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.
I’ve been a mama for almost seven years and I’m pregnant with our fourth boy. We have a child with a rare disease and another child with a severe food allergy. We homeschool so the kids are with me pretty much all day every day. But I enjoy motherhood. I wear real clothes and fix my hair every day. We go out in public; we eat good food; we live in a (reasonably) clean house. I spend a decent amount of time each day asking God exactly what He wants me to do with this child or this situation. I do not have all the answers. But I have figured out a few things that work for us and help us live the life that God has called us to.
I’m going to share a few of the ways that we make that happen at our house. Some of these may not apply to you and that’s ok. I honestly hate to write “prescriptive” blog posts but if you want something other than misery in motherhood, I fully believe you can have it. It takes discipline and hard work. (And please, remember seasons. If you have a newborn or are newly pregnant or on bedrest or any number of experiences, grace. Find your priorities and you’ll get by.) This is not an easy task. Motherhood is a transformation of self and that takes time.
Motherhood is a marriage of mindset and practical skills. The attitudes that allow you to thrive in motherhood grow out of your walk with Christ. Start there. Develop that relationship. Spend time in the Word learning about the woman, the Christian, He has called you to be. This doesn’t just involve the “pink” verses of the Bible that talk about womanhood or motherhood. This is the comprehensive calling of believers. The practical skills are the get-up-each-morning action steps that let you get the work of motherhood done. I learned the time management and to-do lists skills in college and while working, but you can learn them in motherhood.
Starting something new can be overwhelming. If you are drowning in motherhood, don’t read this and think “I can never do this.” Start reading your Bible, pen in hand, writing down what you’re learning. Then pick one thing from the practical suggestions and do it. Once you’re doing it, add another.
Know your purpose.
You’re not just slugging through the day changing diapers. That’s not the point of motherhood, although it’s a large part of having babies. You are raising eternal souls, future men and women. You are doing a good work. You must keep that mindset. Look up verses on motherhood. Read good books on motherhood (start with Sally Clarkson and Elizabeth George if you need suggestions).
-God made women especially as life-bringers, creators with God. We are designed to bring life and beauty and order and structure to wherever we are. When we don’t reflect that- when we don’t see the many ways that life as a mama and homemaker is creative– we stifle part of our being and feel unfulfilled.
-When we slog through our day and accomplish no work (because we have no plan), no wonder we feel unfulfilled. How can you feel fulfilled when you aren’t doing what you’ve been given to do?
-Much of the problem with motherhood is that when it gets hard we want to wait for some THING to change when we are what needs to change. Every problem I’ve had in motherhood has stemmed back to me and my attitude and my walk with God. It is much easier to just postpone living the life that God has for you than to do the very hard work of letting Him transform your heart (and getting yourself off the couch to do what He says).
– If you are discontent where you are as a mama, a change in circumstances won’t fix that. You will carry that discontentment with you. Motherhood is not the heart of your misery. You are. There are hard/bad/difficult things in life because we live in a fallen world, not because we have children.
Watch over your mind.
– Live a life of gratitude. Spend your whole day thanking God for all the wonderful things in your life.
-Remember that motherhood is hard work. This raising a family, training children, and nurturing the relationships in your home is not an easy work. We get overwhelmed when we expect it to be simple or easy because our expectations set us up for failure.
– Keep your eyes on Jesus in the hard and the messy and remember how He served when He was on earth. He gave to the most unlovely at the most inconvenient times.
–Your children are not responsible for the woman that you are- you are.
-Stop following negative mamas online and relinquish real life friendships if you need. You will become like the people you hang around. There are plenty of mamas who are honest about the difficulties of motherhood who also show forth Jesus beautifully in their personal lives and on social media. Motherhood can isolate us. We need solid relationships with other women who will walk alongside us. Women who can encourage us, step in and help, call us up about sin problems, make suggestions that might help us. These all come better from relationships than a stranger. Fight to form those friendships. Join a small group at church; go to toddler time at the library. Pray for God to bring these women into your life.
-Don’t mother to impress. That is an exhausting way to live. I did not have children to make me look good or make me feel good. Often they do neither of those. Strive to honor God in every situation as you deal with your children and let other people think what they will. Don’t worry about what other people are doing with their own families. God has called us all to different rhythms. Refuse to carry guilt because you did or didn’t homebirth, hospital birth, breastfeed, bottlefeed, etc.
-Know when to let things go. When I broke my ankle right after I found out I was pregnant this time, a lot of things slid for a really long time and we survived quite well. Pinterest perfection is not the goal. Learn to accept help and to return the favor to others as often as possible.
-Have family priorities. You are not the slave of your family. You do not have to have a child-centric home. Your job is not to be sure they are always happy and have whatever they want. Your job is to love them well and teach and train them for lives serving God as adults. That’s why you can teach them how to behave (although it can be a long process) and teach them to help you around the house.
–Never quit. You aren’t responsible for the results. You might not have any results today. You are responsible for being obedient to Jesus in what you do. All of motherhood comes back to your walk with God. ALL of it.
Now on to the practical.
I cannot stress this point enough. Don’t wake up every morning and either wing it or decide what you need to do on the fly. (Note that I say rhythms because they aren’t your master. If you need to change it, do so.)
-Set mealtimes and snack times. Regular food will solve quite a few behavior problems in both you and the kids.
-Teach your kids a sleeping/napping/quiet time routine.
-Take your children with you. They learn to live life by watching you do life.
-Develop the discipline yourself to stop your tasks calmly to work with your kid’s behavior.
-Buy a planner. Pick 30 minutes once your kids are in bed once a week and fill it out.
–Keep a to-do list and use it!
–Have one cleaning item on your list for each day.
-Wash, dry, and put away (at least!) one load of clothes a day.
-Learn to work with, or in the presence of, your kids.
