Who have you become since becoming a mother, since sharing your body, your breasts with another soul so frustrating and perfect you couldn't help but change? You became an expert on linguistics reading her cues knowing her needs, An authority on jaundice and heel pricks and hiccups, On not throwing yourself off a cliff during the hours she screamed. Adept at introducing new siblings, a master at breaking up fights. No surprise you've become the Howard Dean of your home. You're now a pundit on Pokemon, puberty, the development of teeth, the soundtrack to ZOMBIES (and Descendants, duh). You can speak confidently at baby showers of spit up, eczema, allergies. And you know damned well that the time goes by so. achingly. slow. torturously taxing from one runny nose to the next ear infection. And sure the years are short. You've mostly become an expert on asserting that this shit is hard in the hardest of ways and it's okay, it's okay, it's okay to feel it that way. You're not who you were nor who you'll become. You're just a lady - a portal - through which new life keeps pouring and you've learned you know nothing at all anyway.
I cursed when I almost fell down the front steps. (again) I cursed when the church bell clanged directly overhead, soul leaving body as I rushed late for pickup. (again) I found them waiting in a pew like the angels they (sometimes) are. I cursed quite loudly in the valley of the shadow of Walmart when the six-year-old knocked the cart completely off balance. (again) But we return, we reset, we begin. (again)
The National Guard is conducting live fire training five miles away, rattling our windows, frightening the dog, startling my jittery shell-shocked soul, driving home the point. My 11 year old draws a grenade, explains to me how it works, which is easier to survive, grenade in water or grenade on land. She learned this on YouTube from some scientists performing safety experiments. This experimental empathy, this walk in the shoes of another, this drawing breath while a sister sighs her last, baby in her womb sighing, too, This longing for peace, it combines and shreds to shrapnel the way things were, stripping them back, revealing what has been before and before and before. My slippered feet are comfortable in shearling while yours are sore from walking, running fighting, waiting for the other shoe to drop. I cannot comprehend this. In the morning I return to my poem, am interrupted by a clogged shower drain and the sound of rehearsing helicopters overhead.
I was once awakened in the middle of the night by the unmistakable sounds of a child rummaging in the bathroom. Pillaging, if you will. I mean, it could’ve been legitimate bathroom usage, but my half-wakened state and grizzled maternal instincts told me there was skullduggery afoot.
I got up to investigate. And also to pee because I’m an old lady and that’s what we do: investigate strange noises and pee in the night.
What I discovered shook me.
My son was using the bathroom.
The suspicious noises I had mistaken for shenanigans were, in truth, the sound of him replacing the toilet paper.
That’s right. The kid who consistently leaves a trail of particulate and mayhem in his wake was up at 3 am putting a new roll on the toilet paper holder.
Let’s let that sink in a moment, shall we?
He used up an old roll. Got a new roll. Put that roll on the actual dispenser.
He put it on properly, too. I watched as he adeptly scrunched the springy bit and expertly threaded it through the new roll. He got it on the dispenser with nary a struggle, confidently releasing the spring which is known to flummox even the most veteran of toilet paper roll replacers. He quietly snapped the fresh roll into place. Then he turned to me, tipped his metaphorical hat, and was gone.
Gone like a dream, or a spectre, or a spectral dream…
Upon further investigation, I realized that my son had placed the roll on in such a manner that the paper unrolled in the proper way. As I sat down to pee, I noted that the paper unfurled perfectly with the usable squares descending gracefully from the top. For a fleeting moment I considered that this might be proof, the very scientific proof I’ve been looking for to substantiate the theory that my children are not, in fact, barbarians.
What’s more, the lad disposed of the empty cardboard tube in the appropriate garbage receptacle. It was not laid to rest beside the trash can like so many fallen comrades before it. No, the battered little tube fell softly into the Walmart bag trash can liner clinging to its last three-ply fragments with the satisfaction of having achieved it’s purpose. The bag softly rustled as the tube landed, a gentle reminder that if a roll of toilet paper is replaced in the woods with no one around to observe it, the ripples caused by its replacement will make waves for eternity. Or something like that.
This happened weeks and weeks ago. To this day I am haunted by the remembrance of this event, routinely shaken to my core at having observed such a spectacle with my own mortal eyes. Every now and then, when I am gathering flotsam, and other sundry miscellany, and the scattered odd bits of refuse off of the bathroom floor, a vision of that night casts itself upon my mind’s eye and I think to myself, “Yeah, that did happen. Didn’t it?”
We’re deep into the weeds of homeschool around here. I mean, we’ve been at this for a week and a half, and it feels like a lifetime. Now obviously I’m a newbie and I’ll be the first to say that I’m no expert, but…like, at what point in this homeschooling gig will suggestions and gentle corrections not be met with eye rolling and/or aggression from the pupils??
Asking for a friend.
J/k, it’s me.
I’m the friend.
