Sunday, July 06, 2014

what counts as evidence?

A friend of mine is moving away. She expressed a lot of sadness and discouragement to a group of us, largely stemming from the dreams and ideas she had about how her life would be when they moved into their present home, and how few of those have been realized, and some of them are as close to 180 degrees opposite how things have turned out. Her life is not what she imagined it to be. I think she is feeling fearful and hopeless that moving to a new city in a different state will not improve things, because this situation she was in didn't improve her life like she had thought it would.

I was talking to David about this and he brought up what he thinks are the three keys to living. He calls them Mindfulness, Thoughtfulness, and Flow.  I will hope to get into those more later (in future posts), but the thought I had while we were talking was something he has frequently said before, which is "What counts as evidence?" meaning, "What metric are we using to demonstrate progress and/or success?" (He is kind of a mantra/catch-phrase kind of guy, so yes, he really does say things over and over and over again. It can be a bit annoying, but I have to admit that many of them are quite astute and useful, so overall I appreciate it...maybe not at first but eventually.)

So, what counts as evidence? For myself and many of my peers (I am thinking primarily of my friends who are stay-at-home-moms), we were raised with an achievement mindset. The vast majority of us went through the public school system, spending the bulk of our waking hours learning and being tested.  What counted as evidence was good grades. I also took piano lessons and what counted as evidence was good performance at the recitals as well as performing in the Music Festival.  I had jobs after I was old enough to work, and what counted as evidence was the paycheck. Then there was more school for me, so grades and projects again were the evidence. Grad school required a larger demonstration of understanding and completion of work projects rather than simply grades, but it was still obvious what counted as evidence.

Then we entered into the realm of Motherhood. What counts as evidence in this effort? Is it good behavior from your children? Is it good grades once they enter school? Is it happy kids? Is it well dressed kids? Is it a clean house? Is it nutritious meals? Is it great family portraits every year? Family vacations? Awesome birthday parties? Achievement at sports? Being service-oriented? Having a good work ethic? Having a good sense of humor? Staying active in your religious community? Marrying and having their own family? Getting into a prestigious college? Graduating from college?  Successful careers for your children when they reach adulthood? I could list many more, but I think you get the idea.

The above list includes a lot of events. Events feel like good evidence because it is obvious that they are completed. Events are difficult as evidence because there are many days, weeks, months and maybe years before they materialize, which can result in days, weeks, months, and years of stressing over the likelihood of desired event happening or not happening. Additionally, I doubt that most parents would only have one event on their list of evidence, so at any given time you are stewing about a host of future events, over which you actually exert very little control. What little control/influence you can exert could be easily overthrown by something that is not even on the radar this far away from the goal. If even one of these evidence-of-success events doesn't materialize, will that mean failure? Will you recast all the years of effort and love and time and energy as being largely a waste because the end result wasn't what you determined counted as evidence? That would be a true tragedy, but I have seen it happen.

I posit that we need evidence that we can see regularly. We need evidence that doesn't get undone after a crazy weekend. If I'm only succeeding at Motherhood when the house is clean, then I feel like a failure after a week of vomiting kids who kept the laundry perpetually cycling so there was no time to do the usual chores. If I'm succeeding at motherhood when my child graduates from college, how do I feel if she takes a year off to work at something or to do some travelling?

For me, I think what counts as evidence has been a loose conglomerate of many of the things in my list, as well as some that I haven't articulated.  It's so loosely defined that even if I am succeeding in one area, poor performance in another area makes me feel sufficiently deflated that I can't get any satisfaction from the success.  Being a cluttered person, my house is pretty much never the house that I imagine a successful mother having. Being a homeschooler, we are not focused on grades, so I don't get the external validation of someone telling me my child is doing well in X and Y areas. Due to financial strains, we've not consistently done family portraits or family vacations. It is easy to see lots of areas for improvement and to downplay anything at which I might be doing well.

Another problem with these types of evidence is that they are very much dependent upon the individual child. Some things about your child you have very little control over. I have one son who manifests "happy" in ways that are very different from what I imagine happy kids to be. What if your child doesn't want to go to college, or get married, or doesn't feel a connection with your religion, or has a disability that makes some of your goals unrealistic? Have you failed at Motherhood? 

I think what is necessary is a redefining of success. Success as a mother is an outgrowth of success as a person. What makes a successful person? Money? Family? Faith? Friends? Prestige? Those are all used as evidence, but many have some or all of those things and do not feel happy or content. I would think that most would agree that for their own definition of success, happiness is a key component, more than any of the other things listed. And the keys to happiness are those three things listed above
  1. Mindfulness
  2. Thoughtfulness
  3. Flow
This is getting pretty long, so I think I will save exploring these for future posts. Hopefully I can get to them later this week.

So, what counts as evidence for you? Do you feel generally satisfied and productive as a mother (or human in general, even if you aren't a mother)?

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