-Alternate a cleaning/laundry/get-this-done task with a hands-on-with-the-kids activity. For example, give the kids some blocks and you clean the kitchen (and yes, you’re going to have to stop twenty times to correct their behavior. That’s normal and ok even if it drives you nuts.) Don’t play on your phone, actually clean the kitchen. Then sit down with your kids piled on your lap or around you and read them stories. Then give them a snack and swap out the laundry.
-Attach chores to other things. Let the kids splash in the tub while you wipe down the sinks/counters/mirrors.
–Teach your children to obey you. Yes, this takes time. It’s not immediate and it’s frustrating but it’s a Bible command and it’s worth it.
-Have your kids pick up their toys when they are finished playing in that room. Don’t let them trash your whole house.
-Teach them to do things for themselves: put on their own shoes, put away their toys, refill their water cup, put away the silverware. You are not their servant.
-Get out of the house regularly. Go to the park, go to the library, run errands, visit friends. Don’t hole up at home for the rest of your life.
–Have a meal plan. Develop a list of activities that your kids can do while you’re cooking.
-Get outside as much as possible.
-Get rid of stuff. Less stuff means less to manage. Curate a capsule wardrobe (thrift, pray for clothes- really not kidding). Cut down on toys. Don’t keep what you don’t use or need or enjoy.
-A “yes” is also a “no.” You can’t do it all so know your motivation and priorities. When I coached volleyball this past winter, most nights I went to bed with a pile of laundry waiting to be folded on the couch. Hearts are more important than tasks.
Develop your priorities.
-Develop your relationship with God. Get up before your kids; read after they are in bed; let them watch a show while you read your Bible. However you make it work, make it work. It matters. Find a friend to help hold you accountable. Listen to sermon podcasts.
-Don’t sideline your marriage. You were married first. You want to be married once the kids are grown and you want to actually enjoy being married. Speak well of your husband. Tell him “thank you” for what he does for your family. Find a babysitter and go on dates. If you can’t afford that, put the kids in bed early and have an in-home date. Teach your kids not to interrupt you when you are talking. Care about his life. Listen to him. Pray for him. Smile at him.
–Remember you are still a woman. If you need to nap when the kids are napping, then nap. But if you don’t, do something that fills your tank while they are sleeping. Write, read, work on a hobby. Forget the housework and the diapers and just be you.
-You don’t cease to be a woman once you become a mama. The woman you are impacts the mother you are. You can’t give to your family what you don’t have yourself.
–Get a haircut regularly and then fix your hair. (A note on haircuts: I go to a woman that charges $18 for a cut and I take the boys with me. That way I don’t have to work around Justin’s schedule or get a sitter.)
-Put on real clothes when you get up in the morning.
-Prioritize sleep. Go to bed with a clean kitchen and sleep. (Seriously on the kitchen thing. You’ll thank yourself in the morning.) Stop staying up late watching Netflix and eating junky snacks. Get some rest. You’ll be a much happier wife/mom.
Manage your daily.
-Have something you look forward to every day. Savor your coffee. Light your favorite candle. Watch the clouds move when you’re walking with your kids. Kiss their faces.
–Keep learning. You can’t take your children somewhere you aren’t. Get a good book and read five pages every day. (I have huge lists of books that will help you in motherhood/homemaking/womanhood/productivity. Email me if you need suggestions.)
–Listen to podcasts. These are great when you are cooking or exercising or folding laundry or driving (or all the times you can’t read) and there are podcasts about anything you want to learn.
–Restrict social media. I promise this will make such a difference in your life.
-Learn how to take your kids out in public. Get involved at church, go to story time, make weekly dates at the library or the park with friends.
-Get Voxer and make your friends use it.
–Live with a purpose. Know why you’re awake and here on earth.
-Talk to God all day long. Thank Him. Ask Him for help. Talk to Him about your concerns instead of stewing about them.
-Drink lots of water. That’s also not a joke. It will make a difference.
–Stop yelling at your kids. Get down on their level, talk to them, and enforce consequences. This could take the longest to learn. Motherhood is as much training yourself as it is training your kids.
-Wear the nice earrings. Use the good plates. Paint your toenails.
-Go to bed tired. Use up all you have today. It used to annoy me that I was so tired every single night. But why am I trying to save my energy? That’s why I’m going to bed after all.
-Cut back on screen time. Build things (legos, duplos, tinker toys), read books, have dance parties in your living room, play with dress up clothes, color and cut up paper, play with plastic bowls and some water in the sink, build tents with blankets and chairs. And yes, there will totally be times when it seems like you do all this work for everyone to fight and cry. Keep at it.
-When something doesn’t work, change it. Don’t be a slave even to your own schedules and rhythms.
-Know you’re never done. There will always be something else to do and that’s ok. There’s a time to stop; otherwise you’ll run yourself ragged.
Don’t aim for perfection with your mothering. You teach your kids how to apologize and try again when you do it. They see that mama is a sinner in need of God’s grace and forgiveness and learn the same about themselves. Don’t aim for perfection in your systems and schedules. Life, especially with small children, is often unexpected and interrupted. But it’s easier to come up with a Plan B on the fly when you already had a Plan A. Learn a rhythm and then learn how to make it work for your life.
There are very difficult seasons in motherhood where we have to learn to depend on Jesus. We cry out to Him for help, lean on His grace, and ask for prayer from others. Jesus is life, not the ability to do whatever we want. His call for mothers is joy (Psalm 113:9). There is no promise in the Bible that ends with “unless you are a mom, then there’s no hope for you.” He is walking this motherhood path with you.
You are responsible both for the woman you are today and the woman you will be in fifteen years. Who you are now is who you will be then. If you don’t like yourself now, if you aren’t honoring God with how you’re living, ask Him to help you change.