This morning I woke up to hugs and “I love you’s.”
In the dim morning light of a crisp morning, the two sweetest little boys in the world quietly climbed into my bed as I was waking up, snuggling up on either side of me, patting my cheeks and pulling my arms around them as Oliver said “Mommy, I love you SO much” and Silas sang me the little song he made up for me and sings to me several times a day “Mom, I love you so, so much. I will never stop loving you.”
This is the stuff joyful motherhood is made of.
I held those little boys close and told them how grateful I am that I get to be their mom. I felt their coarse hair against my cheeks and their strong little hands grasping my hands. We were silent a minute together and my heart was full and ready to burst.
Motherhood is a lot of hard stuff. And some days (like yesterday) involve one crazy and frustrating thing after another as mutually exclusive needs of all the kids and the mom and the dad pile upon each other.
But motherhood is also a lot of good stuff. And some golden moments count way more than all the hard stuff.
At our last Learning Circle meeting where we talked about what we love about motherhood, we left with the assignment to make a list of the top ten things we love about motherhood. It’s been interesting and wonderful to see everyone’s lists (we’re emailing our lists to the whole group). I put off making my own list – there always seemed to be something more pressing to do. And I’ve had a few days lately where all I could think of was what I DIDN’T like about motherhood. But I finally sat down and made my list. It was a great exercise that helped me see things in a different light.
Here’s my top 10 list of what I love about motherhood right now.
- Knowing I really matter to five wonderful young people who each show their love for me in different ways. Having Silas sing me the “I love you” song he made up about 12 times a day (even though his siblings get bugged with him for singing it so much). Having Eliza tell me I’m the best mom ever when I tuck her in. Having Oliver tell me how much he missed me when I see him after school. Having Isaac lean his head on my shoulder and snuggle up to me in church or while we watch a movie. Having Ashton tell me stuff he’s excited about and show me how to do things on the computer.
- Telling stories and watching my kids’ great facial expressions of awe or excitement or empathy as the story unfolds. I also love listening to audio books with my children and enjoying the unfolding of a new story together while we all relax.
- Learning new things together – reading books, visiting new places, looking up answers to questions we have on Wikipedia or YouTube and getting sucked into learning about everything from how baby carrots are made to what a “concentration camp” was to what make lightbulbs work.
- Doing a final tuck-in for each child before I go to bed each night – seeing them sleeping all skeewampus but still looking like angels, straightening them out a bit and tucking them under the covers, kissing their soft cheeks.
- Watching them be kind to others (especially when the recipient of their kindness is a sibling).
- Snuggling with the kids on family movie night and at church every week. Holding my babies in my arms was always a huge highlight – and snuggling them now, remembering how small they used to be, makes me smile and feel the wonder of bearing children and seeing them grow.
- Seeing my kids succeed in something important to them. I love seeing them work on something new and hard and seeing them figure it out and get excited about it. This year Eliza and Isaac have joined the school Cross Country team and have been working so hard and doing so well. And Ashton has developed a real passion for the guitar (after years of result-less nagging from me) and has put in countless hours without any prompting from me. He can now play and sing so many songs so beautifully
- Making and enjoying great food together. I love making them happy by making them their favorites from the list of family staple recipes we’ve developed over the years and I love finding new favorites together. I love teaching them to cook and bake and enjoying that process of creation together. (If you happen to want to check out some of our family favorites, the are on my blog here.)
- Enjoying the wonder and excitement of the world with kids who are experts in wonder and excitement. Exploring new places together with my kids – hiking, biking, finding new and interesting things to do in our own neighbor hood or traveling to new places. I love sharing adventures with my kids and getting excited about things together.
- Seeing my kids become cool and fun people that I like to hang out with. Now that my kids are a little older, they are some of my best friends. They are so fun to talk with and have so many interesting ideas and thoughts to share (when they’re in the mood to share, that is!). I get sucked into long conversations about music or choices friends are making or ways teachers at school are handling things as I tuck in my big boys at night. I love just hanging out with my daughter, answering her good questions and asking her my questions for her. I love seeing our relationships evolving and becoming more fun in some ways, more challenging in others!
While it’s great to remember and dwell on all the sparkling moments and beauty and meaning that motherhood brings to our lives, I think there’s also a place for remembering the day-to-day stuff that’s not so fun but is still a part of the big picture of motherhood, the stuff that teaches me patience and helps me grow (if it doesn’t annoy the heck out of me first), the stuff I want other moms and my posterity to know I DID experience and DO understand.
So here’s my list of current LEAST favorite things about motherhood (I was going to do 10 but when only 8 readily came to my mind, I thought I’d leave it at that . . .):
1. Mutually exclusive simultaneous emergency needs. At least once a day there is a time when everyone quite suddenly and very urgently seems to need something different from me at the same time. Those crisis moments aren’t fun. If everyone could just take turns needing things, I’d be able to be a much better mom.
2. Interruptions. My kids interrupt me and each other constantly and it’s driving me crazy. Plus everything I try to do gets interrupted again and again so I feel like I’m half doing hundreds of things every day and never really finishing much. My sister shared a great quote with me that helps:
“When you are exasperated by interruptions, try to remember that their very frequency may indicate the value of your life. Only people who are full of help and strength are burdened by other persons’ needs. The interruptions which we chafe at are the credentials of our indispensability. The greatest condemnation that anybody could incur – and it is a danger to guard against – is to be so independent, so unhelpful, that nobody ever interrupts us, and we are left comfortably alone.” (An anonymous quote from The Anglican Digest)
I love that way of thinking about interruptions. But still – sometimes interruptions really get old.
