Vulnerable Thoughts, Valuable Truth
About two months ago when Olivia was about two months old, I read a quote that has been percolating in this new mom’s mind ever since: “A child isn’t an interruption from the important work; A child is the important work.” (I wish I knew where I read it, but “mommy brain” has clouded my mind and for the life of me, I can’t remember!)
In my heart I deeply agreed with those words. After all, I had dreamed of becoming a mom for as long as I could remember. At first, reading this wisdom brought great freedom from the guilt of not tackling the laundry or promptly returning emails. Life was different now, and my sole responsibility was to nurture my newborn instead of checking things off my to-do list. If anything else got accomplished besides nursing, changing diapers, and bouncing Olivia that day, it was icing on the cake.
But I’ll admit, even though I loved being a mom, I still struggled with adjusting to my new way of life and as I settled into my new role, that quote stirred up a slight panic in me. I didn’t realize how much I had grown accustomed to my pre-baby lifestyle. I loved having time to meet with women and chat over coffee, write for an uninterrupted block of time, read my Bible and journal my thoughts, cook dinner and entertain friends at our house, exercise when I pleased, and browse through Target at a leisurely pace. Not to mention, I looked forward to my weekly date night with Jared and enjoyed downloading about our days over dinner on the nights in between.
And then one day, we brought a sweet baby home from the hospital and our lives have never been the same. We fell deeply in love with our long-awaited bundle but we also experienced our fair share of difficult moments.
One of those challenging days was over a month ago now. It took me a while to figure out what was bothering me, but I felt very anxious. All day. I couldn’t shake the cloud that loomed over me. And of course on that particular day, Livi wanted to exercise her vocal cords. All day. It seemed everything I tried throughout that day didn’t appease her. And honestly, I was exasperated. At one point when she was screaming and I was trying to calm her down, I said to her, “I know, sweetie, it’s okay to cry. Mommy wants to cry too!”
I finally calmed her enough to rock her in the glider in her room. As my body swayed with the movement of the rocker, my mind raced with all of the things I still had to do. Cook dinner. Clean the hardwood floors. Empty the dishwasher. Finish thank you notes. Respond to emails.
Yet, instead of accomplishing anything on my list, I was sitting upstairs in a dark room holding my baby because she had finally dozed off to sleep. As I rested my head on the cushion and asked God to speak to me, I felt Him say, “Stay.” And I knew exactly what He meant. Don’t try to tiptoe to her crib, lay her down and then scurry out the door to accomplish a few things in those glorious moments of silence. Instead, I knew He wanted me to sit and hold my sweet daughter and allow God to calm me in the stillness as well.
I sat in that chair for over an hour as I held my sleeping girl and talked with God. I asked Him to enter into my frustrated thoughts and point me to truth. Slowly as I quieted my heart, He revealed some freeing insights to me.
One of the insights He showed me surprised me. I realized that I was carrying around some shame over not enjoying each and every moment of motherhood. I felt so guilty that I had prayed so fervently for a baby and then when she arrived, there were moments that I felt overwhelmed and even wondered if I was cut out to be a mom. Every time I talked with someone who exclaimed, “Aren’t you just loving every minute?” I felt a sandbag of guilt pile on top of me. Was it okay to admit that although, yes, I loved my daughter to pieces, no, I wasn’t loving every single second? In all honesty, I was shell-shocked with how much our lives had changed and I was emotionally and physically exhausted. And although I couldn’t believe I was saying it, I missed parts of my before-baby life. Sleep. Quiet. Reflection. Connectedness.
