The ideas have been percolating away in my brainpan. I have a desire to be happy, and part of the way I think I could be happier is by allowing myself to become a more well-rounded person. I’ve been doing that over the course of this past year, but I’ve mostly kept within my comfort zone and focused on internal development. Reading about Thomas Jefferson Education, I’m thinking more and more about ways in which I can develop my public self.
As a stay-at-home mom, it’s very easy for me to use my kids as an excuse not to build my public persona and not to make meaningful connections outside the family. And I have a point. My kids do ask for a lot of my attention and time. In order to blog some nights (like tonight), I have to pry their little fingers off of me and shut myself in a room. And because we’ve chosen to homeschool, I’m responsible for my children’s education in a more direct way than if we outsourced their schooling, and that takes time. In addition, there’s no built-in break when they’re away at school in which I could focus on non-kid tasks. Then there’s housework and food prep and taking care of the yard. Really, there’s no time left for a public life.
I mentioned this to a friend who volunteers with the same organization I do. I was lamenting that between the homeschooling and the attachment parenting, I didn’t know if I had time to take the phone calls and lead the meetings that are part of the tasks of our volunteer work.
She gently but firmly called me on that.
She suggested that there was something about the volunteer work that wasn’t working for me, and that I was using my kids as an excuse not to address the true issue. There’s plenty of time, she asserted, if I make the time. If I don’t want to do it, if it’s not a priority right now, that’s fine, but it’s not fair to blame my kids. In fact, she went on, she’s always found it important to show her children that Mom might not make money, but she does very valuable work that doesn’t directly relate to her role as a mother.
I started out feeling a little offended, but in the end, I had to admit that she was right. I still haven’t decided if the volunteer work I was doing before still speaks to me in the same way, but I definitely want my kids to see me active in our community and doing things that matter to me.
The reason I’m not doing these things isn’t because of my kids. It’s because I’m afraid.
I’m uncomfortable talking to people. I fear rejection. I fear being called to account for my actions and words even as I seek recognition for them. I fear devoting my time and emotional and physical energy to a project and then failing. I fear succeeding and then feeling a need to continue succeeding.
But I want a presence outside my family circle. I want my children to see me risking failure, facing my fears, and giving my time to projects that I believe in. These are things I want them to learn to do, and this is a lesson I can only teach them by example.
Rather than using my children as scapegoats for why I’m not doing these things (whatever “these things” turn out to be), they should be one of my reasons to do them. My kids shouldn’t carry the burden of all of my social interaction. I’m their mom, not their friend. As they get older, they’re gradually going to separate from me. I want them to feel confident doing so. I don’t want to cling to them because I’ve neglected to build up any life outside of my role as mother. I don’t want to make them feel guilty for pursuing their own interests that don’t include me. I want them to feel free to grow up without worrying about leaving Mom behind (or feeling angry at Mom for not letting them go).
But the biggest and best reason for me to develop my public life is for myself. If I have a thriving social life (which for an introvert is not a tall order) and activities that speak to me and that inspire me to learn more and take on challenges, I think I’ll be a happier person.
For now, I’m still gathering information. I’m finding inspiration, as I mentioned before, from the Thomas Jefferson Education materials I’m reading, as well as Susan Cain’s blog, “QUIET: The Power of Introverts,” Susan Wise Bauer’s The Well-Educated Mind, and even Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s Infidel (as odd as it might seem for a middle-class white SAHM in the suburbs of Boston to use the story of a Somali refugee as inspiration to develop her public life).
I’m not sure yet what exactly I’ll do, but everything seems to be pointing outward right now. This, I think, will be the direction of my blog for the next year: following my journey towards developing my public self.