3. Paper and writing utensils everywhere. Homework papers, pencils and crayons are scattered across every flat surface in the house after school, newsletters and other papers from school are handed to me while I’m trying to drive the carpool home, paper airplanes and bits of discarded paper along with pencils and markers seem to be always laying around under chairs, on top of dressers, scattered about the floor. I do have a good system for managing all the papers that come at me, we do have a nice handy spot for storing writing utensils and art supplies, and I do remind kids to clean up one thing before moving on to the next. But somehow our house is always exploding in paper and pencils and crayons! I applaud the creativity and homework-completion involved in all the bits of paper and writing utensils strewn about – but having my house look like garbage is constantly strewn about gets old.
4. Being late and rushed and stressed. Too often, I try to cram in too much and I’m not very realistic about how long things take. My kids have picked up these unfortunate tendencies up from me. So we’re always rushing at the last minute and it’s not a happy time for any of us. “Hurry” is not really a happy word. And “we’re late” is a phrase that gets repeated way too often in our house. I have been working hard on this one lately and it’s getting a bit better. But it’s so easy to slip back into old tendencies…
5. Repetition without results. Motherhood involves repeating a lot of pretty dull and mundane actions again and again and again – making food, sweeping the floor, doing the laundry, changing the diapers, driving kids to school, etc. Repetition of actions can be boring and sometimes annoying but mostly it’s OK. But what really gets me is having to repeat what I SAY so many times and finding that often, despite my best attempts to say the same thing in new and hopefully more effective ways while attempting to stay patient and loving, the result is often not commeasurate with my efforts. Over time, some of what I say and suggest and demonstrate DOES sink in and that’s so gratifying. But it’s so un-fun feeling like a broken record and seemingly being ignored.
6. Fear and worry. Mothering my young children involved a lot of moments of nearly heart-stopping fear as they would speed-crawl towards stairs when they didn’t yet know how to get down the stairs safely, make a dash for a busy street, jump off a swing in mid-air, or disappear from my side at the grocery store. But I’m finding that mothering older kids involves it’s own heart-wrenching fears and worries. When I see an email from a teacher of a class where my child’s been having issues, I’m scared to open it – worried about what might be happening now. When a child casually mentions that they’ves been eating lunch alone and can’t think of anyone to invite to a party, worry sets in. When a school subject is so challenging for a child that it creates puddles of tears and the grades look bad, my heart aches and I fear for my child’s academic future and worry about how to turn things around. When a child is cutting down his or her siblings frequently, speaking disrespectfully to me or others, slacking off on responsibilities, I worry about the character traits and relationships they’re developing or undermining and struggle for ideas and answers. Plus there are still the physical things to worry about – my kids’ dare-devil tendencies on the ski slopes and on hikes still take my breath away and there’s often something going on with their bodies that causes worry and/or fear.
7. Trying to get kids to do things they don’t want to do. I TRY to help my children see the logic and importance of doing the things I ask them to do and help them WANT to do the things that they need to do. I try to make expectations clear and very manageable. I explain and offer incentives. I try to be flexible and understanding and give as many choices as possible. But somehow they just don’t seem to hear me or to internalize or fully accept what I’m saying. But there are things that simply must be done whether any of us like it or not! I’ve repeated again and again such phrases as “Your one choice is whether you want to do it quickly and happily or do it slowly and grumpily – but it has to be done!” I’ve empathized with my kids, letting them know that there are lots of things that I don’t particularly feel like doing but that I know I need to do and that when I stop trying to fight off the fact that something needs to be doing and JUST DO IT, it’s not so bad. But still, I find myself nagging and reminding way more often than is good for any of us.
8. The bickering! One child is always doing something that the other kids deem “annoying.” One child is always riling the others up – getting the twins going on wrestling and rough-and-tumble fun until inevitably, someone’s crying and someone’s accusing and everyone’s mad. The issue of who gets which seat at the table and which seat in the car is getting SO OLD. We’ve tried charts and turns and that works for a while but somehow we still end up with bickering over these issues more than we’d like. Everyone just has to be right all the time – about things that no one really cares about – like which day it was that we went out to dinner last week or whether a certain teacher at school gives detentions for chewing gum. And the bickering over who should have to take out the garbage or whose turn it is to go down to the basement and get a can of tomatoes for me is just crazy. Some days it seems like the kids just wake up ready to nit-pick and argue all day long!
I’ll wrap up by saying that while every mom could readily make a sizeable list of the stuff that’s downright hard about motherhood, the hard stuff generally makes the good stuff sweeter. Hard and good come hand in hand. I’ll keep this hard stuff (and keep working on the stuff I know I can change with more effort) because it comes part and parcel with the good stuff that I wouldn’t trade for the world.
QUESTION: What would you put on your top ten list of favorite things about motherhood? What about your top ten least-favorite things about motherhood?
CHALLENGE: Make those lists! Do it in your journal, on your blog, whatever works for you. Look at your list every so often and make new lists so that you can track how you’re learning and growing as a mother. Plus you can show these lists to your daughters and daughters-in-law some one day as they enjoy and struggle with similar things!