It’s a good question, right? Motherhood is, without a doubt, hard–if someone tells you it’s not, they either haven’t been at it very long yet, or they’re not telling the truth. It’s good, but it’s hard. Like all good things, right?
Of course when asked about it, my mind immediately jumped to the mountains of laundry, never-ending diapers, sleepless nights spent comforting a sick child, and the time my son decided to come down with a stomach virus as he was climbing over All of the Seats and All of the Kids in our van. Epic Heldt family moment, that one.
But the more I thought and rethought and overanalyzed the question–as I am unfortunately prone to do and which leads to the regular distraught end-of-the-day mental rehashing of conversations and interactions as I wonder “did I sound rude?” and “I don’t like how that came out”–I decided that the really, truly, hardest thing of all the things related to being a mom? It’s not actually the whining or the tantrums or even the mess. It’s not the moldy crumbs wedged under the four car-seats I have in my 15-passenger-van, or the fact that my sons’ bedroom perpetually smells like stinky feet.
It is, instead, the gripping fear that I am doing it all wrong.
For whatever reason, every decision–from entertainment selections to meal planning to extracurricular activity participation to discipline methods to sleeping schedules–necessitates some sort of agonizing decision-making process that we endlessly analyze and re-think, and then analyze and re-think some more. We pour over books, scour blogs, and compare, compare, compare ourselves to All The Other Mothers.
And we are afraid. Afraid our kids will hate us, afraid our community will find out we don’t actually “know what we’re doing”, afraid we won’t be able to do “it” all. We’re afraid we might not even really know what “it” actually IS.
And if we are also adoptive parents? Throw in a good measure of Very Intense Fear specifically related to raising a child with a past at least partially rooted in trauma and abandonment, who may experience struggles with identity and loss of culture if it happened to be (as in the case of my four adopted children) an international adoption. If any of our kids also have developmental delays or special needs, then there are the worries about IEPs, therapy options, behavioral issues, medical problems, and planning for the future.
Trust me when I say that I know this first-hand, because I have two daughters with Down syndrome.
It is utterly and completely paralyzing, this fear that we modern mothers carry around with us in our arms and in our hearts. And the crazy thing is that it doesn’t even take into account the fact that we’re also working on our marriages and juggling other relationships and fulfilling important responsibilities like work and keeping a home. And when we allow this fear that we’re not measuring up to take root in our lives, we become insecure and overwhelmed. We lose perspective because all of a sudden, our child’s entire FUTURE is dependent upon putting him or her in the right sport at the right time with the right coach, or on how many times I found solace in the arms of the McDonald’s drive-through only to drive away in shame because FAST FOOD! Suddenly the very concept of being a mother becomes equated with methodology and following some sort of prescribed Formula That Must Be Followed–Dr. Sears vs. Dr. Ezzo vs. Ted Tripp vs. Bryan Post. And honestly? I just can’t even.
People often ask me “how I do it”, how I am raising eight children ages ten and under, and I regularly reflect and bemoan the fact that I don’t have a real good “sound byte” answer for that. (See, I was telling the truth when said I re-think any and overanalyze every single conversation I have throughout the day!) But do you want to know something? I think I might start telling folks that a huge part of how I manage to (generally) maintain my sanity and that of my kids is my decision once upon a time to feel good about being a mom. To consider the beauty of the vocation God has given me and the joy of my children instead of worrying over whether I’m “messing them up.” To figure out what the really, truly important things are (like virtue, faith, charity, and a well-formed conscience) and aim for that, as opposed to attempting to fulfill a checklist a mile long that won’t so much matter in ten or twenty years.
I decided to forego the parenting books and the so-called “experts”. For reals. I’ve not read one book by any of the authors I listed above, and you know what? I believe I’m a better mom for it. Family and motherhood and, ultimately, the incredible joy of life are found in living and loving well, and those things aren’t dependent upon the latest parenting fad or advice-column. So I opted out of the proverbial hamster wheel that is modern-day parenting and am, instead, doing my best to just plain follow Jesus. Be more loving. Enjoy my kids. Pursue beauty. Embrace truth. And believe that God has equipped my husband and me to raise my sons and daughters, and that He loves them (and me) more than I can possibly imagine.
On days when I do this well? I don’t worry that my kids are forever ruined for having watched Despicable Me twice in an afternoon when I really needed to rest, or for having delivered crayon-scrawled, hideous construction paper cards to their buddies on Valentine’s Day. I don’t stress over the fact that six of my kids are growing up with two siblings who walk slower, develop later, and necessitate some extra understanding because of an extra chromosome. And I avoid the downward spiral of seeing how I don’t measure up to other mothers, which frees me up to be a better friend and happier woman.
Pope Francis gave a homily several months ago and I loved when he said this:
“Dear families, you know very well that the true joy which we experience in the family is not superficial; it does not come from material objects, from the fact that everything seems to be going well… True joy comes from a profound harmony between persons, something which we all feel in our hearts and which makes us experience the beauty of togetherness, of mutual support along life’s journey. But the basis of this feeling of deep joy is the presence of God, the presence of God in the family and his love, which is welcoming, merciful, and respectful towards all. And above all, a love which is patient…”
That. That is what I want for my children, for my marriage, for myself. A “profound harmony between persons”, our family experiencing “the beauty of togetherness”. And all my decisions and strategies and ways of doing things kind of pale in comparison to the much bigger picture. And I’m glad.
Because in spite of the laundry and dishes and small dirty feet, I feel good about being a mom.