Wednesday, September 5, 2012

How to Measure Success as a Mother

I swat mosquitos, sweat dripping down my arms as I fan myself with the wedding program, and push Caden’s stroller clockwise in an attempt quiet his grouchy protests at not being in my arms. Jayci stands in line behind the bridesmaids, a shy grin plastered on her face. She grips the satin basket, occasionally taking out and sniffing a rose petal or twirling her long white dress. Every few minutes, she looks to me for reassurance. I wink, and she cups her hands around her mouth and says, “I love you mommy!” in a loud whisper-shout. My heart swells with pride as the violin’s notes soar and she walks slowly and deliberately down the aisle, carefully scattering petals with a proud smile twitching the edges of her mouth.

I don’t watch the whole ceremony because Caden vocalizes his restlessness. As his bedtime rapidly approaches, his good spirits flee just as quickly. Cocktail hour pushes past limits for both kids and I watch Jayci’s descent into over-tired, marked by hyperactivity and apparent deafness to all my pleas for obedience. I feel her meltdown gathering thickly, like swollen storm clouds darkening the sky to grey. I scarf down delicious beef wellington and bacon-wrapped green beans, bribing Jayci with mini carrot cake to entice her out the door towards the van. As we trek to the parking lot, arms weighted with diaper bags, a stroller, and tired babies, I gaze longingly at the “signature cocktail” table: Arnold Palmers and chilled wine lined up beside ribbon-wrapped mason jars.

For a split-second I wonder what it would be like to be kid-free again. To go back to doing what I want, when I want, even after nine o’clock meltdown threshold. Just as quickly as the thought flits through my mind, I bat it away guiltily. Just a year ago, we weren’t sure if we would still have a baby to put into his crib, sleepy and sweaty from a night out under the twinkling lights. We were tethered to our home by a feeding pump, while our nearly-three-year-old would have NEVER had the confidence and discipline to walk down the grassy aisle so perfectly.

My fleeting thoughts of reneging on parenthood flood me with guilt, because I wouldn’t ever want anyone to think that I don’t love, absolutely adore really, both of my children. That’s not it, not even a little bit. It’s just that being a mom is a HARD gig. And sometimes I want to quit, just like I really really wanted to quit when I was running with Adam for the first time in sweet-forever this morning. My legs were screaming at me, my lungs chanting with each breath: quit, give up, it’s too hard; you’ll never succeed at this running thing anyways. Sometimes I feel the same way as I parent. Every time I step on a Lego, spill a freshly poured glass of milk, lose my temper, read some blogs rather than play with my kids, or read other mom’s facebook posts about how much they love every-single-bit of motherhood, the chant begins: quit, give up, it’s too hard, you’ll never succeed at this mothering-thing anyways. And then, of course, I feel like a failed-failure because not only am I screwing up as a mama, I’m also not enjoying motherhood the way I should (and the way all the other mamas seem to).

So I leave the wedding irritated, frustrated with my inability to enjoy some freedom, and equally frustrated by my inability to just embrace my role as a mother and all it entails. And I hear myself as I drive down 400, arguing with Jayci to respond with respect, despite the knowledge that she is too over-tired and zapped to respond with anything even remotely resembling respect. She tells me, over and over again, “mommy I’m just going to sing this ONE last song and THEN I’m going to close my eyes because I’m SO tired.” Meanwhile, Caden loudly whine-cries, a noise I’m certain he has perfected to the perfect pitch in order to maximize annoyance and eardrum splitting, and he throws his pacifier violently out of his car seat back into the depths of the van, wailing loudly at the loss. I pinch the bridge of my nose and will myself not to lose it.

Impossibly, despite the wailing and loud singing, my mind wanders to the fact that my baby walked down the aisle in a white dress. And I wonder about the bride’s mother, what she was feeling as she watched her own daughter float down the aisle in her dream dress. It seems unimaginable that this is the end-goal of it all. That every load of laundry, every tickle, every story, every time-out, agonizing over late nights and homework and school-projects . . . it all culminates in this moment when we will hand our baby girl over to her groom, sighing with release and freedom and heart-break all at once, pleased with the independent and beautiful young-lady we’ve raised. Or in seeing Caden one day brim with joy, eyes welling with tears, as his bride makes her way down the aisle to take his hand and join our family.
I turn the music down in hopes that Jayci will stop singing and maybe her silence will lull Caden into silence as well. Turning onto our street, I brake as a lady stumbles out in front of my car. At least she’s near a cross-walk, I think, averting my eyes from her short red skirt and bikini top. Her hair is messy and unkempt, and she totters on too-tall heels. I watch her until she is a shadow beneath a dimly lit street-lamp. And I wonder if her mom dreamed of her baby’s wedding day when she was a nearly-four-year-old girl. If she watched her daughter bounce excitedly in white satin shoes, anticipating her flower-girl responsibilities, and wondering how many people will be watching her sprinkle rose petals. What hopes and dreams did her mama have for her life? And what went wrong, or what was never right?

I think the thread that ties us mothers together is this: sometimes no matter what we do, our lives and our children don’t turn out the way we dreamed.

And what if success isn’t measured as a mother the way we think, the way the world tells us? What if success isn’t a daughter in a white dress rather than on the streets?

I’m not saying it doesn’t matter where our children end up, of course I’m not. But I AM saying that I want to be a voice of one who believes that God’s measure of a mother is different. Not based on outcomes, on who produces more pinterest-worthy-crafts, or who raises better-behaved children. But on abundance. On enough. Because in a rat-race motherhood where we breathe a sigh of relief that at least it’s not my kid when see the broken lingering on street corners, or throwing tantrums in the Target dollar spot. That kind of motherhood is based on an economy of scarcity. Where her success as a mom equals my failure.

