Wednesday, May 2, 2012

When You Think You're Not Enough

I hear this from women. Often. I read it in your emails and comments. I hear it in our conversations, in the pitch of your voice. I draw it out of the lines on the screen and I understand. Because I say it too. 

Plenty of evenings I've closed bedroom doors and walked into the kitchen to finish dishes feeling guilty, numbed with worry that my efforts, my flawed and imperfect offering, is not enough. I’ve said the very words. I am not enough, can’t be enough, won’t be enough.

And this last year, particularly these last few months, I've said it more than ever. 

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When I realized the stutter in my boys’ speech wasn’t “normal,” I scrambled to learn all I could.

I read, watched videos, and asked questions. I gathered a significant amount of information.

And then I cried. Everything I learned indicated that stuttering was a result of a child’s environment. Yes, there may be some genetic predisposition, but most often it stems from a busy, fast-paced home. A setting that is chaotic, where a child (or children) aren’t getting enough attention, enough physical closeness, enough one-on-one time. There it was. That word again. Enough. 

I felt like I'd failed. 

But I hadn’t even seen it coming - this result of my inadequate mothering. Maybe I should have hired some help. Paid someone to come in several times a week to help me in the home. Surely I could have worked harder at maintaining a calm demeanor, cultivating more patience, whittling out more time for each child.

A few days later I ran the pipeline trail with my friend Michelle and told her about this worry. It was weighing me heavy. I got out a few words and then I broke. Crumpled. Dropped my hands to my knees and folded in half, sobbing, because I felt it was my fault. 

I’ve worked through these feelings. I no longer feel guilty. We have a plan. We’re moving forward, and in retrospect, I can honestly say I was doing my best, even if my best wasn't enough to prevent what happened. Hindsight begs its own course correction, and yet, we can’t go back.

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Michelle took these pictures of the boys last summer, after their second birthday. I adore their glittering eyes, their cheeks and curls, the lawnmowers they pushed for hours last season, and the sock monkeys that sleep in their cribs.

I would do anything for these two.

Mothers want the best for their children. We want them to be accepted, to live joyfully, to thrive. When something threatens to impede that path, we want to hurl it aside, knock it out of the way. But that is not our job - to rescue them from everything hard. As author Doreen Holte, wisely put it,

“Our kids don’t need to be fixed, managed, or controlled. They need to be loved, encouraged, listened to, and respected. They need to feel safe” (Voice Unearthed, p. 104).

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Doreen read my Deseret News article and was kind enough to send me her book. 

She has a fifteen-year-old son who stutters. I would love to meet him. And her. They make a remarkable team. She is not a speech therapist. She is a writer, a researcher, but most importantly, she is an intuitive, devoted mother. She and her son Eli have weathered years of speech therapy together, constantly in pursuit of a cure, a method, something that would work. But the world of speech therapy is conflicted, confusing, and divergent in its advice. Doreen’s book contains all her findings and I read it cover to cover. It felt right. Every bit of it. So I am applying what she learned.

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Studies show that 80% of preschoolers who stutter recover with indirect therapy. And I am hanging onto that stat. Indirect therapy means we make modifications to the home environment, slow down, increase one-on-one time and physical closeness, model correct speech. But we don't draw attention to the stuttering itself. We don't tell the boys they stutter (I may have to delete this post some day.) We don't pursue direct therapy or intervention. 

It seems that the more stuttering is pointed out and the more a child is asked to correct it, the more anxiety they experience, the more patterned it becomes.

So far Spencer has improved quite a bit. His stutter is not as pronounced as Gordon’s. And some weeks things are going so well I think, Hey! Maybe we’re moving past this. But the next day it seems, we’re back to square one, and I am holding Gordon’s little hands in mine, looking into his liquid brown eyes and listening while he wrestles for a word. Doug counted 28 repetitions the other day, before Gordon finally said what he wanted to say. 

That is hard. Hard to hear.

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But I’ve taken comfort in a few pearls of wisdom that have fallen into my lap recently. While listening to Julie Beck, former General President of The Relief Society (one of the largest women’s organizations in the world), Beck said,

“Sometimes we think taking care of a family is like dealing out cards. But it’s not that way. You can’t give everyone an even cut of the deck, every time. Sometimes you have a need and you go to that need. Sometimes a certain child gets more help than the others.”

And that is the reality, isn’t it? We can’t always give our children equal amounts of time, energy, or whatever it is they might need. Sometimes one (or two) will require more from us than others. And that is okay. We do what is required to keep them an intact part of the family.

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Julie Beck then blew me away with this statement.

