Today, Elise shares how motherhood started to feel too heavy for her, and how she overcame that and learned to enjoy it again.
You can find Elise posting regularly at The Joyful Mother Project.
Motherhood is, in itself, a sort of rebirth for women.
I remember feeling like my life began with the birth of my first daughter. I felt like nothing in my life up to that point even mattered – my life began with hers. When people asked, “How is it being a mom?” I would blissfully and somewhat naively reply that it was the most beautiful, lovely thing that had ever happened to me. Now, I know not every mother feels this way from the beginning, and there is nothing wrong with that, but that’s how it was for me. All sunshine and rainbows.
During those times, I remember hearing more experienced mothers sigh in exasperation, as they complained to each other about all of the things their children did that drove them crazy, and how tired they were. And I remember thinking how sad it was that they couldn’t see or feel how great being a mom was. Why didn’t they didn’t feel warm and fuzzy about their kids like I felt about mine? I smiled to myself as I thought, “Oh, that is so sad. I’m so glad that I have this whole mom thing together, and love my little girl so much.” Most of all, I thought that I must be doing something right and they must be doing something wrong. I totally judged!
Then I had the second baby girl.
And a third.
And a fourth.
Things changed a bit, to say the least. Suddenly, I understood the exhausted looks; the shared sighs of frustration about babies not sleeping; kids whining; the dreaded dinnertime “witching hour;” and the endless carousel of housekeeping day after day after day. I’ve been doing this “mom thing” now for almost a decade. At the end of last year, I was feeling like the life had been sucked out of me. Don’t get me wrong – I didn’t stop loving my kids, but that feeling became less accessible to me as the mountains of to-dos piled high.
My oldest daughter and I are very similar (stubborn) and butt heads on occasion. One day in December, she was talking back to me and my husband, and I just snapped. I lost it. I yelled. And I scared both her and myself. She cried. I cried. It was kind of ugly. She ran to her room, and I seethed. My husband pointed out that he’d noticed that I’d been very on edge with the kids lately. It hurt my heart to hear him say it, but the truth spilled out.
“Being a mom is just so hard! There is no joy in this for me!”
This excerpt from my personal journal towards the end of 2016 just about sums up how I had been feeling for so long.
“I have felt very discouraged, overwhelmed and defeated with trying to manage a household and raise four children…I’ve done my best on the things that have mattered most, but over it all lies a blanket of discouragement. Parenting – mothering – feels heavy for me. I want to laugh more, connect more, snuggle and love more. ENJOY more…I am worn thin. I am tired. And I am dealing with it by retreating and engaging less with my children, but all that is doing is making my kids more ornery and needy. I need to find the JOY in motherhood again, but I don’t know where to start. I need help.”
Around this time, I came across a scripture in Psalms 113:9. “He maketh the barren woman to keep house, and to be a joyful mother of children. Praise be the Lord.” Did you know that if you look up the word “barren”, in addition to meaning unable to bear children it can also mean “bleak and lifeless” and “lacking in stimulation and ideas?”
This is exactly how I had been feeling! So often I had been feeling very bleak and lifeless. Discovering this in myself sprung a desire to change.
I loved my children fiercely. I knew it in my head. But I couldn’t feel it in my heart.
Now, I love a good New Year’s resolution. I am a goal-setter by nature. I love self-help books, and I get a rush of adrenaline from executing a plan for improving some aspect of myself. (I’m kind of a nerd that way.) I instinctively knew that my 2017 goal would be finding more joy in motherhood. So I started thinking about small, concrete things that I could work on. I kept a little notebook with me and I started making a little list of all of the things I thought could help me to enjoy motherhood more. To connect deeper with my children.
I knew instinctively that pushing my kids away would not bring me the peace and fulfillment that I wished to feel. I had been doing exactly that, and all it was doing was making my kids clingier and more demanding in their cry for deeper connection to me. And that irritated me even further! I knew I needed to draw them closer to enjoy them more.
As I made my list of ways to rediscover the Joy in motherhood, I knew first off that this couldn’t be a list of all the ways that I felt like I should be better as a mother. There are about a million suggestions and recommendations out there about how to parent, and how not to parent.
- Feed my kids more organic foods.
- Decrease screen time.
- Have earlier bedtimes.
- Have 15 minutes of one-on-one time with each kid every day (I’m still going to get that one down one of these days).
- Make a hot breakfast more often for the kids (we are cold cereal fanatics over here).
- Do a better job at teaching my kids to clean.
