Misery Is Not Your Destiny: Tips for Thriving as a Mama

Last week I read the most depressing piece on motherhood I’ve ever been exposed to. I was sad and a little angry and I sent it to a friend who assured me that was how motherhood was often represented in our culture. This thought has since been validated by a handful of friends and I want to state that motherhood is not the time to give up on life until your kids are older. I’m not going to link to the post because, honestly, I have nothing but compassion for the woman who wrote it. I’d like to come along beside her and encourage her. But in the interest of soon-to-be mamas and new mamas, I’d like to say that motherhood can be creative and fulfilling.

That’s not to say that motherhood can’t also be hard. But hard and bad aren’t the same thing. There are days when the kids fuss, you are sick, the kids are sick or in the hospital, the husband is traveling. Some mamas struggle with depression; postpartum hormones are a real beast; and we all go through periods in our life when the work feels pointless. But that’s not the whole picture.

I haven’t arrived in motherhood; none of us ever do. Most of the upcoming content is stuff that I have gleaned from books, podcasts, blog posts, and other women in my life. It’s not original but that means it works. If you’re struggling in motherhood, don’t read this as judgment. Read it as a list of ideas- things for you to try to help you on your mama journey.

The Motherhood Game-Changer

Ever stumble on something that kinda changes your life? You don’t know that it’s going to- you start something because it’s the right thing to do- and before you know it’s happening  you have a completely different perspective.

I’ve been reading through Psalms before bed and I kept coming across this phrase “sacrifices of thanksgiving.” Then last week I heard a sermon that also mentioned this phrase and I felt convicted about my level of gratitude. Especially when I read the part that said that the sacrifices of thanksgiving glorified God. Isn’t that my goal in life? And here, in black and white, is exactly what I need to do.

Motherhood has felt heavy lately. We’ve been working through some attitude problems (theirs and mine). I’m almost to the third trimester of this pregnancy and starting to recognize the reality of another child joining our family. Ball season is over and I’ve felt a little cooped up, especially since we were all sick for two weeks. Now in some ways motherhood should feel heavy because it’s a responsibility that I want to carry well. But seriousness is not grouchiness.

Rare Disease Day: A Choice for Future Babies

Our fourth little baby will be our fourth little boy. I’m thrilled to the depths of my being about this sweet life and yet, if you had asked me in early October if I wanted another baby, I would have answered with an unquestioning “no.”

That’s because part of pregnancy for us is making a choice from a menu of bad options.

Our oldest son Micah has Isovaleric Acidemia, a rare genetic metabolic disorder. His life is a miracle and, as you might expect, he has some struggles. I choose not to share those stories, even though I’m frequently asked about different aspects of them, because I don’t know where my story ends and his begins. It’s not my place to tell his story; that will be his job one day.

All of our children, including this little one growing inside me, have a 25% chance of having IVA. We have two options. We either have prenatal testing done (ie. an amnio that we opt to do in late pregnancy) or we wait until the baby is born to have him tested.

How to Have a Good Day with Small Children

There’s this strange struggle to me. So many of my days have what I consider high notes: we finished school work for the day, I got in some work, we snuggled and cuddled and read. But even on those days there’s still the reality of life with small children. If I added it up in consecutive minutes some days there are literally several hours that one of the three children is either crying, fussing, or needing disciplined for poor behavior.

One Monday we had what I consider to be a high day with school going well and some quality work happening during naptime and yet there were those 2.5 hours of dealing with the behavior. I’ve been working on how I handle this imbalance. How I still have- and call it- a good day when there’s so many  trying, and yes, even hard times mixed in?

Two things have helped but they are a bit of circular reasoning.

How to Find Your Mama Community

Occasionally motherhood makes me feel like a crazy person. I’m often convinced that I’m the only woman in the world who has ever felt the way I do about my children until another mom says, “Oh no, I definitely feel that way too.” It’s doubly confirming when it’s coming from a mom with almost grown kids because it assures me that I (probably) won’t go permanently crazy from chaos that surrounds our normal routine.

One of my volleyball girls recently started babysitting my boys about once a month and in the middle of January Justin and I found ourselves sitting in a booth at a pizza place having an uninterrupted conversation that spanned the upcoming inauguration, our ongoing ball seasons, and how weird it was that we weren’t being interrupted. That was some of the best pizza I’ve ever eaten, but I’m not sure I would have noticed either way because we were alone for a few blissful hours. That helps center my marriage and I was ready to jump back into mothering with both feet when we picked up the boys.

We need to date our husbands, go to doctor appointments, drink the coffee while it’s still hot occasionally. We need to remember that we are women with skills and abilities as well as mamas. We need to offer our life experiences to women younger than us and we need to learn from those who are older than us. We need other women (not just mamas) to love on our kids and we need to love on other women’s kids.

The Comparison Trap in Marriage

I really have gotten better at the brutal game of comparison with other women. I don’t handle it perfectly but it no longer consumes me as it has in the past. But recently I’ve found myself wrestling with another art of comparison that I thought I left behind long ago.

My husband had the week between Christmas Day and New Year’s Day off. It made for some great memories, a few magical moments, and other moments when I wished for bedtime and a normal routine.

When he went back to work, I found myself suddenly the only adult to whom the children could offer their requests. Three people constantly plying, and often whining (we’re working on it), about the things they wanted, needed, or injustices that were being done.

My response was irritation at my husband whose life I had suddenly decided was much easier than mine. After all, he can go to the bathroom in quiet, whenever he likes. He can leave work and come home to eat lunch, or stay at work in the conference room ordering lunch in like an adult, or leave and run out to get fast food. No buckling other people in car seats or telling children not to fight while they wait on their turn to walk out the door.

Setting Expectations for Your Kids

I’ve not parented for very long but I have learned one thing. Most often, when I’m having problems with my kids, I’m the problem.

While I was recovering from my broken ankle, I realized a lot of ways I was parenting weren’t working. I was frustrated. They were frustrated. It wasn’t the way we wanted our home atmosphere to be. So I started praying about it.

The majority of times when I start praying about problems with my family I don’t hear words from heaven. Ok- I’ve never heard words from heaven. I don’t see writing in the sky or get letters from Sally Clarkson or find that my children just magically start doing what I want. But as I spend time praying about it over the course of days or weeks I start getting ideas. I read something in a book. I see a graphic on the internet. I hear something on the podcast. And I realize I can change what I’m doing.