The truth about motherhood (reposted from May 2014)

A friend this morning asked me for advice for when a family of three becomes a family of four.  The first thing that popped into my head was, “Lower your standards and be ready for life to be much harder than it was when you brought home Baby #1.”  Not very encouraging, maybe, but true.  I remember about a month or so after Catherine was born, at a neighborhood gathering, a veteran mom of four asked how things were going.  I said they were going ok, but I guess she could hear behind the words that “ok” didn’t really mean “ok.”  She then just casually commented that when she added a second child, she didn’t think she would survive the first six weeks.  That was probably the most freeing sentence anyone ever spoke to me up to that point.  Just like that, I realized that this motherhood thing is hard for everyone!

So today, as I’ve replayed my response to my friend, wondering if I should have colored things a bit rosier, I’ve realized how thankful I was for that mom who wasn’t afraid to admit the truth about motherhood.  When all we present to the world is the edited version of our mothering experience, we do all those other moms a huge disservice.  When all they see of our lives is the highlight reel, when we conveniently leave out the blooper reel, we leave them feeling as if they are the only moms who have bloopers.  Then they, too, start hiding their bloopers, in order to appear just as perfect as everyone else, and the cycle goes on and on, resulting in lots of moms feeling very alone and very much like failures.

But there is another side to the coin.  After I told my friend to expect hard, I did go on and say, “But it’s so worth it. Obviously.  Look at how many more times I did it!”  I don’t know how many times I’ve been subjected to complaints and discouraging prophecies from other mothers.  “Just wait til they’re teenagers!”  “Man, I feel sorry for you!  If I had that many kids I’d go crazy!”  Or the worst one, right in front of her children, a mom said “My own two kids are bad enough.  I could never have six!”  Just as some moms only present the highlight reel, others only present the blooper reel, as if there were never any happy moments at all.  This is just as bad, because not only are they failing to realize the beautiful gifts they have been given in their children, but complaining tends to be contagious, and before you know it, you find yourself joining right in, commiserating about how horrible motherhood is.  We should be ashamed of ourselves if we have ever been that mom.

So enough with the skewed stories of motherhood.  Let’s begin telling things like they are.

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Motherhood is filled with a few glorious, shining, highlight moments, and millions and millions of mundane, ordinary, and repetitive moments.  By my calculations, it takes approximately 5475 diaper changes, 2555 peanut butter sandwiches, 3259 ponytails, 4000 miles in the van, almost 2000 hours in the gym, and about 14,678 moments of “Watch this, Mommy!” throughout the life of an 8-yr-old to get her to one shining moment as State Balance Beam Champion.  The world (via Mom’s Facebook) sees the girl with the beaming smile on top of the podium.  But Mom was there for all those other seemingly insignificant moments.  And those are the mundane, ordinary moments that make up Mom’s life.

Motherhood means spending your life for others. Motherhood means spending your days going from diaper change to peanut butter sandwich to ponytail to dishwasher to laundry to spanking to schoolwork to dinner to bathtub to bedtime story to “Go back to bed and do not get up again!” and then waking up and doing it all over again the next day.

Motherhood is a life of pouring yourself out for your children.  Serving them, teaching them, training them, kissing their boo-boos and wiping their tears, cleaning them, dressing them, correcting them, disciplining them, praying for them, feeding them.  And motherhood is going to bed and lying awake thinking of all you didn’t do that you should have done, or all you did that you should have done differently, all you said that you should have said more gently, all you didn’t say that you should have taken time to say.

Motherhood is an almost constant state of feeling like you haven’t done enough.

And in the midst of piling all that mommy-guilt upon yourself, you are also constantly being judged by those around you, but mostly by other moms.  You don’t do things exactly like they do, so therefore you do things the wrong way.  You are harming your kids by sheltering them at home with you instead of sending them to school.  You are depriving them of material things and their parents’ attention by having too many of them.  Or maybe you are setting them in the lion’s den by sending them to public school, or setting them up to be a spoiled only child by depriving them of siblings.  You don’t feed them the right things.  You don’t dress them right.  You need to let them do more activities, or you have them enrolled in too many.  You don’t discipline them the right way, or talk to them in the right tone of voice.  And while we’re at it, you didn’t even give them the right names! The judgments fly thick and fast, and most of them are made out of a need to compensate for the judge-er’s own feelings of inadequacy.

