Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Importance of Working Happy

On Mother's Day last month I woke up to a delicious breakfast cooked by my children. I received a litany of hand-drawn cards with ego-boosting thoughts like, "You're the biggest star," and "I love you the greenest." I received poems written at school about my expert mothering skills, and a gift from my husband that I am so excited about:  an Olloclip that allows me to take fish-eye, wide-angle and macro-lens photos with my iPhone. I cannot wait to use it!

But my BEST mother's day gift came from my mother a little over two months ago.

About 10 weeks ago I made a huge life decision to quit my job as a school administrator at the private school my children attend, and accepted an amazing opportunity at another local private school. Accepting this new position meant moving my children to this new school this fall, forcing them to leave the school they love and the only friends they've ever known.

I battled this decision, losing weeks of sleep weighing pros and cons (both known and supposed) of accepting or declining this offer. In the end, I decided to follow the instructions of flight attendants everywhere and put on my own oxygen mask first. I am a much better mom and wife when I am happy. And I needed this change to be happy. 

The day I told my children they would not be returning to their school they both--as expected--cried, "NO! We can't do this!" and both their tears and mine began flowing from the shock of hearing it out loud. But after about 40 minutes of questions, tears and more questions, they began to accept this was really happening, and that it would mean great things and a new adventure for us all. We went to the beach as a family that day, the sun and the waves soothing us all. By day's end my children were smiling again, laughing, jumping and photobombing each other, as happy, healthy children should.

My daughter even made me this sign, which still sits on our refrigerator today:

My children are amazing and resilient, and I couldn't have asked for a better end to the tumult I had been putting myself through for weeks.  

Many people would have turned to their mother for guidance and encouragement during such emotionally scary times. I, however, am not typically one of those people. I rarely call on my mother for guidance or encouragement because our relationship has been rocky for as long as I can remember. We have hurt each other and let each other down multiple times over the years. As a result, emotional walls that were built up, torn down and built up again creating massive scar tissue tattooed with the word PRIDE. 

The fear of hurt and disappointment keeps me quiet. I deal with big issues on my own, and when she asks, "How are you doing?" I assume this question is insincere and--like a despondent teenager--answer, "Fine," and change the subject.

But this time, I didn't stay quiet. I shared my concerns and my thoughts about this huge decision, asking her to listen and virtually rub my back and tell me I could handle this and I was going to be OK, as mothers should do. I ignored the scar tissue because, as of late, I have seen growth and a true desire for change in us (both my mother and myself), and I decided it was time to reach out and open up to her again. My mom has been inviting me on mother/daughter trips for the past six years, and though it has taken a while, the most recent trips have brought real breakthroughs for our relationship.

A few days after confiding in her, she did exactly what I would have wanted a mother to do:  She supported and encouraged me through words and a thoughtful surprise. She let me know she was there for me and that she was lauding my success and happiness.

After opening up to her several weeks ago, I came home to find a package waiting for me. It was a book called Choose the Life You Want: 101 Ways to Create Your Own Road to Happiness. The book was inscribed, "Good luck on the new road you've chosen, Love, Mom." A card with the book said, "I'm so proud of you for making the choices that will make you happy!" 

I was beyond elated to receive this gift, more so because of what it represented. She really listened to me when I spoke to her. She did not try to compare my situation to one of her own and "win" as the most stressed person. She heard me, and she knew I needed her approval. She was proud of me. She was there for me. Because I allowed her to be by opening up to her. Who'd have thunk it?

It's been a good year for our family so far. Full of surprises and turns I couldn't have seen coming, even as recently as six months ago. But here we all are, surviving, growing, changing together through good times and bad as families do. I feel so lucky to have all this support from my parents, husband and children about the choices I've made. I also feel so proud of myself for not settling or waiting for happiness, but for going out and actively finding and making my own.