As I continued to rock Olivia, a quote came to my mind that kept popping up in conversations and in my reading: “Wherever you are be all there.” I have noticed whenever there is a theme I need to tune my ear to what God may be saying to me, and so I’ve been thinking a lot about these words. (I wrote a few of my thoughts about being present here.) It is definitely the desire of my heart for Olivia to know that she isn’t just a distraction to what I really want to be doing; she is my primary focus and I want to be “all there” when I am mothering her. However, if I could be honest in my brief experience of motherhood thus far, I am realizing that in order to be all there for her, I have to have some moments to recharge. I’ve struggled with the guilt I have felt for needing a break from wearing a mommy hat. Was it okay that I needed a respite? And was it okay to admit that even though I loved Olivia there were parts of being a mom that were really challenging and even discouraging?
Yes and yes, I have found that it is okay. It’s taken me a while to realize that part of my anxiety was due to the fact that I wasn’t living up to the elusive “perfect mother” image that whispered to me in my not-so-great hours, “Every other mom cherishes these moments; what is wrong with you?” Thankfully after several discussions with dear friends, I am realizing that many moms have felt this way too but they’ve been afraid to admit it. One of the most guilt-lifting realizations was that it’s not that I don’t want to be a mom. Quite the contrary, I want to be a great mom, and I am learning part of the way for me to be that is to not only take care of my daughter and husband but take some moments for myself to replenish and especially have moments with God so that when I am mothering Olivia, I can be “all there.”
However, as we all know, having these realizations and integrating them into our reality can be the challenging part. As I look back over the last four months, finding time for me has hardly happened since Olivia was born—and not because my husband hasn’t been supportive or our parents haven’t been willing to babysit. It’s just that there’s so much to do and my rejuvenating time can easily be pushed out by piles of laundry, a full inbox, and a long list of errands. I now can totally comprehend how motherhood becomes all encompassing and before you know it, you don’t even know who you are anymore apart from being a mom. Part of this is good; my life has great purpose in caring and nurturing for a little life. But part of this, I am realizing, can be so dangerous if I am not careful to nurture who I was before becoming a mom and who I want to be as a woman.
And so I am learning, as much as mothering can be very satisfying, it is not my sole identity. I am also a writer, a teacher, a friend, a daughter, a sister, a wife, and most of all, a follower of Christ. When my identity rests here and I nurture all parts of me, I can view my new life and my new role with such greater perspective and I can also enjoy my mommy moments so much more.
Just like spring is hopefully arriving here, I’ve come to view life in seasons. It occurred to me as I’ve been processing all of these thoughts about being a mom that this little block of time with a young baby (or insert whatever stage you are in) is a season. It won’t last forever and I can understand a bit more why people who have lived through a particular season look back with a glimmer in their eye and say, “Cherish every moment.” When you look back on a season, it is a lot easier to skip over the extra hard days and just remember the sweet moments (like my college days!).
Which reminds me of a situation I experienced recently with Jared’s lovely ninety-two-year-old grandmother. While we were visiting, she kept saying over and over, “the years go by so quickly,” and “enjoy every one of these moments” and “hold her as much as you can because she’ll be too big really soon.” I didn’t seem to mind her comments as much because I am sure when you’re in that situation where you are looking at your great granddaughter, the scenes from all of your life seem to flash before you and it feels like yesterday when you were cradling your own. I also didn’t mind because she prays for us constantly, loves us well, and her heart is so kind. Later on during our visit, Olivia became very fussy and started uncontrollably crying. I was bouncing her back and forth through the living room trying to calm her down to no avail. After a good while, Grandma Warner looked at me and with such sweet sincerity in her voice she said, “That was good for me to see and remember that there are hard moments too.” I can’t tell you how validated I felt. I have thought of that moment so many times since and have tried to take to heart her advice of holding Olivia more as well as remembering that some moments as a mom are just plain hard.
After two months of reflecting, I am realizing that yes, raising a child is very important work. But the most valuable endeavor is what Beth Moore reminded me in her teaching series on Deuteronomy when she said, “To be a successful mother in God’s eyes, love the Lord with everything you have got.” The overflow of loving and seeking God will bring the energy, joy, and perspective needed to be the mother and woman God has created me to be. Now, that’s important work.