Too Much Slack in All the Wrong Places

This weekend was my church’s big twice yearly conference. It’s a time when Mormons all over the world watch church at home in their pajamas for 2 days as it’s broadcast from Salt Lake City. The prophet and other church leaders speak, the Tabernacle Choir sings, and I make a big fat omelet and crochet a couple of rows on the blanket I’ve been working on since 1998. Good times.

The talks are generally uplifting and motivational and I finish the weekend with my head buzzing about all the great things I want to accomplish and all the ways I’m going to transform into the best neighbor, sister, wife, friend and mother ever in the world.

This weekend I mostly just thought about sleep. I had trouble staying awake, which made me think about sleep. I made a plan to start getting up early to read and meditate. I decided that in order to do this, I’d better start getting to sleep earlier each night. I resolved to be more patient with and attentive to my kids, making each moment with them count and taking advantage of all the little teaching moments I have. A well-rested version of me could be very good at this.

So sleep. If I can get enough sleep, I’ll become the best person EVER. That was my conclusion. Then came a talk by Julie Beck, the leader of our worldwide women’s organization, The Relief Society. Her talk was bold and specific about ways mothers can become exceptional at what they do. When she finished, I turned to Dan and said, “That talk’s gonna make a lot of people feel inadequate. I thought it was great but ”˜people’ might not like to hear about all the things they should be doing that they’re not. They’ll feel like they’re not good enough.”

Dan commented that he thought it was motivational. It gave people something to aspire to. Hmmm… high aspirations… I remember having those — incredible goals that carry the possibility for failure. Now it feels like I generally only want to attempt something if it has a VERY high chance for success, no great aspirations here, just hoping to stay afloat. If I start something and it seems too hard, I bail and switch my goal to something more attainable. Can’t lose the weight? I guess I’ll just learn how to make perfect fudge brownies instead. Not doing well getting to bed on time? Well then I’d better stop scheduling activities before noon.

I set my kids up for failure all the time because that’s how they learn and grow. After several attempts and frustrations they finally experience success and triumph. I would never let my kids learn to walk, do chores, ride bikes, read, use the potty, or compose arias on the harmonica if I were afraid to give them any task that they couldn’t master on the first try. If only I could learn to mentor myself the way I mentor my kids. I have big fat hairy goals and expectations for them but I love them no matter what the outcome and instead of berating them or giving up on their success, I applaud their efforts and encourage them to keep trying. I help keep their focus on the end goal. “Won’t your bottom feel so nice when you keep your pants dry every day? Let’s see if we can keep THIS pair dry, okay?”

Sure, kids need down time, time to just space out, time to focus on being a kid and having fun, but they also need goals and progress and learning experiences. Moms need downtime too but we also need goals and progress and learning experiences. I find myself craving downtime, hunting for recreation or “me time”, and focusing way too much energy on my needs. “I’m a selfless mother, for the love of green beans! Who’s gonna take care of me if I don’t?” I believe this attitude is good in moderation. You can’t help your family if you’re not functioning, but it really is a slippery slope to a pit of selfishness and spa pedicures. When spending quality time reading to and playing with my kids is a “break” from all the me-centered activities I have going on, I know there’s a problem.

I find that the longer I’m a mom, the more I feel entitled to “slack.” It’s sort of en vogue to be a slacker mom, to joke about how big your pile of laundry is, how long it’s been since you did dishes, how you’ve given up trying to feed your kids enough veggies or that you’re always late for everything. I really try to be real, not keep up pretenses and not pretend to be perfect when I’m clearly not. This seems to be a trend, getting real, being honest, talking about every hard little thing about motherhood and homemaking and sort of wallowing in the rough stuff. We want to make each other feel better by sharing all of our own inadequacies, which I think can be really helpful to an extent. But there should come a point where we progress from commiseration to encouragement.

There’s a fine line between being down-to-earth and wallowing in negativity and low self-expectations. I think we should all sit down and define what mothering excellence means to us personally and then set about planning and trying to achieve it. Then with each little hiccup or tumble along the way, we should encourage ourselves the way we encourage our children to reach major milestones, with tenderness, with mercy and with a gentle push to keep going.

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47 Responses to Too Much Slack in All the Wrong Places

  1. Meredith says:

    But there should come a point where we progress from commiseration to encouragement.

    Right on the money.
    Thanks for this reminder.

  2. marian says:

    This is SUCH a hard balance to find and maintain! There can be fine lines and slippery slopes between taking care of yourself reasonably and self-indulgence, between sacrificial service and (ultimately self-focused) martyrdom, and so on.
    “… define what mothering excellence means to us personally and then set about planning and trying to achieve it.” Thank you for the encouragement. (And may I emphasize the “us personally” part? When I look at my life and circumstances and priorities, the thing I need to let slide to accomplish the big ones may be one of your top priorities, and that is OK.)