“And for all you women who say you’ll never be enough? Well, that is true. (Long pause.) But it’s okay. Because we have the Atonement in our lives. And the Savior makes up the difference for all our inadequacies and imperfections, the things we miss and regret, the things we need help doing. Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and his power in our lives, will get us through the difficult journey.”

Maybe we ought to stop saying it. That we’re not enough. Because, she’s right. We’re not. And we won’t be. And that is okay. We give it our best go, and most of the time, it will be good enough. But when it’s not, there is a power we can access that will make up the difference. 

I am learning that is precisely God's intent - to help me recognize I've been dealt a hand I cannot and will not be able to manage without Him.  

Another pearl I discovered was this article by David Bednar, respected leader in the Mormon Church, about the enabling power of Christ’s Atonement. If you read anything this week, read this.

Elder Bednar says most of us don’t understand the difference between the Lord’s redemptive power and his enabling power.

Too often, we mistakenly believe we must make the journey from good to better by ourselves, through sheer grit, willpower, and discipline, with our obviously limited capacities. But the truth is, we don't. Christ’s enabling power can strengthen us to do things we could never do on our our own.

And that is what I need right now. Divine means of help or strength to meet the needs of my family, especially my boys, despite my weakness and limitations. 

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I am living on the hope that we will triumph, even if the journey is a long one. 

I’m still figuring out how to bridge the gap between who I am and who I need to be. I’m still stretching to know how to harness that enabling power.

Maybe it is about letting go of my own will, peeling the burden away from my uptight shoulders and laying it across His. Maybe it means sluffing off the unimportant, making time for more conscious prayer, and asking Him to change me rather than my circumstances. Maybe it is different for each of us. But knowing it is there, and available, is the first step.


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I trust in the definition of grace. I trust that strength, love, and attention can come from sources seen and unseen to fill in where we lack. I trust that Christ can liberate us from the straining at perfection, rid us of the guilt that comes from thinking we are never enough.

Today I watched my boys playing together in the backyard, running their cars over stumps and brick walls, chatting fluidly with each other. I felt complete satisfaction and happiness over who they are, right now. And I can only assume God feels the same about us. 

So we come to him, just as we are. We meet him, open-palmed and asking. Because beneath all our imperfect words and deeds and trying, his mercy and love will be what rises.

And that, my friends, is enough.

32 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. Thank you for pointing me to Him. I am struck by the infinite power of really digging deep to truly "practice" my beliefs and convictions in a meaningful, practical way. It changes everything. Often, more than changing what I'm doing, I just need to change the way I'm doing it. That requires purifying my heart, focusing my intentions, and remembering that the burdens of life don't have to be mine to carry alone. If I am yoked with my Savior in all things, then the burdens are already ours to share. I just have to submit and allow Him to work with and in me.

    (I sent you a personal e-mail "introducing" myself and thanking you for your blog. I figure now I should just start commenting every once in a while!)

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    1. Melanie - Funny enough, I began an email to you several nights ago because I've been meaning to respond to you for weeks and weeks now. I will finish it up tomorrow. Your words were a huge lift to me. They were beautiful. This is such a wonderful insight: "I just have to submit and allow Him to work with and in me." I think other readers will benefit from your comments. Love to you.

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  3. Oh this post is so timely for me. Thank you. My husband is traveling a great deal. We gather around the computer for Facetime each night and the children tell him about their day, we say family prayers and that is their only interaction with their dad. This schedule means that I need to be mom and dad for my kidlets right now and I'm sorely feeling the "not enough"--even less enough than normal, because DH is gone. There are issues with each child as they act out in their own non verbal protests of his absence and I struggle to seek the best answers. I am so often at a complete loss.

    And then I had a heart to heart with my sobbing 13yo daughter tonight who has made some poor choices in an effort to convey the illusion of perfection (perfect grades, perfect choir performances, perfect church leadership, perfect school leadership) even when she was having multiple migraines and clearly unable to be perfect any longer. She's a good kid and is bracing herself to deal with the poor choice and move on. We talked about not being perfect and that being okay. She gets her migraines from me; she gets her desire to appear on top of it all (all the while drowning) from me.

    I didn't realize until today that we had moved on to the second phase of this subject in my parenting--not only must I diligently access the enabling powers of the Atonement for myself, but I must vocally share those efforts and teach my children what I am doing, so they can follow. It is a strange threshold to cross from where our children need to believe we are safe and invincible: the strong protectors from all the monsters of the night, to where our children need to know that we are human: struggling and trying, failing and frail, seeking out divine and mortal help at each turn.