I’m trying real hard lately to pay attention to my strong emotions and trace them back to their roots. It’s this new thing I’m doing called self-awareness. I highly suggest it, but also it sucks.
The situations that get my blood boiling most these days (aside from medical atrocities being investigated at the border and general worldwide awfulness) stem from semi-regular moments in instruction with the kids. (I’m not naming names here because the team is getting older and I think they deserve their privacy.)
It feels like there are moments when literally everything I say is dumb and every gentle correction is a personal attack. It also doesn’t help that their father can do no wrong. Dad is brilliant! Dad is funny! Dad is cool! Dad explains so much better! Dad buys us fruit roll ups!
Dad teaches them the exact same math lesson that Mom attempted (but cut short due to tears and theatrics) using the exact same examples that Mom used and they listen to him as though his words drip honey and claim they’re hearing them for the very first time.
If I sound like I’m jealous, it’s because I am.
I admit it, I am horribly jealous of the camaraderie the kids have with their father, especially when it comes to school. If I’m not careful I start believing the lies my jealousy is telling me so the jealousy grows into anger, then resentment.
It hurts that they don’t listen to me the way I think they ought to. It hurts to feel misunderstood and second rate. It hurts when the message I’m receiving from the kids is that what I’m offering is garbage.
I recognize that this sort of thing is a completely normal facet of the mother/child relationship. I grated against my own mother when I was their age. Shoot, I still do it if she offers me a suggestion! It’s growing pains and tough transitions and I get that. The kids are stuck in a house with me all dang day. Of course a different voice is easier to listen to; it’s literally the only diversity in teaching they’re getting so it makes perfect sense. Of course they resent my criticisms. No one likes to be told they’re wrong, especially by their mother.
But I’m still resentful. I’m still jealous.
When I dig even deeper, I see that there’s a part of me that struggles with what I can only identify as the “moms are dumb” vibe. Culturally, it seems like moms are always the butt of the joke. Moms are the overlooked, overworked ones and it feels like dads get to sweep in and have the fun and be exciting. Dad is novel and Mom is humdrum and I resent that a lot. I want to be fun. I want to be exciting. I want to be the one that everyone is thrilled to see. I want to be special, and listened to, and loved.
Just writing that out and stepping back is so helpful. Again I’m tracing these feelings back to their root and remembering what’s true. Upon further reflection, it’s easy to see how hollow that “moms are dumb” argument is. It’s just as culturally acceptable to present dads as the useless, bumbling ones. I mean, watch any sitcom dad ever, right?
I also have to recognize the other side of the coin, to give weight to the fact that my husband sacrifices time at home to provide for us, purely so that I can stay home and have the opportunity to teach our children. He is a novelty to them precisely because he’s not able to be here all the time like he’d rather be.
And honestly there are plenty of times that the kids do prefer me. My sweet husband has endured literal years of babies refusing to be comforted except by me, fed by me, cuddled by me. They come to me with their emotional wounds and worries while they connect with him in different ways. It’s completely fair and right that there are times when I’m not the best person for the job.
The truth is, these children need both of us. I am not enough on my own because I was not designed to do this alone. I have been gifted a partner who loves us all and who shows up daily to do this soul wearying work alongside me without complaint. What an absolute gift he is.
So the problem is not the children or the husband, but my own disordered desires for control and approval. This thing that’s causing me grief, these little moments in my day that cause me to boil over in frustration are mirrors into my soul, opportunities for me to examine my motives.
Am I teaching my children so that I will be liked or so that they grow in intellect and holiness? Am I allowing myself to believe a lie that pits me against my children and my husband? Or am I noticing the places in my heart that lack holiness and taking these as opportunities to do better? Am I quick to anger when my children push back, or am I leaning in to learn a new way to connect with them? Do I receive their contrary attitudes with my own eye rolls and impatience or do I view their pushback as a barometer of where they themselves are feeing inadequate and vulnerable? Am I praying for my family as I ought to be?
I’m not going to nail it every time. I think the desire to be approved of and appreciated will always be a struggle for me. Yet, motherhood is sanctifying. My ultimate goal and deepest desire is to get my kids, my spouse, and myself to heaven. If that requires less of me, more of my spouse, sharing the spotlight, deeply appreciating the souls in my care, and heaping lesson upon lesson of humility, then so be it.
Yes, this vocation is sanctifying me, but only if I let it.
When I’m particularly struggling with the sin of pride, I like to go over the Litany of Humility. It is hard to pray and even harder to pray with true sincerity. I often find it necessary to add, “Lord, help my unbelief,” to the end. You can find the prayer here. You are so loved my friends, even in your pride and your jealousy, even in your less than pretty moments, you are indescribably loved.
Hey, gang…how y’all doin’? I hope you’re well. I wanted to talk to all you mamas about something that I’ve noticed many, many times in my years of motherhood, but that I was recently reminded of in a Facebook comments thread.
