Category Archives: motherhood

Neurotic Mothering

I have a lot of anxiety about being able to give my kids what they need. I fret over whether I am too strict or not strict enough. I obsess about the differences between how I grew up and they are growing up and whether or not those differences are meaningful. I stress about how much sugar they eat, how few vegetables they eat, if they are on track developmentally, and if the penny Lucy swallowed a few years ago is still in her digestive track. I overthink whether I am emotionally available enough for them amidst all the laundry and activity, or that maybe I’m too emotionally available and they’ll become entitled. How do I know they’re getting what they need, but not too much? How do I know they’ll be ok?

I think this is the quandary of parenting. Since none of us has done it before, and no one else has done it with exactly our circumstances, then no one can guarantee that it will all be ok. No one can say for sure whether my kids are going to turn out all right. Throw in the whole concept of free will and you really can’t guarantee anything. It is the perfect storm for producing anxiety, which almost every parent experiences to one degree or another. Maybe you don’t have anxiety over the same things I do, but it’s a struggle for most of us when it comes to raising our kids.

 

With anxiety in general, and especially about our kids, one of the best things we can do is pray and truly leave it to God. I, like most, am a perfectionist in many things – and not in a good way. Parenting is no different. I try to fill every gap and hit every nail on the head with my kids, doing it all perfectly, not messing anything up, because it’s all up to me, right? And while I should do my best when it comes to parenting, I think something needs to change in how I approach it. I have to learn to leave it to God, to truly trust Him with these little treasures I’ve been given, and to trust that He will cover my blind-spots and inadequacies as a parent.

After all is said and done I know I will not have been a perfect mother; I will have messed up more than I would like to think about and in ways I can’t even understand. But in parenting, and everything else, God is after our interdependence more than He is after our perfect performance. He’s asking us to come to Him, to ask Him for help, to let Him have the control. We must let perfectionism give way to trust so that our lives are ordered correctly, including not allowing our kids and families to be placed before our relationship with God.

 

For me, this is where spirituality hits the road, gets down and dirty and real. God is in the minutiae of our lives and letting Him into the small things opens my eyes to just how much He wants to care for me. Let’s make it our aim to have an authentic faith that trusts Him with our children, our families, and all the little details we worry about.

 

Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds!  And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?  If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest?! (Luke 12:22-25)

 

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Our Identities As Mothers

As a culture we tend to categorize people with certain callings into different identities. It’s like we have different archetypes represented in different vocations. It looks something like, “If you’re a lawyer, then you’re a greedy, suit-wearing white man” or “if you’re a nun, then you’re a nice, habit wearing old lady”. I think it can be hard for people to separate their identities from the culturally prescribed archetype. It takes an ego strength, a self-knowledge, to live outside the rigid categories we think we should fit in.

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In Elizabeth Gilbert’s new book Big Magic, she dismisses the cultural archetype of the tortured artist. She exhorts artists to stop identifying with their suffering, and instead to look past it to live in the joy of their vocation. If artists don’t allow their creativity to be joyful, then they will almost resent the calling to be artists – their visceral need to create – and live their lives self-medicating their resentment.

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There is a parallel in the cultural identity of the “tortured mother” – or maybe the “overwhelmed mother” is more precise. The overwhelmed mother cannot keep all the moving parts together, her house is a mess, her children out of control, dinner not remotely nutritious. Desperation is lurking beneath each mess, each outburst, and each demand of the child. No one can possibly understand how hard her life is, and if someone acknowledges it, they are only saying the popular thing to say: “Mother’s do the hardest work.” She resents everyone for either not understanding, for not helping, or for failing to rescue her. By clinging to this self-pity, she at least gets to bolster herself in a way that assuages her loneliness and desire to be notable, beautiful, or understood.

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Sometimes I cling to the identity of the overwhelmed mother because of the nourishment it provides my self-pity. It can be hard to separate myself from that identity because sometimes that is what my life looks like. Of course mothering is hard work; of course, at times, we resent the sacrifice required, but that doesn’t mean we have to go about our lives seeking recognition as martyrs.

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The other woman, the one I aspire to be, is a beautiful, carefree mother. She doesn’t take every little mess or disobedience too seriously; she’s not threatened by the chaos. I’m not sure she really exists in pure form because that person doesn’t have any cracks. She cannot be undone – and I’m not sure you can be a human without any cracks. But this isn’t an “either/or” situation. I can be both. In truth, life can be hard and I get overwhelmed. But after a good night’s sleep sometimes I am the carefree mother, clothes unstained by spit up and yogurt, dress blowing in the breeze. We have to allow ourselves to be complex people – I am both women and more. Yes, sometimes the chaos threatens to undo me, but more often the chaos is a reflection of the beautiful vocation of motherhood, and the life I get to live.