  3. Marian – the “us personally” is the most omportant part of that sentence. I could also add – “at the moment.” If you’re like me, your perspective and capabilities are always changing.

  4. Wow, Kathryn. Awesome post.

  5. Millie says:

    **clap clap clap**

    I said to my husband, “It’s a good thing a woman is giving this talk.” Around the web I’ve seen negative feedback about her talk and while I agree that it was to the point, it wasn’t anything I hadn’t heard before.

    It definitely rubbed some people the wrong way, but then, to some extent, the talks about things we REALLY need to improve on usually do.

  6. Most excellent post! Once again, balance and moderation are the key!

  7. Susie-Q says:

    Great post. Goals, planning, progress. I could definitely use more of that in my life. Thank you for the reminder and encouragement.

  8. This has got to be the most insightful thing I’ve read in a long, long time.

    Not caring was cool. Now, it’s being a victim. People get more respect from what happens to them rather than what they actually do in life. British author, diplomat, and all-around amazing man Rory Stewart wrote an amazing article on this titiled “Victims as Heroes” in the Prospect Magazine a while back. I’ll email it to you, Daring =)

    This is a great post. Really enjoyed it.

  9. Emily R says:

    I love Julie Beck’s directness. I’m going to be better.

  10. Jeana says:

    Excellent post, Kathryn!

  11. Marta says:

    Agreed, that was a very bold talk and while I’m not a mom, I think the excessive “me-time” slacker idea can be expanded to women in general as well, which is oddly something I’ve been thinking about lately. So often we hear people say in and out of the LDS church, “Don’t forget to take time for you, learn to say no” etc., which is of course true to an extent, but as women we should be striving for better, like you said, and finding that balance of service, work and personal care becomes increasingly difficult. At least for me. 🙂

  12. Sarah says:

    In the Lutheran religion we talk a lot about vocation calling. And, I often have to be reminded that being a mom is a vocation calling and not to treat it like anything less. We will always need lots of reminders and lots of encouragement.

    You share some good thoughts.

  13. Emily says:

    Kathryn–I’m so glad that you wrote this post.

    I wonder to myself if the reason so many women are upset about this talk is that “mothers who know, do less.” Less Godless recreation, less self-indulgence, more order, more worship.

    In fact, people complaining about this talk has turned me off of several blogs. I seek to be encouraged and uplifted, not to listen to someone moan about something so inspiring.

    I also agree, that sometimes the more “me” time I have, the more I crave it. To the obvious detriment of my family. There’s a difference between caring for yourself and pampering yourself, to be certain.

  14. Idaho says:

    Good post Kathryn! 🙂

  15. boomama says:

    Kathryn – This is so excellent. SO excellent. The last three paragraphs hit me right between the eyes.

  16. bon says:

    Yeah… all I know is I listened to the talk, then locked myself in the bathroom for a half hour or so of bawling. I haven’t been able to process the talk yet.

    So far as I could tell, not one single thing in the laundry list of items she talked about being things that “mother’s know” are one of my strengths. We also teach our kids to play to their strengths too, don’t we?

  17. You have very eloquently addressed this topic- Kudos to you! It is true, the backlash on the blogosphere about that talk has been harsh (as I am sure you have seen). I did not find the talk demeaning at all, did I feel a little overwhelmed by what she was saying we need to be? Yes. But, if you really listened to her talk, the logic is very clear. A house of order is a house of learning, you cannot learn in a constant state of chaos.

    As for the me-centered-ness, I cannot tell you how many times I have thought about abandoning blogging. Not because I want to, but because I think it will help me focus LESS on myself and more time on the people that matter. It is my own personal struggle.

    I cannot agree more with your sentiment that that our society has become very “me” oriented. While Oprah has done much good int he world, I think she has helped to normalize selfishness. I cannot watch her show anymore without noticing the ever present theme “that it is all about YOU and what feels good and right for you”.

    Anxious to read the talk again once the transcript is available and to hear more about what other women thought.

    About your laundry pile? You CAN conquer the laundry!!! (that is the cheerleader in me)

  18. MommyJ says:

    I laughed out loud when you mentioned your crocheting, only because I have a blanket that only gets worked on during general conference. A few more years, and it just might be finished! Great post, and an excellent reminder. I related, and remembered my own conviction of the past two days to make some goals and really get to it. First time visiting and posting… happy to find you!

  19. Cousin Annie says:

    I remember that blanket from … was it 2001?

    You are the greatest!

  20. Angela says:

    There is a fine line, you are right. I err on the side of “wallowing” because I’m trying to keep it real.

