Confessions of a Struggling Mom

Confessions of a Struggling Mom

“Mom, we decided we don’t want you to work while we’re at school,” my daughter reported, little brother nodding in agreement.

“Oh really?” I asked. “Why not?”

“We like it when you’re home. We just want you to be at home all day, even when we’re not there.” Her words were matter of fact, their verdict not up for discussion.

Inside, I felt a wave of panic rise to the surface, growing into a tsunami that threatened to destroy my hopes and dreams and plans for how I will finally spend my time once they are both in school.

“Thanks for letting me know,” I told them, biting my tongue to hold back laughter or sarcasm or any other potentially hurtful response. “Being your mom is the most important job I’ll ever have.” And I meant it. Every word.

But it’s just as true that staying at home with my kids is the hardest choice I’ve ever made. I struggle with it every day. Hard.

Let me be clear: I love my children fiercely. My ability to stay home and make ends meet on a single income is a gift I don’t take for granted. It is a choice I would make again and again if presented the opportunity.

But it is also the most difficult work I’ve ever done.

Please don’t tell me how much I’m going to miss this season—how fast time goes and how I should enjoy it because before I know it they’ll be in college and how I’ll look back and wish they were still little and still needed me and all the other things I already know. Don’t make me feel guiltier than I already do for struggling.

I’m fully aware that these are supposed to be “the good ole days” and I’m missing them by wishing they would hurry up already.

I love my children deeply, yet I live in the tension between my selfish desires and legitimate dreams. My husband and I agree together that, at least for now, the best investment of the majority of my time is in caring for our kids.

And yet…yearning swells from the depths of my heart for greater purpose, for opportunity to impact the world outside these walls.

For the record, I have two of the sweetest cherubs of all time—they are funny and creative, energetic and entertaining, affectionate and independent. They are also little humans who test out boundaries and rebel against authority and lose control of their emotions frequently. (Kind of like me.) In short, they are beautifully unique, developmentally normal kids.

Brooklynn and Connley are my favorite little people on the planet. They teach me everyday about growth and curiosity, grace and unconditional love. They teach me about forgiveness and resilience, living generously and being brave, staying present and learning to play. They teach me that love is the willingness to put their needs above my agenda.

I know what you’re thinking, and I agree: my greatest contribution to the world is the way I raise my kids. You’re right. I whole-heartedly believe that what I’m doing—the mundane, day-to-day, menial tasks that make up most of my days—it matters for eternity. It is holy ground. There is no more important, more life-changing work that I could ever do for a paycheck.

And yet.

This God-given passion for leadership, for inspiring others to affect change in their spheres of influence? There’s not a place for it while I’m walking my daughter home from school.

My love of writing, of using words to tell a story that brings hope to those who might otherwise feel alone and unseen? It’s impossible to create when my kids are clamoring for my attention.

The way I come to life when I’m teaching others, encouraging them to live a more whole-hearted life? It’s hard to do with a babe on my hip.

That desire to be seen, appreciated, valued for my talents and contributions? It’s non-existent in the world of legos, laundry, grocery shopping and naptime.

And yet. I know this season is about so much more than mothering. These years—full of the moments that make up the sweetest, hardest, longest-feeling days—they are training ground for my soul. If I’ll let it, my struggle will make me not only a better mom, but a better me. I might actually find that:

Leading others starts in the hidden places where I lead myself. This season just might be where I practice prioritizing people over productivity, encouraging others over executing tasks, and leading myself over leading a team.

Creativity doesn’t happen without making space and time for it to emerge. I’m slowly learning to order my days to make room for writing, letting go of my image of a beautiful office where I can spend my days poring over words, and instead curating nuggets of quiet space where creativity can flow.

And just maybe the kind of teaching I most long to do, the teaching that builds a person’s character, inspires their heart, releases their passion—maybe my kids become a captive audience to lessons that need to be worked out in real life before they’re shared in a larger classroom.

Perhaps this season may be more about my growth in humility than my breadth of impact. As much as I long to make a difference out in the big, exciting world beyond this sometimes suffocating house, I don’t want to miss the character training parenting offers.

And I’m not just talking about training my children’s character—I’m talking about my own.

I don’t want to minimize the struggle. It’s a battle every moment to believe these days aren’t wasted, to reframe my time at home as an opportunity to prepare these little hearts to change the world.

But in the midst of it all, I ache for my heart to grow in humility, patience, and joy, even when it’s hard. I don’t want to waste the gift.

If you’re a mom who feels like you’re losing your identity as a real human with desires and passion and gifts outside of diapers and playdates and Candyland, know that you are not alone. There’s nothing wrong with you for wanting more in this often tedious season.

You are a good mom, and you are doing holy, important work. (Even on the days when it feels like anything but.)

