It Gets Better, Letters to Their Younger Selves

So a couple of weeks ago I felt like a lot of my friends were having bad days. I think it was universal, on my blog feed I ran across this blog and realized it’s not just us. The bottom line is that it was breaking my heart. From a dear friend who lost her one month old, a cousin diagnosed with stage three breast cancer, a favorite friend who gave her breasts up a year after losing her mother to breast cancer because she, not her sister, showed genetic tendencies toward the same kind of cancer, friends waiting on babies all kinds of ways – patiently, barren, multiple miscarriages, tentatively, and in hospital rooms with high blood pressure, friends battling their own self-loathing and deprecating thoughts. Suddenly, I had this realization – my grown up “friends” weren’t dealing with this. They were fine. They weren’t sweating all the little “$%&*.” I’m just saying. The things that were killing my friends and I, whether horrific loss or seemingly mundane daily stress – they had overcome. So I asked them for a little perspective. Here are the first two letters to “younger selves” that I received. One in the form of a letter and one in the form of a blog post.

This one if from Penny. Mother of two incredible, and vastly different children, grandmother, mentor, incredibly educated, politically aware, Godly powerhouse in Waco, TX. One of the women I respect the most in the world. Even if you’re not a Christian, the slow down and abide principles abide.

To Me,
I was 30 years old 30 years ago. My, how times have changed. A black man is president and women are vying for the privilege. My parents have died, I have borne children and rejoiced at the birth of a grandchild. I and those I love have experienced life-threatening illnesses, financial roller coasters and friendship changes. Enough of looking in the rear view mirror. On to the task at hand. If I could sit down and have a cup of coffee with the 30 year old Penny, I would say these things.

Life is so very short. It does not seem so right now, in the midst of potty training, temper tantrums, and having dinner on the table every night, but it is true. Breathe. Relax. Let go of the idea that everything you set your hand to needs to be perfect.
Read more books, and not just the ones that “improve and help” you.
Stick to that exercise plan. It will pay off.
Take your dream vacation as soon as you can. Don’t wait until you have time and can really afford it.
Stay the course with Jesus. Nothing will last but your relationship with Him. He is bigger and so much more than you realize right now. Be open to where He leads you, to what He wants to teach you. He is passionate in His love for you! Run to Him. Abide. Stop working so hard to please Him and just be with Him.

– Penny A

And the second is an old roommate of mine. We shared some space back in the early nineties, during that time that I lived with my youth leaders. Currently, and a couple decades later, I find her to be one of the more honest, refreshing and enjoyable women that I know. Here’s her letter and a link to her fantastic blog.

Ten Years Down the Road

Recently I received a note from a very big-hearted friend of mine asking some of us who are a bit, umm, I’m going to say “seasoned,” to pass on some advice to those a bit behind us on the trail.

Here is my letter to these ladies. If you know the chronology of my life, then you know all this was more than ten years ago, but let’s not sweat the details. Ten years sounds better.

Ten years ago, I felt guilty because I thought I was a terrible wife. I felt guilty because of how I felt towards my husband. I felt guilty because I wasn’t at all sure I was equipped to be a mother. I felt guilty because there were days I really didn’t even like being a mother. I felt guilty that I had not done more with my career after my parents had paid my way through school. I felt guilty I didn’t spend more time with my friends.

Today, I know I was not a terrible wife. A marriage is a two-way street. I accept my half of responsibility for the failure of my marriage, but only my half. And I don’t feel guilty about divorcing my husband even though I made a vow in front of God and entirely too many guests. God and I, we had a lot of conversations back then, and ultimately? I was pretty sure God didn’t want me to live like that.

Today I know I am more than equipped to be not only a mother, but a good mother. Certainly not a perfect mother. And snuggling up to the idea that I am not a perfect mother has made me an almost perfect mother, if that makes sense. When I start to worry, and yes, I do still worry, that I am somehow failing my daughter in some way, I take a couple of steps back and repeat to myself:
My daughter is well-loved and well-cared for and she knows that.
And I know now, ten years later, that that is all that matters.

Today I have a career that I am proud of, although along the way there has been plenty of guilt associated with missing parts of my daughter’s life because of a busy career. And when I went back to work when Sarah was seven months old, I felt guilty about leaving her, and my darkest secret was that I wanted to leave her. I needed the break that an office provided. All that said, I know now, ten years later? That my career does not matter at all, except that I need to earn an income to be able to provide for myself and my daughter. Long hours spent at the office? No one cares when I die. Promotions, applause, awards at work? Not what matters. I no longer want to be the Golden Girl at work. I want to do a good job and be compensated for it, so I can enjoy what actually matters in this life. And I want to enjoy my job, because I spend a lot of time doing it.

If I had to do it all over again? The fact that I secretly wanted to go back to work would not be a secret. It’s who I am. The stay-at-home mom thing was not for me and that’s okay. The fact that I wanted to work didn’t mean I didn’t love my daughter as much as moms who want to stay home do. Ten years later, I truly don’t care what other people think about how I feel about things and the decisions I make in my life.

Ten years later, I can take a big deep breath, and the fact of the matter is that I could have done that ten years ago.

One of my favorite things about growing older is how my perspective changes…and I’m convinced that having the proper perspective is the key to a peaceful and happy life. I can always, every day, find something to be grateful for, and I focus on the positive. I have let go of so so much, and I wish I had done that earlier in my life, although now is good enough.

Make your own choices confidently and honestly, and to hell with everyone else. Put yourself first. Oh I know, how can I say that, as a mother?! Ladies, no one else is going to put you first, even the best-intentioned husbands, and the best thing you can do for you and those you love is to be a happy and whole person. I’m giving you permission to miss the first day of school because you are off having fun with your friends. (I did that, and the world did not stop spinning.) You are You before you are a mom, a wife, an employee, or anything else, and taking care of You doesn’t make you selfish. Stop trying to please everyone else. Please yourself. Do what’s right, and don’t sweat the small stuff and don’t worry about anyone or anything else.

And for the moms? Look, your kids are going to be in therapy for something down the road no matter how hard you work to make their childhoods perfect, so stop being so Type A about parenting. What do you want for your kids? Do you want them to sacrifice everything to be a good parent when they grow up? That’s not what I want for my daughter. I want her to live a full, rich, happy life. I want that life to include kids of her own if that’s what she wants, but I want her to know she doesn’t have to lose herself when she becomes a wife, or a mom.

Take a big deep breath, at least once a day. In through the nose, out through the mouth. You’re doing great.

-Clare Y

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