- Have the perfect chore chart/allowance system.
- The ever-elusive “be more patient”.
- And on and on.
I like to call this my “mommy-guilt list”. I decided right off that my goal to find more joy in motherhood could NOT be about tackling the mommy-guilt list. If I tried I would be a total stress-case and get really overwhelmed, which is the opposite of what I was going for.
I also knew from past experience that I couldn’t take on a bunch of new goals all at once no matter how small they were, or I would burn out. My goal was NOT to create a ton of new, awesome habits, or even to perfect my parenting. I decided that I would choose a small, new, and simple challenge for each week. Once that week was over, I would move on to the next challenge, not allowing myself to feel pressured or guilty to keep up previous challenges. Again, this isn’t an effort to perfect my skills as a parent but to simply reconnect with my kids and capitalize on the goodness and joy in my role as their mom! That’s it!
I decided to call it my Joyful Mother Project.
But what things would bring me the most joy? What things would bring that deep feeling of maternal love back into my heart?? To be honest, I didn’t know. This was to be, and still is, an experiment in rediscovering joy in motherhood. It’s been 13 weeks, and I’m still experimenting, and I’m still learning.
Below is the list of challenges I have worked on so far (at the time I’m writing this, there have been 13).
- Physical touch. More hugs. LOTS more hugs. (This was a great jumping point, because it made a huge difference for both me and my kids.)
- Expressing more thanks to my children, and taking notice of things to thank them for. (And for bonus points one day I left a little thank-you note on their beds.)
- Be silly. Ugly faces in the mirror. Snorting in my kids’ faces for no reason. You get the picture.
- Take more time for myself. (Interestingly enough, I didn’t feel like this one helped much. I just felt stressed and like a failure when I couldn’t squeeze it in some days. Which happens.)
- “Freezing the moment.” Engage the senses. Notice every little detail in an ordinary moment and commit it to memory. This one was amazingly helpful.
- “Close the distance gap.” Minimize unintentional yelling by physically going to my children and talking to them in a normal voice. For example, not yelling down the stairs to tell my kids to turn off the TV or come up for dinner, but going downstairs myself to talk with them.
- STOP and WATCH when my kids want to show me something.
- Focus on the ONE child for the week who needs it most.
- Pray for my children more. Ask God what my kids need.
- Respond to difficult moments with love instead of sending them away to time out.
- Enjoy watching my kids sleep more. This sweet time is a gift to parents – use it!
- Make more eye contact.
- Tell my kids throughout the week “I love being your mommy!” “I’m the luckiest mom in the world!” and “I’m so happy that you are my daughter” and other variations.
Concentrating on just one little thing each week has kept me from feeling overwhelmed, or guilty when I don’t do as well at something as I’d like. I’ve taken the pressure off of myself to be the “perfect” mom, in every way, every day. Focusing on one thing I can do every day gives me satisfaction. Some of the challenges I have kept up a little in following weeks (and some I’ve found to be surprisingly easy to keep up once the ball is rolling) but I don’t let myself feel stressed if they slide. Once again, my Joyful Mother Project is not about guilt or perfection, but joy.
It’s about loving my kids, not because they need me to love them, but because I need to love them.
And guess what?
I have felt happier in my role. Consequently, I feel deeply connected to them in a way that I haven’t in so long. My heart has felt swollen with love in a way that I had been missing. I feel like I am a completely different mother than I was three months ago.
I love feeling this way about my kids.
This project stemmed from pretty selfish beginnings (it was about ME finding joy, not bringing it to anyone else but MYSELF, which sounds incredibly self-centered), but we have to feed our own souls before we can feed others’. I have been shocked to see the affects that this has had on my daughters. There has been a softening effect in our home. There just seems to be more love to go around. I especially see a difference in my oldest daughter (the one I had the blow-up with last December). We aren’t butting heads the way we used to. She has started writing me little notes and leaving them on my pillow. She asks for hugs. Lots of hugs. She’s never been a snuggler, so I’ve been surprised at how much she needed and has thrived with more physical touch.
Motherhood is still hard. (Oh boy, is it ever!) So I still have days where I tell my husband kindly at the end of a long day, “I’m going crazy!” and there are still have moments when I feel so, so overwhelmed. I don’t think that will change. Because It has to stretch and push me to grow so that God can help me become who He wants me to be. I feel like I’m doing just that. I am improving. And I think that learning to be a more Joyful Mother is a part of that.
For more posts like this, check out the following: