I watched her walk through the door, baby carrier hooked on her elbow and her 2 year old already yelling out for my boys. We were so similar in stage. Age no, stage yes. Babies close, in the toddler trenches together. And yet, because of my age possibly, or years of marriage, I’ve been a little of the “go-to” mom for information, resources and just encouragement. I like it that way. I think some of it is how I’m wired, but the other some might have a little aroma of pride. Ugh.
We settle in, and I can tell she’s having a hard time. We talk and I share some wisdom and encouragement. Then I can just feel it. Something else is up. I’m guessing this might have something to do with our hang out, so I press in.
What’s up? It seems like something is going on?”
She laughs tiredly and says, “Well. So. I’m pregnant.” Another laugh.
I instantly reach out. “Oh my gosh! Congratulations!”
Looking at her face, I can see the weariness. The desire to be excited but still guarded. It doesn’t seem like her news has been greeted with the same enthusiasm by others that she has shared it with.
We spend the next hour talking through it. She is a fantastic mother and friend, but just needed to hear that she wasn’t a fool. That this was ok. This was more than ok. Three kids under 3.
After she left and the boys went down for their naps, I started to feel the fears settle deeper into my heart. The ones I pushed down when she shared her wonderful news. Here is what they said.
“You. Are. A. Wuss.”
Really. That’s what I heard. Followed by, “you are not near as strong as you always thought, in fact, you are actually weak. Everyone thinks you are…blah blah blah.”
For a while I leaned into those words. Let them curl up next to me and spoon.
Because the truth was, the idea of adding to my huge massive brood of children (ya know, the two boys I had) felt so overwhelming, that I couldn’t share it with anyone. I think I truly believed that if I just kept that one under lock and key, I would eventually quit being such a baby.
It’s honestly a little fuzzy to me when I decided that I needed to have more than two kids to have real mom street cred. Or even more than one! Strangely enough, I don’t hold that judgment for other women. Just myself.
But for some reason, I felt like my identity as this strong, capable, wife, mom, woman, would be shot if I could only pull off two kids. It sounds so silly to just type it out like that, but I really did. I felt weak. Shudder.
I had always thought I wanted at least three. I only had one sister but loved the idea of another sibling. When my husband (an only child) and I first married, he used to say he wanted six to eight. His mom about had a heart attack and then a serious talk with him about over population.
Fast forward a few years in, and we decided it was time to try for a baby. I had always known that more than likely our choice to begin a family would be based on feeling like it was time, rather than this burn to be a mother. I hope that doesn’t sound calloused at all! I knew I wanted to have kids and be a mom, but I never was one who had that deep seated passion to be a mom. I just felt confident that would manifest at the right time. I imagined there was a universal magic mom brain.
So time to have a baby. Or not. We spent the next few years struggling through “unexplained infertility.” All the tests were normal, we just weren’t getting pregnant. I hesitate to share these pieces of the story, because I know the pain around this subject. The heartache. And that for so many women, it is a very present battle. However, this is my story and I think there are other women who can relate to some of the strange emotions during this trial.
You see. Every month that I stayed a wife and not a mom, I felt this strange combination of emotions. Disappointment. And…relief.
Followed by shame. Shame that while I was sincerely disappointed to not be pregnant, there was a sliver of taking a deep breath over not having the responsibility of motherhood just yet. I knew it was what I wanted, but nonetheless, there it was.
But finally, we were blessed to feel the joy of finding out we were pregnant. We were some of the first of our small community to have kids since planting our church (hubs is a pastor), so the feeling of people truly rejoicing in our news was so beautiful. We decided to wait on the gender, though I desperately wanted boys.
The day arrived. After going from a 2 to a 10 in 25 minutes (no joke), we said hello to our little man. Elliot arrived and from the minute he was born, he was an incredibly easy baby. He slept through the night at 7 weeks, cried very little and when he did, you knew it was for a very specific reason. He never minded being held by others, just overall an incredibly laid back kid. Minus the devil that overtook him at the 40 min mark at naptime. Oh the angst of short naps. And the freedom you feel dying every time you settle in to relax, only to hear the faint grunting that is the sign of your own time ending.
