Vulnerability on Mother’s Day

vulnerability on mother's day

May 8, 2016 – It was Mothers Day, and I was in tears. For the fourth year in a row, I found myself in a vulnerable place. I texted five mom friends that night and realized we all found ourselves in difficult places on what was supposed to be our holiday.

These sorts of holidays set a standard of expectation that seem to bring to light some of our greatest insecurities, the ones we especially try to squelch on these special days, the same way in which Valentines Day often and brutally singles out singles.

I was desperate for alone time.

In my wallowing, I began to doubt myself: How does my husband put up with me? Am I worthy of God’s love? Do the terrible twos reflect my worth as a mom?  

As mothers, we may feel as if we fall short in all areas of life, despite our best efforts. We feel invisible, insignificant. We want to regain control even as we’re spread thinner and thinner across our roles. When I am barely scraping by on two hours of sleep, I fear the place of irritability and irrational thoughts  my doubts carry me. Why do I maintain a facade of confidence as if I have any inkling of what I’m doing trying to wrangle a few toddlers?

I dread asking for help and get frustrated when I’m misunderstood. I’m not even striving for perfection; I would just like to function on all cylinders like I did before having kids, when my bar was set much higher because it could be.

Where am I? What is missing? What might God be using to reveal to me?

In “Making a World of Difference Right Where We Are,” Deidra Riggs wrote, “The seeds of our gifts were planted in us as young children…I can use them to grow into my ministry.” Writing is my best form of worship. It is God’s gift for me to steward, and He also wants me to give it back to Him in my own quiet times. Writing has always focused my attention on God as I pray–it’s much harder to be distracted if I am writing my prayers. Although not everything has to be formally published, I have become more confident in sharing my words, especially since granting myself permission to call myself a writer. I have slowly and intentionally learned each “next right thing,” as Emily P. Freeman calls it, by allowing myself permission to admit to not knowing, but commit to finding out each new step of the writing process as it began to unfold. It wasn’t not long after that I became pregnant with my third son. That pregnancy would lead me on a 19-month journey that eventually brought me right back to this statement again.

If I knew what all I still have left to learn in my calling, I’d be drowning, discouraged at the work before me. But God’s glorious fog hides all of that, leading us forward to see only the very next steps, encouraging us to follow Him, to see the next step, and the next, and the next. That in-and-of-itself is a gift. Curiosity drives me forward each time, until I learn that step and move onto the next. And in the meantime, I’m learning to practice mindfulness and gratitude to be content right where I am.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10, NIV). 

Striving for Work-life Balance

Storm clouds roll in over the hill in my backyard, pregnant with impending rain, much needed with the forest fire raging an hour away, already doubling in size despite the frontline of firefighters poised for battle. The seven-degree temperature drop and the rolling clouds blocking the sun cut the edge off the blaze of the 88-degree afternoon just hours before. My boys set buckets around their homemade outdoor mud kitchen, excited at the prospect of full buckets for tomorrow’s muddy culinary pursuits.

I love the way that even as the gray-blues of the sky darken, the grass turns a bold and vivid green. The coming storm catches my breath as I inhale the refreshing smell of spring and freshly-cut grass. Just minutes ago, my husband and his John Deere raced the storm and won. The wind gathers momentum, ferrying sweet fragrances of my neighbor’s pink dogwood across my patio.

My husband is the first to notice that the tree beside the patio, for so long bare from winter, now has tiny new translucent green leaves emerging, the first layers of shade over the outdoor wicker sofa my husband insisted on last season. I am so grateful for the sofa now, my outdoor writing and reading perch. My boys rush to get the cushions inside as the storm clouds threaten, their tiny bucket brigade passing and tossing pillows past the glass door. I count 15 more working days until summer and a much-needed respite from my counseling office and the near-daily deluge of conducting threat assessments with children born just this decade.