    "So we come to him, just as we are." I love that simple powerful line. That is all we can do, all we should do, all we must do.

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    1. Angie - Wow. You elevated this topic to an entirely new level. How to transfer this understanding to our children. No doubt your darling teenage daughter is blessed to have you as her mother. She might get her migraines from you, and her desire to appear in control (who doesn't have this?) but she is also getting from you a marvelous tutoring in the real challenges of mortality and the power/divine strength that is available to her. I feel for you, with your husband gone so much. I know how it is to go the long stretch, day after day, without your spouse to spell you and share the load. It is not easy, at all. But we do what is required. Prayers for you as you negotiate each day. I trust God will inspire you as needed and strengthen you each time you ask. Thanks for your wonderful comment. Blessings my friend.

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  4. We have to believe that there is a plan even for our children. He knew who and how we are and still He sent these children to us. All these plans for all people on this earth is woven together in an amazing tapestry that we can not see now and we have to believe that our childrens plans is running the way they should. Sure we shall do our best but that is just it, we can not do more than our best. As we learn more we can do better.
    we had our oldest child when we were 23 and our youngest when we were 44 and those 21 years has made a BIG difference in our parenting skills. Sometimes me and my DH has asked ourselves "why does God make us have children when we are young and unexperienced?". There must be a reason for that. As well as we shall be merciful to others we must be so to ourselves too and yes, his mercy is sufficient enough even for us.

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    1. Monica - so wisely put. I can only imagine the evolution over 21 years of parenting. I wish the "then" me could inform the "current" me of all she knows. Thanks for your sentiments - they are full of faith and understanding. Best wishes.

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  5. This "straining of perfection" and the supplication to be changed (as opposed to just being dealt a different hand)? Lovely, lovely thoughts for me this morning.

    I know I have days when I feel like a total failure, or not as good a mother in this way as so-and-so is, but I do know that God sent my children to me to be their mother, and that is a vote of His confidence in my mothering. Even though it is far from perfect, sometimes quite strained, and other times, full of love. But I know He knows that, and so grateful for your reminder today (and Sis. Beck's) that He has also planned for those mistakes, made up for them thru the atonement.

    We love these kids of ours deep down into our bones and hope more than we can express for them, but we make plenty of mistakes, too.

    Thanks for being so personal and for sharing your convictions so beautifully. I feel beyond certain that you ARE enough, and that you were chosen to be their mother and create their home because God knew you would be the best mother for them and would create a haven of beauty, love, and truth. It's obvious to me that you are doing that, and that you are giving everything you have to make that happen. THAT is enough. THAT is love.

    And, I love that you wear lipstick.

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  6. Thanks, Cath. I needed this today.

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  7. Oh, Cath. I wish you were my next-door neighbor and could remind me of this every day. I'm going to come back and read this again. And maybe again.

    And DANG, Michelle did an amazing job on those pictures. You look gorgeous and the boysies are impossibly delicious.

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  9. Cath, lovely lovely. I want to comment more but I'd rather do it in person. So great to see you guys last week - TRavis tells me he and doug picked a date to get together. CAn't wait! xoxo

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    1. Yes, so fun to see you last Saturday. I'm glad we FINALLY have a date to get together. Can't believe baby boy 3 is coming this summer! Congrats! Somehow, your original comment filtered into my email. And I just want to say I agree with you - the semantics are problematic. I wondered if I ought to explore that in my post, discuss the difference between "not being enough" and "being good enough." Because they are different. And sometimes I think we confuse "enough" with "perfection" - especially when we feel we aren't measuring up. From a psychologist's perspective (would have loved it if you would have expounded here), it's probably way more healthy mentally for us to stop demanding so much of ourselves and just be content with "good enough." Anyhow, we will definitely talk more in person. I would love to be illuminated by your wisdom. Love you Corinne! xo

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    2. ah cath, you are so sweet. glad i checked back to see if you had commented. glad you understood what i meant when i wrote it... i ended up deleting it because i feel pretty fuzzy brained lately (pregnant) and wasn't sure if it came across the way i meant it. i agree with you 100% on the perfection thing - it is so problematic at times! i think the less we evaluate, compare, and judge ourselves the more room we have to be curious, open and gracious - which ultimately opens us up to grow more than any sort of judgment or condemnation does (that typically is paralyzing!) love you back, i feel like those 5 kids are so danged lucky to have you... and can't wait to see you guys!

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  10. Catherine I think you are a brilliant, wonderful mother! Thank you for your inspiring words!

