To the Moms Who No Longer Have Toddlers, But Still Remember How Hard it Is: Thank You.

A lot of ink has been spilled about the “Mommy Wars” and how mothering has become a competitive sport. I know this is a real problem, but thankfully, I’ve been immune to most of it. The moms in real life that I choose to share my life with have, for the most part, been kind, supportive and non-judgmental. The one exception to this, however, are certain moms who are years, and sometimes decades, ahead of me in the parenting journey.

I always try to be honest and vulnerable about my parenting experience. It’s no secret that I am finding the thick of the toddler and preschool years to be far more difficult and draining than I ever could have imagined. I grieve this reality every day; I wish it were different. But I do find that by talking about it, and writing about it, makes me feel less alone. However, there have been several instances where an older mom has shamed me for my parenting decisions or the behavior of my children.

Shame hurts. It erodes my confidence, and makes me feel small. It makes an already difficult season seem impossible. But, as Brené Brown says,

If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive. 

So, to the moms of older kids who do this for me, who respond to my struggles with empathy and understanding, thank you.

Thank you for coming to my defense when I was shamed by another mother online. This could have easily shredded my confidence caused me to spiral into anxiety and self-doubt, but instead, you lifted me up with encouragement and love.

Thank you for your honesty. For admitting that raising older kids and teenagers comes with its own set of (really hard) issues, but also acknowledging that toddlers are really hard too. Takeaway: it’s all hard.

Thank you for refraining from uttering the words, Just you wait or You think it’s hard now

Thank you for reassuring me over and over again that there are aspects of parenting that really do get easier. You have no idea how hard I cling to this truth some days, when all I want to do is get in the car and just drive away.

Thank you for Liking and commenting on pictures of my kids online. They really are adorable, delightful, and hilarious, and I love that you think so too.

Thank you for not throwing my generation of parents under the proverbial bus by telling us we are raising spoiled, entitled kids and pointing out all our failures.

Thank you for not telling me to Enjoy every moment and You’re going to miss this. I CAN’T and I KNOW I WILL. But I’m in the weeds now, and sentiments like these aren’t helpful.

Moms of older kids, I see you. I see you navigating the world of school-age, teenagers and adult children. I see you struggling, but I also see you raising bright, thoughtful, and kind kids. Thank you for braving the uncharted waters of raising kids responsibly in the era of social media; I know I’ll be there soon enough and will be looking to you for advice. But most of all, thank you for your empathy, and for not forgetting that every child is different, no two families are the same, and that every stage of parenting is hard.

 

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The Paradox of Motherhood

Is there a more complicated, paradoxical role than being a mother? I can’t imagine any other experience in life that is filled with so much joy, yet at the same time, pain.

The intoxicating joy of holding my first newborn on my chest was simply the flip side of a coin. The other side holds the pain that because of his disabilities, he will never walk, talk, or say, “I love You”.

The pride of watching my daughter explore her creativity through art and pretend play can instantly turn to anger when she stubbornly refuses to comply with my request to clean up her mess.

The delight that my silly, rough and tumble, “all boy” toddler gives me can devolve into exhaustion and a desperate cry to just go to sleep.

I never could have predicted that motherhood would involve the tension of an unbreakable, intertwined bond with my children, yet a yearning to define myself and be defined apart from them. My children are a part of me, but I crave experiences, and work, that are just mine.

Of course, I can’t completely compartmentalize motherhood. My children’s needs, desires, and very existence bleed into every choice I make about how to spend the precious hours of my day. And the cost is high.

The Financial Cost

The financial burden of pursing a dream, or even just adult conversation, is significant. My work is about contributing to the world in ways that don’t involve wiping bottoms, handing out snacks, and breaking up fights. Time away from home to attend conferences or girls’ weekends in another city is crucial for my mental health. But quality childcare is expensive, and I constantly analyze the tangible cost of these endeavors.

The Emotional Cost

The emotional cost of finding myself apart from my role as mother can be excruciating. Am I permanently damaging my kids when I can’t attend all the class parties because I have to work? Do they know I love them unconditionally even when I lose my temper, forget to pack a snack for school, or leave them with their father for a weekend? Sometimes the guilt, both internal and external, overwhelms me.

The Spiritual and Relational Costs

The spiritual and relational costs of my choices have been the most surprising, and painful. Motherhood has directly impacted my faith and what I believe about God, the church, and specific religious teachings. Unfortunately, this has caused division and broken relationships, both in family and friends. There are people in my life who cannot accept my shifting faith and therefore fear for my children’s spiritual development. There is a real paradox in this. The more I change and grow in my own spiritual life, the more confident and free I become. And yet, I mourn the loss of those relationships that were destroyed as a result of that confidence and freedom.

Damn, motherhood is complicated.

This Mother’s Day, I am reminded that I, like most mothers, am doing the best I can. And sometimes my individual best just doesn’t live up to my (or others’) expectations. I am working to balance raising my children with everything they need from me, while still pursuing my individual dreams and goals. I don’t always get the balance right, but I’m trying.

Happy Mother’s Day, friends.