the less I do the happier I make my family

Just this weekend, I made the wrenching decision to drop out of my film class. For two weeks in a row I couldn’t turn in my assignments (due on Sunday nights) without completely ignoring my family. And the thought of spending much of December on my final project made me physically ill. As Gabe so aptly pleaded, “Why do you need to be anything else but my mommy?”

Why? Why? Why?

I am the first to argue for creativity, individuality, the need to find something you love. But as a mother of six beautiful people (and wife to an extra-handsome one)– they come first.

I’m haunted by twin awarenesses: 1. needy people fill every corner of the earth– from the drought parched lands to the unhappy girl down the street and 2. my family deserves the best of my time and talents.

So, I just turned down two weddings, a charity film, a speaking engagement. My heart will always extend in more directions than I can possibly reach.  I’m split in unequal thirds: part of me would like to spend every spare moment in creative pursuits: photography, videography, writing, sewing/painting/reading etc., the second– a very large part– would like to tear down my house and parcel out my time and possessions wide and far. But the greater part recognizes this is the home where I raise my children; my family has more right to my time than anyone else on earth. My work here is sacred.

And the best way to heal our suffering planet rests right in my own home– raising honest, hard working children who will fill the world with light.

Despite my best efforts to live with wide margins, I get so damn busy. And that’s exactly the right word because I block or damn myself from happiness and the people who matter most. Gabe really doesn’t care about the important phone call I just finished– he simply wants to be picked up from swim team on time (especially when he’s soaking wet and it’s freezing outside).

This week, I sat with my friend Susannah and chatted about her life. My new church assignment involves interviewing the women around me– I’m excited to learn their extraordinary, ordinary stories. I’ve long believed every human life holds a wealth of wonders.

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Susannah’s had a rough year. Last Christmas, she checked herself into the hospital with severe leg pain. For the next seven months she spent all day and all night in a leather chair doped with various pain killers. In June, they amputated her leg just above the knee. She’s getting around beautifully on her new prosthetic leg– cooking a roast for dinner, sorting out the long neglected corner in her kitchen. Still, she worries, “I don’t do anything for anybody.”

I argued with her: her ability to laugh about her health problems makes everyone smile, she’s raised an amazing family, her faith sets an example for me and my children. “You are enough. You are enough. You are enough.” I repeated.

Maybe I need to hear the same assurance. I think we all do. We tend to measure our worth by what we do, rather than who we are.

You are enough. You are enough. You are enough.

Women have always been busy and attentive to the needs of others, but I think we are expecting more of ourselves than any generation before. I love reading old-fashioned novels with Mary, where the mothers spend their days washing clothes and dispensing advice on character. Despite their lack of modern appliances, these mothers seem calmer and more available to their children. They know they are enough.

We live in an age of choices– from ten thousand recipes for ethnic foods to ten million decorating ideas on Pinterest– and yet our families are happiest when we do less. My family loves the vegetable soup I make every week and our usual Christmas traditions, but they are unimpressed when I stress myself out trying to create something bigger and better.

I know, I know I add to this pressure. Rarely content to just be, I always seem to be writing or photographing or leading up some committee. It’s a matter of balance. I have time for some “extracurriculars” but not too many. None of this is a matter of working-for-pay vs. working-at-home moms. I’ve seen plenty of moms with full-time jobs who give their family more attention than we stay-at-homes.

Last week, Mary and I decided to turn a corner of her room into a sewing area. We had a great time searching the classifieds for used furniture, creating a Pinterest folder, painting in the garage. But I’m not going to lie– by Sunday night I was completely stressed out. I’d devoted so many hours last week to the sewing room, I’d fallen incredibly behind on everything else. But projects with Mary, listening to Gabe practice violin, chatting on the phone with Ben, writing lettters to Stefan, watching Dr. Who with Hans and Xander and losing a chess game to Erik are what my time is FOR. My days and years with my family are precious. They are worth my time.

Don’t get me wrong, my family revels in my accomplishments. I had an article in the Deseret News last week and they all bragged a bit their friends, Gabe proudly displaying the newspaper at school and pointing out the paragraph where he was quoted. But I do too much. I’m constantly simplifying my life only to turn around and find it all too complicated again.

