Today at work, I wanted to scream—but my clients had already beaten me to it.
That’s right. Jared (4), Ethan (2) and Summer (four months) had taken matters into their own lungs and voiced the way I felt before I could utter a sound.
My day as a stay-at-home mom started out fine. The New Mexico sun promised to warm up another winter morning to perfection; I smiled at Chris as he got out of bed; a faraway bird welcomed the dawn.
And then the children woke up.
Much too early to allow me time to prepare a Martha Stewart meal or rake a comb through my harried-housewife hair. I tied it all back in a ponytail, made my usual oatmeal, and we sat down to eat as a family. But soon after Chris left for work, my day took a fast dive downhill. Jared shattered a bowl on the floor. Ethan’s pants (and, as a result, Ethan) fell down repeatedly. Summer threw up in unexpected places. By three o’clock, the baby was hollering her way through her afternoon nap, I had my mom on the phone for moral support, and three generations of women were crying at once.
I’d like to say these kinds of days are a rarity, but as any mother can tell you, most of us can expect at least one a week. Sometimes seven. I ache when I think of the chores yet to finish, the toilets to scrub, the piles of laundry to fold. And yet, just moments ago, when I told my friend Niqi that I’d willingly farm out one of the kids for a week or three years, my heart leaped up to my throat.
“That’s not true,” I heard myself say. “I couldn’t let go of any of them.”
And that’s the paradox of motherhood. The cliché of it, really. You’ll hear every (honest) mom say the same thing: Motherhood offers more rewards—and more heartache—than anything you’ll ever encounter. Just when you think you’re going to crack like the oh-so-precious plate your toddler dropped on the tile floor, you glance over and see him blinking back tears of sorrow—and instead of cracking, you melt. Things slide into perspective, and you hug the toddler so hard he squirms inside your embrace. You don’t know how you could love him any more. You’re so afraid that you’ll fail.
If you’re a mother, you’ll recognize this point. It’s the breaking point, the point at which every mother realizes she doesn’t have enough grace to keep going. This is the point at which my biggest mothering mantra comes crashing home the hardest.
1. God loves my kids more than I do. He promises to sustain me when I’m burnt out and fed up. I like this promise from Isaiah, and I apply it to both myself and my children.
Even to your old age and gray hairs,
I am he, I am He who will sustain you
I have made, and I will carry you;
I have made you and I will carry you.
(Isaiah 46:4, TNIV)
God’s grace is sufficient to fill in the gaps in my mothering, and that makes my effort worthwhile.
2. God loves me just as much as He loves my children. To paraphrase Gary Thomas (Sacred Parenting), God loves me so much He’s willing to risk the future sanity of my children in order to help me be a Big Girl, too. Parenting isn’t just about the growth of my children. It’s about maturing me at the very same time—maturing me through my own children. Isn’t that a fresh way to look at it?
3. God’s favor—ot my children’s—is my primary reward. At the end of one especially hell-raising day, I realized with a start, “It’s okay if my kids think they hate me. Instead of expecting my reward to be a thank you from them, I should work primarily to find favor with God. Then, regardless of how my children respond, I’ll get a “good job” from Him in the end. And that’s what I want more than anything.” This takes the pressure off of my kids to fulfill me in some humanly impossible way. It helps me look back to God, which is what I should have been doing all along.
Of course, I could list more than three lessons I’ve learned in my short years of mothering. Things like, never trust a kid when he’s quiet and don’t serve spaghetti at parties come to mind. But the esoteric lessons, the ones like these, are the hardest for me to grasp. That’s why I carry them so close to my heart. You see, I never really imagined myself in this place. Mothering, something so basic and biological it’s almost inevitable for all women, has taken my confidence by storm. For me, becoming a mom was the first time I had to ‘go it alone,’ so to speak. I’m here, in my home, with these little souls who look to me for physical and spiritual nourishment—and I’m afraid. Beginning with the moment of childbirth, mothering has tested my mettle like no paying job I’ve experienced. And yet, it offers payoffs in kind. I’m wiser now (just a little). I’m more at peace. I can think outside myself in ways I never knew I needed to. And I’m consistently, continually, drawn back to my Father.
This, in itself, is the greatest gift of them all. I do look forward to the day my children say “thank you.” I look forward to the longer-term goals of seeing them grow up in Christ. But truly, I think I’m getting a slice of the bigger picture. By finding myself at God’s feet again and again every day, not only am I growing, but my children see my growth, and learn from it. Together, then, we four forge ahead. It’s not an easy path, but it’s beautiful. I wouldn’t trade it for all the unshattered bowls in the world.