I love love love mothers. I love how we love. I love watching a new mom with her new baby. It’s the richest kind of relationship, isn’t it? Being a mom opens up places within us that we didn’t even know we had. Deep Joy. Reverence. Fascination. Gratefulness.
And to be honest, I thought that is where I would live, in the Palace of Constant Wonder with my children.
But kids do this thing. They bring up our stuff. If you have been a mother for more than six weeks, you will understand what I am saying.
Kids, especially toddlers, can be irrational. Crazy. And when you have two or three kids under the age of five, you may or may not have yelled so hard at them that you caused your vocal chords to hurt.
I can recall the first time I got angry with my child. Once I calmed down, I was shocked. Shamed. I vowed it would never happen again.
It happened again. And again. Andagainandagainandagain.
And yes, I would be wracked with all of the deep emotions.
Why was I so unstable? How could I do this motherhood thing better? So, I did what most of us do. I lived with quiet shame, the kind that rots out self worth. And I tried harder.
I implemented systems to try and help myself be better. I worked on my behavior, thinking that was where the gold was. I would reward myself if I got through a day without yelling at my kids.
The extremely good news is that Life Does Get Better because the Kids Do Get Older. They become more rational. They are able to function without screaming and head banging. They become fun to be around. Truly. Scouts honor.
It does get easier. Much. Much. Easier. You will love the humor and wit your middle schooler will have. You will be blown away by your high schoolers and college-aged kids. It’s such a reward for those early years.
The other day I was speaking intently to a mom who was in toddler hell. She had a ton of kids and did not remember her own name. She brought me back to those days. I kept telling her it would get better and she more or less told me she needed help NOW.
She wanted to know how I survived. What tricks and tips could I give her?
As she gave me her angst, I remembered my own from back then. And just like that, I remembered what had helped me and I told her two huge things that changed my perspective. I was gut-honest with her and I decided to be the same with you.
Here they are.
The First Thing That Helped Me:
Realizing That Raising Small Children is Truly Challenging.
I received this perspective from two very different sources.
The first one was from a little radio clip from “Focus on the Family.'' Dr. James Dobson clearly stated that raising toddlers was like getting run over by a Mack Truck. Over and over again.
Dr. James Dobson is a highly respected religious leader and with his clear, earnest voice he stated that as a young mom, I was doing the hardest work in the world. And that I needed reprieves.
That acknowledgement of the intensity of toddlerhood was like a breath of fresh air. Friends, I can literally remember where I was standing in my kitchen when I heard that. It was like something within me was set free.
Anne Lammot also gave me a life-altering gift. For those of you that don’t know this author, she writes honestly and unflinchingly. She uses STORY to make her point and she usually has me crying as we get there.
In her book, “Bird by Bird, Some Instructions on Writing and Life” Anne has a chapter called “Giving.” First she goes into why writers must give their best on a daily basis. Then she compares that to motherhood.
“Your work as a writer, when you are giving everything you have to your characters and to your readers, will periodically make you feel like the single parent of a three-year-old, who is by turns, wonderful, willful, terrible, crazed and adoring.”
Isn’t that the truth? She then described a time when her son, Sam, at age three and a half, was snuggled into bed with her and touched her cheeks, saying, “I love that little face.”
“And then the next day Sam was treating me like I was the bunny at his own private Playboy Club and he had run out of drinks half an hour before.”
The first time I read that I laughed out loud at the imagery. Anne Lammot does not think like my friends think. She does not write like most. And that’s why I love her. She helps me go beyond my little group of thoughts.
Dr. Dobson and Anne Lammot gave me great big, beautiful gifts. Through their words, I felt vindicated. Seen. Heard.
My kids were normal, irrational little people. They poured juice on the floor. They fought. They picked their noses. They dumped puzzle pieces on the floor just because they wanted to make a mess. They screamed and threw tantrums about nothing and everything. Mack Trucks. Ramming into me.
Wow. That acknowledgement, that motherhood is actually really hard, was not only a gift but a massive turning point in my life.
The second thing that helped me:
Being Honest About My Struggles.
The reason I started being so open about everything: I met a beautiful young mom when I was in my early 30’s. We met at a Valentine’s dance sponsored by our church and we just so happened to be seated at the same table. Her three kids were the exact same age as mine. We did all of the nice small talk about how great it was to have kids.
That beautiful woman committed suicide that weekend.
Her death shocked me. And I am not going to pretend I know anything about her particular situation, because I don't. I had just met her. But what I knew to be true, on the outside looking in, that mother and I were in very similar situations. I was struggling with motherhood and I figured, even though we had not discussed it, that she had been, too.
And I had appeared at that dance, all shiny. Glittery. Smiley.
Would it have made a difference if I would have been able to talk at the level of the gut and admit my struggles?
I sat with that for a long time.
That’s truly when my ministry to mothers was born, as I sat with the sad, sad news of the death of a young mom. Her tragic death propelled me to be more open and honest about life.
And I made a decision. From then on, without any apologies, I would not only share the absolutely delightful parts of motherhood with other women, I would also tip toe into the dark side, where the negative emotions roll around.
The goal is not to stay too long there, but to open the windows and doors to that place, to let the Light In.
To acknowledge. To open.
It sounds easy, doesn’t it? But we are programmed (mostly by social media and our need for approval by others) not to share the negative.
Examine that, friend. Is that healthy?
I believe it’s essential to find those that can bear the weight of our burdens. And to be honest and open with them.
In fact, what I have truly come to understand: we are WIRED as human beings to be open to each other. When we can trust someone to share our all, that’s when a real relationship is actually born. It’s gorgeous and life-giving.
It’s real communion in the non-sacramental sense.
And, through our ministry at The Parenting Dare, where I have spoken with and written to many, many mothers, I have come to this realization: we are very much alike.
You are beautiful. You love your children. You have all of the most amazing gifts inside of you and you want to give them away. Don’t be stopped by the fact that you sometimes hitch a ride on the struggle bus. We are all there at various times, sometimes repeatedly on the same day.
We.all.struggle. Even those that look the most put together.
But it is THROUGH the struggle, as we acknowledge and deal with our own shortcomings, that we are changed. As you know, God is sort of into redemption. He did not send Jesus to JUST redeem our souls. He wants to redeem every part of our lives.
And as we ALLOW that redemption, we are changed. Our souls are transformed. Our lives feel richer, more complete. And we, with our honesty and compassion, can set others free from their guilt and shame.
That sounds big and almost scary, doesn’t it? In actuality, it looks like this: when you see a mother of young kids, know that NO MATTER HOW SHE IS DRESSED or HOW SHE ACTS, she is (most likely) filled with the heavy thought that her children will spend years in therapy because of the ways she has treated them and the harsh words she has used with them.
So speak into that. Be honest. Be Dr. James Dobson and Anne Lammot to her. Tell her -in whatever way you feel comfortable- that you know how hard motherhood is. “Wow, raising children was a surprise. I thought I would have these gorgeous Gerber babies that obeyed continually. Was I in for a shock!”
Look her in the eye. Tell her she is doing a good job. When she looks at you with those big eyes, full of guilt, reassure her. She is doing amazing things. She loves her kids. She gets up every day and does what needs to be done for the children. Even the snotty ones.
Your assurance will make a massive difference in her life. Finally. Someone being real. And inspiring. All at the same time.
And that is why I love mothers. We are amazing.
P.S. I think it's important to work on our inner stuff....so we can be better moms. I created a course for those of you that might have a teeny tiny issue with food. (No matter what you think, it's actually not about the food.)
Find out More: Inside Out.
Our next class is starting!
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