    “Aspirations: Incredible goals that carry the possibility for failure”
    You need to market this. I’d buy a wall board to decorate my living room with that on it. Just a thought.

  21. MaryC says:

    Great, great post! I heard the talk and thought, “Wow, that’s a lot to think about” and then the kids started crawling all over and I got distracted, so I haven’t been able to sit down and think about it yet, but a little later, I did write down a couple of goals I had been thinking over for a while and I think it was that talk that spurred me into doing it. I’ll be looking for the talk when the Ensign comes out to read over again. I have read some of the upset posts and I can see where they are coming from about certain points, but at the same time, I think she was trying to speak in the style of the prophet and general authorities by being so direct and to the point, so that was refreshing. Anyway, lots to think about!

  22. angie says:

    Delurking to say thanks, I really needed to read that today. I just had a baby two weeks ago and my two year old daughter really needs me right now. It would be so easy to let everything go and use the new baby excuse, but I’m going to rise above it and try – for today – to be an excellent mother to both of them. And if I fail, tomorrow is another day. I will get up and try again!

  23. Big Mama says:

    Great post. So true. Thanks for sharing.

  24. Azúcar says:

    At first I was discouraged and upset by her talk, and then I decided to take a look at my attitude. What is it in me that is hindering my growth to be better rather than scraping-by-adequate? I think that that was what Pres. Beck was saying, that we should strive. I must resolve and take action to be the best.

  25. Azúcar says:

    And in doing so, completely run myself into the ground over the little things…

    ARGH. Perspective is little desired but much needed in my heart.

  26. grammyelin says:

    I liked the aspect of her talk that emphasized what a noble calling motherhood is and that those of us who have put jobs/careers on hold to raise wonderful children are doing the Lord’s work. I wished that she had also mentioned having fun with our roles as mothers and really enjoying our kids. You and your siblings were always so much fun to have around. I am thankful for all the fun and laughter we shared as you were growing up.

    By the way, I think you are doing a wonderful job as a Mom and I am very proud to claim you! Hang in there. It will be so worth it all in the end.

    I never knew when you were little that what I was actually doing was raising best friends for myself. the benefits far outweigh the sacrifices!

    Love you!

  27. Heather O. says:

    Excellent post. Thanks.

  28. Josi says:

    I hated and loved the talk for all the reasons stated above–I want so badly to feel like I’m right where I should be, and yet “the Lord Chastens those that he loves” and you totally hit the nail on the head in regard to the me-time issue. I get plenty of me-time and yet I want more, more, more, more, more.

    All the things i hated about the talk were the exact things I’ve been hating about myself. Having someone else point them out was hard, and yet, that’s what are leaders are there for and it does feel good to do better. Baby steps.

    Loved the post

  29. falwyn says:

    Is it bad that I’m glad I was distracted and not listening as well as I could during that talk? Though I did hear some.

    I completely agree with you on this post. At the same time, I struggle so. very. hard. right now (and always?) with figuring out balance and feeling totally overwhelmed. I don’t know what the answer is to that. Unfortunately.

  30. Heat says:

    Wow! Awesome post! Very true too.

  31. Tiffany says:

    I think that too many people got the message that our houses have to look perfect all the time (I don’t think she actually talked about this directly–correct me if I’m wrong). I think a house of order is something much different. A house of order has rules and guidelines and routines and expectations. A house of order strives to maintain some sense of cleanliness and organization. I think Sister Beck would definitely say that teaching the gospel is more important than worrying about a dirty dish in the sink. It is more important that your child “cleans” the bathroom than it really being clean.

    I think Elder Oaks’ talk had the same basic theme. Good, better, best. How do we spend our time? How do our goals measure up? Are we really spending our time and effort being the best or are we settling for good or even better?

    DYM, I enjoyed your post and your insight and the comments of your readers. Good food for thought.

  32. Lori says:

    I am so glad I’m not the only one who feels totally inadequate after listening to a motivational speaker!

  33. Jennifer B. says:

    Well said, Kathryn. My favorite part, “But there should come a point where we progress from commiseration to encouragement.”


  34. Jana says:

    Love this post. I’m kinda teary as I think about it. I am so glad you did it, and wish I had read it yesterday while I was in the muck and mire and negativity of other blogs. Thanks for writing it. I am not going to be a slacker anymore!

  35. Pam in Utah says:

    I am glad I didn’t read a single other blog-especially if they were so negative! I remember thinking she used the “Homemaker” word and that hasn’t been used in a while. I heard someone today say that that was a bold word to use (in a good sense). I don’t understand why people don’t seem to appreciate this needful, important, challenging, hard to do right position of “Mother, Nurturer, Inspirer, Teacher” as much as they perhaps used to? In the same breath, I was also happy to hear the first of three suggestions from the Pres. two weeks ago was—1.Study Hard. I think that will help us be better Mothers and better people and better prepared for other stages in life that don’t require so much laundry time, etc. 🙂 Loved this post. And You.

