your toenails with a 12″ roller of Ocean Blue latex wall paint while you are wearing footy pajamas, your mother will make an honest effort to laugh.
- If you flush a Fisher-Price Little People character down the toilet (and it still flushes afterward), your mother will probably eke out a nervous grin.
- If you flush your sister’s plastic teacup down the toilet (and yet again it still flushes afterward), you will be lucky if your mother smiles at all.
- If you flush two of your sister’s plastic teacups down the toilet which results in the toilet needing to be removed, neither your mother nor your father will smile for a day or so.
- If you spray the hardwood floor in the main hallway with Pledge, it makes an incredibly fantastic “skating rink” which will not only cause your siblings to smile, but also to cheer your name in wild adoration.
- If you spray the hardwood floor in the main hallway with Pledge, your mother cannot mop it enough times with enough different products to prevent herself from falling each and every time she walks through the main hallway for an entire month, during which time it would be quite wise for you and your siblings not to allow her to hear you laugh about it, because it will be years and years before your mother can!
I’ll bet you can quite easily see the humor in each of those situations. Recognizing the humor in the moment is a little trickier. Notice, however, that I said “trickier”, not impossible. Learning to laugh has opened up the world for me and my family in a truly beautiful way. While laughing in the moment can necessitate a degree of self-control coupled with a heart of forgiveness, it’s nothing that we as moms can’t cultivate on behalf of the hearts of our children. I believe laughter in the moment allows them to grow up recognizing that mistakes aren’t the end of the world. They learn to respond to unexpected situations with grace and a sense of adventure for what might lie around the bend. It can open up a learning opportunity that might have been blown to smithereens if we respond in anger. Laughter just makes life more memorable in the best kind of way.
Learn to laugh! The sanity you might feel slipping through your fingers like a thread could instead be your ultimate lifeline…the lifeline of laughter.