Here’s how it usually goes: Someone will post something about struggling with motherhood and it’ll get a chorus of “me too’s.” Inevitably, somewhere in the comments, one of those sentiments of solidarity carries a caveat, “I feel that, too, but I only have X number of kids.” It’s got that unspoken sense of comparison and failure that says, “It’s okay for you to feel that way because you have more children than I do, but if I also feel that way then I must be doing something wrong because I don’t have that many kids. I must be failing.”
Y’all, that is straight up bull slaw and I will not have it.
Listen to me. Your personal max is just that, the maximum threshold of challenge you have ever personally navigated. Struggle doesn’t discriminate based on family size, experience, age, or any other variable. This shiz is hard regardless.
We do this comparison/failure thing all the time with all sorts of things. You’re allowed to complain about being sore after running because you’re an ultra marathoner. I however, should shut up and stop whining because I can only run six miles, never mind the fact that I’ve only recently taken up running. You’re allowed to struggle with exhaustion after your work week, but I’m “only” a stay at home mom or I’m “only” a student without a “real” job so I should have nothing to complain about.
Guys, this is not only completely untrue, but it’s also unhelpful and unhealthy. When we’re talking about this issue as it pertains particularly to motherhood, I think it’s even more dangerous. Motherhood is intrinsically connected to the depths of my identity in a deeper way than being a runner, or an employee, or a student ever could be. My identity as mother defines me to my absolute core, so a sense of failure as a mother is felt far more deeply than any other failure I can think of. I think this is true for most moms I know.
We all know that comparison is as unhealthy as it is a natural response to being a human. We’re constantly tempted to check where we are in relation to the herd. Are we behind? Ahead? Keeping up? Holding people back? It’s human nature, which makes it that much harder to resist.
Mamas listen unto me. Hear my voice and take a second to really think about this. You are currently working at the maximum level of motherhood you have ever experienced. Of course your experience of parenting feels like it’s pushing you to your limit because it is. The number of children you have does not dictate the level of difficulty you are allowed to experience. I have friends with one child, friends with five kids, even a pal who has eleven. Each and every one of them is allowed to feel the magnitude of what they’re being asked to do on a daily basis. It does not matter if you have one child or fifteen, you’re allowed to feel the weight of that responsibility. You’re also allowed to be annoyed by the noise, mess, and sacrifice and also to laugh about it all. Numbers simply do not count here.
We wouldn’t expect a novice runner with shin splints to suck it up and stop complaining just because she’s never run a 10K or a marathon. Shin splints hurt no matter who is experiencing them. We wouldn’t tell a student cramming for finals to shut up and work just because she’s not currently a lawyer. Intellectual exertion pushes us to our limit regardless of the level of work we’re doing.
Mamas, you are allowed to take up space. You are allowed to admit things are hard and frustrating. You’re allowed to say, “me too,” and laugh at the absurdities of motherhood right alongside your sisters who are juggling more or fewer children than you. You are allowed to be there in the comments section, taking up space, and being part of the community. You’re allowed to be there, because here’s the thing. We want you there.
Comparison wants to whisper shame and tell you that not even your struggles are enough. Comparison wants you to be small, and insignificant, and alone. But in my experience, the right group of moms, and honestly the group that I’ve worked hard to cultivate and attract to my posts and writing, is the kind of group who wants you. If you don’t show up, we’re missing out on another voice validating us. If you don’t show up, we’re missing out on a chance to love you. If you don’t comment or say, “me, too,” we’re missing out on another voice in the herd reminding us that we’re all in this together regardless of family size, experience, or ability. We need you to show up. Desperately.
Now, I know that not all comments sections are kind. We obviously have to be wise and share our hearts with people who are safe and can be trusted, but that’s true no matter if we’re sharing on the internet or in-person. The other side of this is that we need to be on the look out for mamas who are making those comparison comments, the ones we can see who need a little extra validation. Those are the friends (or strangers) we need to speak up for, offer a hand and a reminder to that they’re important and loved. We need to take care of those mamas. Odds are, we’ve been on the receiving end of another mother’s kindness, too, and it’s our responsibility to pass that on.
Motherhood is such a gift. We get to experience creation, sacrifice, and intimacy with another human in ways that are almost inexplicable and then we get to have that person puke on us, and make us laugh, and walk away. It’s hard and it’s funny. Motherhood pushes us to our absolute maximum threshold every single day. The silver lining is that we also get each other. We get to be part of a community of sisters who gets us and sees us right where we are. We come in all shapes, sizes, numbers of kids, types of jobs, different cleaning styles, religions, ideologies, and so on. There are infinite differences, but we can all agree that this is the toughest, most rewarding gig we will ever have the privilege of holding down and navigating it alone is just not an option.
You belong here. You are wanted, and needed, and necessary. I hope you know that, my friend.