In Praise of Leaning Out and Opting Out

In Praise of Leaning Out and Opting Out | Twin Cities Mom Collective

I don’t have a motherhood or parenting style or philosophy, really. I spent the days leading up to my daughter’s birth reading about pregnancy, natural childbirth, and doing my Hypnobabies homework. I didn’t realize other moms read about parenting and named their philosophies so firmly before their babies came into the world. I figured, and still do, that the questions and concerns I have can be answered by my mother, grandmother, mother-in-law, aunts, church women, and friends. I consider this radical confidence, or perhaps naive ignorance, a gift. I believe God chose me to mother my daughter, and my intuition and faith is all I need. Still, I’ve been asked by friends what my mothering philosophy is. Am I supposed to have one? In an era where everything must be named and the camp lines firmly marked, I’m drawn to just one overarching idea that works best for our family and me as a mother:

I call it, lean out and opt out.

“Slow down and everything you are chasing will come around and catch you.”
-John De Paola

Right after we moved into our home, in a burst of energy, I signed my toddler and I up for three weekly activities. We were going to attend ECFE classes, Bible Study (that included lots of homework), and MOPs. Before motherhood I was a chronic over scheduler, blame it on the achievement culture of my own childhood or my internal need to do and be everything as a struggling small business owner in my twenties, but the birth of my daughter was an about face to my previous lifestyle and I needed it badly. Motherhood was overall an answered prayer, and the slow-down that came with it — its own sort of miracle. This September, my energy was in full force and I felt propelled into these activities because of… I don’t know. Perhaps I was feeling guilty for spending so much time at home as an already stay-at-home mother.

In December, I chose not to re-enroll Cilla for ECFE. I know people love that program, and that’s wonderful. We can do sensory table, art projects, play dough, songs, and socialize with other moms and toddlers all within the walls of our home. I love looking to Pinterest and Instagram for ideas. I’m less worried about Cilla getting sick because we’re in our own environment. I love that there’s an open gym we can visit anytime should we like, and parks nearby, but we’re getting quite a workout on the three staircases of our Victorian home. We have the time, energy, and space for fun projects because we simply aren’t running around all day. Like my mom did, I place Priscilla on my lap while I sew seams of a hem. I am much preferring these slow and simple moments. The margin created leaves room for the fun things.

Preparing simple, but nutritious meals for my family doesn’t really make me an overachiever. I’m at home more, and so we love to cook together. We don’t live nearby many places that deliver. Priscilla will sign “please” for the mini spatulas, whisk, or to sit in her chair while I mix up bread dough. With baking and cooking she is learning basics in chemistry, so I don’t feel badly that we haven’t been to the Science Museum yet. We’ll get there. Cooking and baking connects me to the long line of ancestors before me whose kitchens were holy and sacred spaces. My first memories with my own mother are baking in the kitchen together, I cannot recall a time when it was not done, and the continuation feels like a round in a song, never ending. Cooking allows our family to save money and maintain our health. I love sourcing ingredients from local places and recently enrolled in a pork and egg share from a nearby farmer. If I was running around exhausted from activity to activity, I might not have the patience to invest in finding a CSA.

Call me something, but I don’t think my daughter at eighteen months needs a week full of dance class, swimming lessons, structured institutional play, or indoor adventures to play places. We have a yard covered in beautiful green grass and bright flower buds, we have friends who come visit us (when we’re not in a pandemic), there’s adventure and learning to be had while on errands, and the marvel my daughter takes in watching the mailman each day shows me that she appreciates the simple things. I wonder if there’s a sort of fear that not keeping ourselves stretched thin as mothers of littles will make us or them bored? Maybe there’s a pressure to sign up for more than we can take? I encourage each mother to evaluate what she has the energy for. It is a freeing thing to say, “no thank you” and instead choose the best for your situation.

Coming home from a lunch date in January, a kind, older gentleman moved to grab the door for me as I carried Priscilla, now an added weight in addition to my pregnant belly. “My baby is twenty-one,” he told me, and for a moment I tried to imagine what that even feels like to say. “Each stage is hard and wonderful, enjoy it all.” I smiled and thanked him. I choose to love and soak up these small, simple, everyday moments because I know it is already going too fast. Oftentimes, before we fall asleep, Seth and I will scroll through our phones looking at photos of Priscilla. Her newborn days are now like a distant memory, a closed chapter, and she’s already not the baby she was when we moved into our home just nine months ago.

Mother-time is an unstoppable train, the speed exponentially running along, and our parents and the older passersby on the street beg us to slow down, embrace, cherish. I know those sentiments are lost on many, and some find them annoying, but they are for me a poignant and accurate reminder that leaning out and opting out to spend moments with my daughter will never be choices I’ll regret.

Katherine DeGroot
Katie has always felt like a mama. First to the children of her friends, a lifestyle family photographer, and then as a nanny. Motherhood took her by surprise one December afternoon while sitting in a doctor’s office. As a way to curb the anxieties and fears, she took to documenting her growing belly with the basic letter board. Stories and words have always been her first and favorite medium of expression. She describes herself as a little bit radical and a lotta traditional. Katie and her husband Seth welcomed their daughter Priscilla Anne in August 2018 forty-five minutes after arriving at their birth center. The midwife told Katie to come in a little sooner next time or choose a home birth. Since, life hasn’t been the same in the very best kind of way. The craziest thing she ever did was agree to go camping with Seth six weeks postpartum, with a newborn, in the Black Hills. Katie always dreamed of being a stay-at-home-mom and in many ways despite the messes, nap protests, or general motherhood exhaustion, it’s a calling that fits like a glove. You can follow along with her daily snaps on her personal instagram, her professional photos here, and find her ramblings on her mama blog

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