She ate all the strawberries. The struggle is real.
There’s presently a blog-post making the rounds, written by a woman who attended a Bible study where the other ladies complained about their husbands and kids, and consequently made her feel bad. I’d seen it shared several times but didn’t read it–because for some reason I tend not to read articles about motherhood unless they’re laugh-out-loud funny or a little bit off-color. Like the one about the lady who pooped in the closet. Probably because I have eight children myself, and so I REALLY NEED TO LAUGH.
The other day, though, a friend of mine mentioned the post as we sipped margaritas by the pool (true story), in the context of “Did you read that article about the lady who didn’t like the ladies at the Bible study?”, and I said no, because it didn’t look very funny. And she said that unlike everybody else, she didn’t really like it. She felt like the author didn’t give those ladies a chance, and judged them for needing me-time, for needing a break from the kids.
So the next day I hunted around and found the piece, which was perfect because I’d already been thinking recently about the whole moms-who-like-sending-their-kids-off-to-school versus moms-who-are-appalled-by-moms-who-like-sending-their-kids-off-to-school thing that happens every single August. EVERY AUGUST, I tell you!
And when I dug in and read the post, I confess that in some ways? I actually found myself relating a bit to the author’s experience. I have also been in groups where the complaining-to-gushing ratio seemed a tad, ahem, high, or where I’ve felt slightly uncomfortable (ostracized?) because of the number of children I have, and the number of gasps I hear when people in the group find OUT the number of children I have. I’ll say too that when you’ve miscarried (like the blogger who wrote the article or, sadly, myself), you begin to know in a much more painful yet profoundly deep way just how much of a blessing pregnancy and childbirth and motherhood are. To then hear people talking like they’re so disenchanted with their kids can be kind of, well, disheartening. Because we know on this other (and frankly, terrible) level that there are NO guarantees, NO promises that a precious baby will live long enough to be born and held and seen. Or be conceived, for that matter.
And when we ARE in the trenches–which so often I feel that I am–it is discouraging to see our vocation devalued, mocked, or belittled by others. We need to know that what we’re doing, as mundane and tiring as it is, matters in a very real way, and that our sacrifices MEAN something. Dying to self, struggling to say yes to God, loving in a radical way, I want those things to count. To be embraced and aspired to, even amidst the challenges. And so to hear women acting as if their kids are just WAY too much or WAY too horrible, or like being a present mother is JUST SO MISERABLE, is discouraging. Hardly the inspiration we crave (and need!) to keep picking up our cross day after day, year after year, and following after Christ. And I’ve met women who do this, who disparage motherhood/marriage/all of it and act as if it’s the Very Worst Thing.
So, I get it. It’s too bad that the group wasn’t a good fit for her, and I’ve been there/done that so I know it stinks, and I’m glad she went on to find something that better met her needs for support and community. She raises good points, and they’re points I’ve made for years. Embracing motherhood. Respecting your husband. Loving your children. Those are good things.
But, and maybe this was just the poolside margaritas talking, I somehow also understood and agreed with what my girlfriend was saying, too.
Because being a mother is HARD. Like really, really hard. Sometimes we ladies need to get together and commiserate and complain and make light-hearted jokes about our husbands not knowing how to make a sandwich. (Incidentally mine does. He makes himself sandwiches to take to work for lunch, when there aren’t any leftovers available. Strangely he always puts this certain type of pickles on his sandwich, which he insists on buying in a ginormous jar from Costco that takes up MY ENTIRE FRIDGE. When I see there are only a few pickles left in the jar, I gently suggest we throw it out because, you know, it’s taking up All the Space. He always objects. Says no. Because pickles.) I don’t think airing dirty laundry for no reason or in a disrespectful way is ever appropriate, but goodness, sometimes we need to share about and laugh/cry at our assorted trials. Just like we need to delight in our vocation, we need the freedom to wrestle with it, too.
