I’m Not Selfless Because I’m Good, I’m Terrible…

I’m Not Selfless Because I’m Good, I’m Terrible…

“You were a TERRIBLE baby!!!”

I truly cannot tell you how many times I’ve been told this throughout my life, it’s pretty much my family’s motto. And it’s only now – at nearly 31 – that I’ve started to recognize how to be grateful for those angry words.

My mom was only 20 years old when she had me and while she did briefly marry the guy who knocked her up, it wasn’t for love but rather a fear of judgement, mainly from her parents.

She was lucky in that her parents let my mother live in their basement, providing her with a tribe of caregivers that included her brother, her parents, and her grandmother. I would include “Dad” in that situation, but he once “forgot” to tell anyone he was leaving the house and ended up leaving me alone for an entire day when I was only six months old – a story my family loved to tell to reinforce just how awful a human being he is (as if I didn’t know that…but more on him later).

Despite a house filled with family, I apparently stressed them to no end, wanting to be held constantly and crying should anyone dare put me down. I was once almost abandoned on a neighbor’s doorstep by my frazzled mother, only to have my grandmother rescue me before the authorities were called.

terrible baby

Now before we get too deep into the dysfunction, I want to make it clear that I’m in no way angry with my family. This is not a post to rage against them or put them in a bad light, but to help others recognize that through the chaos, we can in fact emerge with clarity….even if it takes 30+ years to happen.

Regardless, I do fully believe that part of their lamenting stemmed from deflection – I’m still reminded even now that I was a “terrible baby” and a “spoiled, selfish child.” Neither of which do I believe to be true of myself, but I do think certain family members say it as a way to comfort themselves for their own character flaws.

Now as I mentioned earlier, the male involved in my conception has never been a great guy, but I tried off-and-on over the years to have some sort of relationship with him. It became clear, though, when I enlisted in AmeriCorps (the US version of the Peace Corps) that this guy and I would never be father/daughter…or really much of anything in fact.

Upon learning of my enlistment, I received this e-mail from “Dad” as he raged about my desire to serve my country:

It’s bad enough you’re not continuing on to law school, but now this? You went to college for a good job, not to “volunteer.” If you had any concern for me you would start making money now, it’ll be your turn to take care of me soon, ya know. Ever see the play or movie Hair and the song that asks how can anyone be so cold especially ones that care about justice and strangers…Amber that reminds me of you. Are you trying to find yourself, do you get a real legit sense of purpose and accomplishment or do you have a mask of altruism that makes you feel accomplished when you get others to help others or is it for your resume…I mean how long will you continue to do this to yourself….and forget about the military its one thing to serve as a socialist pawn quite another to be part of cannon fodder for Obama‘s war machine! Have a nice life.

That was the last time we communicated, and frankly I’m okay with it. My lack of a father figure reinforced long ago that I would never marry a man who would fail as a father; and despite my husband growing up without a dad, he’s the best damn father to my children that I could have ever hoped for and then some.

Not only did my family’s lamenting ensure I’d end up with a man who made for a wonderful father, but they also made me an incredibly strong mother.

As a woman with her own high-needs baby (and without a village), I spent the first two years of my daughter’s life with her more-or-less attached to me constantly. Had my family not instilled in me what a “terrible baby” I was, perhaps I would’ve been less tolerant of my child’s needy nature…but probably not.

nursing baby

See I don’t think there’s such a thing as a “terrible baby.” Every baby – every human – has varying needs, some are okay with a bit of distance while others need constant reassuring. No child should be made to feel they owe their caregivers for….well, giving care. If nothing else, I believe most babies will feed off the energy of those around them and clearly the energy of my upbringing was often anything but comforting. And even though it’s taken me 30 years to recognize this – I’m grateful for the dysfunction, because while my altruism may have originally stemmed from a need to prove I’m not in fact terrible, I’m now all the better for it.

I struggle to say this in such a way that doesn’t make me appear to be a braggart but I am in fact a very altruistic person. I believe in teaching children to volunteer and in leading the way myself however I can.

I don’t do it for a “sense of purpose” or a mask to hide behind, but because I want this world to be a better place, not just for my own children, but for all the children. Every person, regardless of country, skin color, religious beliefs, or otherwise, deserves to be able to find peace and the only way that can happen is if we all strive together to do so.

There’s an innate need in me to help others and it doesn’t stem from a need to be recognized (in fact, I’d prefer not to be) nor do I necessarily believe I need to be good to get into Heaven – but that’s a whole ‘nother blog post for another time.

I truly think I’m good because for so long I was made to feel like I was bad. By schoolyard bullies who beat on me for being poor. By my family who berated me for being a child who cried. By teachers who would punish me for my mother’s tardiness. And of course by the man who disowned me as his daughter for serving my country.

I’m not selfless because I’m good, I’m selfless because I’m terrible.

A Mother Without a Village

A Mother Without a Village

They say “it takes a village” but what do you do when you’re a mother without one?

