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I was raised with a very strong sense of duty. You show up on time, keep your commitments even if it’s uncomfortable or inconvenient. I recognized early on in life that there are lot of things you do because it’s right and good, not necessarily because you want to.
Then enter parenthood. Suddenly the list of shoulds became huge and sometimes they contradicted each other. Baby should sleep in bed with mommy vs. Baby should never sleep in bed with mommy. Children need to play independently especially outside vs. Children should never be left alone outside for any period of time.
Other times the standards set felt insurmountable. Children should rarely, if ever watch TV, have sugar, wear clothing made of two kids of fabrics. (Ok, I made that last one up.) Being a mom meant a world filled with new levels of obligation and oceans of new guilt. With every decision I made, there was enough evidence and social pressure from the opposite opinion that I doubted myself constantly. Staying at home, homeschooling, the list went on. It wasn’t that I was too overwhelmed to make choices, just that I was almost never confidence I was making the right ones.
Sometimes even when I was unhappy with the course I’d set, I felt powerless to try and change it. Why put in all that extra effort if it wasn’t necessary, I was still going to feel guilty and tomorrow a study will come out to suggest that my original choice was right all along?
It took me a long time to silence the voices of duty. Honestly, they are with me still. But quieter whispers now instead of demanding shouts. It is easier to ignore them and try instead to replace them with words of truth. Not that I don’t fulfill my responsibilities, I’m just more deliberate what I commit myself too. But I haven’t yet learned to quiet the murmurings of guilt when I read another article or see another volunteer need.
Sometimes I let them become quite loud, and they drown out the beauty and the wonder of this life that I am both carefully chosen and yet accidentally found. (Because so much of life with that strange combination of intentionality and serendipity).
But I’m working hard to pray for mercy instead of cling to impossible standards and ask for wisdom instead of being wracked with doubt. All my shoulds and oughts were covered by the blood at the cross, and that doesn’t exclude my parenting ones.
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I haven’t had a full night’s sleep in nearly two weeks. We’ve been virtually house bound (except for a 20 minute run to the grocery store) for nearly two weeks. First came the snow, then the respiratory infection my daughter had. Followed by the stomach bug that hit both the big kids and my husband. My daughter became so dehydrated we thought we were going to the emergency room. Now the baby has a nasty cold. Definitely not the week I had planned.
I know these are just part of parenting. I feel like, for the most part, I’ve accepted it. But this time was different. I could feel my nerves wearing thin by the fourth night of getting up with one vomiting child or another. When I have to leave the door open and I don’t really sleep because I know the minute I close my eyes, someone will need me. It is exhausting. It has been such a challenge for me to sleep in this new house, it still doesn’t fully feel like home.
There are so many things I want to be doing and things I feel like I should be doing. Instead I’m tackling the 18th load of laundry and disinfecting everything in sight. I found myself angry at my daughter yesterday because she didn’t like the food I made for her (though she had requested it). I snapped at my son when he decided to serve himself soy milk into multiple glasses and onto the table. Even the baby, who is usually my happiest and most easy going child, threw his lunch on the floor. (I guess nothing tastes good when your nose is stuffy and you can’t blow it).
I have never been great at embracing this part of parenting. I love the cuddling babies, the connecting with my big kids. The light in their eyes when they learn something new. But the drudgery and monotony gets to me. I also have trouble with the way an illness just derails life. I want to be the nice person who doesn’t spread the germs so I have to be the mean mom that makes everyone miss their activities. Some women rise to the occasion at times like this. I always survive (as does everyone else) but just barely.
Instead of leaning into the difficult moments, and soldiering on, I find myself holding my breath, waiting for the other shoe to drop and praying like crazy that things will just return to normal.Because this crazy life is hard enough without everything being derailed indefinitely until the bug of the month has had its fill of terrorizing my family and moves on.
I want to be able to learn to feel the embrace of the Father during times like this. I am not alone. I don’t know why some of my prayers whispered in desperation in the dark weren’t answered. I’m grateful for the one’s that were. I watched my children sit at the dinner table last night and I was overwhelmed with gratitude. Yes, they were driving me crazy, but they were all there. The baby isn’t throwing up, though his nose is stuff. My son is fully recovered. My husband is back at work again. My daughter averted an ER visit and is showing interest in normal food again. For this I can be thankful. Until next time, I continue to try and hear His voice amid the daily chaos, hoping that when the difficult times come again, I will feel His presence more.