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  11. Elizabeth - you are a fabulous cheerleader. I would want you in my corner every time. I love this, "He has planned for our mistakes" - it's all part of the mortal journey, isn't it? But yes, under it all we love those kids "deep down into our bones." And the lipstick? Yep, I do wear lipstick. Every day. And I color my hair, every few weeks. ;)

    Mindy - Blessings.

    Kathryn - There will be times in the future I'll have to return to this myself. I believe it's a lesson we learn and learn again, but in a slightly different way. And yes, isn't Michelle the most incredible photographer. She can make anyone look good. ;)

    Lynley - You're so sweet to stop here and read. I adore you. And can't wait for you to be "just up the street." xo

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  12. oh cath. i'm continually amazed at how true your words ring to me every post. thank you. i'm sitting here just itching to be running that pipeline with you and michelle again. july? i'll be there all month.

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  13. so beautiful. so deeply felt and expressed. i have said "im not enough" a lot, and at the time meant it, but we do persevere. and He is always by us. loved the Bednar principals. i just kept thinking of the scripture about how Christ will make our weak things become strengths as we come to Him with them.
    and though i know nothing about stuttering i don't believe it is anything to do with your mothering. i think it is shameful of the medical community to pawn off their incomplete understanding of the problem as a result of environmental influences. in today's fast paced world and with so many children not even at home with their mothers, stuttering would be an epidemic! Im sure with prayer and faith and continued support and love the boys will grow out of it, and if not they'll have the BEST mom ever supporting them and helping them.
    thanks again, for your openness and ability to lift us and exemplify a faithful mother. i think you're amazing!

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  14. Oh, Cath, so funny...just noticed I posted as Kathryn...my 9 year old. I'm sure she'd think you were wonderful and would make a great neighbor, too, and she probably would agree that Michelle's pics are great, but those sentiments were my own.

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  15. Beautiful, powerful truth. My quest right now is to learn to let go and trust God and His grace more in my life. Thank you for this post. It's just what I needed to read. (And read again, I'm sure.)

    ~Michelle

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  16. Its so easy to blame ourselves as mothers for anything and everything our children struggle with. I feel guilty for everything! Thank you for reminding us to "come as we are" to the Lord and draw upon his strength. My mother always tells me that God sends us the children He does precisely because we are the best person to help them with their challenges. I can only hope that is true. I also love Elizabeth's comment that the Lord planned for our mistakes. I have to rely on that because I make a lot of mistakes!

    Also, love the pictures! Those boys are so adorable!

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  17. Cath, this is absolutely incredible. This post is truly a gift to women.

    First of all, the pictures are stunning. You are gorgeous. Your boys are darling.

    You are an inspiration. Your words reveal such deep desires to do good and love those who have been lucky enough to come into your life.

    "We meet him, open-palmed and asking." That is a powerful image.

    Much love to you this weekend. Thank you, thank you. xo

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  18. Kara jayne - yes, the mountains here are calling you! july it is. plan on it! xo btw, talked with your darling, darling mother last weekend. she is wonderful. it is obvious to me why she has such amazing daughters!

    Chanel - "in today's fast paced world and with so many children not even at home with their mothers, stuttering would be an epidemic! Im sure with prayer and faith and continued support and love the boys will grow out of it." - thank you for this - for your kind words and confidence. you are dear. love to you.

    Kerri - too funny. couldn't figure out who Kathryn was. Or how she knew Michelle! ;) Michelle and I agree, we need to get you with us on a saturday run. And I love your daughter's spelling of her name. I spelled it like that all through fifth grade. Because it worked so much better with my surname, which also started with a K. :)

    Michelle -"let go and trust God" - such a process isn't it? Love to you.

    Steph - Me too. And yes, it's too easy to blame ourselves. But I love what your Mother said, I want to believe she is right. You are wonderful. Love you Steph.

    Kara - thanks for your email dearest friend. It was you who led me to the Julie Beck wisdom. Thank you again. I love you.

    Anne Marie - Love to you too. I hope you're doing alright with all the busy wind-up of school, lessons, activities. Such a crazy time. I will try to email you tomorrow - wanted to respond to some of your thoughts. Thank you again for the book. xo

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  19. You are an amazing mother, my friend. I love this message and this grace. So much.

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  20. What a stunning post, Catherine--the pictures, the words, the truths. My Devin (now 14) began stuttering, suddenly and severely, when he was about 2 1/2. Like you, I panicked and began devouring everything I could on the topic. We even had an early childhood intervention specialist come in to observe our home environment and to work with Devin. We all made a conscious effort to slow things down and to listen more carefully to little Devin (the youngest of five *very* verbal children). I don't know if that's what made the difference or if he just "grew out of it," but within six months, the stuttering was completely gone. You are a remarkable person and an incredible mother, and your beautiful little boys are going to be just fine.