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And motherhood is messy, which may be the understatement of the year.  Motherhood involves initiation rites such as having an infant projectile vomit into your face, diaper changes that necessitate a change of clothes for the baby AND the mommy, cleaning up after children who throw up in their beds, cleaning up after children who throw up in YOUR bed…you get the idea.

And it involves messy emotions, too.  You will go from a blissful in-love-with-this-child feeling to being completely and utterly exasperated with said child in the blink of an eye, and usually as soon as you are finished verbally expressing that exasperation to that child, the child will draw a picture of a heart with “I lov Moma” written in it and melt you into a puddle again.  Your older kids will leave you contemplating those animals that eat their young and wondering if maybe they don’t have the better idea after all, but then a kid at church will say something careless and heartless to them and you will be a different kind of mama bear.  The heart of a mother is not safe, not for any moment.  You will feel almost every emotion your child feels, because after all, that child is your heart walking around.

So why do we do it?  Why do we put ourselves through all this turmoil, all this exhaustion, all this yuckiness and self-denial and emotional upheaval?

Because of the rest of the story of motherhood.  The truth about motherhood is that love makes all the difference.  Love makes all the mundane moments colorful.  Love makes all the work a labor of joy.  Love makes it possible to take a deep breath and clean vomit off the couch.  Love makes it possible to hug the tearful child who is apologizing for saying she hates you.  Love makes the construction paper heart with scribbles on it the best gift you’ve ever received.  Love gives you the motivation you need to get up day after day and do it all again.  Love is why you agonize over whether you’re making the best choices for your child.  Love gives your glasses the rose-colored tint, so that when you finally get out of that bone-weary stage of sleepless newborn nights, or the stage of 3-yr-old stubbornness, or the awkwardness of the tween years, or the fighting for independence of the teen years, you are able to look back on them with the fondness that says to young rookie mothers, “Treasure every moment.  You’ll miss them when they’re gone.”

Without love, you’d be crazy to even consider motherhood.  But love transforms exhaustion to energy, ordinary to beautiful.  Motherhood runs on love.  Motherhood is giving and receiving love in a way that is not possible in any other relationship on earth.

Dear friend, whether you are contemplating becoming a mother, or adding to your family, or adopting, or mentoring someone else’s child, or nurturing a child in any shape, form, or fashion, here is my advice to you:

Motherhood, or any other form of loving a child, is hard.  It is so very hard.  Expect to not meet your own standards.  Expect to cry from discouragement and exhaustion.  Do not be taken off guard when this happens.

But it is worth it.  When you love a child, all those mundane, messy moments of the blooper reel fade into the background where they belong.  Yes, they’re there, they’re real, and they are very much a part of motherhood.  But the smiles, the hugs, the “Thanks, Mom!” moments, the dances in the rain, the joyous moments of seeing your child’s dreams come true, the simple days of picnics and playgrounds–those are the moments of the highlight reel that stay in the foreground of our memories.

So when you tell the story of your motherhood, don’t leave out the blooper reel.  Acknowledge your mistakes, your struggles, your feelings of inadequacy.  Let the other moms know that they are not alone.  But on the other hand, don’t be that mom that stops there, the mom who only ever has words of discouragement, who only ever complains about her kids and about motherhood.  And above all, if you are mothering in Christ, tell that first and foremost. Tell how you are able to mother only in His strength. Tell how He gives you peace to rest in His righteousness even when you have accomplished nothing or blown it. Tell them of the hope that can be theirs in Christ. Tell the truth about motherhood.  Tell the ordinary, tell the discouraging, and tell the glorious.  Because all that together makes up the truth about motherhood.
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This entry was posted in Making Belief Practical, Motherhood and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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