When I was in college, I interned at New Salem State Park – an interactive historic area where interpreters (such as myself) would dress up as characters from the early 1800s:

new salem state park

I didn’t actually eat him, promise! 😉

At certain times, it was quite literally hell – or what I imagine hell to be like, because I’ve never been so hot as when I had to wear a long-sleeve dress with petticoats and a day bonnet while stoking a fire in 95 degree weather. Despite the heat, I truly loved it, as the sense of community there was unlike anything I’d ever experienced before…or since.

It was the closest to “a village” as I’ve probably ever been.

In grade school, I was cast aside by my classmates for being poor. There was no village to be had there.

In high school, I was “the new girl” but had no idea what to make of those wanting to be my friends. I’d spent the last eight years of my life trying to hide from everyone and had no idea how to trust those who wanted to get to know me. There was no village formed there.

Now here I am, soon to turn 31, and I am a mother without a village. Sure, I occasionally have friends I go out with, but they’re not moms themselves, so if they actually remember to even invite me (hello, mom gap), comments are often made that leave me drowning in mommy guilt.

And as a work-at-home mom, I don’t even have colleagues to turn to. I probably have more conversations with my cat than anyone else and while he sure makes for a great listener, he’s not exactly known for his focus (unless there’s a laser involved…)

We have no family to help us navigate the world that is parenting, no date nights or child-free fun to be had together. There’s no one for me to cry to when it’s been a hard day and I even had to have the awkward conversation with my child’s teacher as to whether I had to put down emergency contacts because frankly…there are none.

It’s certainly not easy, but in the five years since becoming a mother, I’ve slowly learned more and more how to cope as a mother without a village. Hopefully if you learn nothing else through this article, it’s that even when you feel alone, you don’t have to be.

Look to Your Children

My babies are three and four, so they’re not exactly great conversationalists, but they are the most magnificent human beings I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing. As a stay-at-home mom, it can be really easy to lose sight of just how fascinating it is to watch our children grow. Between the constant demand for food, the screaming over who had what toy first, and the general chaos that comes from those tiny tornadoes, surviving as a work-at-home mom is often just that – surviving, but not necessarily thriving. If you take a step back, though, and REALLY focus in on the gratitude you feel for the beauty that is their existence, it makes life without a village that much easier. It won’t be long before they’re off finding and building villages of their own, so cherish them while you can.

mother without village

Balance the Work

If you’ve read the story of the med-free birth of my daughter, you already know just how demanding she can be. For the first two years of her life, I rarely put her down and she would often go on nursing marathons (we’re talking a latch time of 8+ hours!) Needless to say, I was the one sacrificing all the sleep during that time, but because of this, my husband is now the one who handles their bedtime routine. The best way to ensure a better life without a village is to ensure a balance between you and your partner. My husband works outside the home full-time but that doesn’t mean he then comes home, kicks up his feet, and calls it a day. Heh quite the opposite in fact! Typically when he comes home, it’s “tag, you’re it!” and he takes over the childcare duties while I tend to whatever it is I need to get done – whether that’s work, errands, or a much-needed bubble bath!

Get Involved

Last year we enrolled our children in a co-op preschool and it’s been by far one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my life. Not only do I have a strong say in my child’s education, but I get to be as actively involved as I wish to be, which includes serving on the board as their Membership Chair. If your child’s school/daycare has opportunities to be involved, make use of them! You’ll be able to start connecting with other parents while also showing your children just how much you care. If there aren’t many opportunities there, then look to your local not-for-profits. Volunteer work is essential to a happy life and it’ll be made all the happier when you connect with others who share the same passions and values that you do. Obviously it’s not always easy to get out of the house when you have children and no support, but you can always look for volunteer opportunities to do with your children or virtual opportunities – if you’re skilled in social media or any kind of virtual work, I guarantee there’s a not-for-profit in your area that would LOVE to make use of your talents.

volunteer work

Build a Virtual Community

If you follow my services site, you know that one of the biggest things I attribute to my success is that I looked to build a community early on. While it’s not necessarily the same as having in-person support, you can connect to people you’d otherwise never meet, people who can relate to your struggles, celebrate your successes, and be there when you need them. There are Facebook groups for literally everything and everyone, so check a few out and start making those connections!

(And if you’re a blogger or entrepreneur, you are always more than welcome in my group.)

Pay Now, Play Later

One of the perks of not having a village is that I have more time to focus on my work as a professional business strategist and blogging mentor. It can certainly be exhausting to work almost every night and weekend, but I know that the effort I’m putting in now will certainly pay off in the future. The same goes for whatever “work” you have in your life – whether it’s outside the house or not, if you can get it done today, tomorrow will be all the better for it. So don’t mope and spend your nights watching Netflix (well, not every night anyway!) Take that “extra” time and build up additional incomes streams so you can pay down debt and be all that much closer to financial freedom. Your future self will thank you.

mother without a village

Being a mother without a village is exhausting. It’s painful, it’s scary, and you probably cry more days than not. That’s okay. It’s not easy, but the fact that you’re still pushing forward shows just how strong you truly are.

Here’s to pushing forward together and relishing the villages we do have, small and mighty that they be.