I will always want to do more. But I’m searching and sifting for the ways I can do the most good. And trying to remember– my value doesn’t lie in what I do, but who I am.

I am enough.

  • November 21, 2013 - 5:50 pm

    Katie - Love this, I so needed to hear this.
    Thank you.

    Thank you for your inspiring words and wisdom.

    ReplyCancel

  • November 21, 2013 - 6:10 pm

    Linn - I love this more than I could ever put into words. The last five years taught me this lesson and I do not apologize for doing less. Ever. I was put on this earth to be a wife and a mother and my family gets my best. Everyone else can settle for what is left over.

    Love you friend. So grateful for your good heart today.ReplyCancel

  • November 21, 2013 - 6:22 pm

    pHoebAreBa - Thanks so much for these thoughts. This is very real to me right now. I’ve only just recently stepped into the often conflicting pulls of motherhood vs. everything else. Sometimes I really want the outside validation that comes with performing or other academic or social accomplishments. But then I find myself sitting by my smiling four-month-old on the floor or going on a walk with my husband at night and it reminds me that being a wife and mother is what will actually make me the happiest and I can have just as much fulfillment by magnifying that calling.ReplyCancel

  • November 21, 2013 - 7:39 pm

    Chocolate on my Cranium - Michelle, you rock. Seriously, you are so down-to-earth and real and well, wonderful. I have found in my own life when I remember to focus on those things that are most important the Lord magnifies my time so I am able to do at least one thing that will refill or replenish my cup. If I focus on my “wants” first there is usually very little time left over to do that which I should have been doing to begin with. The whole
    rocks, pebbles, and sand
    thing.

    P.S. I had to share your article with my family and extended family too. “Hey, check out this great article by someone I know!”ReplyCancel

  • November 21, 2013 - 9:01 pm

    La Yen - With no hyperbole, every time you write something it is exactly what I need to hear. Thank you.ReplyCancel

  • November 22, 2013 - 5:00 am

    Anya Horman - Thank you for the “You are enough” just what I needed to be reminded of today. Such a simple thing to say to yourself, and so easily forgotten, I’m so glad you provided the reminder.ReplyCancel

  • November 22, 2013 - 6:34 am
  • November 22, 2013 - 7:27 pm

    ellen - Im curious what your new calling is…do tell!ReplyCancel

  • November 23, 2013 - 4:13 am

    Annie - I love this, Michelle. You are enough! I remember having a long conversation with a friend in Boston. He was interested in what we Mormons believed and I realized, as I spoke, how ingrained these two seemingly contradictory concepts are: first, we are about eternal improvement. Second, we are all enough as we are. Sometimes I swing too much to the improvement side and feel a constant disquiet that I should be DOING something, GOING somewhere, SOLVING something, getting better at being a person. But the reality is, we are all enough. We do what we can and *that* is what improves the part of us that matters, by choosing that better part moment by moment.

    I’m with Ellen, I’d love to hear about your interviewing and calling. It’s given me a flash of an “aha!” idea and I want to hear details. (Also, hope to see you in December/Jan. Can’t wait! We get there the 9th, FYI). xx A.ReplyCancel

  • November 23, 2013 - 10:19 pm

    Lettie B. - I appreciate this. Sometimes it hard for me to be “just a mom.” I always wish I was better at it and , of course, only notice all the things other moms do that I DON’T do instead of seeing all that goes right.
    When I was pregnant with my first kid a wise friend promised me that I would have time for my things once my kids got older and to just really hold on to them. I love how you talk about growing them slow. That’s what I want. That and for them to be happy, nice nerds. ha haReplyCancel

  • November 23, 2013 - 10:20 pm

    Lettie B. - This comment has been removed by the author.ReplyCancel

  • November 25, 2013 - 2:02 am

    Kathleen - This was timely…thank you!ReplyCancel

  • November 25, 2013 - 3:38 pm

    Julie - Ahh! Tears. I want to be educated and interesting and diverse. I want to be somebody! Somebody that matters!

    Seems the hardest thing to grasp hold of is the truth that, in this house, on a quiet street in nowhere Montana, I already am somebody…somebody to my favorite somebodies on the planet.

    I need to lay hold of that. Thanks for shaing.ReplyCancel

  • December 18, 2013 - 12:58 pm

    Jessica - Exactl what I needed to hear.ReplyCancel

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