I hear this from women, mostly mothers. I read it in emails and blog comments. I hear it in conversations, in the pitch of a voice. I draw it out of the lines on the screen and I understand. Because I say it too.
Plenty of evenings I’ve closed bedroom doors and walked into the kitchen to finish dishes feeling guilty, numbed with worry that my efforts, my flawed and imperfect offering, is not enough. I’ve said the very words. I am not enough, can’t be enough, won’t be enough.
And this last year, particularly these last few months, I’ve said it more than ever.
When I realized the stutter in my boys’ speech wasn’t “normal,” I scrambled to learn all I could.
I read, watched videos, and asked questions. I gathered a significant amount of information.
And then I cried. Everything I learned indicated that stuttering was a result of a child’s environment. Yes, there may be some genetic predisposition, but most often it stems from a busy, fast-paced home. A setting that is chaotic, where a child, or children aren’t getting enough attention, enough physical closeness, enough one-on-one time. There it was. That word again. Enough.
I felt like I had failed.
But I hadn’t even seen it coming – this result of my inadequate mothering. With five children four years apart, including two sets of twins, I will be the first to admit our home is busy, even chaotic, despite a structured daily routine.
Looking back I wonder what we could have done differently. Maybe we should have hired some help. Paid someone to come in several times a week to help me in the home. Surely I could have worked harder at maintaining a calm demeanor, cultivating more patience, whittling out more time for each child.
A few days later I ran a mountain trail with a friend and told her about my worry. It was weighing me heavy. I got out a few words and then I broke. Crumpled. Dropped my hands to my knees and folded in half, sobbing, because I felt it was my fault.
I’ve worked through these feelings. I no longer feel guilty. We have a plan. We’re moving forward, and in retrospect, I can honestly say I was doing my best, even if my best wasn’t quite enough. Hindsight begs its own course correction, and yet, we can’t go back.
These pictures of my boys were taken last summer, after their second birthday. I adore their glittering eyes, their cheeks and curls, the lawnmowers they never left last season, and the sock monkeys that sleep in their cribs.
I would do anything for these two.
Mothers want the best for their children. We want them to be accepted, to live joyfully, to thrive. When something threatens to impede that path, we want to hurl it aside, knock it out of the way. But that is not our job – to rescue them from everything hard. As author Doreen Holtze, wisely puts.
“Our kids don’t need to be fixed, managed, or controlled. They need to be loved, encouraged, listened to, and respected. They need to feel safe” (Voice Unearthed, p. 104).
Doreen read my Deseret News article and was kind enough to send me her book.
She has a fifteen-year-old son who stutters. I would love to meet him. And her. They make a remarkable team. She is not a speech therapist. She is a writer, a researcher, but most importantly, she is an intuitive, devoted mother. She and her son Eli have weathered years of speech therapy together, constantly in pursuit of a cure, a method, something that would work. But the world of speech therapy is conflicted, confusing, and divergent in its advice. Doreen’s book contains all her findings and I read it cover to cover. It felt right. Every bit of it. So I am applying what she learned.
Studies show that 80% of preschoolers who stutter recover with indirect therapy. And I am hanging onto that stat. Indirect therapy means we make modifications to the home environment, slow down, increase one-on-one time and physical closeness, model correct speech. But we don’t draw attention to the stuttering itself. We don’t tell the boys they stutter. We don’t pursue direct therapy or intervention.
It seems the more stuttering is pointed out and the more a child is asked to correct it, the more anxiety they experience, the more patterned it becomes.
So far the boys have shown some improvement. And yet, the progress is not linear. One day I think we’re moving past it. The next, we’re back to square one, and I am holding Gordon’s little hands in mine, looking into his liquid brown eyes and listening while he wrestles for a word. My husband counted 28 repetitions the other day, before Gordon finally said what he wanted to say.
That is hard. Hard to hear.
But I’ve taken comfort in a few pearls of wisdom that have fallen into my lap recently. During a stake Relief Society training, I heard Julie Beck, former General Relief Society President, say,
“Sometimes we think taking care of a family is like dealing out cards. But it’s not that way. You can’t give everyone an even cut of the deck, every time. Sometimes you have a need and you go to that need. Sometimes a certain child gets more help than the others.”
And that is the reality, isn’t it? We can’t always give our children equal amounts of time, energy, or whatever it is they might need. Sometimes one (or two) will require more from us than others. And that is okay. We do what is required to keep them an intact part of the family.
Julie Beck then blew me away with this statement.
“And for all you women who say you’ll never be enough? Well, that is true.”
There was a long pause and then she continued,
“But it’s okay. Because we have the Atonement in our lives. And the Savior makes up the difference for all our inadequacies and imperfections, the things we miss and regret, the things we need help doing. Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and his power in our lives, will get us through the difficult journey.”
So maybe we ought to stop saying it. That we’re not enough.Because she’s right. We’re not. And we won’t be. And that is okay. We give it our best go, and most of the time, it will be good enough.
But when it’s not, there is a power we can access that will make up the difference.
I am learning that is precisely God’s intent – to help me recognize I’ve been dealt a hand I cannot and will not be able to manage without Him.
Another pearl I discovered was this article by Elder Bednar, in the April 2012 Ensign, about the enabling power of Christ’s Atonement.
Elder Bednar says most of us don’t understand the difference between the Lord’s redemptive power and his enabling power.
Too often, we mistakenly believe we must make the journey from good to better by ourselves, through sheer grit, willpower, and discipline, with our obviously limited capacities. But the truth is, we don’t. Christ’s enabling power can strengthen us to do things we could never do on our own.
And that is what I need right now. Divine means of help or strength to meet the needs of my family, especially my boys, despite my weakness and limitations.
I am living on the hope that we will triumph, even if the journey is a long one.
I’m still figuring out how to bridge the gap between who I am and who I need to be. I’m still stretching to know how to harness that enabling power.
Maybe it is about letting go of my own will, peeling the burden away from my uptight shoulders and laying it across His. Maybe it means sloughing off the unimportant, making time for more conscious prayer, and asking Him to change me rather than my circumstances. Maybe it is different for each of us. But knowing it is there, and available, is the first step.
I trust in the definition of grace. I trust that strength, love, and attention can come from sources seen and unseen to fill in where we lack. I trust that Christ can liberate us from the straining at perfection, rid us of the guilt that comes from thinking we are never enough.
Today I watched my boys playing together in the backyard, running their cars over stumps and brick walls, chatting fluidly with each other. I felt complete satisfaction and happiness over who they are, right now. And I can only assume God feels the same about us.
So we come to him, just as we are. We meet him, open-palmed and asking. Because beneath all our imperfect words and deeds and trying, His mercy and love will be what rises.
That is enough.
Catherine K. Arveseth is full-time mother of five, including two sets of twins. She blogs @ wildnprecious.com, writes for Power of Moms, and is part of the prose editorial staff for Segullah.