And the bottoms you’re wiping, the laundry you are folding, the behavior you’re disciplining? It is changing you. Maybe in ways you cannot see today, but you are different than you used to be.

And you are changing the world. One snuggle at a time.

Living a Faithful Life

Living a Faithful Life

Our day started with a tantrum paramount to the eruption of Mt. St. Helens. The sun hadn’t even risen, and already our house was filled with stomping and tears and spankings, followed by prayers and tender repentance—then  yet another round of tantrums, time outs and more tears. We were exhausted from the battle before anyone had gotten dressed. All because my daughter didn’t want oatmeal for breakfast.

Parenting is hard. Yes, there are many moments full of sweet cuddles and belly laughter and uncontainable joy, but the work that is required in the day to day training of little humans often leaves me discouraged, frustrated, and wondering if I’m doing anything right.

This year is the last time I’ll have both of my kiddos at home together before my oldest starts kindergarten next fall. I’ve felt a sense of urgency to make the most of this short season, because the cliché seems to be truer than I want to admit in the midst of the longest days of my life: time goes by too fast. More than anything, I’ve felt the weight of responsibility to use this year to pour as much of Jesus into my kids as their little bodies can contain.

My heart longs to dive fully into the work God has given me to do as a mom, but hard days often make me wish I could do anything else.

Don’t get me wrong, I begged God for my children. I longed to be pregnant, crying out desperately for God to give me the desires of my heart, then waiting impatiently through the longest months of my life to see their little faces. I wanted my babies more than anything. Brooklynn awakened my heart to depths of emotion I’d never experienced, and a couple years later, Connley expanded my capacity to love more than I’d even thought was possible.

After months of aching for my longings to be fulfilled, for God to give me kids, life turned upside down when each child was born. Suddenly, my world revolved around the little people God had entrusted to my care.

I threw myself fully into the work of mothering, reading books on sleep training and following all the rules about tummy time and talking to my baby and making myself a bit crazy in the process. I knew I was investing my time exactly where I needed to be—mothering is the most important job in the world, after all—but I felt so…well, so unsatisfied by how I was spending my days.

It was clear from the beginning that God was using my mothering journey to mold my heart into a new shape. It would take me a few years to recognize how He was also forming my children into a protective boundary around my life. Never again would I have the option to pursue a lifestyle of achieving, performing, and striving for my worth—my kids need me too much to spend so much time seeking the approval of others. (Not that I don’t still try, to my own detriment.) They guard me from my natural inclination to seek recognition for myself.

Sometimes their neediness feels suffocating, like I am drowning in the inescapable sea of their demands. Sometimes their neediness feels validating, like I have an important role that no one else can fulfill. Always, their neediness strips away my selfishness (or brings it to the surface for examination), as I’m forced to again and again lay down my own desires for the sake of meeting theirs.

I often catch myself dreaming about “someday” when I can do something else with my time, something that fulfills that inner craving for significance. Those moments are clues that I have much still to learn from this season.

My significance isn’t found in being recognized by others, but in being seen by the One who appointed me to this role. The more I look for satisfaction in what I do, the more I’m going to have to do to feel satisfied. And the harder I work to gain the approval of others, the more I will be held captive by a goal that does not exist.

For Connley’s third birthday this month, he suggested that we go on a date to Starbucks while sissy was at preschool. “Yes, son. I will absolutely take you to coffee,” I told him.  As we sat by the window watching cars drive by, Connley eating his cake pop and I drinking my caramel macchiato, I was overcome by the gift of this season. That endearing smile, those twinkling eyes, that precious little boy voice, those soft little hands on mine—there was nowhere else I would rather be, nothing in the world that could bring me such deep satisfaction.

I don’t know what next year will look like. I have dreams of pursuing writing more seriously while the kids are at school, but for now I’m holding them loosely. No matter what tomorrow holds, I’m certain of this: God is calling me to be faithful with the life He’s given me today.

As much as I long to use my gifts and passion in places that are exciting and sexy and fulfilling, God knows my temptation will still always be striving for recognition that will never satisfy. No matter how important is the work that He calls me to do, nothing will ever be as worthwhile as my pursuit of Jesus.

He is using my babies to teach me dependence on Him for all things.

He is using this season to show me how to rest in His approval over anyone else’s.

He is using motherhood to train me to die to myself daily.

He is using my struggle to remind me that He is refining me moment by moment.

He is using my joy to teach me that surrender is the path to abundant life.

God doesn’t ask us to go out and change the world. He simply calls us to live a faithful life, one day at a time. Where is God asking you to be faithful today?

When You Wish Life Looked Different

When You Wish Life Looked Different

A few days ago when my husband was grabbing one last cup of coffee on his way out the door, he opened the cabinet full of coffee tumblers and I almost started crying. We have a whole shelf filled with the cute coffee cups I used to bring with me to school during my teaching days that rarely get used anymore. My job as a stay-at-home mom doesn’t require to-go cups.

