The night before Mother’s Day I sat in my bed with my phone, scrolling through pictures of my children and re-watching recent videos of them. I felt the smile spread across my face as I looked upon their sweetness and their joy. I felt enveloped in the gift of motherhood and completely blown away that these precious little ones are mine.
And then I wept. Not over the sweetness of it, but the bitterness. The loneliness. The ache. The part they don’t warn you about in this whole mothering thing.
Or do they? Did anyone warn me how hard motherhood would be? Perhaps they did and I just didn’t listen? Or perhaps I did listen but even then, you can’t possibly know until you get there.
I have often heard this quoted about motherhood, “The days are long, but the years are short.” I see how short the years are – I mean, how can Riley possibly be turning 5 this fall?! But man, the days. The days are so freaking looooooooooong sometimes.
I have had many older women say to me, “Oh I LOVED staying home with my kids! There is nothing better. I miss it. Enjoy every moment!” When I hear this I can’t help but wonder, were their days like mine? Were they just stronger women than me? Are they just more cut out for this? Did they just have more support? Or do they just forget what the days were like because they are living in the “years are short” phase?
I always knew I wanted to be a mother. If there was a college major in motherhood, that’s what I would have declared during my 4 years at Elon University. Instead I ended up majoring in “Human Services” – I just now recognize the irony in that (motherhood… serving humans… same thing). 😉
My mom stayed home with us as kids and I saw how valuable that was in my own life. It was never a question for me. I always knew that, if I had children, I would be a stay-at-home mom too. I wanted to give my time and life to them in the same way my mother did.
What I didn’t know was how lonely I would feel. How redundant it would be. How mind -numbing at times. I didn’t know what it would feel like to spend your entire day cleaning, only to have your kids spill an entire box of crackers on the floor, jump on them and crush them (after already throwing the laundry piles you folded all over your living room). To feel like you are never making progress. I didn’t know how unappreciated I would feel. Or how I would feel like I just don’t matter sometimes. Sure, I matter to keep order around the house (as much as order is possible when living with tiny monkey humans). I matter to keep everyone fed and clothed and alive. But I didn’t know that I would feel like I don’t matter as a person. As a mind that has thoughts, a heart that has desires, a soul that needs space, and a body that needs rest.
I didn’t know that sitting on the floor playing princesses with my daughter wouldn’t make me feel full of butterflies and fulfillment, but instead would make me feel bored and exhausted. I didn’t know that I would struggle so deeply with what “die to self” really should look like in this role. When is it God – glorifying, and when does it reach the point of unhealthiness? How do you care for yourself when tiny people depend on your constant care all day, and how much is it OK to fight for self care?
The more I talk honestly about the struggles of motherhood with other mothers, the more I find solidarity. I think most of us feel the same way, we just don’t talk about it. So I wonder, has it always been like this and women just didn’t talk about it? Or is it just our generation? What do we do with this? How do we help and encourage each other? Does anything about the way we are doing things need to change?
One thing I found very helpful in explaining some of my struggle with motherhood was a book I read last summer, The Measure of Success: Uncovering the Biblical Perspective on Women, Work, and the Home by Carolyn McCulley and Nora Shank. They talk about how “back in the day” every mother worked, and every mother stayed home. As a matter of fact, both parents worked and both parents stayed home and raised the kids. Because before transportation evolved, everything was a local economy. You had to work all day to feed your family. If you didn’t go get the water or milk the cows or kill the chickens (or whatever it was you did, I don’t know. I’m not a farm girl, can you tell?), then your family didn’t survive! Everyone worked. You had a lot of kids, if you were able, and that was additional labor. You lived and worked with extended family and a tight knit local community. Almost everything was done out of the home, until the Industrial Revolution. For the first time, jobs were outside of the home. These jobs were mostly available to men so, by default, women ended up staying home because someone had to take care of the children during the day. Then when the war happened, they needed more workers in the factory since men were going off to war. So they started marketing to women. When women started working, we needed someone to take care of the kids so public schools and day cares were started. And thus began the infamous “Mommy Wars.” Do you stay home with the kids? Or do you go to work? Some people financially had the option, and some did not.
The point is that moms, we are finding ourselves in a unique time in history. It was not always the case that you would decide whether to work or stay home – everyone did both. It was not always the case that staying home basically meant entertaining your children all day.
Now don’t get me wrong, I have no desire to go back to the pre-air conditioning, drive-thru or internet days! I am grateful that I don’t have to milk cows or fetch water. I believe there were tremendous struggles in those days that Western civilization is grateful to leave behind (while other cultures around the world still suffer). But sometimes I wonder – were we made to do more of this hands-on daily work, in the context of community? Is there a form of unhealthy suffering being born as a result of our isolating, individualistic way of doing life? Of doing motherhood?
Is this feeling of being unseen as a mother normal? And if so, does that give us a gauge of unhealthiness in the way we are doing motherhood in our day and time?
I don’t really know the answers to these questions.
But here is one thing I know, that I believe God has been showing me this week, and it’s the thing that matters the most:
In Matthew 24, Jesus is talking to his disciples about the “end times” (it’s a bit of a downer, really). As he is describing the horror, he says to them, “How terrible it will be for pregnant women and nursing mothers” (verse 19). Now, I’ve read that before and didn’t think much of it other than, “yea that would suck to be pregnant and nursing when those things happen.” But reading this a couple of days ago, something hit me. In this passage, Jesus is talking to a group of men! In a time when women were not treated as very important or valuable, nonetheless. Do you see where I’m going with this? The moms of young children were on Jesus’ mind! Even when he was talking to a group of men. I can almost hear the tenderness dripping from his voice. I can feel the empathy in his heart as I read. As Jesus talks about difficult times, he considers what it would be like for a pregnant or nursing mother. Wow. I wonder what these men were thinking when Jesus said this. I obviously didn’t know these men personally, so I’m not trying to assume the worst of them when I say that I doubt they would have otherwise thought of what these future times would be like for pregnant or nursing mothers. But I think I can safely assume that it would catch them off guard a little bit that a religious leader would be compassionately thinking of young mothers.
I say this not to imply that we are in the end times, but to point out Jesus’ heart for mothers.
It made me think about another sweet passage of scripture that came to my attention recently – Isaiah 40. Check out this little gem in verse 11:
“..He will gently lead the mother sheep with their young.”
Mamas, Jesus sees us. He sees me. He sees you. He sees your mind that has thoughts, your heart that has desires, your soul that needs space, and your body that needs rest. He looks on you with tenderness. He has compassion on you. He will gently lead you.
You are not alone.