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As a mom and a wife, I never feel like I have enough to give. Some days I get so swept up in the planning for the future in the hopes of eventually being able to relax that I find myself always working. Sometimes this is necessary. There is no avoiding the necessary aspects of my life as we’ve chosen to live it right now. But I also can’t keep waiting around for when I can offer more or what I see as a better version of myself. Because all that is guaranteed to me is this moment, this time.
I’m trying to allow myself to do what I can right now. That means if I can cuddle my son, if only for a minute, I do. If my daughter leans in for a hug, I pull her tight and kiss her cheek as I let her go. When my husband reaches for me, I reach back. I don’t always succeed at this. (Especially if my son has a dirty face or a runny nose, as he often does lately). But I’m trying to give myself permission to offer what I have.
I may not be able to spend hours reaching aloud to them and finish every book on our school list. But if I am at all able to read to them at a moments notice, put aside whatever I’m doing that isn’t essential and invest in them, that is worthwhile. I may not spend as much time playing on the floor with the baby as I wish I could, but if I can spare ten minutes to cuddle and wrestle (yes, my one year old does indeed love to wrestle) it still communicates my love to him.
Sometimes all I can offer is now. It may not be much. I may be bleary eyed from another late night packing boxes, furiously knitting Christmas presents or wrapping gifts. But I’m here. Better to offer what I have, then wait for the chance to do it better in the future. Because my children may not remember the quality of our time together but hopefully they will remember that I was there.
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“Oh, forget it!” I say. But what I really mean is “I can’t muster the energy to repeat myself again.”
“Never mind.” I grumble. But I really want to say “It isn’t fair that I have to do all of this work on my own. Listen for once and come help me.”
“It doesn’t matter.” But it does matter.
Deep in the trenches of the crazy season of an active almost four year old (how can he be almost four already?), a sassy, six year old and a five month old who’s needs are changing daily; it’s easy to feel alone.
Because the buck always stops with mommy. Yes, I have a loving and supportive husband who is an involved dad. But he is only here a few hours a day. I am the default parent. The twenty-four hour kin keeper.
Sometimes it takes too much energy to repeat myself again and I just give up trying to communicate. When no one else (by which I mean my children) can be motivated (through encouragement, cooperation or punishment) to help with the daily tasks needed to keep the house going, it falls on me.
I am neither happy homemaker nor bitter martyr, at least not yet. I’d rather toward being the former than the latter. Because, yes, I want to train them up so they can care for themselves and their households one day. But other times I don’t want to referee one more fight over whose turn it is to use the toilet brush or threaten removal of privileges just to get clothes put away and toys picked up.
I say forget it, but what I really mean is “Remember me? I don’t need a parade or a medal, I’d at least like appreciation and respect, or perhaps a little cooperation. I know I’m not owed it, but it would certainly help make these long days a bit easier.”
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photo courtesy of Twinkle Photo
I remember the morning well. Sitting at a table with a new mom at MOPS, a single mom who wasn’t sure if she belonged. She talked about how hard it was having to work full time and not seeing as much of her daughter as she liked. The attitudes from others (both Christians and not) that she had a child out of wedlock at all. How sometimes she felt inadequate as a mom. I’ll never forget what I said.
“The important thing is that you are here. You’re taking care of her and doing your best for her. You are trying to be a good mom.”
In a culture where risk of any kind is unacceptable and latest best selling parenting book or popular psychology expert tells us that we aren’t good enough as moms. Not just “not good enough” but “doing everything wrong and doomed to completely screw our kids up for life.” Where Pinterest perfect reigns supreme and we’ve all constructed our facades of put-togetherness so that we don’t let others see how things really are. Because let’s face it, we’re all just doing our best.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t seek the wise advice or seek to improve ourselves; but obsessing won’t make this job easier nor is it likely to make us better mothers. But most of us are just doing our best. We will never be perfect. Realizing this is half the battle. Laying our insecurities, our mistakes and pride (yep, it’s possible to feel insecure in one area of parenting and still feel prideful in another) at the foot of the cross. Acknowledging our daily and hourly need for help as women and as moms.