Years ago I was part of a women’s Bible study. This was pre-Catholicism and pre-not-joining-things-I-already-know-I’m-going-to-quit, back in the non-denominational days when respectable women like me joined Bible studies. Plus my husband was commuting to work, and I was pregnant, and had three littles at home–so getting out of the house and connecting with other women sounded heavenly. In theory. Because in reality it was a pain in the neck to find street parking for my 1989 Lincoln Towncar (actually it was my husband’s, and no I’m not kidding), and the study didn’t really resonate with me because I’m weird like that, and the childcare lady had the gall to ask if my pregnancy was an accident (???!!!). So there’s that. Oh and just to clarify, I LOVE the Bible. Just not the studies where people think I’m an idiot for being pregnant. FYI.
Well, one morning people were sharing prayer requests. Catholics call these “intentions”, but we Protestants called them “requests.” And a mom shared how devastated she was that her teenaged daughter was caught cheating on a test at school. This poor woman couldn’t understand why her daughter might do such a thing, and was so anxious about it, and broke down in tears as she wondered what she must have done wrong.
Now I actually happened to know this young girl, because she was in a Sunday School class I was teaching at the time. And she was pretty, funny, and kind, and even though my own daughter was three years old at the time, even back then I knew enough to know that kids do wacky stuff you wish they wouldn’t do.
And in spite of the number of seasoned moms in the room, you could have heard a pin drop when this mother asked for prayer. Nobody said anything! Not one word of encouragement or “Oh, I’ve so been there”, or “My kid messes up sometimes too”, or “Aren’t kids so hard sometimes?!” Of course it’s possible that their children were perfect, but I kind of doubt it, and so this woman just sat there, sniffling and worrying and wiping her nose. Finally I couldn’t handle it anymore (partly because, let’s face it, I detest awkward pauses), and in spite of being young and disenchanted with the study in the first place, I burst out with “I know your daughter! She is such a joy to have in my class on Sunday mornings! I think sometimes kids just mess up and make mistakes, but she’s wonderful, and whatever you’re doing as a mom is really good.”
Pretty sure my voice was trembling, because I don’t usually talk a ton in groups, especially those kinds of groups. She thanked me for my no doubt random and unexpected contribution to the conversation, everybody else remained silent, and I ended up quitting the study shortly thereafter.
The less I had to drive that beast of a Lincoln Towncar, the better.
I’ve occasionally thought about this woman ever since. She was looking for a space that was safe enough for her to share the trials of raising children, and to open up about her concerns for her daughter whom she loved so very much, as all mothers do. Sadly, this wasn’t that space. People liked going over the study guide and sharing how they filled in the blanks (unlike me, they actually did the homework), but nobody really seemed like they were being themselves. Or talking about hard stuff. Does that make sense? Discussing an evangelical author’s personal opinion on the meaning of a Bible passage was of a higher order than, say, confessing the grit, pain, and joy found in the daily grind of motherhood. And I know, I know. It was a Bible study. As in, a place where you go and study the Bible. But I figure you can do that alone, at home. The purpose of coming together is hopefully to build community and encourage one another, while going through the subject matter.
It just doesn’t do anyone any good to write off mothers who admit to their struggles, who have a hard time with the demands of modern motherhood, or who are questioning whether they’re cut out for this mothering thing in the first place. These women aren’t terrible people, they’re human! And children aren’t fragile cherub snowflakes that disintegrate if they leave the house each August, they’re human! WE ARE ALL HUMAN, and life gets real messy, and we need a place where we can hold that tension of motherhood-as-blessing and motherhood-as-sorrow. Kind of like, you know, our Blessed Mother.
That’s Mary, Jesus’ mom, for the non-Catholics among us.
