Like so many others my life is MESSY and BEAUTIFUL but I wouldn’t want it any other way. As a speech-language pathologist I am privileged to serve young children in their homes getting to know their families on an intimate level. It’s incredibly rewarding to work so closely with those who want to impact their child positively and celebrate every ounce of progress they make. It is BEAUTIFUL. And then there are families I work with who are afraid and unwilling to accept their child’s unique challenges, have misinformed and unrealistic expectations for their baby and are dealing with more than just a child with developmental delays, like relationship woes, financial hardships and/or personal illness. It is MESSY. But in my 10 years working as an early intervention therapist I have come to love both the MESSY and the BEAUTIFUL. Because often times in the middle of the MESSY emerges the BEAUTIFUL. And I am beyond proud to be a part of that!
My life as a mom to my 3 children can be somewhat like my work. BEAUTIFUL are the days I feel confident in my job as their mom, days when everyone is happy, I’ve played with them, everyone is fed and clothed and dinner is made and on the table (somewhat close to dinner time!). MESSY are the days when I raise my voice too often, days when I feel incompetent, guilty and tired, days when I go to bed at night feeling defeated.
You know that saying, “You’re preaching to the choir”? That’s how I feel most days. Inside my head is the therapist voice saying, “You know they shouldn’t watch more than 2 hours of television a day,” “They need at least 90 minutes of exercise everyday to regulate their sensory system, of course they’re acting up because you didn’t take them outside,” “Why are you yelling, AGAIN, you know that method of discipline isn’t effective”. The voice that won’t stop! The voice is like an angel on my shoulder reminding me of what a “good”, well-educated parent should do in each tough situation according to the textbooks. This voice adds to my guilt and makes me feel my parenting is nothing near BEAUTIFUL but just a hot MESS!
My second child, my Owen, challenges me beyond my wildest expectations. He makes the angel on my shoulder shout even louder, “Why can’t you figure this child out?” “Where is your expert knowledge now?” Which in turn makes me feel like I am failing as his mom. But there came a time in my journey with parenting Owen when even the angel didn’t know what to say. It was as if my little ninja boy had dropped kicked her right off of my shoulder! My mommy instincts and my therapist knowledge were both stumped. With the look of a deer in headlights I thought, “What now?!?!”
At my wit’s end, realizing I no longer had any more tricks left in my (parent or therapist) bag I humbly turned to my family, friends and coworkers. What I saw as only MESSY, my failure to know what to do with my own child, with time and lots of help turned into something BEAUTIFUL. I struggled to get out of bed, afraid to face another difficult day of battling Owen’s strong will and control seeking behaviors…MESSY. My coworkers offering their expertise out of the goodness of their hearts, giving me behavior modification and sensory strategies to make our days easier, allowing me to enjoy my son again…. BEAUTIFUL! Being scared to take on the challenge of beginning a new diet that may or may not help Owen’s behavior, attentiveness and health…MESSY. Being encouraged by friends that I could do anything for 30 days, council and guidance offered freely by friends who had tried the diet…. BEAUTIFUL! Navigating the new diet with every outing, birthday party, school and church function so that Owen wouldn’t get anything he shouldn’t have…MESSY. Owen’s preschool and Sunday school teachers offering to serve snacks that were approved for his diet so that he didn’t feel excluded…BEAUTIFUL! The guilt that I had messed up and there was no fixing it, that my failure as a mom to my son had ruined him forever…. MESSY. Kind words from family and friends that we all do the best we can, that we all learn along the way and are forgiven…BEAUTIFUL! Taking the chance, putting in the extra time to consult with others, the effort required to follow through with suggestions, the headache of staying strictly on the diet to test its effectiveness…hard and MESSY. The fact that all our hard work paid off, our family has less stress as a whole, and I have been given the unexpected opportunity to personally relate to other moms….ABSOLUTELY BEAUTIFUL!
In the BEAUTIFUL MESS of my life as both a mom and a therapist I have learned over and over again that we are all in this together, that we all belong to one another, and together we can do hard things. It was difficult for me to share with others my struggles with figuring out my own kid despite my education and training as an early intervention therapist. I feared judgment; I felt like exposing my MESS would make me look like a failure as both a mom and a professional. But once I began putting myself out there to ask and accept help, once the feeling of vulnerability melted away, I felt proud, honest, authentic and more at peace. Feeling alone, denying yourself the opportunity to be helped by others, pretending to be something you’re not feels MESSY. Reaching out, accepting help and forgiving yourself feels BEATIFUL. My hope and prayer is that my confession of my MESSY BEAUTIFUL life will inspire others to embrace their own MESSY BEAUTIFUL life. That they too will forgive themselves enough to see that from the MESS comes something BEATIFUL if they will only give it a chance.
This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE! And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE!