I started babysitting when I was twelve. It just fit. I am the oldest of three by a long shot, which taught me to be hyper-responsible early in life, and I am naturally endowed with a generous dose of, shall we say, leadership abilities. I have always enjoyed children, and I was determined to be a babysitting superstar. Honestly, I was. I took the babysitting course at the YMCA and got myself a goody bag and certificate to authenticate my superstar status. It’s how I made the bulk of my money all the way through college, and I really did enjoy it. It’s one of two things that made me fall in love with the idea of mothering. The other is the fact that I had an amazing mother that made me feel all the kinds of secure a child should be allowed to feel.
I would fantasize about the day when I could have my own kids, about what kind of mother I would be, about the cute SUV I would drive, and the caps and big earrings I would don. I figured I’d have a slew of boys because little boys have always stolen my heart away and made me belly laugh all in one swoop. We would read books and play games and go to the park, and all the other little boys would want to come to my house because I would be just THAT amazing. And at night we would snuggle down sweet. They would tell me about their days, and then we would all sleep all night long. Actually, the part about sleeping never occurred to me. When you are a teenager, the possibility of not sleeping through the night (unless it’s because you are having the MOST fun ever) isn’t a thing you even know to consider.
Then, I got married and had my own baby – a precious, magnificent baby girl. And in some ways it was all the things I ever imagined – fun and silly and freeing and snuggly. In others, it was a gigantic magnifying glass upon every “supposed to” I had ever clung to in the history of ever! Mostly, it was everything and nothing I expected it to be – and in the end I got swept up in all the “supposed to’s.”
Somewhere between taking care of a toddler while navigating two back to back miscarriages and taking care of a newborn (sweet baby girl #2) while navigating the perils of parenting a preschooler, I fell out of love with mothering. I don’t even know when it happened, but I do know that it did. Motherhood lost all its shine and became a heavy and dull ring upon my finger – an obligation, not a gift. A supposed to, not a get to.
Good ole’ country music artist Clay Walker sang a song in the late nineties about staying in relationships and not burning bridges just because you’re bored. He sings, “Then what? Whatcha gonna do when the new wears off and the old shines through….?” And today, six and half years after my first baby girl was born, I find myself humming those lyrics in my head. Because motherhood doesn’t stay magical all by itself, and moving on to the next big thing affects far more than just myself. It’s not all that different than marriage, really, other than we don’t have the option of walking away from it – and so the havoc we can wreak is often far greater if we don’t figure out to stay in love with it.
So, these days you will find me working to fall back in love with mothering. How? How do you get there, you ask?
- Don’t be a “supposed to” mama. Be a “get to” mama. I Voxed my friend, Stacey, this morning about some of the things my heart is currently processing. (Voxer is the best, right? And all the long-distance mommy friends said, “Amen!”) And she said, “Don’t be a ‘supposed to’ girl. You aren’t that girl. Be a ‘get to’ girl.” Be the one who lets them stay up ten minutes late to talk a little more about their days, be silly a little bit longer, read a little bit later. Not every night, but some nights – because even though they’re supposed to go to sleep at 8, you get to be the woman to watch them grow and laugh and learn. Be the one who pulls out the pink china and decks the dining room out in pink and red roses on Valentine’s day – because even though you’re supposed to show love all year long, and “What a commercial holiday,” and yada, yada, yada, you get to be the one to do it in one gaudy, grand gesture one day a year.
- Be the mama YOU are wired to be. Take a step back and figure out how you work, what your strengths are, and what you love – and work from there to see how your family’s life can blend with that framework. For a long time, I bought into the lie that there is a certain brand of “good mama” out there, and if you’re not her, you’d better change who you are real quick so you get it right. That’s a load of boo-hockey. Often we feel like we’ve lost ourselves when in reality we simply banished ourselves for what we thought was the better, shinier version of a mama. Un-banish you.
- Remember why you loved it to begin with. These are beginning to sound very much like marriage tips, and I feel all right about that. Remember all of your favorite things about being a new mommy and recreate those things. Take the hour and a half to pack them all up in the car and go do something fun while enduring the endless whining and complaining and bickering – because mostly you will all just remember the fun. Stay in your pajamas all day long, watch movies, do puzzles, and bake cookies. Do nothing at all – together.
- Laugh out loud as much as possible. This seems simple, but I cannot tell you how many mamas I have talked to that say, “Sometimes I go through a whole day and realize I haven’t smiled. Not once.” This is a legitimate issue, friends. So, when your little girl starts tossing out the potty talk and laughing hysterically at herself, take a moment and laugh with her. You can correct her behavior in five minutes when she does it again, which she inevitably will. Do SOMETHING every day that genuinely brings you joy. Drink tea out of your Downton Abbey tea cups, dance like a lunatic while you cook dinner, make silly faces at yourself in the mirror (don’t act like you don’t know what I’m talking about). Just find a way to have a good-ish day – because they won’t all be great, but they can be good-ish – but we must choose it.
- Pray. This seems obvious but often I fail to remember to do it. Mothering involves two parties – you and your kiddos – so pray 1 Corinthians 13:4-6 over the both of you! “Lord, help me to be patient and kind to my kids and myself today, etc…” This is, I think, significant, because all the other stuff is great and practical and helpful, of course, but the only One who can change our hearts is our God who sees them in their entirety!
Next February, I hope I can tell you all about the year I fell back in love with mothering. For now, though, I can tell you that this adventure is a gift, an undeserved, unearned gift handed down from God – and I’ll not squander it any longer. I refuse to.
Until then, solidarity, sister!