Maslow for Mamas: Slowing Down and Finding Your Pace

I want to be the kind of mama who moves slowly and graciously, who doesn’t rush all over the place, who drifts from one place to the next, sweeping along as though there were nowhere else to be but here.

But I’ve never been good at that. I’ve never been good at lolling or loitering or sauntering or pottering. In some ways, it was easier to do when my kids were small. I look at my writing from that time of my life and I notice how I not only noticed the fine points of my day, but I took the time to write them down: The way my toddler puckered as she smeared on her Hello Kitty lip balm; the way my oldest laughed in great rollicking leaps, like a waterfall; the way my young son’s scalp smelled like the earth itself.

Author and father Piero Ferrucci, on the subject, says, “There is a sense of healthy laziness that I have learned in being with children: Slow down, take it easy, be here, enjoy yourself,” he writes. “You are allowed to have no purpose.”

I spent a decade or so – when my kids were tiny – in as close to a healthy laziness as I’m ever going to see. But now that my kids are growing up and spending more and more time away from me, I find myself grasping for purpose, just as I did before I had kids at all. I remember how I’m happier when I do have a purpose and happier still when I know what that purpose is.

When I don’t have one, I feel unconstructive, floppy and sad. I’m a little bit type A and can quote Abraham Maslow at will: “If you deliberately plan on being less than you are capable of being, then I warn you that you’ll be unhappy for the rest of your life,” and: “Musicians must make music, artists must paint, poets must write if they are to be ultimately at peace with themselves. What human beings can be, they must be.”

I think that’s why things were so liberating back when my kids were home all day and relying on me for everything. I really did feel that I was allowed to have no purpose aside from them. I had a different relationship with time because I had a built-in, overriding sense of purpose by simple default.

There was a deep sense of purpose in just waking up and smiling at them and pouring their milk. There was a deep sense of purpose in sitting at the breakfast table and competitively guessing how many little fruits were in the box of Raisin Bran.

There was a deep sense of purpose in just talking with them and looking at them and worshipping them the way a mom worships her little, little kids. With that sense of purpose comes a deep sense of fulfillment. I could finally take a deep breath and feel like it satisfied something in that way down deep place.

This is one thing I noticed when my youngest child started kindergarten this past year. Suddenly someone else was responsible for each of my kids for a good chunk of the day. Someone else was feeling that sense of purpose and fulfillment and everything else I did paled in comparison to what I used to do all day.

I remember the first few months of school last year, I vacillated between a panicky sense of not getting enough work done before they stepped off the schoolbus and an empty feeling of wastefulness that made my throat cling and grab.

So I’m reflecting on all of this while I’m trying to work from home over summer vacation and my 6-year-old son comes in and he wants to play a game of cards. My first instinct is to say, “I don’t have time,” which is sort of ironic and which gets me to start thinking, “what exactly is time for, then?”

Is it for enjoying, for filling, for deciding what to do with, consciously and deliberately, with reverence and devotion? If it is, then it’s probably for playing Uno with this tan little kid who now sits across from me, holding an Uno deck in his grubby, stubby fingers, which will someday soon be man hands that will be texting his girlfriend or closing his bedroom door in my face.

And then I try to do everything I do in as slow a manner as I can. To tell the truth, it generally drives me crazy to do that for too long, but even for just a minute it helps me to have reverence for the puzzling way time passes and the way our children grow, both gradually and all at once.

It reminds me of a time when I was eating at my favorite fast food joint, which is actually this bright little cafe where they ladle steaming bowls of freshly made soup into paper to-go bowls. It’s like fast food for slow, old souls. As my kids and I were hunched over our bowls, shoveling in spoonfuls of Potato Gouda because we were late for soccer practice, a minister whom I admire very much came in and stood in line.

He did not see us there in the corner and so I know I was observing him in his natural state. I was immediately taken by the slowness that enveloped everything he did, from the way he shuffled forward in the line to the way he put his hand in his pocket to fish out his wallet. It was the way he creased the tall brown bag that held his soup and his bread and his cookie. His pace alone made him appear reverent and devout. He was paying attention. He was letting even the tedious errand of getting take-out become an experience that would surround him like a cloak.

Reflecting on this, I have to ask myself, what am I in such a hurry for? Why are we all rushing so much? Are we rushing because we like it – because we feed on the false drama? Are we rushing so that we can fit in more things or so that we can make more money? Are we rushing to make some form of mark on the world and in the meantime risk missing our own lives?

There are those friends in life (if we make time for them) whose very presence slows us down. Just being with them says, “You can’t get it all done. You are already enough just the way you are, so let us set a pace in this life that we can enjoy.”

In truth, I think that’s what a family is for. At least that’s what I hope my kids will say that their family was for, when they have grown into busy parents and are striving to slow down for themselves.

Written by Momscape founder Susie Michelle Cortright. Follow her on Twitter.