I have a fun home. There’s lots of loud music, dance parties, picnics on the living room floor, meals as a family, lively and opinionated discussions, art projects, laughter, meditation, singing, and toys all over the place. My kids are often only partially dressed, the kitchen is almost always some version of a mess because it’s the room we gather in the most and I’m obsessed with cooking, the floors don’t get cleaned often enough, and there’s always laundry waiting to be washed and a pile to be folded. It’s functional chaos and seriously my happiest place on earth!
But it wasn’t always this way. I used to care way too much about how my house looked, mostly for the benefit of company I rarely hosted and to live-up to the standard my mother set, in an attempt to be perfect at adulting. I credit my strict upbringing, first-born birth order, type A personality, and social media for my desperate desire to appear capable of juggling everything better than most. This previous version of myself was fueled by compliments like “you make it all look so easy”. I made my life look special on social media, but I was extremely unhappy. I prioritized chores and the appearance of perfection over simply enjoying time with my family and living in my home. I never relaxed because that felt lazy. With limited time available after work and responsibilities to be truly present and make memories, my priorities were upside down, and the pressure I placed on myself created stress and unhappiness that carried from one day to the next. I felt like I was failing at life every single day, and I cared more about how dinner looked on the table than if my children would like their meal. I was easily stressed, quick to critique, and went to bed feeling disappointed and wondering why my efforts weren’t creating the happiness I longed for.
It’s easy to place value in the wrong areas and sometimes very hard to objectively see our own reality. I worked my ass off to make things “better” for my children while navigating a loveless relationship, loneliness, financial stress and all the responsibilities that come with owning a home, full-time work, and raising children. I really thought that I could out-work, out-pretend, and out-plan my unhappiness, and somehow I’d wake-up one day to a life that didn’t suck. Thankfully I found the strength to fight for freedom from my dysfunctional relationship, and when it was finally just me and the kids in my home I felt equally excited and scared for our future. I knew I wanted my home to be the safest and happiest place on earth for my family but I didn’t know how to make that a reality. Knowing what doesn’t work doesn’t automatically mean you know what will work or what needs to change, so I started reading motivational books and blogs, listening to pod casts, journaling about what I wanted, and honestly looking at how I could make little changes that would create a happy culture within my home. With one small action after another I transformed how I was living, thinking, and what I was prioritizing until my home became a place of peace.
Like every family, we are a combination of different ages, preferences and personalities living under the same roof, and that comes with natural challenges. I believe the foundation of safety is acceptance, and I also believe that my children need the freedom to experience and learn on their terms as much as I need the freedom to be my unique self. This meant I needed to relax! I decided I was no longer going to be a referee for my children, and stepping away from their minor conflicts allowed them the opportunity to start working things out without a mediator, and released me from the burden of being too involved and delivering too many punishments. I want to be my children’s biggest cheerleader and only step in as a disciplinarian when truly necessary. It took a million baby steps and purposeful actions, and at least a year before I could honestly say that the changes I made felt natural, but with each day I discovered a little more emotional freedom, felt more relaxed, and was more physically and spiritually available to live in the moment. The more I changed the more I discovered that I didn’t care what others thought or perceived about my life. I went from sharing pictures and stories on Instagram and Facebook daily, to posting less than a dozen images in a year. I needed to create my normal, my happiness, and set priorities based on my lifestyle without the influence of carefully crafted lives on social media or the desire for immediate gratification through likes and comments. I’m not living the same life as a parents or friends. THIS IS MY LIFE, and I felt a desperation to set a better example for my children. I’m not saying that happiness means turning your back on responsibility. I didn’t need to stop cleaning my house to prioritize time with my children, I didn’t need to stop cooking beautiful and healthy meals to prioritize my children, and I didn’t need to change the appearance of my home for the benefit of friends and family… I needed to stop comparing my life to others and heal my broken expectations about life. The childhood version of myself had a picture of what life and family should look like, and she was wrong. I’m so thankful for the heart-breaking, eye-opening experiences that motivated me to change and heal.
Is the improved version of my family life perfect? No. That’s not even the goal or a consideration anymore. Is it easy? No. It’s life and life isn’t easy, but the time we spend together as a family and the way we live together is purposeful and meaningful, even when messy and hard-as-hell. I’m modeling a life of choice, adaptation, happiness and quality time for my children, even when the circumstances aren’t ideal, and they live in a home where it’s encouraged to be an individual and safe to have an opinion. It’s a peaceful reprieve from the demands, confusion, and challenges of the world around us. I apologize when I’m wrong, ask questions when I want to yell, cry and ask for advise when I’m lost in a difficult situation and feeling the loneliness of single-parenting, and like all parents I mess-up often enough that I fear I’m failing my children. Like a miracle, every time a shadow comes over my home, one of my children shares something they’re grateful for or asks for a dance party, a friend sends an encouraging message, or I read something that reminds me that hardship is temporary, and the mood is reset. What a blessing that every day is a new beginning and that my children are loving and forgiving as I continue to grow, learn, and transform my life into something beautiful and meaningful. My prayer is that the adult version of my children will be more resilient and better at living in the moment because of everything we’ve been through together and the thoughtful way in which I’m showing up for them.