Finding Purpose and Being Enough

IMG_3254

While the rest of the house quietly sleeps, I am cleaning bathrooms and mopping floors. As the mop sweeps back and forth across the hardwood, the sponge squeaks softly, the rhythm hypnotic, as I ponder my purpose.

Yes, my purpose. An odd thought at 11:30 at night, but so is mopping, I suppose.

I left behind a career to stay at home with my children, something my husband and I both deemed important. I wanted to be there for the first steps and the first days of school and the field trips and the room mom and the PTO. (Ok, fine – no one really wants to be part of the PTO. You get sucked into it, like an errant button caught up in the sweep of the vacuum.) I feel fortunate that I have this opportunity and I am grateful for all that I’ve been able to share with them (good and bad).

But now my children are both in elementary school, and my purpose feels…diminished. I am the chauffeur and the cook and the housekeeper. I am the travel agent and personal shopper. The one who keeps everyone in clean undies. The keeper of the manners and the pleases and the thank yous.

But, as I work my way across the foyer with my mop, I can’t help but wonder…what else?

What else? What is next?

I am fortunate in that we don’t need me to work, at least not at the moment. For all the time that my children were in preschool and I looked forward to the time when I could have some free time to myself…I never considered for a moment that I would feel guilty about how I spent said free time once I had it. But I do.

I know. Guilt is a kind of sickness of its own making.

I go to Bible study (my spiritual workout) and to the gym (not enough) and volunteer in the school library (civic responsibility and all) but to curl up with a book in the middle of the day is a guilty pleasure. To meet up with a friend for coffee or lunch feels like playing hooky. I want to call myself a writer but feel that, to most everyone else, it is viewed as a hobby.

As a crappy housekeeper, my house is never as clean as it should be – which is not the end of the world but when you are the one not working and you can’t even keep control of the dust bunnies, well, it’s not particularly life affirming.

It’s also hard to keep focus on the screen in front of me or in the notebook where my pen scratches my thoughts across paper when I have the distractions of unfolded laundry or an unfinished shopping list fluttering at the edge of the counter. There are REAL jobs to be done.

When I was single, Saturday was my cleaning day and, living alone, it was quite a manageable task. Change the sheets, clean the bathroom, dust, vacuum and mop the small open space in my apartment all while my two loads of laundry tumbled quietly eight floors above. A few hours, done and dusted. (Figuratively and literally.) I’m always on the lookout for appliances that can help make my home clearning easier. A friend of mine told me about vacuum cleaners similar to https://www.bissell.com/vacuums/canister-vacuums that could be helpful with my cleaning.

These days, with kids and spouse, dog (and dog hair) and melting snow and salt, and a much larger house that we are blessed with, it is no longer a one-morning job. Goodness knows I try. The family knows how I fail.

It is hard to be a disorganized perfectionist. I just want to do SOMETHING well, and with too much yelling and even more dust, lately I’ve just felt…not enough. Something is missing.

And so I struggle to find a greater sense of purpose, to encourage (instead of scold), to inspire (instead of frustrate). I know I need to reframe my expectations, to set goals for myself.

To put the oxygen mask on first, before I take care of others.

But you know, that just isn’t the easiest thing to do.

If you have any advice, I’m happy to listen.

Right after I take care of the dishes.

Comments

  1. Lisa Troccoli says

    Funny this is exactly how I feel so I need tips too lol..!

  2. I have no tips – just commenting to say, “Me, too.” I have been in this place of which you speak for a very long time. I say “down with the guilt and the dishes!” Now, let’s go get some coffee (or a martini).

    • But I’m SOOOOO good at guilt! (It’s what I should give up for Lent…but if I didn’t do so well…would I feel guilty?)
      It’s funny, how it seems to be such a common thing but we all suffer it silently. Ok, I wasn’t so silent about it, but, you know what I mean.

      And YES to a coffee (before Erma in April, okay?)

  3. I was a stay-at-home mom for 20 years, so I have lots of experience with exactly what you’re feeling. As much as they need us so much of the day, there are hours when we have very little of purpose to do. I went through times of feeling quite useless and bored – but the truth is, even if you’re working there are times when you feel that way (though of course you generally still are earning money…).

    Try not to feel guilty – I never did. I knew that what I was doing for my kids was valuable to our family. I spent time with friends who were sahms too, which helped a lot. I shopped a little too much and read an abundance of wonderful books. But when it was time to be mom/wife/caretaker, I was all-in, 100%. And with school vacations, sick days, and so on, there really weren’t that many days that were wide open.

