The pungent smells of the microwaved meal of what must have been someone’s leftover Chinese food made me wonder if I would be able to stomach sitting in this waiting room for three hours. The addition of the chronic buzz of the fluorescent lights, the dated posters (1981!) of art festivals gracing the walls (including a framed puzzle of dog breeds), and the Slow Jazz that began to tempt me towards low-level irritation all combined to convince me that I really hated being there.
This was an appointment for one of my sons to have an “official” psycho-educational assessment to get the inevitable diagnosis for dyslexia. This appointment had been a long time in coming and would only reveal to us what we already knew. Having a “real” diagnosis would give us the opportunity for some greater assistance and access to audiobooks that my son can’t seem to get enough of. My son was actually happy to be there, and I think, as a middle child, he enjoyed this kind of “attention”. For me, I felt as if my role and ability as a homeschooling mother was under a professional microscope, and it exposed my tender mothering vulnerability by leaving me open to criticism and fault finding for where I possibly haven’t done enough.
I expected a flurry of accusatory or questioning statements:
“You haven’t helped him enough!”
“Why didn’t you get professional help sooner?!”
“He would be so much farther long if you had enrolled him in school.”
The shame was rolling around inside my head and heart, and the physiological feelings of panic and anxiety began to make their way into my consciousness. I felt the need for clarity and truth because a downward spiral in a waiting room wasn’t where I wanted to head.
I began to tell myself some things that I don’t really like to hear. One was that those above statements may actually be true, and what will my response be? I decided that there was no sense in justifying myself or defending my cause or wallowing around in self-protective shame. Maybe I haven’t helped him enough, and maybe I should have pursued this meeting sooner, and maybe the local elementary school’s resources would have carried him a little farther down the road. These realizations are hard to see.
But no matter what the answers to those questions really are, here’s the truth that I reminded myself of in that very vulnerable moment: Good Mothers Make Mistakes. We just do. We aren’t going to get it all right all the time. We make decisions according to who we are and where we are in a season of time but sometimes we’ll blow it.
There is interesting research by Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck on what it means to live with a fixed mindset vs. a growth mindset. A fixed mindset says that our intelligence, character, talent and creativity are static and unchanging. The posture is shame and hiding when inevitable failure comes, and pride and worthiness when we succeed. “Believing that your qualities are carved in stone — the fixed mindset — creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over. If you have only a certain amount of intelligence, a certain personality, and a certain moral character — well, then you’d better prove that you have a healthy dose of them. It simply wouldn’t do to look or fell deficient in these most basic characteristics. I’ve seen so many people with this one consuming goal of proving themselves — in the classroom, in their careers, and in their relationships. Every situation calls for a confirmation of their intelligence, personality, or character. Every situation is evaluated: Will I succeed or fail? Will I look smart or dumb? Will I be accepted or rejected? Will I feel like a winner or a loser?”
In a growth mindset, our innate abilities are believed to only be the beginning. We can develop, change and learn, and by those, we become wiser and better at who we are and what we do. The posture is humility and hope, a passion for learning instead of a hunger for approval. “Why waste time proving over and over how great you are, when you could be getting better? Why hide deficiencies instead of overcoming them? Why look for friends or partners who will just shore up your self-esteem instead of ones who will also challenge you to grow? And why seek out the tried and true, instead of experiences that will stretch you? The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset. This is the mindset that allows people to thrive during some of the most challenging times in their lives.”
A fixed mindset is validating yourself. A growth mindset is developing yourself.
So as I sat waiting to hear results and evaluation insights, I decided that I didn’t need to hide, resist and beat myself into an identity of a Neglectful Mother if critique was offered to me. I can humbly realize that I am a growing human, and choose the path of vulnerability, listening, assessing, and figuring out where I need to grow.
My job isn’t to be a perfect mother but a growing mother.
I’ll be growing as a mother until the day I die. We don’t ever arrive at perfection. We will always need the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the communal influence of others, the receptive soul to Divine grace and mercy, growth and development.
We are safe to be humble and growing because we are so loved, who we are and where we are, and no amount of Mothering Victories or Failures can change that. That deep, settled sense of God’s Perfect Love is the only fixed mindset that we really need to have.