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.

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