I kind of think we need to make sure that our group–whether it’s a casual gathering of friends or a more official study group–is big enough to include ALL OF THE THINGS. Friendship, laughter, complaining, hope, vulnerability, and beauty. YES being a mother is a supreme gift, but YES it’s also exhausting, and I’m sorry but YES, me-time is important and NO, it’s not inherently selfish or wrong. We mamas must care for ourselves, so that we can care for others! I think we need to also give fellow women the benefit of the doubt, when they share about the hard stuff, and not assume they don’t love their children or their husbands. Just my personal opinion, but I think moms-to-many, when people are aghast at our family size, need to be both joyful AND real in how we present the realities of large-family-life. Because THERE BE SOME REALITIES.
Don’t believe me? I can tell you that right now, at this very moment, there are pizza crusts on our stairs, and a ginormous smashed seashell in our driveway. And no we don’t allow food out of the kitchen or dining room, and yes we live in Colorado–WHERE THERE IS NO SEA. I have no idea where this shell came from or why my precious snowflakes though it a good idea to smash it to smithereens, OR why uneaten crusts are believed to belong in a high foot-traffic area, but darnit kids do weird things sometimes.
And so I’m really grateful that I have my people, that handful of friends I can open up to and share the hard stuff with, the frustrations and worries and concerns about the future. They want my best, they don’t judge me (to my face anyway), and they love my children. They give me grace. I’m not a big complainer (at least I don’t think so), but sometimes I do complain. And I’m always willing to listen to a friend who needs to get something off her chest, or vent or whatever. Life is so messy and hard, no matter what! We don’t have to pretend that we don’t live in this beautiful and difficult tension of being so very blessed while simultaneously being so very stretched.
When somebody meets me and finds out I have eight kids, they’ll often ask “How do you do it?!” And I’ve tried out all kinds of answers over the years, but the one I’m rolling with now is, “Honestly, I don’t know. You just do it. And at the end of the day, if everyone’s in one piece, you call it good!” Then I laugh. Profound, right? But it’s really kind of true. And it’s also disarming, because all of a sudden they can breathe a sigh of relief that you’re not actually a magic superhero but just a normal mom. With weaknesses and problems, but also a good strong dose of hope. And that’s something that’s winsome, and relatable, and a way we can show we’re approachable and REAL.
And you know, there will always be women who resent motherhood, who feel stuck and alone and who might even wish they’d not had kids in the first place. It’s sad and it’s regrettable, but heck, it’s true. When I encounter these ladies I truly do feel compassion for them, because the journey to self-acceptance and self-sacrifice and, ultimately, making peace with who God created you to be, really kind of takes a lifetime. No matter who you are. But if you’re ALSO fighting against your very dignity as a woman, believing that having children somehow makes you “less than” or prevents you from achieving all of the world’s Very Important Goals, well, that makes everything ten times harder. It can suck the joy right out of your life and other people’s lives, too. No bueno.
So if you’re in a life phase where motherhood is all warm fuzzies and Sandra Boynton books, be glad! Live out your calling with joy and great love. Make motherhood look good, because it IS good. But show grace, too. Lots and lots and lots of grace. Because there are other women out there who are really struggling right now, facing down a grown child’s drug addiction, or post-partum depression, or the daily over-and-over tragedy of a painful marriage. And no matter WHO you are, if you’re in a group? Be welcoming. Extend friendship. Make space for authenticity. Give the benefit of the doubt. Rejoice with the pretty young mama with all the babies, and all the happy feels about motherhood. If a different mama expresses doubts or frustration or worry over a child who cheated on a test, get to know her. Give her a hug. Tell her IT IS SO HARD, and JUST KEEP SHOWING UP, and YOU NEED TO READ THE ARTICLE ABOUT THE LADY WHO POOPED IN THE CLOSET.
And, for the sake of all that is good and right about motherhood, spend your time with other women who make you feel safe, loved, and refreshed! Drink margaritas, while your kids splash in the pool. Vent about Josh Duggar, your favorite reality TV show, and whiny toddlers. Mull over how to best cultivate a strong faith in your children, and which IKEA dining room table to buy.
It’s tough out there in the trenches, mamas, and we have to stick together.