The very word JOY brings a gentle smile to my face and makes my heart skip a beat. Such a tiny word evokes a cascade of uplifting, heartwarming adjectives and feelings. Joy — the most powerful guidepost for living our lives in harmony with our truest nature and authentic selves.
This time of year tends to make me reflective but I am now doing that with a fresh perspective. My personal growth journey has given me new insights enabling me to reflect on the past with wiser eyes wide open.
Sometimes I watch my adult children as they interact with their own children and it jogs an old memory when I was in that stage of my life. I feel a little like the Ghost of Christmas past when I can sense the old memory come to life. To my delight, I have discovered the magical power of joy during these walks down memory lane.
When I felt most buoyant, genuine and immersed in the joy of motherhood, I was also the closest to my truest self. I felt free and untethered, almost like a little kid myself. Laughter bubbled up in me and my kids simultaneously. When I felt the most deeply connected by the bond of mother and child, it was often in the quiet moments, when my little one would melt into my lap and eyelids would flutter heavy with sleep.
It is tempting to handpick only these playful, happy, gooey moments to reflect upon. However I have discovered the richer lessons are often in looking at the moments that went sideways. If I could solve that piece of life’s puzzle, then I might be able to offer some incredible parenting wisdom to my adult children today.
As I pondered digging a little deeper into what was going on in my life during those moments when I wasn’t bringing my best self to parenting, I found that the word JOY seemed to be weaving its way into my mind. It would be the theme of a podcast, it would appear numerous times in various articles and books I was reading. And of course, this time of year, Christmas carols sing of JOY in a myriad of ways.
Funny how the universe will drop into my lap the very key I need to unlock a mystery I’m striving to solve. Where was my JOY during those times in my life when things were hard, overwhelming or just simply lackluster?
Our JOY gets pushed aside from everyday distractions like our monkey mind full racing thoughts or the constant urge to engage with our phones. It gets diminished by the daily stressors of hungry, tired or bored kids; by the mountains of laundry, or stack of bills, by the uncertainty that the pandemic has blanketed us with this year.
I wanted to go a little deeper than that however. I wanted to take stock of how the bigger factors in my life affected my joy. All the self awareness work I have been doing over these past five years revealed the answers. And it left me with one simple and compelling question to ask myself when I feel something in my life going haywire. I cannot wait to share this nugget of wisdom with each of my adult children: “What is coming between me and. my joy?”
When I let the “shine blockers” in my life steal my joy, I was not bringing my best self to any aspect of my life. My first husband said something to me many years ago that literally knocked me for a loop. He told me “don’t be your usual sunny self”. His reason for this was that he was mad at someone about something rather unimportant and we were headed out to a party. Why should I change who I naturally am because of his issues? Yet this became an ongoing pattern in our marriage that after 20 years ended in divorce. I was a conflict avoider, a people pleaser and unable to set boundaries. It dawned on me that for 20 years, I diminished my joy to please someone else and in the process I lost touch with my true “sunny self” nature. It broke my heart a little to realize that although I think I was a pretty good mom, I wasn’t really my best mom self through those years of strain. JOY showed up intermittently. JOY should have been my frequent companion.
How can any of us be our JOYful selves if we are out of touch with our true selves and our own needs? Recently when I was watching my latest Netflix binge, Offspring, a thoughtful admirer of the main character Nina asked her point blank — “What do you want?” I find myself relating to Nina a lot because she is the family problem solver, and this question stopped her in her tracks. Her facial expression captured perfectly her utter inability to answer. When it takes a long time to answer that simple question, it is definitely time to find out what is blocking JOY.
Sometimes what blocks JOY is just the mundane routine duties of life. It gets monotonous and boring, yet it is necessary. Work, parenting, laundry, bills. This is why self care is so essential. It restores some balance, provides some space and is a place to check in with joy.
I also think it is paramount for busy young parents to take time for a life assessment from time to time. Ask what you need to be your best JOYFUL self in this chapter of your life. Honor the answer and discuss it with your partner, your parents. Who or what are the “shine blockers” and ask for help.
Sometimes we are our own “shine blockers”. Sometimes it is others in our lives who steal the joy. Sort it out and reconnect with JOY.
As I look back on the many chapters of my life, I can see so clearly the chunks of time when my old insecurities or ineffective behavioral patterns were my “shine blockers”. I am paying closer attention now and inviting JOY to lead the way as I navigate the messy, fun, hard and tender moments of life.