On the first evening of the new year, after my lovely 2-year old had fallen asleep, I sat at my home-office desk and sighed to myself “I haven’t achieved much today.” I contemplated my lengthy to-do list, my looming deadlines, and all the things I want to achieve that I don’t seem to ever find the time for. And I felt disappointed in myself for not doing more.
But this morning, me and my little girl made a wide variety of cute colourful things out of playdough (“mummy, I made a wiggly worm!”). After lunch, we had a play-date with some lovely new friends. In the afternoon, we headed out on a bushwalking adventure to a “magical forest”, had a make-believe gourmet picnic, and then “climbed a mountain” (I lugged 15kg of cuddly-but-heavy baby up a steep sand dune) to enjoy the view in quiet awe, as the sun began to set over a panoramic view of unspoiled Aussie bushland.
We listened to the birds chirping, and we sat and chatted until dusk. She told me again and again what a good time she was having. As we cuddled up together, she kissed me on both cheeks. It was a perfect moment.
I achieved wonderful things today. I helped to spark the imagination of the person I love the most in the whole wide world. I gave her time with her mummy: the present of being truly present. I tucked away my smartphone and didn’t look at it once.
I’ve had times in my life when I was told that I wasn’t good enough. That I wasn’t achieving enough. That I just fundamentally wasn’t enough, and I never would be. Every time, it chipped off a little of my heart, but it also made me internalise the idea that I need to be doing something, doing more, all the time. Feeling guilty for moments spent on relaxation or self-care.
I’ve started unconsciously measuring my own life in ways that are totally contrary to who I am, and what really matters to me: nurturing my little girl, raising her well, and being the best mummy I can be.
But when you get the piece of paper that tells you how good you are, a 5-star feedback for your work, a grade that you can feel proud of… that rush can be quite addictive. When your very worth as a human being has been questioned, you begin to question it too. You try desperately to find quantifiable ways to prove to yourself that you are, indeed, worthy. That you are deserving of happiness and good things.
Insecurities aside, though, it does genuinely feel fantastic to discover and fulfil my potential, to make great strides in my career and studies… but at what cost?
Work-study-life balance is very important to me, but it’s true that you can’t “have it all”. And I know what will always come first. Not only did I achieve today, but what I achieved was something irreplaceable.
“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
— The Little Prince (Antoine de Saint-Exupery)
So I’ll cram in moments here and there to achieve the measurable things. And I’ll do an awesome job at them, as a smart, capable young woman (which I’ve finally realised I was all along).
But I’ll also go easy on myself, and remember that life is long and there’s plenty of time to reach my goals. When I do find my schedule filling up, then I’ll make a conscious effort to take time for pretend picnics, and I’ll also recognize that self-care isn’t something to be ashamed of: it’s a necessity, and it makes me a happier person and a better mother.
I’ll be proud of my academic and career successes, and they will inspire me, but I won’t buy into the idea that mothering is somehow secondary, that it isn’t an achievement in of itself. My primary job, and my most important, is to love, protect and care for my child.
I have always believed that what matters the most in this world is people. So even when my bank balance is empty, my heart and life are still full, and I am grateful.
Today mattered, a lot. Because every moment that I devote myself fully to my little girl is full not only of purpose, but of joy.
Happy 2017, and may your year bring you the most important achievements of all: happiness, purpose and kindness.
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