It’s Not a Contest: When Things Feel Hard

I met a mom yesterday.

She has 4 kids – the youngest two are twins.

I never had twins, so I turned to my friend Michelle whose twins are now 14. 

“Are you having flashbacks?” I asked.

She nodded in a way that said yes, and also hinted at a little PTSD that said maybe drop it, so I did.

But I’ve been thinking about that mom since yesterday – trying to nurse two children, or do anything to keep them from turning into dueling hurricanes, so her older two kids could finish learning about snakes and hawks and tortoises.

This mom … was incredible. Her kids were so well-behaved. And yet, what she was trying to do was hard, and frankly, it looked hard.

And it just made me think about all of us, trying so hard to homeschool and get it right, despite the difficult stuff people see and the stuff people don’t.

It's Not a Contest: When Things Feel Hard

It’s not a contest

When my kids were younger, like pretty much all normal kids, they would get worked up about little things that didn’t matter at all. They get that from me.

I found myself saying often that something or other wasn’t “a contest.” 

Who gets more crackers is not a contest. 

Who gets more pushes on the swing is not a contest. 

Who gets 5 more minutes of reading with mom is not a contest, although because in that scenario I would be considered the prize, I’ll allow it.

The thing is, when we are going through something that makes homeschooling hard, we sometimes find ourselves comparing our hardship to others’ struggles. 

Is it OK to not volunteer to bring snacks to co-op just because our kiddos have a combined six therapy and doctor’s appointments next week? 

What about Betty? Her dad just moved in and she rescues all those squirrels.

But we don’t know Betty’s life. Maybe her dad is super into squirrels, and instead of having two challenges, she just solved all of her problems.

It's Not a Contest: When Things Feel Hard

Measuring enough

We also don’t know what Betty’s enough feels like.

I will tell you that personally, my enough container is tiny. Picture it like a perfume sample size vial.

My enough gets filled up fast.

For instance, my husband has worked the past two weekends, which would be fine if he only worked weekends, but he has worked all the other days too – something like 21 of them in a row.

So Saturday when he got home, I was excited about having a minute

But one child wanted to run an errand and the other wanted a friend to come over and I am nothing if not too available to my children’s whims, so I said OK.

Later, I crashed into bed face-first. My husband was already there because he just works now and lies down. Almost immediately I heard a “something’s wrong” call from the bathroom, which any parent will tell you, is one of the worst places to hear a “something’s wrong” call emanate from.

And yet, no one was crying or screaming, so I knew I had a minute, and I took it.

“One minute,” I called cheerily while also making a face that looked like I was being tortured to reveal all the code names of all the other spies in my network.

“I just need a minute,” I whispered to my husband who was kind enough to grunt in my direction.

Sixty seconds later, I started to get up and he asked where I was going.

“I literally just needed a minute so I don’t yell,” I said, and he looked at me with either total respect or concern for my mental state. Probably some of each.

The problem was an inflamed earlobe because of fun earrings. Thing were solved with peroxide.

Who decides?

But I could tell right then that my enough container had officially overflowed. It wasn’t just my husband working more. It was starting school and driver’s ed and accidentally becoming a foster mom to a cat I’m calling Tomie dePurrla, and a few dozen other things.

Remember, my enough container the size of a perfume sample vial, and at that moment, it felt like someone had hooked it up to a garden hose and then walked away for two weeks.

Is it my fault that my enough container is tiny?

Does that make me a worse person that another mom, who feels less overwhelmed, even when life throws more at her?

I don’t think so. 

But to be clear, I used to think so pretty much all day long.

Then I turned 40, and I realized that I am who I am, and that’s OK. And also, it’s OK if sometimes I get not OK with who I am for a minute and have to eat a “shareable” size bag of M and Ms all by myself.

Because who makes the rules? Who tells us when we’ve crossed the magical line into having to share our M and Ms? Who tells us when our problems are real, or big, or where they go on the hierarchy?

I can tell you a few people who do not: the lady at co-op, your judgy cousin, your dad, the lady coordinating your neighborhood rummage sale, your friend from high school who is trying to get you to join her MLM, the lady at church who really needs you to sign up to teach Sunday school because “you’re a homeschool mom, so duh – perfect fit!,” and anyone whose response to your polite no is anger.

So if you are going through something that feels hard, it’s OK that it’s hard and it’s OK that maybe you need to pull back.

It’s also OK that you still try to do things and go places if you feel like it, and that maybe they don’t turn out perfectly.

It’s OK to say no. It’s OK not to explain. It’s OK not to get into a contest over whose stuff is harder. 

It’s OK to ask for prayers, and it’s OK not to give everyone every gory little dirty detail. (I just don’t think God needs zip codes or medical code diagnosis numbers coming at Him from all of your Facebook friends.)

And it’s OK to take a minute. (I recommend more, though).

How we get through the hard stuff isn’t by beating ourselves up, or piling on guilt.

So share what you feel like you can share safely, and for now, do what you need and what your family needs.

I’m wishing you brighter days ahead.

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  • Nicole says:

    I needed this. Exactly this. Exactly tonight. Thank you.

  • j.e.cook says:

    What is it about 40 that sets you free. I have found myself referencing my age like, “I’m 40. I am ok with opting out of…fill in the blank.” Knowing I have either done whatever it is in the past or being comfortable enough with who I am to say no.

    I enjoyed reading this. Thank you for sharing.

  • Liz says:

    You are so real and that’s why I get this so much. And I just hit my 50’s! You feel even better about being yourself!

  • Ann E Karako says:

    Kara, I LOVE the writing here, and I feel hugged by reading this. I felt like you were describing ME there for a moment. And that it’s OK that I had 8 sugar cookies yesterday. 🙂 THANKS!

  • Chelsea says:

    Kara, Your words always seem to hit the target for me and the struggles of my own heart. I often feel so discouraged at all the things I don’t do enough of, of who I am not, and your words remind me of the truth. So as our family is getting ready to face a season of very limited capacity, I will not feel guilt or shame, instead I will embrace it and trust that it’s enough to show up for my family during these days and that I’m enough.

  • CL says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. I’m curled up on my couch right now after a morning of co-op where I left sayIng no to many things because my “enough” is over flowing, not the kids but mine. Torn between guilt and confidence that I said no at the right time to the right things. This was a very timely read for me!

  • EmHarrop says:

    Thank you so much…this was such an encouragement!!!!! <3

  • Denise says:

    This was exactly what I needed to be reminded of today. Thank you for this. Words can’t express the comfort this spoke into my soul.

    I love your website but these little popups about who’s bought your stuff has gotta stop. They’re so irritating and completely disruptive to the reading process.

  • Angela Wolf says:

    I’m not the first or the last person who wants to thank you for this post. It’s both supportive and empathetic. And I’m glad I read it.

  • Sarah J says:

    This was a great read. As a 40 + yr old homeschooling mom of 9 at home and 3 grown, ages nursing baby to married 22 year old, and a husband that’s been stuck on 7 days a week (except Holidays, a few family emergencies, a move, a baby and a wedding) for the last 18 months, I deeply appreciated this article.

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