Photo Credit: Courtesy of Jewel
In her first blog for the iVillage series CelebVillage, Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Jewel, who recently released the children’s book and CD That’s What I’d Do, writes about how she had to learn to put aside her sense of perfectionism to feel the “actual joy” of being a mom to 15-month-old son Kase with husband Ty Murray.
I have been asked to be a guest blogger for iVillage this month and I have been looking forward to it as it gives me an excuse to finally sit down and write. I know, that sounds odd coming from a person who has made a living as a writer -- but lately I have not been a writer, I have been a mom.
My son's name is Kase and he is now (gasp) 15 months old. Before he was born I decided not to schedule any real work so that I could just be at home and get my mom legs under me. Staying at home with Kase has proven to be a great decision, as I have so enjoyed getting to fall in love with him and watch him fall in love with me. Fall in love might sound odd -- so let me explain a little more.
Yes, I loved my child while he was in my tummy, and I cried with joy and passion as a thunderbolt of love struck me the second he was handed to me. But I would be lying if I said I did not also have a simultaneous jolt of panic and horror. It was not postpartum depression. It was not an inability to bond. It was the very sobering and real thought of, “Holy crap, what have I gotten myself into? I have no idea what I’m doing. This is forever. There are no do-overs, no return policies, and did I mention, I have NO CLUE what I’m doing?!"
Mind you I had read about 200 books about every aspect of my pregnancy, delivery and beyond. My fear-stricken mind flipped through the pages in my mind, trying to find an instance that covered this panicked feeling. But there was none I could recall. Was something wrong with me? Should I be feeling different? Should I be singing just one note, a happy bright tone, instead of this double harmonic, this shadow counterpoint, this melancholy melody? I was happy, after all. I knew without a doubt that I would fight to the death for this baby in a moment’s notice. I ferociously loved this little bundle. I knew that, and yet I was overcome with dread and panic.
But that’s when it hit me -- I would be crazy NOT to feel seriously sobered by my new reality. This was no book. This was no longer hypothetical. This was for real -- and I absolutely did not know what I was doing. That was the truth of it. The sooner I gave myself permission to be okay with that, the quicker I would be able to move out of a state of paralyzed fear, and into my new state of probably never being sure about what I was doing for the rest of my life as a mom. That self-acceptance, however, took a while.
Being a mom is not merely an instinct. A large part of it is learned, and with any learning process, it means there will be mistakes -- something that is so offensive to my nature, I thought I might vomit for the first several months. Okay, sometimes I still think I might.
I am certainly a Type A woman. I like to think I have enjoyed success in my field and in life because I kept a tight rein on my gifts and my business. But lately I have realized it isn’t my perfectionism that has made me successful -- it is my ability to find my way to what is true, to just feel my way to what is right or what is needed, whether it is a lyric or a business deal. I don’t know how I find my way to that place, I just do. I don’t have to force it. I can’t. It just happens.
It has slowly dawned on me that I have only hidden behind my need for perfectionism because I have a deep-seated fear that if I do not control every single thing, my world will come crashing down around my ears. Trust me, I can give you lots of painful instances where I could say my life has proven to me that this is true. I turn my back for ONE minute, and WHAM, life doles out an unseen blow that sends me reeling and vowing to redouble my efforts to be more vigilant than ever, to scan the horizon for any sign of movement that might be an ambush. It’s exhausting. It never ends.
I never realized how invasive this need to control things was in my life. It seemed to serve me well. I stayed on top of my business, my employees, my craft, but as I look back now, it took a lot of the fun out of it. So busy was I keeping an eagle eye out for any sign of chaos, and then rooting it out like a weed the second it showed its head, that I forgot to enjoy my life. I mean, really take it in, you know? I was so responsible, so disciplined, so regimented, that I forgot the spontaneous joy of trusting and the liberation of not feeling responsible for the outcome of every little thing.
Meanwhile, my star rose, my relationship succeeded and I continued to give credit where it didn’t belong -- I continued to think my hyper-vigilance led me to these positive outcomes, instead of something much more subtle and profound about my nature. It never dawned on me that even if I let go of the reins a little, I would still succeed, or that I could trust myself to find the answers or skills as I needed them, instead of force them.
