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Motherhood Matters: Giving yourself credit for the growth you cannot see

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I love being a mother. I also find it all-consuming. It takes every ounce of my attention and energy. It stretches me in every dimension of who I am, every single day.

Yet, ironically, I often feel guilty that I am not pushing myself more. Everywhere I turn I hear about how mothers need to cultivate their talents to be able to help their families grow. I agree, but quite honestly, even the prospect sounds exhausting now.

Worthy personal pursuits like learning the ins and outs of basic photography, entering the coupon world, creating a blog to be followed by thousands or starting some nonprofit all feel more like something I "should" do and not something I want to do now. When I do take time for myself, my first choice of a free-time activity is usually sleep! (With grocery shopping alone coming in as a close second.)

On a day when I was feeling particularly discouraged about my lack of progression, I vented to my husband. I shared my emotions about feeling so stagnant — and yet so strained — during this chapter of motherhood. I explained the guilt I felt for not even wanting to tackle the development of my personal talents now.

As he listened, I defended myself. “Maybe I am growing and changing all the time. It’s just…invisible!”

We laughed.

Sure ... I suffer from "invisible growth." Right ... (too bad that "invisible growth" wasn’t the leftover pounds from my last baby!)

But then we came up with loads of flattering examples to support my “invisible” progress. For instance, I used to struggle to go grocery shopping with one child. Now I struggle to go grocery shopping with three children. Bam! Invisible growth.

I used to struggle to care for one puking child. Then I got to struggle while caring for multiple pukers. Yay, me! See that. More invisible growth.

At this point in the conversation, I got more serious. What good is it if I am learning to make dinner while nursing my newborn, distracting my toddler from grabbing the knives out of the dishwasher and spelling every word under the sun to my preschooler? I’m still counting down every minute until my husband gets home from work. How is that progress?

Invisible growth is just that, growth that I may not necessarily notice or give myself credit for. I may appear to be the same on the outside, but upon closer inspection, something is different. There is progress.

It’s like I’m a competitive diver. I keep diving over and over, and only scoring a five out of 10. It can feel frustrating — and at times I may feel like I am a terrible diver — but the reality is that I keep increasing the degree of difficulty of my dives. So, although I may feel disappointed with the scores of my personal progression, I have actually grown in leaps and bounds. If I were to go back to that first dive, I would see my progression more clearly.

Instead of going back to the beginning, I need to watch for and recognize the invisible growth in my life and give myself credit for the ways that I have improved and become more competent as a mother.

Satisfied, and giving myself a pat on the back for my newly discovered "invisible growth," I went to bed that night with a small sense of accomplishment. Maybe, just maybe, I wasn’t as stagnant as I had previously thought.

Over time, as my husband and I continued to joke about my impressive invisible growth, I found myself pondering the concept on a different level.

Perhaps invisible growth is also the progress that each of us is making in the things that matter most, but that aren’t blog or talent show worthy. Perhaps invisible growth is the recognition of the inner progress we make in the immeasurable areas of our lives. It’s growth that I can’t see or share because it may not be noticed or felt by anyone but myself.

For example, no one knows that I am becoming more calm during my preschooler’s tantrums or more loving in the way that I discipline. No one knows that I am becoming better at not yelling in my home. No one knows the way that I am becoming more gentle and forgiving of myself, less judgmental and more understanding of others or more giving toward my spouse.

Discovering this aspect of my invisible growth has helped me recognize not only the progress that I am making as a mother, but also the ways that motherhood and the daily experiences of rearing my children are helping me become a better person, and that is enough for me now. I feel empowered to let go of my guilt, celebrate the progress that I have made and accept that during this season of my life, for me, motherhood is enough. In fact, my role as a mother seems intrinsically fine tuned to help me improve and grow as an individual.

I may have the superpower to seem like the same frazzled mother today who I was a few years ago, but I assure you, I have changed. Motherhood has changed me. I have become more competent in not only the skills of caring for my children, but I have also progressed in developing the characteristics that I truly want out of life.

In my quest to develop the attributes of patience, selflessness and unconditional love, motherhood is stretching me and challenging me every day. That may not be something I can pin for the world to see, or jot down in a witty one-liner on Facebook, but it’s true! And I wouldn’t change all of my invisible growth for anything.

Question: In what ways are you experiencing "invisible growth"? In what ways does your growth make you a better mother?

Challenge: Write down five ways you have progressed through "invisible growth" and just like you would put a 100 percent test score on the refrigerator, stick it up so that the family can celebrate with you.

This article is courtesy of Power of Moms, an online gathering place for deliberate mothers.