It hit me in that moment how much I miss going to work. It’s been almost six years since we moved to Ellensburg and I last stepped into my own classroom to teach. Even though my last year teaching was excruciatingly difficult, I miss the satisfaction of using all of my competence to make an impact on others. I miss being recognized for a job well done. I miss being paid for my time.

Sometimes I’m tempted to think I would be happier if my life looked different than it does now.

Yes, I realize the work I’m doing as a stay-at-home mom is the most significant work I could do—shaping, training, molding, and pouring into little humans that will go and impact the world in ways I could never imagine. I am SO THANKFUL for the opportunity to stay home with my kids and watch them grow up before my very eyes. Truly, I wouldn’t trade it.

But I still miss going to work. Especially when my days at home are hard—which is often.

In the midst of conversation with Corey later that night, I found myself complaining about my job. He listened without judgment as I told him how I often get jealous of his freedom to drive to work by himself, have conversations with grown ups about significant things, stop at the store without bringing snacks or bribes for good behavior, and use his gifts in a way that makes the world better.

Jealousy is in the eye of the beholder.

He told me he sometimes gets jealous of my ability to play as much as I want with our kids, the flexibility of my schedule to do whatever I choose with our days, the sweetness of sharing ordinary moments with our babies, and especially freedom from the heavy weight of responsibility he carries every day for those he leads. Yeah, I guess I do have it pretty good, I thought.

Our conversation reminded me how the trap of comparison steals my joy even when I’m comparing my real life to the one I think I want. If I’m honest, my desire for something different isn’t really about going to work—it’s about longing to feel important.

I’ve struggled through my first four-and-a-half years of motherhood. Most days, I don’t feel very effective at my job raising our babies and running our home. This week has been especially hard—my short temper, angry voice, and lack of compassion have led to more mommy apologies and tears than I can count. I’m humbled every day by a life that isn’t exactly the way I pictured it.

I was never the girl that dreamed about being a mom. I dreamed about doing hard, important things like becoming a doctor or serving in the Peace Corps. And exciting things like starring on Broadway or competing in the Olympics. Prestige and glamour played a leading role in shaping my dreams. I always wanted kids, but I never considered how the privilege of shaping lives would require my life to change—I didn’t expect so much sacrifice.

Motherhood is neither prestigious nor glamorous. But it is hard and important. And incredibly humbling.

It turns out that I don’t enjoy being humbled. Anything that causes my sense of self-importance to die usually involves discomfort or pain. But some of my most humbling moments have also ingrained my character with hard-earned wisdom.

For example, I remember being sternly reprimanded by a coach I deeply respected after mouthing off during practice. His words proved that my integrity is more important than my talent.

I realized after I failed and had to re-take my final comprehensive oral exam in college that I should have asked my professors for help. Failure taught me the process of learning is more valuable than an impressive performance.

Marrying a man who sees all my junk and realizing it affects him too has shown me I can’t be fully loved unless I’m fully known.

Several years ago, I took time off of work because stress was affecting me both physically and mentally. I realized my capacity is limited because I am human, and creating healthy boundaries is a sign of strength, not weakness.

For now I’m setting aside my education, my career goals, and my desire to be professionally competent for full-time motherhood. I am learning through daily surrender to let go of what the world tells me success looks like so I can grab on more firmly to heaven.

It turns out that my insides are way more valuable to God than prestige or glamour. Since we tend to evaluate others based on what we see on the outside—their appearance, accomplishments, even possessions—it feels a bit backwards to consider my internal world worthy of cultivation. But it is.

I guess dying to my self-centered ambitions makes room for more of Jesus in me. And if parenting has taught me nothing else, it’s how far from perfect I am and how much I need him to intervene. I’m thankful that my kids regularly push my pride aside to make room for his divine perfection instead.

I recognize that there are many mamas who would love to stay home with their kids and can’t make it work financially. There are many wives who would love to be moms but deal with the ache of unfulfilled longings, or even the pain of miscarriage or infertility. I know many beautiful women who would love to be wives but wrestle with the tension between living fully in singleness and simultaneously longing for the right someone with whom they can share life. I share my struggle as a mom tenderly, recognizing that we are all carry longing in different areas.

No matter our story, difficult circumstances tempt us to turn our eyes toward the life we wish we had.

Instead of allowing the slippery slope of wishful thinking to pull us downward into discouragement and despair, may we diligently fix our eyes on the unseen transformation happening through surrender. God is at work in the longing. May we have the grace to see his fingerprints even when our days are hard.

Today I choose to cuddle instead of climbing the ladder and build a rocket ship instead of a name for myself. I’m trusting that God is not wasting a moment of my struggle because he is training me to lay aside my desires in favor of his purpose: making me more like him.

 

Photo credit for featured image: Kandice Halferty Photography