I grew up in a family that valued academic achievements. By the time I was eleven, I had already won two writing competitions, one of which earned me a meeting with the mayor of New York City at that time, Edward Koch. Throughout high-school and college, obtaining academic achievements became my drug of choice – a guaranteed adrenaline-pumping ego-booster. Yet I remained blissfully unaware of how dependant I had grown on these external measures of success and self-esteem until I took the plunge into parenthood.

What I mean by the plunge is the decision to put my children's needs ahead of any other consideration, a decision that submerged my personal and professional selves in the sea of family life. Surprisingly, it was not until my second child was born that this became necessary. As a parent of one child, I could still balance between motherhood and professional development. My son's birth transformed a potential career climb into an Everest-esque hurdle, where I angrily resented anything that took me away from him, even if the commitments I had made had been voluntary and once the objects of fierce desire.

The plunge was a decision to get off the fast trackThe plunge was a decision to get off the fast track, exchanging it instead for a slow-dog paddle, by no means graceful, but nevertheless, an effective means of travel. I work part-time, but my work does not eat away at my family time, or leave me exhausted and drained, already on empty as I walk in the door. My home, once a place of rest and a chance to be "off-duty" has become instead the primary arena where I work and accomplish.

And yet, for the first time in my life, there is no visible record of my accomplishments. In fact, when done well, it is impossible to perceive parenting being done at all. A house that has been allowed to become a tempest is noticeably cleaner when it is finally dealt with. Yet the daily maintenance of a well-kept house is almost invisible. A child that has been allowed to run wild and unruly is noticeably changed when discipline is finally applied. Yet the continuous and responsible education of our children is noticeable only in the future, when the external limits have become fully internalized.

Without regular external measures of success, I find myself strangely adrift, and sometimes a little depressed. The price I have paid for full-time parenthood is long stretches of boredom, characterized by my overly keen sense of my own availability. Although I am always on-hand to deal with illnesses or a crisis, fortunately there are long stretches of time, when nothing happens to provide that adrenaline rush of feeling truly and indispensably needed. Rather I am left feeling backstage, and on-standby, poised for the next challenge.

At these times, I am tempted to over-respond, transforming birthdays and holidays into extravaganzas in order to fill my own needs of excitement and accomplishment. Recognizing my own motivations, I try to reign in the urge for extravaganza, which is almost always accompanied by overspending as well.

Nobody is waiting to give us a raise, a promotion, or even a handshakeAfter a lifetime measuring myself according to the values and goals that others have established for me, establishing my own is a challenge I struggle with daily. Yet this struggle has forced me to confront myself, and recognize my own priorities. I have learned that keeping my calm, and holding onto my self when the tension hits, mean more to me when I get into bed at night, than freshly baked cookies, or even clean floors.

And if calm mothering is my goal, I have to commit myself to making that a priority, rather than allowing it to remain "just a nice thing when it happens." I have to structure my day so I can make my best self available to my kids. That sometimes means passing up other commitments that excite me, but also leave me drained, because once I reach that drained state, it is hard to do my best mothering.

There are no Mommy Olympics, no gold and bronze medals for allowing ourselves to become a little less self-oriented, a little more other-centered. Nobody is waiting to give us a raise, a promotion, or even a handshake in acknowledgement. Accepting the challenge of becoming inner-centered means that I am committed to spending my time according to my values and priorities, rather than allowing how I spend my time to be determined by the things that will get me recognition in the eyes of others.

Instead I work on building myself from the inside, and recovering from a life-long dependency on external measures of success. Our sages teach, "Kol kevudah bat melech penimah" – the dignity of the Jewish woman is within. I used to believe this meant within the house. But now I believe it truly refers to within herself. No longer dependent on external measures, she sets the scale for appraising her own self-worth.