Your Motherhood Zone of Genius | How to Find Your Mothering Groove
Every time my husband and I attend an event at our daughter’s elementary school, I have the same thought - “How in the world do these teachers spend all day with these kids?”
What fascinates me the most is that they have the same thought about my chosen teaching job. As a teacher at an alternative high school, I often hear from other educators that they could never work with my students.
Give me a room full of “at risk,” unmotivated teenagers any day and I can help them graduate. But put me in a class of kindergartener and they would eat me alive.
Just like teachers have ages and subjects they work well with, the same is true for moms.
No one would ever expect an elementary music teacher to know what to do in a high school algebra class. Yet as moms, we’re expected to excel with all ages and in every facet of their caretaking and development.
From the demands of a completely dependent newborn to helping choose a college, the skill set required to parent effectively throughout our children’s lives changes daily.
Not only do we parent through different stages of development, motherhood necessitates we provide healthy meals, arrange appropriate medical care, read educational books, instill self-sufficiency, and throw killer birthday parties.
Yes, I know from social media it appears every other mom is slaying in every aspect of every age.
But, she’s not.
Some women do tend to find their way through motherhood easier than the rest of us, but no one excels at every part.
The challenge for us is to find those areas we naturally enjoy and where we shine.
Currently, we hear this identified as our Zone of Genius.
Gay Hedricks coined this framework in his book, “The Big Leap.” His concept of the four zones of incompetence, competence, excellence and genius is often used to assist people in developing their professional lives and guide them to fulfilling and successful careers.
Although this book Is useful reading for lots of areas of life, here I think we should take a look at this paradigm and apply it to our parenting lives.
If we come to terms with our different zones of mothering, we find where our skills (or lack thereof) fit and begin to enjoy ourselves more on this journey, even when we’re muddling through the toughest parts of the job.
So let’s go through these zones and see how they can help us flesh out a more colorful portrait of ourselves as moms and find more satisfaction in this role.
Zone of Incompetence
I am a terrible hostess. I have not figured out how to turn a special occasion into a real celebration with beautiful decorations, tasty food and the perfect touches to make the event memorable.
When my oldest daughter, Emery, graduated from high school, her dad hosted her party. Fortunately for me, my ex and I had maintained a strong co-parenting relationship and since he was naturally better at throwing parties, I let him be completely in charge. I basically showed up and helped greet the guests.
However, between Emery’s graduation and my next daughter’s senior year, he moved away. I instantly began to dread being in charge of Ellis’s party. Graduation parties aren’t like birthdays. They don’t happen every year. High school graduation is literally once in a lifetime and it was up to me to celebrate hers.
I toyed with a lot of ideas for the party, but mostly worried about food. Not only am I not a great hostess, I’m not a great cook. I needed to come up with an easy way to make this party a success.
After a lot of anxiety and discussions with my mom, Ellis and I finally decided on a nacho bar. Since the party was from 4:00 to 6:00 pm on a Friday, we needed something to bridge the gap between snack and meal. It was simple and thankfully, successful.
But if you evaluated my parenting on how many great parties I’ve thrown for my kids throughout their lives, I’d rank as incompetent.
Luckily, that’s not the only criteria by which my parenting is judged.
If you’re basing your mothering satisfaction on how well you do things in your zone of incompetence, you’re bound to feel like a parental failure.
Obviously, some of the parts of parenting in your zone of incompetence can’t be avoided. But remember, these ages and stages will pass and you’ll have an opportunity to thrive in your other zones.
So take a moment to make a list of parenting obligations that fall into your zone of incompetence and work on coming to terms with the fact they’re just not your thing.
And that’s alright. We’ll get to your good stuff soon.
Zone of Competence
In between my two older daughters and my youngest, there was quite a gap when I was sure I’d never have another baby. (That confidence remained until I discovered I had a surprise on the way!).
In those intervening years, my sister had a baby and I’d watch her occasionally. When Sophia reached about 18 months, my sister was picking her up from my house one evening and I said, “Don’t bring her back until she’s three.” My sister laughed.
But I meant it. Not completely, but kind of.
Those toddler years to me are the worst. While others ooh and ahh over a babbling two year old, I’m ready for them to leave my house pretty quickly. They never stop moving and demand constant attention.
Yes, I can keep a toddler safe and out of danger and entertain them reasonably well. So I’m not incompetent at it, but most people do it better than me. And I don’t enjoy it at all.
I think the zone of competence is a big one for a lot of moms. It encompasses a lot of what we have to do on a daily basis.
We’re competent, but the exhaustion of constant caretaking wears us down. This must be where “the days are long” phrase comes from that we use so often.
And because this zone includes things we can do but just don’t enjoy, it’s more difficult to eliminate them from our lives. Because unless you have a budget to eat out constantly, you’re going to cook sometimes, even if you don’t like to.
How much of your parenting life are you spending in this zone? If you feel overwhelmed and worn out, you’re probably hanging out here in the zone of competence.
And though it’s a little tougher to stay out of this rut, at least having an awareness of how much you’re there can alleviate some of the fear of failing at being a mom.
So enough time in this zone, let’s get ourselves where we want to be.
Zone of Excellence
Now we’re getting somewhere.
This zone is where you’re starting to have the chance to do the things you’re “highly skilled” at.
When my kids were in the “two and under” age group, I wasn’t sure any parts of my days or life were in this zone and I feared I’d never find my mothering groove.
But as the girls got older, I found myself in the zone of excellence more often. No longer consumed by daily routines where I felt completely incompetent, I began to thrive as a mother.
If you don’t know what your zone of excellence is, ask your kids. See what they tell you about how you’re a good mother.
Maybe you excel at cooking nutritious meals for your family or you’re naturally good at keeping a household organized and running efficiently. These skills don’t come easily for everyone, so embrace your excellence.
Another way to find where you are in this zone is to ask your friends. But ask them to be specific and reflect on what you do that makes them classify certain activities as being in this zone.
Then try to believe it yourself. Make a list of ways you’re a good mom. Focus on those and make an effort to spend more time in this zone or at least enjoy the time you spend there.
And if you’re parenting a stage that taxes your soul, console yourself by realizing you’ll find an age or stage where you get yourself back into these upper zones and enjoy your parenting days again.
Zone of Genius
Have you ever thought of yourself as a parenting genius? It might sound braggadocious to say this, but you have places as a mom where you excel and you need to recognize and acknowledge those.
What is the area of parenting nobody can do quite like you?
I can’t stand to sit on the floor and play a game with kids, but I can raise strong, independent women like nobody’s business.
Both my older two girls have gone to Spain to study independently, one is headed to an Ivy League law school this fall, and one steps up to serve her community in ways that impress all who know her.
My eight year old is on her way to joining her sisters in the ranks of independent women. She already champions the girls in her class when the boys try to tell them they’re not as good at math or running or hide and go seek.
I could brag on and on about them, but you’d get tired of it.
When someone mentions how great my girls are, I give them the credit. But in my mothering heart, I’ve reached a point where I can admit I had something to do with it.
Whether it was giving them space to do big things or sacrificing financially to give them those opportunities, some combination of my parenting skill set landed me in my zone of genius in this area.
My girls don’t get care packages at school like other college students and I can’t create a memorable Christmas dinner, but I think they’d take the trade.
So where do you find your mothering groove in a way that’s like no other?
If you don’t know, you may not have found it yet. I didn’t realize mine until my girls were teenagers. In fact, the first “motherhood writing project” I started was a book for women who had kids and felt they’d made a big mistake. (I never finished it back then because I couldn’t see the light in my motherhood journey to even have the energy to write).
But your motherhood zone of genius exists.
You have to find it, then believe it.
And believing it might be the hardest part.
You don’t have to be in the zone of genius with your newborn.
You may buy into the myths of being a good mom and set such unrealistic expectations for yourself you feel like you’re always in the zone of incompetence.
But you’re not. You’re not even always in the zones of competence and excellence.
You can find your zone of genius and experience your mothering groove in a way that gives you the maternal satisfaction you may be wondering if you’ll ever find.
So if you’re struggling to make it through the first year, or your child is behind in toilet training and you fear you’re doing it all wrong, or your teenager is coming home past curfew, you’re not doomed to motherhood failure.
In fact, know that you’ve got a lot to look forward to.
Because when you find your motherhood zone of genius, you’ll no longer feel like the physics professor assigned to wipe the noses of first graders.
You’ll know that even when you’re in the zones of incompetence or competence, you don’t have to stay there.
You’ll begin to believe you’re a mothering genius and any child is lucky to have you as a mom.