Self Care & Acceptance

Living Alive: Being You While Being a Mom

April 26, 2016

Do you ever think of life as a mom as being a completely separate life from the one you were living before? Or maybe you’re not a mom and imagine motherhood as an entirely new universe, entered into only after a clean break with the person you are today. Sound familiar? For me, it wasn’t just familiar; it was reality. Whether you’re a mom who’s home during each day or one who works outside the home, time in the mom zone is intense in a way that’s hard to express. Especially with smaller children, the needs of the moment are usually immediate and often urgent. Even as the one in charge, the experience of motherhood often leaves us little control over the course and direction of the minute, let alone the day. In addition to all of that, the stakes are about as high as they can be. This is, literally, someone’s life in our hands – someone we love dearly. From any angle, it’s a lot to handle and a lot to take in. Like anything so weighty and overwhelming, it’s easy for our sight to hem and hedge in around our world at home; often, we start to lose sight of other things. We’re just going through the motions, moving from one routine to the next and living off the fumes of the fun and precious moments that come along the way. We don’t live with passion and vibrance; we aren’t living alive. We start to lose sight of being people, being women. We feel like moms. End of story. How do we change that? Can we? Should we? I’m convinced that we can and that, for more important reasons than we realize, we must. You can be you – living alive fully – while also being a mom, a great mom.

When my eldest newborn daughter was first put into my arms, I didn’t feel the whoosh of adoration many moms do. While I loved her surely, the first and most profound thing I felt was the weight of the responsibility being placed, quite literally, into my hands. My feelings in that moment encapsulate how I approached motherhood in total. I was so aware of the responsibility and possible consequences of my actions, I lived believing that every choice I made in every moment – big or small – was a choice to bless and create a positive future for my child…or a choice to ruin her life.

While it’s true that all the moments count and that our choices as moms affect our kids, my way of thinking left very little room for several crucial elements. First, there was little room for God. If all the weight and liability for my daughters’ futures lie with me and my actions, where does God come in? How does He function as author and creator of their lives? And, on that same subject, where is the room for grace? For me or for them? With such a uncompromising, high-intensity mindset about the task of mothering, I left very little room for any of us to fall apart and miss the mark entirely – something we would all certainly do again and again. Lastly, as I approached motherhood with the gusto and determination one might think admirable, I poured my whole being into the future of these small people with whom I’d been entrusted.

The problem, however, is that in doing so, I’d squeezed my person, my self nearly into invisibility. No one could blame me. With such high stakes in a process that I seemed to believe fell almost completely on my shoulders, where was there energy or time for the nurture of anyone other than the precious tiny souls I’d been allowed to help shepherd?

The truth, as it often is, was best discovered by examining the fruit of my efforts. Yes, at the time my heart began to awake to these thoughts, my daughter was happy, healthy, vibrant and exhibiting all the signs of being a well-cared-for kid on the road to a functional, successful adulthood. But me? Wasn’t mine a soul also entrusted, at least in part, to my care? In short, my approach to motherhood wasn’t working for me. I’m great at sucking it up, pushing forward and getting the job done, but in the midst of all my focused intention, I often languish. The same was true for me in mothering. My efforts were so intensely committed to doing the perfect job of being the ideal parent, I and all my needs faded from my own view. The person I am inside, the things I love and the dreams that give me energy shrunk into near nonexistence.

There is a distorted nobility often imparted to the self-sacrifice of motherhood. Yes, it’s a job that requires great sacrifice, but sacrificial love and human sacrifice are not the same thing. I was offering up my own self, my me-ness on the altar of effort in exchange for a hope that I would be a perfect mother and that my kids, as a result, would have perfect lives. Yet, I needed no convincing that I was falling short of even my own ideals time and time again. This is what happens when you’re human. Yet, even though I knew rationally that I could never be perfect, every evidence of humanity spun me into a self-defeating tirade of disappointment, fear for my children’s futures and discouraged certainty of my own ineptitude and insufficiency. Even as I tried to surrender these negative thoughts and use them as motivation to yield my children more and more to God, things did not much change. I was so emotionally and mentally intertwined with my kids in the dailyness of my life, I had no hope of breaking the cycle.

I needed to change my approach; I needed to change my perspective. Really, for my own sake, I needed a new parenting belief-system. I needed it to stay sane, to stay healthy and to not live in a life that felt like a wearying labor day in and day out. I hear so many moms say the same thing; it boils down to, “It sucks, but it’s worth it.” And yes, parts of the task-at-hand are not fun. The same is true for any pursuit, but the joy of mothering was limited to bright shining highlights in the midst of a week, and what’s more, those moments of true, inexplicable light and joy were some of the only bright spots in my world. It’s not meant to be that way. The life described in the new testament is one of purpose, joy, power and intention. We weren’t designed for a long slog into Heaven. I wasn’t miserable, and I loved being a mom. I felt honored to be called to this role in life. The lie that my non-misery was good enough kept me stalled longer than I could have been. True, I wasn’t unhappy, but I also wasn’t growing in vibrance and excitement for life either. Deep inside, I knew there had to be something more. There is a beckoning call to wild adventure and something more inside each of our hearts. Our of necessity and although I was keenly aware of the risk, I started to pursue the something more.

