Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Honest to goodness conversations

Like I said, I've got a lack of social grace and am always trying to gain some. Mainly because I really, really, really want others to feel good about themselves but also because settling for being mediocre at something is not in my blood.

Anyway, to me, social grace is not about charm or charisma (though those things would be wonderful to have); it is about being REAL and being able to connect in a meaningful way. All of us are human (duh) with insecurities, accomplishments, struggles, humor, and strengths worth sharing. The major obstacle to being real with someone else is that it is hard to communicate exactly who we are and what we have experienced because we are so concerned with how we are perceived and how we make the other person feel.  So we often portray ourselves as plastic-- or as abrasive steel.

Let me give an example. My sister and her husband are bravely and selflessly taking care of a 4-month-old baby boy for a few weeks while his mother recovers from heart surgery. We talked on Sunday, and my sister shared how hard the past few days have been for her. . . taking care of a baby is a full-time job yet she has a full-time career. . . she is tired. . . he needs constant movement to be happy. . . he snacks throughout the day instead of eating good meals. . . he still gets up in the middle of the night and doesn't nap well. . .is this what parenthood is? Is all this work worth it?

While I told her that yes, parenthood can be exhausting and depressing and isolating, it can also be really great. And that while the baby stage seems long while you're in it, it seems short in retrospect. You know, all the cliches (that also happen to be true).

Then she commented that it is hard to find a mom who will be honest and say, "Oh, I'm really struggling with this." Or, "I can't figure out how to [get my kid to use the potty/speak respectfully/sleep through the night/etc]." Most moms simply say, "Taking care of children can be hard, but it's the best job in the world" or something else cliche (yet true).

So here is my sister, trying to separate out the truthful- from the save-face-and-time-conversations, wondering if all the moms she has talked to lie about enjoying what they do or if they are better at the mom-thing than she is.

It struck me that if we were all just honest and real with each other, we could probably make others feel a lot better about themselves.

I wondered how I missed the boat on being honest with her during the hard, hard days when Coralie was a baby. I think I was probably trying to be sensitive to her, knowing that since she didn't have a baby she probably didn't want to hear me whine and moan about what a hard time I was having. But what ended up happening was that I didn't convey real life, real Kathryn. I realized that in trying to be so "considerate" of my audience and what she may or may not be interested in hearing, I was being dishonest.

For many casual relationships, I do think this filtering is appropriate: the preschool teacher does not care that I snapped when one of my kids did something (minor and) annoying or that I cried when I felt left out of a friendship. But in the meaningful relationships (whether that means lifetime friendships or getting-each-other-through-this-hard-season friendships), we need to be less concerned with whether or not we are being relevant to our audience and more concerned with being real, sharing what we really feel deep-down, the fears we have, the paranoias we experience, the victories we earn.

I do think sensitivity to an audience is important, like if someone just lost a pregnancy, it may not be a great time to complain that you are yet again pregnant and that you can get pregnant just by looking at your husband. Or if someone is out of work and really struggling financially, it may not be a great time to share all about your recent European vacation. But being sensitive is very different than not being real.

I don't think that writing about this has really firmed up any of my thoughts, unfortunately. I just know that to make an audience feel his worth is not an easy task. It requires a dance between sensitivity and honesty, between filters and an unapologetic portrayal of life. I have a feeling that balance probably takes a lifetime to achieve. I do believe it's a goal worth pursuing.

If you are reading this, then know that these are my goals when talking to you. I am trying to be real and honest with you in a way that validates who you are because I value you and your wisdom and experiences.

So to my sister: taking care of a baby is exhausting. It makes you question your competencies, your capacities, and your character. It is a full-time, all-consuming job. I have NO IDEA why God made it so hard, but I know that His job as a "parent" is even harder than ours.  When I feel like a totally crappy and miserable mother, I know two things: 1) I am not the only one to have felt this way, and 2) God doesn't ask us to keep the baby from crying or to feed the baby on the perfect schedule. . . our job is to try our very best. Try for this minute to be a loving mom, then try for the next minute. When we mess up, the baby won't remember. And God doesn't hold it against us, either. Yes, children are hard work, and yes, they are worth it. They are the truest picture of how much God loves us, and in return we get the chance to raise up little people who can acknowledge who God is and what He has done.

Sleep be damned. (And I love you.)


  1. You are such a good writer. I love these thoughts. I feel like when I'm writing blogs, I tend to leave out the nitty gritty of child-raising, but in real life, I feel it's all I talk about. I need to be more real myself, at least in blog land.

  2. I so wish I could write like this. You are so talented Kathryn, and an amazing mom too.