Family Life,  guest post,  motherhood,  Suffering,  toddlers

Don’t listen to the signs: sometimes it’s hard, and that’s ok

Yesterday I came across a piece written by the lovely, talented, and endlessly fascinating Cari Donaldson, the wit and the voice behind the popular “Clan Donaldson” blog, and as I wiped tears from my bleary, sleep-deprived eyes, I knew I wanted to share it with you guys. Cari, who is raising a clan of a half-dozen beautiful New Englanders in an honest-to-goodness farmhouse which she and her husband Ken recently acquired in a story worth a mention all it’s own, is funny, gracious, and just edgy enough to be my future momself’s muse. I hope you find her equally enchanting.

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Dear Moms of littles.  Let me ask you something.  When you see signs like this:

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do you feel comforted?  Do you feel uplifted?  Or do you feel like I do when I see them?  Namely:

  • irritated
  • panicky
  • anxious
  • guilt-ridden
  • resentful
  • angry
  • consumed with the sudden urge to set things on fire

I’m not the only one who has that response to those sort of tone deaf platitudes am I?

Because here’s the thing- as a mom, particularly a mom to little ones, you’re already familiar with the guilt and the panic and the anxiety.  You already have the awful realization that the days, no matter how long they seem in the moment, really do slip by at breathtaking speed.  And so you run as fast as you can just to stand still, and it never feels like enough.  You go to bed at night with the lurking suspicion that there was another story you could have squeezed in, another craft you could have planned, another biting of the tongue to hold back impatient words, and on and on and on.

As the mother of littles, you probably already feel like you’ve messed up a million things- having some sanctimonious sign remind you of it under the guise of “life lessons” is unbearable.

When I had four children, ages 6 and under, I remember running across one of those signs.  It crushed me.  It was almost like I actually became a camel and that sign was the straw what broke my back.  I was at my best friend’s dining room table, slumped over, back broken, convinced of my inadequacy as a mother.

You know what Kim did?

Well, first, let me back up.  You know what she didn’t do?

She didn’t tell me to go stare at my kids sleeping.  She didn’t tell me to be grateful for the handprints on the window.  She didn’t remind me that these days fly by at light speed, and before I know it, my kids will be grown and all the mistakes I make on the daily will be solidified forever in their psyche.

Instead she looked me dead in the eye and said, “It sucks.  This season of life sucks.  You have no big kids to help you out, and you’re the only person who can meet their needs.  Every. Single.  Need.  It is exhausting.  It is ok to feel exhausted and it’s ok not to like it.”

Just hearing that made me feel better.  After all, this was a woman who had, at the time, 10 kids.  She seemed unflappable.  Unstoppable.  The kind of woman who had her stuff together and probably remembered to watch every little angel of hers every time they slept and joyfully accepted every mess as a gift from her blessings.  So to hear someone like that tell me that what I was going through was hard and that it was ok to not want to savor it was like a lifeline.

Then she said, “It’ll get better.  One day, they’ll be bigger and you can go to the store by yourself and take a shower without the house burning down.  It will still be hard, but it will be a different kind of hard.  One that gives you a little personal space.”

And it’s true.  I want to tell you moms drowning in the trenches of baby- and toddlerhood that it’s true.  There is so much wonder and joy in those years, absolutely! but it is also overwhelmingly stressful to have to meet every single need of this tiny little person- all the time.  Diapers, baths, drinks of water, cleaning, cooking, entertainment, education, heath care, spiritual formation, the list is infinite and it leaves very little breathing room.  So please, please don’t ever let some string of words make you feel like you’re failing because you aren’t reveling in this at every moment of your life.  If you don’t peek in on them sleeping, you are not a failure as a mother.  If you find yourself wishing that they were a little older- at least old enough to find their own shoes- that is ok.

The biggest thing to remember is that our children are our children forever.  Like another wise mom friend of mine said, “There will never be a time that they are not our children so we are not racing toward the end. This roughness at the start is just the beginning. It’s jut the tip tip tip tip of the iceburg! So go ahead and wish away the hard parts. Because the hard parts suck. And no, they are not forever. THANK GOD.”

Please, mom of littles, do not look at signs like that one up there and let them make you anxious.  If by chance you’re the type who can read those signs and respond with gratitude for the reminder to slow down, then by all means, keep at it, Mama.  But if you’re like I was six years ago, and certain that you’re already ruining your kids, then mentally burn that sign down.  You’re going through a crazy, stressful time of life.  And while I know you wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world, it’s ok to wish the poop and the sippy cups and the non-verbal stage of human development were behind you.  It’s ok to put your kids to bed with a sense of relief that it’s finally quiet and I’m 100% certain no child ever suffered because his mother didn’t stare adoringly at him every night he slept.

Sincerely,

A mother of older kids who got to spend three hours outside today, spreading mulch while the kids occupied themselves.  One of them even made breakfast!   Two of them did the dishes!  Zero of them were observed while sleeping last night.  You’ll get there, too, Mom of Littles, and it will be glorious.

6 Comments

  • gsk

    You know what consoled me? “Mary kept all these things in her heart.” That meant I didn’t have to. There would be no test, no hoop to jump through to prove I remembered it all–because it rests in the mind of God (which is much better than mine).

    And secondly, if they’re left wanting, a little hungry, a little dissatisfied, it’s ok. Only God can truly satisfy them (and us). Why should we mislead them to believe that this world will make them totally happy? Really, we take ourselves too seriously sometimes. This life is just a stepping stone to the place were we can all rest — and laugh. Because not only are big kids lots of fun too, but you’ll find out that what little you remember (and what they remember) aren’t always all that accurate.

    Peace (from the mother of five mostly-grown babies)

  • Lauren

    Thank you so much for sharing this. I desperately needed to read it today. I’m on summer break as a teacher at home with my two under two. Everyone constantly is telling me to enjoy it, enjoy it. I do! But! It is so hard. The needs are endless. My hat goes off to every SAHM. I don’t know how you do it, even though I feel guilty for taking mine to the sitter every day of the school year. Thanks again for sharing this excellent piece.

  • Mitzi

    I loved this post, too. I am glad you are sharing it with moms who mightn’t have seen it on Cari’s site. I am a working mother, and my three aren’t tiny any more, but her words hit me right between the eyes in the best of all possible ways.

  • heather

    I love this! I am a mama to an 8 year old and a 1 year old. Having the older one has given me the strength to know “everything at or below 3 feet wont be snatched up and thrown on the floor forever” and I’ll get to relax my mama cat-like-reflexes and stop straining to constantly hear a cry or wail. Looking forward to that three blissful hours of yard work alone! 😀

  • Margaret

    I had 3 kids in just over 4 years, then 7 years later at age 43, blessed with a bonus baby, I look in on her every night! I stop and smell her baby sweat, and smile at her temper tantrums , she’s now 5, I don’t feel guilty, and the early teen years are ok so far. Stop when you can and appreciate them, it does go by quickly.

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