I am a mother of eight very large and very loud children. And sometimes my people drive.me.crazy. They do all the things. They leave their shoes wherever they want. They don’t make their beds. They all drink coffee and take it with them wherever they go. When they get home they just leave their travel coffee mug by the sink. There are wet swimming suits in places that make me go what?
That is my life. I get the crazy and the chaos of living in a family. But that’s not what I want to write about today.
Today, I want to dig into the overwhelming, fierce love of the mother and how we do this one thing.
Okay. Moms. Yes, it’s summer and yes, the kids are a little bothersome with all of their ways. And yes, we can surely handle our first world problems by setting up more guidelines and such.
But. Let’s peel back a layer.
Let’s first look at those intense surprise moments when we have fallen in love.
When my kids were babies I marveled at their stretches. It looked like they were cats. They would stretch out their arms and legs and just breathe. Sometimes they would fall asleep on my legs with their arms outstretched above their heads.
I would just sit there and stare at them, taking in their sweet baby-ness.
One morning I was busy getting ready for church so I put my six-month old Rachel into her crib, knowing she would just have to cry for a bit because I had to blow dry and beautify.
I rushed through my routine and went back into her room. My baby girl was sleeping on her back with her arms outstretched above her head. She looked like a beautiful angel. I knelt down and just watched her sleep. I could not believe that she was mine.
It’s hard to describe what happens in a mama’s heart when we see our babies sleeping...it feels like purity and beauty and sacredness. Maybe it's because they are finally quiet. But I think it's more, way more, as we grapple to comprehend that a unique person, alive for all eternity, was created. And we were somehow invited into that party. And that overwhelms and humbles and transforms.
And maybe I don't have to know more than this: looking at my babies sleeping gives me great gifts.
When we were having a more intense time with our newly adopted four-year old, I spoke to my mother about it and she said, “Go watch her sleep, Lori.” So I started this routine.
Every night after my new daughter had fallen asleep I’d go into her room. Her little feet were always hanging off of the bed because she slept on her tummy and more or less sideways.
I’d stand in her doorway and just gaze at those little brown feet and allow my heart to expand and make room for her.
The love of a mother. It’s intense.
It’s also built, bit by bit, as we engage in real living with them.
Our love is developed as we care for them in a zillion different ways. We read to them. We wipe their butts and noses. (Who knew all of the bodily fluids that would emerge?)
We make sure we buy their favorite foods. We help them explore their talents and gifts. We get them into their favorite camps. We work extra hours to pay for all of the extras.
We sacrifice and give of ourselves. Over and over and over.
We do that because we love our babies.
I have been stunned at how much I love my children. STUNNED. The love I have for each one of them is different because they are different. But it’s also incredibly deep and wide and forever.
For each one.
Now, that’s pretty straightforward and normal and beautiful but now let’s go off the main road and go down a weathered parenting back road. Because I do this thing. And it’s worth talking about because it seems that most mothers do it too.
Instead of just spilling it, let me just share it with you in a real life example.
My Thomas just graduated from 8th grade. He is growing into a man before my very eyes.
He has leg hair. For those of you mamas with only little babies, my son went from smooth toddler legs to smooth grade school legs to hairy man legs.
It’s crazy. My baby has man hair on his legs.
I also noticed that he had a few struggling chin hairs and he told me, “Mom, I have to get a razor. I have to shave this beard of mine.”
Funny. The kid is funny.
As I think of this child, my heart grows warm. He is incredibly gifted in the art of humanity. He loves people. He loves having friends over.
His love language is touch; he gives gigantic hugs to us before he goes to bed. If someone is feeling down he will smile and enter into their radius, yelling “Group hug!” and tackles them.
The other morning (just in case I had this wrong) I asked him how he felt about his life and he responded, “Oh, Mom, I love my life.”
Thinking of Thomas gives me incredible joy. Looking at a picture of him or watching him sleep fills me with wonder.
And then, without warning, my brain switches gears and I go off-roading. I start thinking of all of the possible ways that Thomas will get hurt in life.
Just like that, my joy is erased. I am filled with anxiety and overwhelmed with the heavy toll of “What If’s.”
My question to you: Do you do that?
Does your heart and mind see your beautiful child, get filled with joy, then without warning turn to all of the horrible things that could happen to him or her in this cruel and unpredictable world?
Well, if you are like me and do that, then you are in good company. According to shame researcher Brene Brown, an overwhelming amount of us do that.
Just how many? Guess. I thought maybe 40 or 50% might do that occasionally.