If I never had a child, I think I would still be a fairly happy, functioning control-aholic. But once I had my baby, I was suddenly handed the most awesome and overwhelming responsibility of my entire life. I was handed the most valuable treasure ever. Period. I was assigned the most important job of my life. I knew I could not afford to mess this one up. He was already born perfect -- if his future was marred or scarred in any way, it would be on my shoulders, and I would not let that happen. Not on my watch.
My first months as a new mom were spent perfecting breastfeeding, perfecting pumping, perfecting sleep schedules, perfecting nutrition. Everything would be PERFECT for my baby! My husband felt the same and I venture to say he was a highly functioning control-aholic for all his life prior to the baby, as well. He had found success in life by being perfect at everything he did -- perfection rewarded him time and again. Much like me, he felt that having a baby was the most profound honor of all, and he would not fail.
Without knowing we were even doing it, we set out on separate paths of being the most perfect parent ever. Everything had to be just so. The problem was his idea of perfect was not always my idea of perfect, and my idea of the absolute perfect bottle temperature, or time to nap or whatever did not always match his own standard. Plus, when one person thinks they alone are the gatekeepers and proprietors of perfection, it automatically leaves the other person outside those pearly gates, and a judgment is silently felt: those inside the gates are perfect, those outside them are … not.
It was an awkward time for my husband and me, to say the least. Not at all what I expected the first months of my life as a new mom and wife to feel like. I started to realize I was doing it again -- robbing myself of the pleasure of having a baby and a family by being so consumed with a contrived and impossible outcome. I had a problem. But thanks to life’s paradoxical nature, I knew I also had an opportunity, if I was woman enough to take it.
I had a choice now: either continue to feed myself a false since of security by believing if I could just be perfect enough, I wouldn’t be vulnerable to messing up the most important role of my life, or ... LET GO. Admit that I was vulnerable, and that my worst fears could not be stayed off by any amount of hypervigilance. I’m choosing the latter, and it feels good. Most of the time.
Being a parent forces you to confront some deep and primordial themes: What is safety? What is good enough? It’s a world filled with paradox. You feel your immortality in the double helix of your child, and yet you are forced to confront your own mortality at the same time. Feeling such a deep and profound love fills your heart to overfill, while at the same time making you aware that if anything were ever to take this love from you, you would feel an emptiness never before known, a barren land, a hell that is beyond death, beyond heartbreak.
No wonder I felt love AND panic when they handed me my son for the first time. It was me finding my way to a deep truth -- that both are true. Where there is great love, there is great potential for hurt. Where there is great hope, there is great potential for disappointment. Being a mom means being willing to walk that line with eyes open for the rest of my life. I don’t want to use control to lend myself a false sense of security, because it robs me of feeling the actual joy.
Like a drug that numbs the pain, it also dulls the senses. I don’t want to hide behind anything. I’m up to this challenge. I can do it straight. I will make mistakes and I will be thankful that I have the opportunity and the privilege to make them. I will try to celebrate and be proud of those mistakes I manage not to make. For the first time in my life, I will draw a deep breath knowing the success of my life, marriage, and even my son’s future does not rely on my managing every single moment of it. My grace and my subtler wisdom will continue to find its way to what’s needed as it changes with time. Plus, I’m not alone: I have my very capable husband, with all of his wit and grit and grace. Then there is our son, of course, my greatest teacher of all, whom I fall more deeply and more madly in love with by the day.
To show him my love, I decided to do something a little more productive than research the perfect activity appropriate for his age, and I wrote for him. The product is a love poem I called That’s What I’d Do. I use it as my therapy, my rehab -- for every time I read it to him, it reminds me of the whimsical and joyous nature of love. I’d like to share it with any other recovering control-aholics out there, should there be any reading this, or just any parent who wants to take another moment to fall deeper in love with their babies.
Singer-songwriter Jewel recently released the children’s book and CD That’s What I’d Do -- click here for more information. Check out her official website, Facebook page and follow her on Twitter at @jeweljk. And click here to read more exclusive posts in the CelebVillage series.