I don’t particularly enjoy motherhood. This is a dirty little secret I live with every day. It seems unsavory to say (write?) out loud and that probably wasn’t a captivating opening line, but as I was thinking about ways to introduce myself honestly, it’s the first thing that popped in to my head. What is something people probably don’t know about me? I don’t love being a mom.
Some days of motherhood have been mildly stressful; most days have been mind-numbingly difficult. Some days have been spent in a constant stream of prayer while others have been spent mentally batting down the ugly idea that maybe God isn’t completely sovereign. How could a perfect God have put me in such an ugly, awful, no-good situation that I completely 100% without a doubt cannot handle? He wouldn’t do this to me if he loves me, right? [Insert other lies here.]
Rewind to a few years ago when I pregnant with my first child and I was doing everything right. I didn’t drink, smoke, ride a horse, eat soft cheeses, deli meat, or more than 9 ounces of fish per week. I stretched, walked regularly, sat on an exercise ball, did my pregnancy pilates video, watched my caffeine intake, read Dr. Seuss books to my belly, picked out a name no one else was using, had my cloth diapers prepped and ready to go, and had all the safest blankets for baby to sleep in.
According to every pregnancy website ever, I was about to embark on a beautiful journey, the first step of which would be my gloriously unmedicated birth. After enjoying the glow of successfully delivering a child without an epidural, I would meet my little girl and instantly fall in a forever-and-always kind of love that would make my skin eternally sparkle and my stretch-marks and postpartum hormonal drop irrelevant. I would bask in the glow of the instant bond we created from breastfeeding, and wander around parks on sunny days while babywearing and sipping some awful tasting tea that promised to help me with my milk supply.
You may have guessed already, but none of those things happened. My “unmedicated” birth was almost completely unmedicated—except that after 40 hours of grueling, painful, and stalled labor, I had to be given pitocin. This felt like a failure. And delivering on pitocin without an epidural was far from the beautiful experience so many blogs had promised those of us who forgo the evil epidural. Exhausted, overwhelmed, and disappointed, they handed me a beautiful baby girl that I was so relieved was no longer in my body—and that was the only emotion I felt.
Not long after, I embarked on the mystical journey of breastfeeding. And it hurt. And I waited for the magical bond to form—but it never did. And then my hormones dropped (“fell over a cliff” would be more accurate) and a staggering depression set in. I never went to the park and enjoyed my adorable babywearing gear. In fact, I never went outside because leaving the house with my baby was way too overwhelming a task. Between the depression and her sleeping patterns actually mimicking a torture technique the US military was using not too long ago, I was slightly out-of-my-mind and incapable of functioning like a normal human being.
All of this to say, my dreams of a glowing motherhood that would bring me intolerable happiness crashed and burned. I was left feeling as though I had failed at being a mom, failed at everything related to motherhood, and ultimately failing the Lord for not feeling the bliss of new motherhood.
I wish this is the part where I could say something like:
“And then, after much prayer, Bible reading, and supplication, the Lord taught me….”
“And then, I repented of my obvious ungratefulness by understanding that….”
“And then, a more experienced mother came alongside me and showed me that….”
None of those things happened either. Life did get marginally easier over time. After a year, she slept. Six months after that, I started sleeping. We moved across the country and I was around other young moms and started leaving the house occasionally. I became a mostly stay-at-home mom so I could focus on raising her and running the house. I wasn’t miserable, but I wasn’t glowing.
Then the day came. You know the one. The one where your husband looks at you and says, “I want to have another baby” and you feel sheer panic and the sudden desire to throw up—because you can’t do that, you can’t feel that failure again, because you’re just not like other moms. Even with a year and a half of experience under my belt, I still didn’t get it. I loved my child so much, but I just never felt like everyone else seemed to about motherhood.
Hopefully by now you’ve spotted it. The overt way that this entire story has been about me, and my feelings, and my experiences, and my failures. Hopefully by now you’ve seen how skewed my focus has been, how utterly selfish. When I was living it I didn’t realize where my focus had gone awry and it took a wise pastor sitting at our kitchen table with us to finally take my gaze from my navel to the world around me.
My conviction had always been that I am just not like other moms, who seem to be able to get it together enough to leave the house, or go to the park, or cook meals consistently, or put up with the sleep deprivation, or train their children not to scream at them, and still have a desire for more children somehow. When—and seriously, bless him—our pastor delivered the line that my soul so desperately needed: “Whether or not you’re like other moms doesn’t matter. Whether or not you are like Jesus is what matters.”
Being a mom is not a job for the faint of heart; 90% of the time I feel that I am “faint of heart.” The wonderful, freeing truth is that it doesn’t matter how I feel. I am a mother, and in God’s sovereign, perfect plan, being a mother is a tool He is using to make me look more like his Son (Rom 8:29). None of the extracurriculars matter. And frankly, sizing myself up next to other mothers is not only unwise, it is foolish, useless enterprise (2 Corinthians 10:12). I don’t need to be conformed to some intangible mom-standard that is largely defined by the world. I need to be conformed to Christ.
Christ was never a mother, but Christ perfectly did (and does) what I can never perfectly do for my children. He loves perfectly (Rom 5:8). He is humble and lifts others up (Phil 2:5-8). He is self-sacrificial (Heb 2:9). He gives freely (Rom 6:23).
Can you imagine how differently my (and your) parenting would look if our goal was to show Jesus to our children? I try not to dwell on the heartache that would not have been mine had motherhood not been needlessly exempt from being an exercise in which I need to conform my mind to Christ Jesus. Instead, my mind was bent around what motherhood looks like on Pinterest, BabyCenter, Instagram, and other people’s Facebook walls.
Surprise! I still don’t have everything figured out. I have another baby coming my way this November, and I’m excited, nervous, and anxious. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed. Sometimes I have no idea how I’m going to get through it. My first baby still sleeps a third less than anyone else her age. Sometimes my emotions don’t match up with my mission. But it doesn’t matter, because happy feelings are no longer my goal: Christ-like parenting is.
Obedience to Christ brings more than momentary happiness, it brings a real and lasting joy—joy that can weather sleep deprivation, an abundance of dirty diapers, and argumentative two-year-olds. That is something that the pursuit of happiness will never provide for you.
If you’ve read it a million times before, and especially if you have little ones currently crowding around your feet, legs, arms, or face, let this command be the focus that you need: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”