Mothering four little ones: Who am I?
For me, motherhood has been the ultimate exercise in character-building. It’s this pressure-cooker, make-you or break-you life, where I give give give give and feel like I will never be able to come up for air. And I do this willingly; I give up my life freely. It’s a gift to my four living babies. It’s all I’ve ever wanted, and it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
Mothering is a literal sacrifice of my pre-baby body, and the time to exercise it or even care for its most basic needs. I go days where all of my meals are eaten standing up, with a baby strapped to my chest, and then I suffer all day with indigestion. I wait four hours past the time I initially needed to pee. I sleep with a baby attached to my body, who drinks the night away, and I can’t so much as nudge my pillow without waking him. A spare moment doesn’t exist, as ants are feasting on crumbs from the last meal, cups of milk need filled, butts need wiped, someone (or three) is crying, someone is awaiting my rescue before imminent injury from falling. I'm always in flight-or-fight, ready to dial 911. My gifts and talents in the arts sit unable to be accessed, as keeping people at bare minimum alive is the only task that can be managed. Jeff and I haven’t had a real date night in a year! So much of this is for a baby who, at the end of the day, doesn’t show any measurable progress except maybe a smidgen of new pudge (go breast-milk!). What can I show for my day?! My entire month? Who am I, even?
Life keeps on zipping by — years gone and I don’t remember them! (I’m too sleep-deprived!) I keep envisioning duplicating myself so I can pursue other God-given dreams in another life, or three different lives. I’ve always wanted to be a mom and I love it with the passion of a zealot, but it isn’t my *only* dream. I want to be a fashion designer. Truly. I want my own clothing line. I want to design it so badly right now my fingers are on fire to just start drawing. I have new clothing ideas I’ve never seen hanging on racks. And then in another life, I fully want to be an interior designer. I’m ready. I get this huge smile on my face when I think about buying furniture and tile and light fixtures and cabinets. And then in yet another life, I would start a restaurant: organic, local, seasonal, paleo/GAPS, nourishing and absolutely mouth-wateringly delicious. I already have my recipes, I know how I’d want the atmosphere, I know how I’d want the staff to be trained; I’ve got it all planned out, ya’ll.
In this other life, I could wear 4-inch heels every day. I so miss them. I would wear elegant dry-clean-only dresses, and jewelry. I would do my hair a different way every day. I would get sleep at night and find time to pee. I would cook adventurous spicy meals that kids would hate. In my real life, I’ve gained wrinkles, several white (not gray! White!) hairs, purple squiggly lines on my legs from varicose veins of pregnancy (thanks 10.5-pound Wesley!). And for babies who won’t even remember the sacrifice. Ah, this is God’s good design.
But, my babies are forming their characters now. Our family legacy is being shaped now. Their happy memories are being made now. Food I feed my kids now is turning genes in their bodies on and off, genes that affect my grandkids and their kids. My babies' attitudes toward the world, toward God, are being created now. Their personal confidence and their trust in others and their ability to question and handle conflict and their tenderheartedness are being carefully cultivated now. Their first experiences of God’s power and His answers to prayer are happening in this home now. We are investing in people — and other than God, people are all that matter in life! There’s nothing I can do that is more important. And it can’t wait or be put on pause or be pushed aside.
I get the opportunity to be the face they see every time they fall, the hug they get when they wake up in the morning, the one who breaks up the fights and models peace, the one they see passionately talking with their dad and showing them a healthy happy marriage, the one who tells them stories about my childhood at lunch as they sit enraptured, the one who sees the little hurt feelings and knows exactly how to remedy them differently for each child, the one who is THE absolute expert on each child’s idiosyncrasies, the one who gets to compliment each child multiple times an hour, the one who gets to watch them put on elaborate plays, listen to them tell detailed stories using Legos and Barbies, teach them to crack an egg/braid hair/write in cursive/understand the 10 commandments, the one who gets to give them a high-five for finally figuring out the difference between “d” and “b” and gets to watch them walk around just beaming from the accomplishment, the one who sees something unique in each one and gets to gently nudge them to pursue their giftings.
In these few short years of childhood, I want them to be constantly surrounded by love everywhere they turn. Yes, they will encounter hate and evil and bullies and injustice as they grow, but as much as I can protect them from the Enemy in their formative years, it’s my responsibility to do it! They’re soaking up the love so they can multiply it, and spread it right back out when they leave our nest.
I once told my dad that I felt like motherhood had caused me to miss everything current in culture — movies, music, trends, news and fads and lingo. I felt left behind. Without missing a beat, he said, “But Heather, in motherhood you’re CREATING the culture.”
It’s victory in inches! Obedience to God’s design for me as a mother means I do the thankless work of diligently cleaning this home, day after day. Cleaning shows my children that though a job isn’t fun, mom works at it without complaining, even smiling doing it, seeing the good in it. Obedience to God’s design for me as a mother means I willingly peel and chop and cook vegetables even though I hate the repetitiveness of chopping, and I hate having to coax the kids to eat vegetables! Obedience to God’s design for me as a mother means that instead of scheduling their lives out and having them check off the world’s boxes for achievement, I must value the freedom they feel in pretend-play at home all day — even though I’m not a homebody and I prefer to be out and about! Obedience to God’s design for me as a mother means I figure out the best way to educate them, each one differently, spending hours toiling and praying over each decision, and feeling guilty no matter which decision I make. Obedience to God’s design for me means patiently waiting to use many of my gifts for another time when my kids are not so physically dependent on me every moment of the day and night, but when that time comes, obedience will mean that I use those gifts in front of them to show them the passion mama has been given to glorify God in drawing, designing, writing.
My mom chose obedience to God’s design for her as a mother. She is the best mother I’ve ever met, in my 34 years of life. She gently set aside her other biggest dreams until we were adults, as she saw us five girls as her worthiest work. When we were kids, she would have long lines of people form behind her at church, each one waiting for a word of her wisdom or for her powerful prayers. Every person in the world could glean something from this woman who leans into Jesus like He’s her everything. She learned early on that she was a gifted public speaker, and trained from some of the best, and then… she decided that she would save that talent for its due time. She chose to give US her best, so that we could become greater. And God rewarded her obedience and gave her immensely more wisdom to now share with the world as the bombshell speaker that she has grown into.
God loves us. Wants the best for us. Maybe not what we deem best in the moment. Mothering little ones is about as unglamorous and unrewarding as it gets. It’s painful. Sometimes, I seriously think I will not live through the day. I feel completely emptied out.
Our Holy Father values US, His kids, above all else. And we are to value our kids like He values us—laying down our lives for them, and laying down what we thought our lives would look like. These years when they are little are when the sacrifice is greatest. I know it won’t be this hard forever. I’ll sleep again (right?!). But for now, my other big dreams are on hold, marinating and brewing and getting bigger, and making appearances in little spurts. Because the biggest dream I could ever have — the dream of motherhood, being responsible for raising up another human being— is being fulfilled NOW. God is tearing down things in me that were frivolous and childish and selfish, and out of this crazy refiner’s fire will come strength of character if I let Him do it. I’m not letting these years of trial go to waste — and I believe the fruit of it will be kids who know God and are empowered to serve their purpose for Him in ways I could never even dream! This is all so much bigger than me! What an honor!