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  21. Cath, yes, once in a while I stalk your blog! I have been having these same feelings as of late. I have a daughter with some emotional struggles, and it has been a hard battle. She requires every last drop of energy I have to give. And sometimes, I don't feel like I have enough. And the guilt reigns supreme. I have just recently trying to reprogram my brain to be more accepting of my children the way they are, and not constantly trying to change them or make them what I feel they should be. This is extremely difficult form someone like me, a perfectionist, and an OCD maniac! I don't know about having a stuttering child, but I do know what it's like to have a child that struggles. I have an oldest child with ADD. My middle is the one with emotional issues. And every day I just pray that I am not ruining them! Thank you for your honesty! I admire you, always have!

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  22. I think it is a hard subject. I think we hurt more for our children than they do for themselves sometimes. I held my 10 year old as he cried tonight about his friends wanting to move from playing pretend games to only doing sports at recess. Let alone all the other things that come with ASD, but when he hurts, I really hurt. I also really hurt to recognize that some things - no matter what we do - will ever, in this life go away. It is these situations in our lives that are the greatest teaching, softening, humbling tools. And luckily tonight I didn't want to solve it - I just wanted to listen to him and let him know that he has a safe place to come home to. So wonderful to read your words!

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  23. Just listening today, but wanted you to know I'm listening, Cath. So glad I have ways to tune into your thoughts--thanks for taking the time to write. P.S. I'm grateful for the Lord's enabling power, too. love that article by Elder Bednar--I think I told ten people about it in the days after reading it.

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  24. Oops. I was signed in to my husband's account, there. It was me, Liz.

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  25. Sorry, Cath, after moving into our new house, I could only get on the internet in the office (secretly, *whistleinnocently*), and didn't really have the time to catch up on your wonderful blog, ;-). But now we have internet at home, too, so I finally got to read this post.

    I like the wisdom, and I like the thought that God will make up for the difference.

    I believe, though, that not being enough is _the_ very point that makes us good (or good enough) mothers, because this, too, teaches our kids so much. Not that there isn't always room for improvement, and of course we need to do the best we can. But really, I don't think that as "supermoms" we'd do our kids a favor. Being the way we are makes us authentic -- for one thing that's far more loveable, and for the other it prepares the kids for the outside world. Somebody, I don't remember who, wrote, that yes, our parents made mistakes, yes, we got hurt -- but, hey, we learned how to deal with it and came out of it all the stronger, ;-).

    So with all the love you give your children, I don't see, how that would not be the best you can do for them!

    So long,
    Corinna

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  26. Tracy - your comment was sweet: "this message, this grace" - love you friend.

    Sharlee - I'm so grateful for your perspective here. Thanks for sharing your experience with your son. Each positive story I hear is encouraging to me. I trust my boys will be just fine too. Love you dear lady.

    Adrienne - Oh, my heart ached as I read your comment. You know this struggle, this wrestle with guilt too. It's so easy for us to assume blame when we're the primary caregiver, the one "in charge." I had no idea what challenges you've been negotiating over recent years, but I know you are not ruining your children! I've always been impressed with your calmness, your depth, your ability to see people for who they are. No doubt you are doing that for your kids. I like one of the earlier comments above, that we are who our children need. I have to trust that. And I understand the reprogramming. It's not easy. Thanks for your own honesty here, for such a personal take what can be a heavy topic. Sending you love and prayers. Wish I saw you more. Love you Adrienne.

    Kristi - my old friend! I'm so grateful for your words. This was rather profound. "but when he hurts, I really hurt. I also really hurt to recognize that some things - no matter what we do - will never, in this life go away. It is these situations in our lives that are the greatest teaching, softening, humbling tools." I agree. And you have learned so much acceptance on your mothering journey. I admire all that you are and all that you do for your boys, particularly when you don't "solve the problem" but just nurture a safe place, a safe home, a safe heart. You are wonderful. I love you.

    Lizzy - I'm having a good laugh this post over the erroneous user id's. ;) And please know, your "listening" means a great deal to me. I love you.

    Corinna - You moved into your new home?? Hurrah! Thanks for this excellent insight: "not being enough is _the_ very point that makes us good (or good enough) mothers, because this, too, teaches our kids so much." You're so right. Our mistakes, our imperfectness is a better ground for teaching than the facade of perfection and unrealistic expectations (of ourselves or others!) I trust that God can make all things (bad included) work for our good. Similar to what you said. Best wishes as you settle into your new home! So exciting!

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