10 Splendid Life Truths Of Motherhood

At the suggestion of Gretchen Rubin, I wrote down the motherhood version of my splendid life truths. They are more a reminder for me than anything, but I thought I would share. Enjoy!

1. Go slow. Rushing helps no one.

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2. The schedule is serving you, you are not serving the schedule.

3. Self-care is as important as child-care.

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4. Figure out what works for you and your family. Let go of thinking everything must be perfect or how you expected it. My house will be cluttered with toys, everything will not be homemade, and I will not always feel gracious. I will love and seek forgiveness and grace, I will offer understanding and grace in return.
5. Everything takes longer. Just expect it.

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6. My kids don’t have to be perfectly behaved or dressed all the time to mean I’m a good mom. My concern over the appearance of my fitness as a mother is generally an expression of vanity.

7. The whole family will benefit from me finding an outlet I am passionate about and being willing to spend some of my time on that. My kids are better off without 100% of my attention and it helps me trend in the direction of sanity.

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8. There will be trade offs in order to spend time on something you’re passionate about. It doesn’t all have to fit perfect.

9. Children are people. They are not behaviors to be managed, inconveniences to be distracted, or unsophisticated tag alongs. When I treat them as the beautiful human beings they are everyone is a little better off.

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10. It’s ok that it feels really hard sometimes. Sometimes there’s an incline that we don’t perceive until we reach the top, and then it all makes sense that it was hard. We were climbing a mountain without realizing it. 

What You Must Do For Yourself

Imagine something with me: You have two children, babies really, who are two years and 5 months old. All last week they were sick, and therefore clingy, and whiny, and they didn’t go to school so you didn’t have a break. And they were waking up in the middle of the night, which means you weren’t feeling particularly rested. But today they’re not sick it’s just the usual yelling of  “Mom!” approximately every two minutes, or irrational crying, all in between nursing, and preparing lunch, and cleaning messes. But really it’s the constant hum of the wining in the background that starts to undo you a little. And it’s been a few years that you find yourself getting burned out rather easily. Of course, it is such a sweet life and you love your little beans; you have so much to be grateful for. A thought slips in, wishing you could get out for just a second, or have a quiet moment to focus on something that ignites your souls, but since you can’t, you occasionally let yourself indulge in a little self-pity.

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On Wednesday I was mentally and physically worn down and feeling a little burned out.  I was standing over there in the living room where I can catch myself in the mirror and I was starting to get really irritated with my two year old. I was mad at her for whining, and keeping me in, and just being two. And that’s right where I heard “GO TO THE GYM”.

“I can’t go to the gym,” I told myself.

“Yes, you can.”

“But the kids don’t like it.”

“They will be okay for thirty minutes. They are safe, and the childcare is age appropriate and your discomfort with their initial discomfort is not a good enough excuse not to take care of yourself.”

“It’s so much work just to get them in the car.”

“GO TO THE GYM.”

The rationalizations for my helplessness were no longer valid. I was getting mad at the two year old for being two and making excuses for not taking care of myself. And it really wasn’t fair to her, or anyone else in my family, for me to not provide what only I can do for myself. I am the only one who can supply the self-care that I need, so I have to stop waiting around for someone else to take care of me.

012So I went to the gym, and I took my time – giving myself a whole 45 minutes. The two year old actually had fun coloring and the baby slept. It finally made sense that whatever it is I’m waiting around for isn’t going to happen on its own. It’s not only important that I take care of myself, it’s actually unfair to my kids and husband to be in denial about the resentment I’m holding towards them for something that’s not even their responsibility. IT IS NOT FAIR TO THE PEOPLE I LOVE NOT TO TAKE CARE OF MYSELF. There is a cutural narrative that moms who stay home with their children often feel frazzled and don’t have any time for themselves, but are of course grateful for the opportunity to be at home. When did I start letting some thoughtless construct of motherhood become an excuse for not living with the joy intended for me?

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So you know what I did on Thursday? I got a manicure and allowed myself some time to write. And I let myself off the hook on making a perfect dinner. Magically, the two year old seems happier. I think she senses that she’s no longer carrying the weight I was inadvertently putting on her. My happiness is no longer her burden nor my husbands or anyone else’s.