Since writing the “About” page, I’ve been reflecting on a deeper level about what led me to this Fishtailing Joyride.
I grew up an anxious white kid in suburban upper middle-class America. If I had to boil my life down to a mission statement, it was to seek perfection in as many aspects of life as possible. Or at least the appearance of perfection. Lots of stress comes along with that mindset.
If you’d asked me back then, I would’ve said all was well—great, actually. I was like the old frog in a boiling pot of water: The water was nice at first. I had all I needed, from a loving family to a safe, beautiful place to live. Then the water started heating up gradually. My school and extracurricular commitments simmered along, but every added commitment, and my pursuit of perfection with each commitment, turned up the heat under the pot. With encouraging parents who believed in me and many friends with much the same lifestyle as mine, I didn’t notice the water was getting too hot for me. A lack of adequate sleep due to my packed schedule probably didn’t help me think clearly about the hot water I was in either.
As with many parents I know, getting pregnant with my first kid showed me I better hop out of the damn pot before it was too late. I knew maternal stress was not good for babies. On top of that, the most frequent advice I heard when newly pregnant resonated strongly with me: “Enjoy your kids. It all goes by so quickly.” The wistfulness of many of these advice-givers revealed a mix of warm memories and at least a tinge of regret that they hadn’t slowed down more when their own kids were small.
So I hopped out of the pot. I’d been working 50-hour weeks, sometimes more, in a fairly stressful job. I focused pretty intensely on career advancement and prided myself on a busy schedule outside of work, which was full of volunteering, gardening, and time with family and friends. To hop out, I cut back to 40-hour work weeks and took a sabbatical from volunteering. Gardening and time with family and friends stayed. Being pregnant made it easy for me to make these changes. The desire to protect and connect with my baby helped me see and do something about the potential harms of a ridiculously busy schedule.
Around this time, I also started reading up on parenting because I wanted to make a conscious choice as to the type of parent I would be. I wanted to strengthen the skills I’d need to slow down, fully appreciate my kids for who they are, help them thrive, and not lose myself in the process. I’ll admit that, at that point, I also wanted to be the “perfect” parent. (Hey, finding self-acceptance is a process for most of us, right?) Little did I know that reading about parenting, as well as the act of parenting itself, would motivate me to grow in my self-acceptance and let go of the need to seek perfection. More on that another day.
Four years and another kid later, nearly everything I now find helpful in my life boils down to gaining self-acceptance. By that I mean understanding myself and being aware of my strengths and weaknesses. Self-acceptance doesn’t mean settling for my current foibles and flaws; self-improvement doesn’t go out the window. Rather, it’s about looking fully at myself, relaxing into what I notice rather than criticizing it, and not getting caught up in distractions from and avoidance of things I notice about myself that I don’t like.
Growing greater self-acceptance has widened the gate to lots of priorities and goals in my life:
- improving my complicated and sometimes prickly relationship with my mom,
- growing closer to my dad and siblings,
- strengthening my marriage,
- parenting mindfully,
- becoming debt-free, and
- saving meaningful sums for emergencies and retirement.
I’m only a month into the Fishtailing Joyride, and it’s already been taking me a long way toward these goals.