No, instead, I must celebrate and live out of abundance. I will be the voice of one calling God’s people to another way of living, another way of mothering. One where it is OK to admit (deep breath) that there are days that are so HARD that I just want to run away and hide from my children. Preferably somewhere peaceful and sunny with an ample supply of diet coke and cheese dip.

One week at camp this summer, Danielle took Jayci and Caden for a few days so we could spend some more intentional time with our kiddos. And the night before she brought them back, I snuck out into the soccer field and I wept, ashamed of the fact that I desperately DID NOT want her to bring them back. I wanted to see them (always) but not to be responsible for them again. But I felt like I had to hide, I had to cry beneath the cover of darkness because I thought no one would possibly understand, and everyone would judge me and think I was a horrible mother. In fact, I even started to write a blog post about it and still that post sits in my “dashboard” as a draft, erased and rewritten and erased again.

Somehow, impossibly, in the middle of the itchy grass, my knees bent under the weight of my own perceived failure; under a black sky strewn with stars and surrounded by the croaking bullfrogs and singing cicadas, I stumbled onto God’s grace. His gentle whisper reverberated in my heart: You are enough. And all that I am in you is more than enough for you to mother and love your children AND the kiddos too. Slowly, surrounded by velvety black, I moved from my knees to my butt, hugged my legs to my chest and looked up at the stars, hiccupping and catching my breath, trying to compose myself before heading back to the fort. As I looked up, my breath caught at the million pinpricks of light overhead. I finally glimpsed a tiny corner of the abundance God promises. That He names ALL the stars, and we can’t even see ALL the stars. So He names even those we will never see, never even know exist. Likewise, He names each of us, and equips us for even those things we might never see.

More than enough.

Once we recognize Christ’s way of abundance, once we let Him become both our sustenance and our measure of success, that frees us join hands and hearts with all the other moms. The ones whose babies have slept ten hours every night since they came home from the hospital. And the ones who draw razor blades across their arms to dull the pain in their hearts. The ones whose babies walk down church aisles in white dresses. And the ones whose babies walk in short skirts down dark streets. And when we join hands, when we pull each other up out of the hard places, or get down into the hard places right alongside our fellow moms, the world will be forced to change their measures of success. Seeking community, hurting mamas will encounter Christ. And we will know that we belong to each other. That kindness and love matter. Wounded places will be healed. And mothers everywhere will rejoice as the lost are found.

Dream big, because He is more than enough.

16 comments:

  1. Nothing has made me feel more at odds with who I am and yet also so sure of who I want my kids to be than motherhood.

    I miss them when they're out of my sight even for a moment yet yearn for silence when they are around.

    I almost never feel good enough and yet want nothing more than perfection for them.

    It can all be so very hard.

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  2. This is beautiful, and just what I needed to hear today. I was just thinking about life pre-kids (it's been a rough few days at 7 months pregnant (aka. fat and uncomfortable) and a 7 year old with special needs!) and had to remind myself that this is what I prayed for- for years! Thank you for the reminder that success doesn't mean perfectly behaved children, and that motherhood is hard and that's ok.

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  3. This is beautiful Becca. I often feel that Im not a good enough mom because I cant be a SAHM, and then the next minute I am envying the moms who have great careers...it is hard but I do know its so worth it and God doesnt expect us to be perfect, but we are exactly what our kids need :)

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  4. This is so beautifully written and poignant. Thank you for your honesty. While I'm not yet a mother, your honesty, fear and discouragement resonant with me. You're not alone! Praying for you today :-)

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  5. Becca, this post was the first thing I read this morning. It put me in a great frame of mind to start the day with my kids. So beautiful and moving and honest. It also inspired me to write a post entitled "Never Enough". I'd love for you to read it, if you can find the time :-)

    http://jonesin4adventures.blogspot.com/

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  6. Thank you so much for posting this. It was great to read in a time I needed it the most!

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  7. I've been reading your blog for awhile after I found it through some link from some Facebook or other blog, but I don't frequently comment on blogs. I just wanted to let you know I think you are an amazing writer. No matter your ideas, your writing is always so well-put and lyrical. I look forward to your posts.

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  8. Girl, I so get it.

    Also, this: "That kind of motherhood is based on an economy of scarcity. Where her success as a mom equals my failure." This is pure genius. Straight up.

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  9. I've been following your blog since Caden's birth but have never commented. This post was exactly what I needed to hear today. Thank you for your realness - especially the part about not wanting to be "mom" again that night in the field. I hope you find the courage and strength to complete that post because I am sure you will be greeted with more "thank yous" than judgment.

    Thank you for the reminder that God's grace is enough for us - no matter how clean the house is (or isn't), how many home-cooked meals are frozen in our freezer, or how many pinterest crafts were brought to fruition.

    In a world of link parties and blogs leading us to believe every mom but us has it all together, you are a breath of fresh air.

    A true light in the darkness.

    Thank you.

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  10. Girl! how did I miss this blog post!! Amen!!!!

    I love the saying, God does NOT call the equipped, BUT HE EQUIPS the CALLED!

    Thank you for sharing and continue to remind yourself of all those precious, personal truths God has promised for you!!
    pray for me too!!


    Nicole

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  11. I could not love this post more. Or agree with it more. And that line about "not enjoying motherhood enough" (paraphrased for sure), that is my worry all the time. but at the same time, she is my heart and soul.

    This is beautiful. I don't even really know what to say except amen. To all of it.

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  12. So I was feeling a bit desperate tonight to hear from someone who feels/has felt like this... Clicked on your motherhood tab and this was so goooood for my soul. :)

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