a word of encouragement for mothers

Recently my mom was telling me of a family friend who just had her second baby and is walking through a rough season of postpartum depression. She shared a few other details and I have been thinking about this young mom ever since. And here's what I want to say to her. I've written many of these things before, but here they are in one swoop.

I once read a blog post that talked about how each family has "a number." The number is the child that was born that threw you off of your feet and knocked the wind out of you real good. For many, their number is One. It is that first baby that takes them off their game and leaves them feeling humbled and fried and surprised that this who parenting thing is so hard. Every couple is going to have a different number though. I have a friend who recently said her number was Four. She felt like she was great at mothering until she had her Forth. And then she felt the humbling.

For us, our number is Two. I've shared this many times before, but number Two came and knocked us off our game. We had just moved, we were trying to find a church home, I was looking for friends, our marriage was about to get a good dose of life-changing counseling, our baby had a scream she used when upset and I wasn't sure I was good at mothering. I was supposed to be good at it, but I suddenly felt inept and lacking. Rory and I would have middle of the night fights "let her cry it out" "no! I can't do it!" "Just go to sleep" (And we took turns on both sides of that argument!) I was always falling short and the mom-boss inside of my head was a jerk. She was cruel and mean and if that voice had been an actual woman, I would have slapped her and walked off the job.

And here's the thing: I was supposed to be the best mom ever. And for those of us who love kids and always wanted to be a mother, I think motherhood is especially humbling. I started babysitting when I was in 5th grade, with my Red Cross First Aid card in hand. I babysat full summer weeks all through middle school for my next door neighbors. I taught Sunday school, spent my summers as a camp counselor, go my degree in elementary education, babysat throughout college, watched kids on a tour bus my first year out of college. I babysat while at the seminary and was basically the best aunt in the whole world. I had experience with every age, but mostly babies and toddlers. This was going to be my finest hour!

So then it really, really was a blow when I didn't feel like I was pulling off the one thing I was definitely supposed to excel at. I've always been an achiever, but I was so lost at figuring out what I was trying to achieve.

And I was fighting it every step of the way. I resented meal prep. I hated that breakfast, lunch and dinner were my daily responsibilities. Laundry was never ending and I never felt caught up. My kitchen floor was always an embarrassment with mud and grass and brown banana smear, raisins and cheerios. My bathrooms were in desperate need of a good scrubbing and I rarely got out of my black yoga pants/tshirt/hoodie ensemble. Most of all I was mad about my lot. This was supposed to be the dream, and yet I felt terrible at every part.

I now have two thoughts on this: 1) The world does not give any validation to these monotonous, tedious, self-sacrificing jobs. There are very few words of encouragement spoken in this season. The work is unseen and from the outside, you "just have a baby, so what do you do all day anyway?" It can feel very lonesome and mostly just hard. 2) Dying to yourself hurts because it includes dying. Our world does not celebrate self-sacrifice. It does not recognize a love that lays down her life (her personal ambitions) for a friend (her baby). When we are called to wash the feet of our neighbor, and those feet happen to be a wiggly baby who bathes you while you're trying to bathe it, you are rising to a very high calling. But it's so hard. It's so constant. It's so monotonous. But it's so good.

I can say that now, because I have had two babies since number Two and I am a completely different woman. The difference is that I died to my self. I really did. I used to fight so much of this. I used to resent so much. I used to be so frustrated. But the Lord used refining fire to burn away a lot of my pride, selfish ambitions and personal desires. And that burning burned. I felt it.

Now I can hear you. You're freaking out that I set aside my personal ambitions and decided to stay home with my kids. You're afraid I'm drinking some kool-aid that has me barefoot in the kitchen making breakfast, lunch and dinner for six humans every day.

But what I want you to hear is that I had a choice if I was going to go about this work of motherhood and homemaking with a bitter and frustrated heart or if I was going to choose to do this refining work with a cheerful heart, with gratitude that I am able to stay home with my kids, with thanksgiving that my husband works so I can fill the fridge with food and then the table with meals. I had to decide if I was going to resent laying down my life for the sake of these beautiful babies God had entrusted to my care.

And though that all sounds nice and poetic written out, the truth is, it is a daily decision, a daily choice. The choice between defeated/bitter/exhausted and joyful/thankful/peaceful is a choice I make every day.

The truth is, I think it is helpful to know that there usually is one baby that takes you off your game and that there are lots of factors that can make that season particularly challenging. It may be the needs of the baby. Or it may be the state of your marriage. It may be a loneliness for friends in the same life stage. It may be a discontentment that God is working out in you. It may be a time when He is trying to grow and shape and mold you into something stronger and mightier than you ever were before. It may be that this trying season is all for his good purposes to shape your character to be more like His.