As I delved into the possibility of possibilities, another realization shook loose completely any remaining thoughts I had that 100% engrossment in mothering was the “right” way for me to live. I realized, with a heaviness in my gut, that the choices I make today as a mother not only impact my kids in the obvious ways, but perhaps even more importantly, they are the model my children will have for being mothers themselves. My parenting is teaching my kids – in profound ways – what it means to be a parent, what is enough. I have two daughters and the idea that my daughters might dive into the decades of their adulthood with a mindset that discarded their own hearts, their own dreams and their own passions brought pain to my soul. It brings tears to my eyes even as I write these words. There’s a reason so many of us, despite verbal assurances and instructions otherwise, inherit so many unhealthy tendencies from our own parents. I have no doubt that I am a perfectionist because I watched my mom chase after perfection with such intensity and urgency all throughout her life. And I am just as certain that any words she could have said to teach me that perfection doesn’t matter would have fallen on deaf ears in contrast to her incredibly present example.

“Do as I say and not as I do” is largely a fantasy. The thought of my precious girls mothering with gusto and heart leaves me smiling. The thought of my daughters mothering to the neglect of their own souls and destinies, however, is crushing. They will learn this from me. If I live as if nothing-but-1000%-sacrifice  is acceptable in my life as a mother, they will internalize this same belief. If I demonstrate that neglect of my own spirit and soul are acceptable choices, this is what they will learn – whether I like it or not. My own heart and the way I felt about my daily life was motivation enough for me, but this added realization about the potential generational impact of my life and how I cared for its value made decisions about changing my approach to parenting mandatory.

If there is a place inside you, even a quiet voice that you try to ignore, that says “there’s got to be more to life than this,” please know that there is. Mothering is a sacred calling, a precious privilege and a job that requires real grit. It’s a powerful part of our mission and it calls up in us the potential to live with immense purpose and satisfaction in service. But mothering is also a job that’s primary focus is about nurturing and developing the ability within another person to live a full, vibrant and independent life of peaceful joy and meaning. I cannot believe that God’s desire would be for my life to become about the independence of someone else, to the exclusion of my own.

For all of us, life as a mom may (and should) remain one of our primary anchors. This job is an opportunity that requires and deserves some of the best of what we have to give. And I’m not saying you need to go find another “destiny” in life. I’m saying that you need to be living alive inside; you need to be thriving, and if whatever you having going on in your life right now – mothering and whatever else – isn’t creating that energy and buoyancy, decide to believe it should.

If you don’t know where to begin, that’s okay. I started with just giving myself more space to be…well, myself. Sometimes, my daughters ask for my attention and I lovingly tell them “no.” I try to be fully present when I engage with them, but I also give myself permission to take mental and physical breaks – lots of them. I am pursuing actively and on a daily basis things that take care of me and nourish my heart into aliveness. Some days, that’s just as simple as rest and an unhurried meal. More days, though, I try to create space for things like writing, time with friends, reading, and time alone outside of the house (and not just running errands!). My children are huge and greatly treasured parts of my life; they are not, however, my life. And the more energy I invest in creating room for my own soul to thrive alongside theirs, the more I love and enjoy every moment (even the tedious ones) of being a mommy.

Your life is your life and a great deal of its impact, weight and purpose is yours alone to foster. (I wrote a whole post about leading yourself in the quest for living with more intention here.) Your potential is yours to cultivate. That right and responsibility doesn’t end or go on an extended hiatus when you become a mom. No doubt, it becomes different and perhaps even more difficult in some ways, but it also becomes more crucial. The world needs you to come alive; the Kingdom needs you to come alive in His vision for you. You need that too, and so do your kids. They really do.

Seek Him. Let Him shape your day, your world, your priorities and your system of evaluating what is and what isn’t “good.” Be courageous. And be open to being stretched and changed. When I made the choice to begin down the writing and speaking path I’m on now in my life, I told my husband, “I’m just afraid I’m going to mess up our whole life.” He replied, “Then let’s mess it up.” He told me that he hadn’t seen the light and excitement he was seeing in me then since before our daughter was born. He said, no matter what else happened, the effort and energy and expense were worth it to have that vigor and vitality back in my face each day. He was right. God doesn’t draw us into new journeys to wear us out and make us tired. He draws us to create something new in us. Motherhood has created a whole new capacity in my heart and life, but beyond that, there has been even more. Your new journey may be as simple as a new friendship with someone who needs your love and example. It may be a new hobby, or an old one. I don’t know; the possibilities are endless, but He created you to be you, fully and amazingly so.

I have to work sometimes to intentionally expand my world and to make my view of life bigger; mothering two (soon to be three!) small people is intense and consuming. It’s a choice to create space for more (I wrote more about what this looks like here), but I have never been happier or more enlivened by the senses of purpose and delight in my life. There are places inside me that I hadn’t realized had gone dim, and they are coming to life again in new and powerful ways. This difference isn’t just for me or about me, and it’s not just for and about my kids or my husband. God draws us into the bigger story because His story is worth so much more, and it’s bigger than any of us can imagine. You have a part to play, a song to sing, a contribution to make. And it’s one that will bring you great joy. Dare to believe that with your whole heart and what comes next will blow us all away.

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