    They will need you more as they get older, not less, contrary to what many moms of young kids think. Middle school is the most difficult time of all, and in high school they need supervision and attention for all the reasons you probably already have thought of.

    Enjoy your quiet time! You’ve earned it, especially if you’re up mopping at 11:30 at night!

    • Thank you, Sharon.
      I know what I do for my kids is important..for them. I suppose the guilt comes in when I ask is it enough for me. Am I wrong to want something else? In the past I was one of those people who said “as soon as I lose 10 pounds…” “as soon as I graduate from college…” and missed out on a lot of the now, so I’m trying to live more in the moment…but I’m finding its perhaps in between those moments that I feel lost.

      And so I’m trying to connect that this “in between” time are still MY moments. It’s just what to do with them.

  4. A few years ago my mom asked me “Do you think I’ve wasted my life?” I couldn’t answer that question for her. It wasn’t my opinion that mattered, it was hers. I am the oldest of eight children, the youngest is 22. How could she think she ‘wasted’ her life? I have chosen a different path than my mother did and I can speak at length about guilt, where it comes from and what to do about it. But I wanted to share that I hear my mom’s voice in this post. Thank you for that.

  5. Jenn, it may be good to look into a part time job or course of some kind – within the hours the kids are at school. As they get older and have even more of a social life etc., I think you’ll have even more time (speaking from experience with kids aged 11,17 and 21). I think self-esteem really grows when you have a job role, especially as you’ve had a career in the past. You may be the type of person, like me, who gets a real sense of identity from work outside the home.

    • Julia, you probably hit the nail on the head – a sense of identity and validation of worth.
      If I could just parlay this writing thing into something, it would be kismet.

  6. Hi Jenn…this is a lovely post and so open and authentic. As a person who doesn’t have children I can only say that I tend to believe that we all are much more than just one or even two roles that we play in our lives. I’m sure that most mothers are certain that their primary purpose is to be a good mother–and that is wonderful for both their children and for the world at large. But it is possible to be in this world and have other ways to both be on purpose and to do something significant without children. With that said, it seems perfectly natural to me that you could also want more for yourself. Then the challenge becomes simply to find that place where your heart breaks open and your soul sings. ~Kathy

    • THANK YOU, Kathy. This says it all to me.
      I have to recognize that I have more than one role to play, and what a lovely way to put it: “find that place where your heart breaks open and sings”.

      Just lovely.

  7. Perhaps the time has come to embrace the fact that you ARE a writer as well as the holder of the kite strings at the centre of your family. Writing is a profession not a hobby, so be brazen and describe yourself as a writer to everyone you meet and on every form you fill in. Make sure your family know that you are serious. Commit to writing for x hours a week and stick to it, even if you have to juggle the times a bit or neglect the mopping. But don’t neglect your social life, because writing is potentially isolating and coffees/martinis with friends count as research!

    • Kate, you humble me. Thank you for this.
      And for the reminder of coffees/martinis. Good research, that!

      (And, on a completely unrelated note, I still terribly miss that Stoves range of yours as well as that lovely garden. I did a lot of writing at a table in that back garden while Macy tore around with a fern frond in her mouth. Sorry about that.)

  8. I don’t have any advice, but I really love how thought provoking this is. It’s true that we’re in a floundering place of sorts. But what I do know, is that we will eventually land right where we’re supposed to.

  9. I’ve been in your shoes, and wondered the same things you are wondering. And, you know what? It all works out. Deciding to stay home was a good decision, in my opinion, because we get the magical experience of being with our children at every step. But your time does come, and when it does, you will be ready to step forward into your next phase, proud of who you are.

    You have many purposes in your life. Be patient! And ever mindful of that one you are in now. Oh, how I miss it, but I love my purpose now, too.

    Marvelous, thought-provoking post.

    • I AM grateful to be able to stay home with the kids (and be the goofy room mom, and be a kid again going on field trips with them) – and you are right, I need to be more mindful and present in the role that I have.

      Except, maybe for the housekeeper role – I think I’m ok to daydream while I’m scrubbing toilet bowls. 🙂
      Thank you, Cathy.

  10. I don’t have children so I have no advice or comment to share, but I am a writer and I recognise another when I see one.
    You, my dear, are a writer, and perhaps that is your purpose. Your words have the power to transform the world ♥

Leave a Reply