Brene says that 95% of us do that almost always.
Why would we ruin joy?
Well, when we start feeling those intense feelings of love, our hearts are WIDE OPEN and we are overcome with vulnerability.
It feels too good, too much. It becomes almost an ache.
We are afraid to lose what we love the most.
We have lived long enough to know that life has sadness and despair. So instead of enjoying our feelings of intense love, we downshift and actually imagine loss, thinking that somehow that will make us suffer less.
We try to overcome loss by beating it to the punch.
Isn’t that interesting?
Once I understood that, I wanted to know how I could go down a different road. It didn’t seem very productive to spend my mommy emotion thinking of the potential ways my kids could get kidnapped, raped or destroyed by others.
If 95% of us go into a negative state when we feel overwhelmed with the goodness and beauty of our children, what were the 5%ers doing?
Their minds didn’t go off-roading into the land of “what ifs.”
Their minds and hearts LIVED in the land of Wonder and Joy and Beauty.
I wanted to know HOW.
HOW TO GAZE AT MY CHILD SLEEPING WITHOUT GOING INTO PANICKY MODE?
Well, Brene Brown studied those 5%ers. And she found something.
Guess what those people do? It’s actually remarkably simple.
They cultivate gratitude.
They feel the feelings. They are not blind or dumb. They know bad things happen to good people. They stay in that space. And then they choose to be grateful for the gift given.
Get that. They don’t hope. They don’t wish. They actively choose to be grateful. That is the key. THEY CHOOSE THAT STATE OF MIND.
Okay. So….how to put this into practice??
Several weeks ago I was looking at Thomas’s 8th grade promotion picture which was near the kitchen sink.
As I washed a couple of big glass bowls, I stared at my kid.
My heart was FULL of joy. Then it came. The familiar feelings of “but what if…” and instead of letting them overcome me, I simply acknowledged my feelings.
I said to myself, “Lori, that’s vulnerability. Let it in.”
I stood there and allowed the feelings to swirl in me. Then I said, “Don’t downshift. Let’s get this into a higher gear. When you think of Thomas, what are you grateful for, girl?”
Oh my stars.
I thought of how confident he is and to showcase this the best, I will share a cool story with you.
Three years ago Thomas was at the first track practice his little school had ever had.
The coach began their first practice with roll call. Three of my kids were taking track.
“Bridget Doerneman?” “Here.”
“Malaysia Doerneman?” “Here.”
“Kevin Doerneman?” There was silence for a moment and then Thomas replied, “Here.”
From then on, he was Kevin. He has school records in track and they are listed not as THOMAS Doerneman but as Kevin Doerneman.
I thought of that situation. I thought of sitting at track meets and hearing on the loudspeaker, “First place in shot put, Kevin Doerneman, with a throw of….”
My kid got a kick out of being called the wrong name. For three years.
I am grateful that he has that kind of a heart.
I am grateful that he has good friends. I am grateful that he invites boys over to our home and that he knows how to be a host. He did make one of them bleed while playing with their Totus Tuus swords, but he was also attentive and kind as he cleaned up the blood.
I am grateful that he has the ability to enjoy life. I am grateful.
I am also grateful that at this moment I get to be his mother. I am grateful that he was born. I am grateful for my life and our home and our family.
I am grateful.
And just like that, my heart was engaged, happy and full.
So if you are like me and find that your mind goes “off roading” when you are in that place of intense love for your child, I invite you to stop a moment. Let yourself be vulnerable. Let yourself feel that love. Enjoy it.
Then, when you are ready, be extremely intentional.
“CULTIVATE” is a word that is alive and active. It is not looking at a garden, it’s getting in there and putting your hands in the earth.
Think of your child. Say the words. Feel. Allow. Go there.
Wow. Just writing that? Lori is boo-hooing like a baby.
Wow. This mother thing is so BIG.
But I don't want to make it smaller. Let's step into this, friends. But not with fear. With Joy.
Being grateful dispels fear and anxiety and allows room for joy.
I wonder if I can do this when they annoy me? “I am so grateful that I have a child….even though they leave their coffee mug on the counter, waiting for their fairy godmother to come and rinse it out…” Ha.
Maybe. Gratitude. It’s a life-changing way of life.
The point is: You have incredible power as a mom. Your ability to transform negative energy into hope and optimism is absolutely gorgeous.
I love this life. I am grateful that you are part of this online community.
P.S. Be sure to take our free “Not in My House Challenge,” where my adult (and high tech) son Eric takes the overwhelm out of internet filtering. He is funny and practical at the same time.