Motherhood Without Despair

Until I actually had a child, I never did consider myself the mothering type. Neither did anyone else, I’m pretty sure. Growing up, I remember having friends who talked about wanting to have a lot of kids, who talked about babies being cute, or who claimed to actually enjoy babysitting. I figured they had some special engrained aptitude for mothering, kind of like the kid who loved dissecting the fetal pig in biology class and wasn’t bothered by blood had an aptitude for being a surgeon. I figured that I might someday have a family, but only because that was what normal people did. My interests were elsewhere, usually in a book.

I say this by way of explaining that I am not naturally capable of enjoying spending an entire day with young children, that is, children too young to engage in real conversation or to leave me be so that I can get some reading done. I get bored. Really bored. Horribly, agonizingly bored. It feels like every single cell in my brain is throwing itself against a wall in my head, and then ricocheting off into each other, screaming little cell screams.

Surely God knows this about me. And yet He called me to motherhood, and then (and you’ll have to take my word for this, for now at least) He called me to become a full-time, stay-at-home mom.

What was He thinking? Who knows? Certainly not me, but I do have a theory.

I cannot make it as a mom without prayer and the sacraments. I do not mean this in a vague, pious way. I mean that if I so much as skip Mass one week or fail to spend time alone in conversation with my Lord for a few days in a row, I lose the ability to deal. I turn in on myself and get all wrapped around my own axle. Motherhood becomes misery. My entire way of life feels confining, hopeless, without any promise of adventure or interest. I wake up to this again, to cooking, dishes, nose-wiping, cleaning more Legos off the floor, breaking up squabbles, homework, bedtime, repeat, repeat, repeat. Isn’t there more to life? Where did I go wrong?

To be clear, the Eucharist and daily prayer do not make me Saint Mom, radiating home-baked goodness with a beatific smile on my face, hugging my little cherubs close as I dispense precious bits of maternal wisdom. I still lose it. When asked for small favors, I still sometimes say things like “No. Go away. Leave mommy alone.” Everything that happens from five to six o’clock in the evening is still completely out of hand. Is that your toddler eating M&M’s off the floor? Yep, that’s him, and I put them there for him to find just to get him off my leg.

M&M's scattered across a not very clean kitchen floor.

The floor wasn’t even clean.

But when I receive my Lord in the Eucharist, get my prayer time in, and walk with my God, I have access to something else, a new layer of profound joy and contentment under all the chaos. I actually see my children. Too often, I don’t really see them. I see myself taking care of them, or I see them as reflections of my own desires, failures, and successes, or I see my anxiety about them. But with God’s grace I can actually be in the present long enough to really look at them, and there they are, these beautiful, amazing people, irreplaceable, unrepeatable souls, living here, right now, in this irreplaceable, unrepeatable present. I still get bored. Like I said, I still lose it even. But there is no despair, because I can rest in my God. My lambs might be driving me out of my sheep’s mind, but our Shepherd has everything under control.

This isn’t any hard-earned spiritual achievement. I am not talking about drudgery gradually becoming loving service as I grow in Christ. How depressing does that sound? No. It’s more like turning the lights on and seeing what has been there all along. It’s living in the truth. It’s remembering who I really am, who they really are, why we are here. It’s actually the opposite of struggle—it’s surrender.

When motherhood brings despair, it is because I am living in lies. I am accepting the lie that my life is about me, about my feelings and my accomplishments, and that my worth is determined by what I get done and what other people think about what I’ve gotten done. The good news? This is all BS. Yet it parades around looking like common sense.

Without Christ, we are slaves to lies, particularly when we are serving. Our service might be motherhood or fatherhood, or maybe it is our work, housework, or caring for elderly parents. We cannot think ourselves free of these lies, but Christ’s very presence drives them away, like a bright light drives away the darkness. As soon as He does, all that self-seeking despair seems ridiculous. Why didn’t I just turn the darned lights on? But living in the truth is in Christ’s power, not ours, so if we depart from Him, the light recedes, the darkness returns, and the father of lies is there waiting, as St. Peter says, “like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”

So my theory is that God wants me here, at home with my kids, because this is where I am most aware of my constant need for Him. Working away at a desk, teaching and writing, I could rest in everyday happiness without ever finding true joy. But as a mom, it’s all or nothing. And I want it all.

Share Button

Running Naked through Assisi

First of all, let me just say that this is surprisingly hard for me given how badly I want to do it. Writing in and of itself is hard, but it’s good hard. That isn’t the scary part. The scary part is writing honestly, directly, form the heart, not as someone in a specific given role, as the professor, the expert. I used to be a professor of American history, you see, and I know how to write in that role. Writing without that platform makes me feel excited, but also terrified. Every time I think of getting started, there is this nasty little voice in my head that says, “Without that identity, who are you to write? Who do you think you are?”

I have decided to stop listening to that voice. Instead, I am going to listen to the voice that says, “You are a child of God. You are of infinite value. I speak to your heart, and I want you to proclaim from the rooftops what you hear from me.”

And that is what I am going to do.

After all, what is there to lose? Aside from, you know, ego, comfort, security, pleasing others. All of that. Ah, yes, that.

Here is where I need to look to the saints. Take St. Francis. One day he is a popular guy, if a bit unstable and overly generous with his dad’s property. And then his dad takes him to court for stealing his cloth, and Francis responds by stripping naked, in the middle of winter no less, and running off through the village. He wasn’t an exhibitionist—he gets dressed again pretty quickly—but this time in a rough cloth. And then he gets to work, and people start arriving to join him. And he becomes St. Francis.

So when I hear “Who do you think you are?” again, and I am sure I will, I will think of naked St. Francis, running through town, all the villagers shaking their heads and saying “I always knew that kid wasn’t quite right.”

St. Francis rooted himself firmly forever in God’s freedom and joy, but only after looking like the village idiot, only after giving away all comfort, all security, all that ego-feeding human approval. Here is what I will keep telling myself: all that I seek is on the other side of giving myself away.

Surrender to Him. He can be trusted. No need to run naked through town.

Share Button