I've been well aware for some time that I am not a naturally cheerful mother. I'm just not super smiley. However, it really punched me in the gut the other day when, after disciplining Bernadette for some act of defiance, she looked up at me with tears in her eyes and pleaded "I just want you to be happy about things!" I immediately scooped her up and told her in my happiest voice that I am very happy and that I would work harder to act happy. For the rest of the day I could not stop thinking about how incredibly sad it is that my 3-year-old thinks I am not happy because I just don't make enough efforts to look like I am or to give cheerfully and with a smile on my face. I am joyful doing what I do. I love being their mother so much, but damned if it doesn't near kill me every day. And apparently I do nothing but show it with my whole being that I am being tried physically and mentally.
It's like I make a bargain of it. I'm willing to rise to the sacrificial occasions that fill the vocation of motherhood, to get up with the girls after a night of being up every hour with horrible nausea, to feed them, clothe them, and deal with their rabid cat fights and naughty behavior all while being wearily exhausted; but in return I want the right to do so with a scowl on my face which displays how very put-out and unappreciated I feel. And poor Mike ends up bearing the brunt of it even though I am never actually frustrated at him. I just want him to know how hard everything is and just how much I do, as if he would be clueless about this without my constant facial cues. I wonder, how much merit is lost in all the self-sacrifice that is built into motherhood because I so often do it unhappily, or at least I look unhappy while I am doing it?
It so clearly brings everyone else in my home down when I seem down. I feel certain that if I just made intense and intentional efforts to smile more throughout the day, other defects of mine would begin to improve as well. I mean, it's really hard to yell at the girls when I am smiling. I tried it. However, there isn't any other task in the span of my day that takes as much focused, intentional effort for me to do, and to continue to remind myself to do as smiling and looking cheerful while working. It is hard stuff. I don't think that any mother, including myself, should be fake or act like someone they aren't. I do not intend on being cheerleader-like or forcing a smile that doesn't even look natural, but I know how to smile, even though I do not naturally operate with a pep in my step and a smile on my face.
This is not a "happiness project", or me spearheading an effort for people to smile at the person they pass in the grocery store-- those are great things and if you do that, that's awesome. This is simply an exhortation to myself to rise above all my other human inclinations to wear on my face that I am feeling crappy, frustrated, exhausted and put-out and to make major efforts to look and be cheerful to those people I am called to serve daily and especially during the times that are most trying. For me this is a task infinitely harder than giving a smile to John Doe in the grocery store, because he doesn't grate on me like the little people I live with, nor is he constantly asking me for things while I feel like crap and just want to lay on the couch.
Obviously this is not something that just happens, and I am sure I will write another post next year about the same thing because I feel pretty confident I will always struggle with this. That said, it is a worthy effort to constantly be making, and so make it I will.
"I cannot imagine a Christian who does not know how to smile. May we joyfully witness to our faith."
-Pope Francis (thank you to the FB friend who posted this today!!)