He was great. I loved him deeply. And yet it was hard. Right? Because babies are hard. No matter if they are easy. Being a mom is hard. No matter if it is a beautiful gift.
For some reason though, mom’s find it so hard to be honest about it. There seems to be shame in admitting that we struggle. It makes us appear weak. Or shudder…a “bad” mom.
I was fortunate that my hard was a very normal hard. I just didn’t realize it.
We knew that we wanted to have kids close in age. Around six or seven months, we decided that we could think about having another one without me completely losing my mind at the idea. Two months later, we got pregnant with our second.
We waited on the gender like before, and also like before, I hoped for a boy. Baby Jude arrived and I was so excited (relieved) to still be a boy mom. Somehow we were also like before, given the gift of an easy baby. Except this time around, he hated sleeping at night about as much as I hate waking up in the morning. Phew. Otherwise, we even had a friend ask how we always get the “no cry model” of babies. I always joked that God knew we weren’t tough enough for anything other than easy.
That was one of those jokes that has some really high made-up percentage of truth. It also was another suitcase of shame for me. Deep down I felt like it must be true. If being a mom was this hard for me with babies who were by most standards, “easy,” how could I ever handle more?
Somewhere along this road, I had bought into the idea that there was a certain type of mom that was “better.” And the main thing I knew was that I wasn’t that type. I’m a caretaker of people. But I would not call myself the warm, nurturing type. I’m responsible, hard-working, loyal and high-capacity. Then along came these two humans and my capacity goes out the window. Dragging with it, my long held thoughts of three or more kiddos.
What did not follow out that window, was the fear that I was not as good at this as everyone else. That I was weak. That the unicorn picture I had of the mom I should be, showed how very “bad” at this motherhood thing I was.
And as the months went by and people made more and more comments about us having another one, I grew more and more fearful of the idea. And more and more ashamed of that fear. I can’t explain it other than it made me feel so weak. I really wish I knew where I got the idea that my abilities as a mom were weighted by the amount of kids I could handle. It’s so bizarre.
Finally one night after a particularly rousing night of teasing us, I tearfully asked my husband how he felt about more kids. I needed a serious answer. Something about the up in the air nature of it, was causing me so much tension inside. I think deep down I convinced myself that if he wanted more, then we must be supposed to have more. My judgment wasn’t to be trusted.
He sat down and looked at me. He confessed that he didn’t think he could handle more. That we could handle more.
I started to ugly cry.
I couldn’t believe the relief I felt. He continued to reassure me with wise and sincere reasons. Not having family close, we were already exhausted…and not getting any younger on the energy side, his job was a very intense and all in commitment. But most importantly, he looked at me and said, “I want to be a great dad to our kids. And I think I can do that with these two boys, but I don’t know that I have the capacity for that with more than two.”
And then I was bawling. I felt such freedom in his admission.
We kept talking and he continued to speak truth to me.
This is OUR family. Not anyone else’s. These are OUR limitations, and it’s ok if it’s not other peoples. This is what God has given us and it is such a gift.
I have thought back on that conversation often over the last few years. When I experience that crushing blow of feeling like a failure as a mom. That I’m proportionately “less” based on the number of kids I have. When I disclaim to my friend… “And I only have two kids!” When my other friends disclaim to me, “And I only have one kid!”
Because here is the truth.
We are all “good” moms. Being a good mom does not mean you are never weak. Or that you fit a certain mold or paradigm. This is YOUR family. Not anyone else’s. These are YOUR limitations, not other peoples. This is what God has given YOU, and it is such a gift.
So whether you have one kid or seven, it doesn’t mean you are better or worse. You are just you. With all your own strengths and weaknesses. With your own wins and your own failures. With your days of unending patience and your days of insta-temper. Give up the handcuffs of shame, surrender the comparisons, and ask God to continue giving you grace and growth in your struggles.
“There’s no way to be a perfect mother, and million ways to be a good one.”-Jill Churchill
You are a good mom. And so is she.
Paige is an imperfect mom to boys, a recovering Dr. Pepper addict, and a follower of Jesus. She lives in Kansas City and you can still hear a hint of Texas in her voice. Paige also loves to feed huge crowds and make cool stuff. She writes her musings about living a frank life in a world where it’s hard to be honest at www.madefrank.com.