The important thing is that we are here. We may want to quit, run away and leave it all behind, but we haven’t. We’re still here in the trenches. We may barely get by some days, feeling as though we’re fighting a losing battle, but we’re trying nonetheless.
I need to take my own advice many days, especially right now. I’m not going to be perfect. There are many days where I know I won’t get it right. But I need to remind myself that I am the best mom for these kids and with much prayer (tears, desperation and frustration) keep trying.
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Photo courtesy of Twinkle Photo
I thought I’d left it behind. The daily anxiety that used to plague me. That kept me from doing the things I needed and wanted to do. Somehow, when I became am mom, I decided I wasn’t going to plan for the worst. Most of the time I don’t allow myself to fear what outside forces might to do my children. I don’t think about child abductions or playground accidents and I try not to obsess over my kid’s health. But what I didn’t see coming was the fear of what I could do to them. All of a sudden, with a third on the way and the other two at 3 and 6 I wonder what they’ll remember of these years and if any of it will be good.
Days spent trying not to yell and throw things, even if they are. Nights spent worrying that they don’t realize they are loved, or that they see love as a license to do whatever they please, thus leading to a life of selfish choices. (It’s at those moments that I try to remind myself that they are ONLY 3 and 6, ages which I’ve determined are the epitome of self-focus and egocentrism, at least for my kids).
I worry that I’ll resent them, and worse, that they’ll know it. That I will miss the good things among the bad. I fear that in my flawed humanness that somehow I’ll fail at trying to turn their gazes to the perfect one who makes all things new (including me, painful as it is).
I don’t allow myself to fear what the world can do to them, though I’m sure there is much to be had there if I let it in. But it’s hard to keep away my own doubts about myself as a mom; to believe that I really can do this, that they really were meant for me. When this next one arrives, it will be so simple. He will need me and I will be there. But with these older ones it’s much more complicated. They need me, but they push me away. They cling to me and I want to run. My love for them consumes me even as my anger smolders and I question every life choice that has brought me to this point.
If only there was a way to return to those early days of simple needs, where love really was all the answer we needed.
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Photo courtesy of Twinkle Photo
So often a gift comes with a challenge. How I wish it didn’t. Pregnancy comes with its pains (and of course the inevitable labor at the end). But that is the least of the challenges before us as parents. For each one of these little souls entrusted to our care, is also a source of some of life’s greatest frustrations and biggest difficulties. (At least in my parenting experience) My daughter is articulate, and creative with a phenomenal memory. But she remembers EVERYTHING and her logic is still a bit lacking. She also has a will that would put most CEO’s to shame. (Her nickname as a toddler was the littlest despot).
My son can be charming and sweet, which he tries to use to manipulate out of trouble he is often in because he is three and chaos is his middle name. I look at these creatures, these little gifts and I try to be grateful. I prayed and cried for these ones. I bled for them, I still work and fear for them. Yet, it’s easy to miss the blessing within the challenge. Sometimes I want to pray “God why did you give me ones like this?” especially when I see little children walking calmly though stores holding a parent’s hand or siblings playing contentedly together without destroying the house or maiming each other.
This third (and likely final) pregnancy has been an unexpected challenge this time around. From severe morning sickness that lasted all day to fatigue that I still can’t seem to shake midway through the second trimester. I try to remind myself of those moments in the first trimester when we thought we might lose this pregnancy and the feelings of desperation and fear. On the days when I have barely enough energy to keep the two I have alive (something which for some reason, people feel the need to point out to me. As in “Wow, why would you want another one when you are having so much trouble with the ones you have?” Because I don’t have enough doubts of my own, thank you for your support) I feel the questions of how this one will be. But I know. He will be a challenge. He may have a different personality, but all children present challenges in one way or another. It’s just the nature of family and parenting.
There is nothing easy about guiding and shaping hearts and lives and I don’t think it was meant to be. I can lament the ones I’ve been given and wish for something different. Or I can embrace the beauty and wonder of who they are, amid the chaos and challenge.
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