And it may be actual hormones. Oh the hormones! I didn't believe in hormones until number Two! I remember telling Rory, "Listen! I don't even like me!" My emotions were all over the place. It wasn't until I had Hattie that I believed hormones were all they were cracked up to be. Because with Hattie I had overloads of the happy hormone. I was perma-joyful. And then I was able to look back at my season of Two and see that I just had a different hormonal cocktail. All this to say, hormones are real.

I'm getting chatty now, so I'll tell you a few things I have learned that might be helpful for you:

1) First and foremost, I started speaking kindly to myself. I fired jerk-boss in my head and replaced her with kind-boss. She's gentle and encouraging. She sees the laundry that never gets folded and says to herself, "well, something had to give." The truth is, the words of encouragement are so few and far between that we ourselves must speak them to ourselves. Our husbands can say kind things, but sometimes it's hard to hear those thing in the midst of the stressful things. We have to say them. And then hear them.

2) This is totally a practical one: Vitamin B Complex is so important. If you're a new mom and not taking Vitamin B Complex, you have to start taking this. Over and over and over again, I hear moms say it changed their literal life. It changed mine. I also take iron, cod-liver oil capsules, a prenatal and D in the winter. We cannot run this race on fumes.

3) Diet really matters right now. It doesn't feel fair because you walk up and down the stairs and pick stuff up all day and it really should count, but I have found if I am bonkers emotionally when consuming sugar and grains. They make me irritable and snappy. I just finished a Whole30, and felt totally in control of my emotions. It was a wild experience to see how greatly I am affected by what I eat! Since getting back on sugar and carbs, I have absolutely noticed how impatient and short I can get.

4) Friends are so, so important. I found one of my best friends through a MOPS group. I met other best friends through a women's Bible study. To find a friend who has kids the same age as your own is really, really important. It seems silly, like it should work no matter how old their kids, but there is something about having someone in the exact life-stage that really feeds a mom's weary soul. You feel seen and understood without having to explain it all.

5) The Five Senses totally matter when you're home all day! Play worship and praise music. I remember a mom saying this just after I had Ivar. She said, "I have no idea what I'd do if I didn't have praise playing in my house all day long." I remember her saying it because it seemed so over-the-top to me. But now I'm with her. I don't play it all day, but when I can see that all of our spirits are sagging, I put on Bethel Worship or Hillsong or Andrew Peterson or instrumental worship and it changes the atmosphere in our home. Candles and Flowers are important for good scents. I take notice of it all. What am I wearing, what am I looking at (can we clean for 10 minutes so I don't have to stare at this living room all day?) What I'm eating. It all matters.

6) It's all just a season. You can't hardly believe that it in the moment. You think, "well, this is how it's going to be for. the. rest. of. my. life." But then something changes and you realize that hardship has ended. Another will come, but seasons change and it is so good to remember this. One day your baby will be able to put on their own crocs. And keep them on. And crawl into the car on their own. And buckle their own buckle. But you can hardly believe that in the moment.

7) You have to let some things go. We arrive late to things. I try so hard and HATE being late, but sometimes all forces of the universe are against me and I could fight it and be a bear to all around me, or I could take a deep breath and let it go. Rory walks into my kitchen with his boots on eleven times a day. I just let it go. It seems each day there is an area calling out for Grace! Maybe it's the laundry, the dishes, suppertime, a tidy home, a dirty bathroom. Some tasks just have to take a number and get in line. And it's my job to just let it go.

8) It's really, truly hard to mother during the age of social media. There is always another woman out there who looks like she's pulling it all off picture-perfect with no drama, effort or tears. Social media can be a distraction to our worthy call, a time-suck of great proportions eating up our down time, leaving us feeling the opposite of refueled. I have found that I am most irritable when I'm scrolling and just want to get to the end of my feed. If my kids need me during that time, my fuse is so short. I can see it clearly, and it's why I take great chunks of time away from those platforms. I haven't been on IG or Facebook now for five months. I'm not trying to prove anything. I'm just more present and way more content with my little kids when I step away from those addictive outlets. And it forces me to call a friend to spend time together in the flesh.

Alright. I'll stop now because this is getting too long and you need to go to bed too. But I wanted to write this out for whatever mom is really, really struggling right now. Mostly so you know you're not alone. Motherhood is hard, especially for those of us who were going to be awesome at motherhood. Refining Fire does burn. Dying to yourself involves actually dying which goes against every fiber of your sweet living soul. But we have a choice each day to spend it resentful or grateful. And then to let God mold and shape your character into something more like His.

And that is the bottom line. It is only God who can change your heart and your attitude. He did a deal on mine! He is the one who entrusted these babies to our care and he wants them loved well. What a sweet gig: to raise children and care for their every need, to practice servant leadership right in our own homes, serving our families with joy and gladness. Thank you God for this good work before us.

Now go take your Vitamin B complex.

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