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People often ask me why elementary school children need counselors, even as I drown in the busyness of appointments, classes, small groups, parent phone calls, drop-in meetings, and schoolwide projects. I’ve seen everything from friendship drama and separation anxiety to abuse and neglect, suicidal ideation and pacts, and parents incarcerated for drug use. In fact, I hope I’m not becoming hardened in my position–in ten years as a school counselor, I’ve pretty much seen it all.

Children are not immune to their own problems and to those of their parents. I’ve had so many children lose parents through death or incarceration that I’ve run small groups so that kids can see they’re not the only ones who’ve faced significant losses. Groups offer them a safe place to learn and practice coping skills. It is a fine line in finding time for prevention activities in the classroom in the midst of putting out fires in the confidentiality of my office.

Our realms as school counselors fall into the acronym ACES – academic, career, and emotional/social. It’s up to us to prioritize the demands that come on a daily basis. I’ve learned not to make promises even as a recovering people-pleaser.

Maintaining balance between this heavy work and raising three small boys forces me to simplify routines and prioritize commitments. After nearly six years of juggling both roles, I’ve established many new habits that have just become a way of life, from the layout of our home to my carefully crafted yeses and nos. I’ve intentionally created functional spaces throughout our home, once problem-areas, to make life run more smoothly. We just changed the guest room off the kitchen into a playroom (the day my baby swallowed a screw), which corrals many of the toys and large ride-on vehicles out of sight. We also made a mudroom of sorts using a blank wall across from the garage door, where each kid has his own hook for a coat and backpack, basket for shoes, shelf, and hanging area for schoolwork. We transformed the sitting room by our front door, once lost in its purpose, into my personal library and writing space, my retreat without leaving the house.

Sometimes people assume that I’m too busy if I have to say no to a perfectly good offer. But that’s not the case at all. Yes, we’re busy, but I use my yeses and nos judiciously so that we are not overwhelmingly busy. Being available for quality time with my boys, especially after being away from them all day, is just as legitimate excuse as any. I love being able to come home and enjoy time outside, time with my boys, traditions with my family, without rushing out to one obligation or another. Being open to spontaneity in spite of being a meticulous planner by nature is rewarding in its own rite.

Sometimes I even wonder if I say no too often! But then I remember my life of yeses, the life I used to live, and how hectic and unfruitful that time was. In fact, I have a hard time remembering it all because it was so frantic. Even back then, with a baby in tow and another on the way, we were out of town most weekends running half and full marathons, pulling long hours at work, and racing to get out of the house in the mornings. We were involved in all areas of our life and were quick to say yes if someone asked a favor of us. I’ll admit that some of that hasn’t changed, but we’re much more cognizant and careful about it now.

My work as a school counselor offers a much-needed perspective of gratitude on a daily basis. I have a plaque from Hobby Lobby on my desk at work that reads, “Children only have one childhood.” The reminder is both heartbreaking and inspirational, both for my students at school and my children at home. I constantly wonder whether I’m doing the right thing (see previous post), if I’m doing enough by dividing my time and attention. Do my students know I care about them, even if I struggle to remember all 700+ of their names? Do my own boys know that I’d spend every waking minutes with them if I could? Are they aware of the sacrifices their daddy and I make for them?

There’s no right or wrong solution to this. I’m doing what I know, and I admire those who can walk boldly in whatever path they choose for their own family. But I’m also trying to keep an open mind, reevaluating each season what else I can simplify to avoid spreading myself too thin. The worst thing that could happen would be that I’d burn out. That I’d lose heart in my pursuits. And sometimes I already feel that way!

Self-care comes in many forms. Unfortunately the many options that work for me happen so infrequently, but it’s up to me to recognize the importance of self-care and build it in, no matter how small. I know I’m a better person for it, as a mama to my kids and a confidant to my students. I just pray God will continue to cultivate and guide my heart in His calling, whether what that looks like changes or remains the same in all the different seasons of motherhood.

And speaking of seasons, my curly-haired five-year-old redhead just came in and asked me if he could shave his head for summer.

What does simplifying and self-care look like in your current season?