  36. Sara says:

    As a mother, it took the agony of watching my health and my home fall apart this year to finally realize that I couldn’t “do it all” as so many around me seem to be doing. I finally made the commitment to quit my job (which was only 10 hours a week to begin with teaching music mostly out of my home) and focus all my energies on my home and my family. I’ve never been happier and I cried tears of joy all the way through Sister Beck’s talk because I felt that it was vindicating every choice I had made this year. It was really a shock to me to hear about all the negative criticism, especially from mom’s who had never experienced the conflicting priorities of balancing work with motherhood and have always been right in there living the “homemaker” dream. Hmmm. I guess we hear what we need to hear at whatever stage we’re in.

  37. lainakay says:

    I’m embarassed to admit that I actually missed hearing this talk because I was busy having “me time.” I’ll have to wait for the transcript.

    Appleonastick wrote down exactly what I would have written, so refer to her comments for my comment?… Thanks for a great wake-up post, Daring One!

  38. Christie says:

    What’s funny about this post is that I turned to my hubby after that specific talk and said, “That is JUST what I needed to hear!” But in the same breath I said that I knew many women who would be offended by it. I think it’s great that they tell us all the time that we are special and wonderful and amazing and daughters of God, but because of the kind of person I am, I need to be motivated to be better. I need to be kicked in the butt or I will just continue on at my leisurely pace just being mediocre. There is a delicate balance between knowing that we are good enough, but that we should always be trying to be better. That’s the point of this life, right? Anyway, thanks for the post. As usual, I look forward to reading your blog!

  39. Bonnie says:

    Thanks for the encouragement. Nothing feels better than knowing we are seizing a teachable moment or really selflessly “taking care of” our family. Preparing hearts and homes the way that we believe God intended… It’s just such a hard balance to find and mediocrity is so easy to fall into. Thanks for the challenge, it’s so funny that with two seperate religious beliefs our values can be so much the same… honor our husbands, care for, teach and train our children, and cherish them all to smitherines! God Bless you Cathrine!!!!!

  40. talitha says:

    Thanks for this post! It confirmed what I have been thinking about where my head needs to be at as a woman, wife, and mother. I was uplifted and motivated by Sister Beck’s talk! Would it be okay with you if I used a quote from you in this post for my quote of the week on my blog? I will link to you, if you like.

    Thanks again!

  41. michal says:

    I loved Sister Beck’s talk, and not because I am perfect at all of the things she mentioned. To me, she was holding up motherhood as something wonderful, as our destiny that we need to embrace. It is so important to remember that even though laundry and housework are a part of our roles at mothers that there is so much more at stake. And when she did mention cleaning, she talked about teaching our children the value of work–which is rare these days. I found her talk to be incredibly uplifting and invigorating and I have rewound the TiVo and watched it several times. Sister Beck is proclaiming that motherhood is not for slackers. I don’t think that she intended for anyone to wallow in guilt (not the Lord’s way) but to wake us up. We need to be the kind of mothers she described, but that will not happen overnight.
    One of Satan’s many attacks on women in the world and in the LDS Church is to make them feel guilty and almost take pleasure in wallowing in guilt. It is brilliant on his part because it paralyzes us and also stops us from attempting to change–often, we just decide that we’re going to fail no matter what, so why try?
    Anyway, I feel like those who criticized her talk need to watch it again without getting defensive. I trust that she knows what she’s talking about. Time to humble ourselves a bit.
    Just found your blog and I love it. I’ll be back!

  42. Beth says:

    Really appreciated your insights here, especially about failing being the way to grow (’cause even though I had intentions, I am not living up to what I want to be after hearing Sister Beck’s talk!).

    Off to try to be better! Thanks!!

  43. mindy says:

    I really like what you wrote about there being a time to progress from commiseration to encouragement. I’ve been feeling this need a lot lately. It is hard to know where to begin, and how to gauge whether your fellow moms are ready for this.

  44. sheena says:

    So, as usual it is very nice to come here and to have some things, that have briefly touched the far corners of my brains, be put into actual words and thought processes. Thank you…great points you have made. you are wise and I am glad you’re my friend….xoxoxo

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  46. Lindy says:

    I’m just now reading this (i’ve had it saved in my feeds for a few weeks), and it is SO what I needed to hear. I love the last paragraph (and the sentence just prior to that). Some days I feel like Beck’s talk was powerful and inspiring, and other days I feel it’s a anxiety-inducing guilt trip. You have helped me to gain some perspective…thanks much.

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