Like many engaged couples, my husband and I had the perfect 5 year plan for the beginning of our marriage.
The plan included me pursuing my master’s degree in counseling, getting the majority of my hours towards licensure completed, then starting to try for a family. Depending on how long that took, we’d hopefully either be pregnant or have our first baby by our 5th anniversary. By then we’d be stronger, more financially stable, and much more spiritually mature before we dove into parenthood.
Because we definitely needed to be stronger, more financially stable, and much more spiritually mature before we dove into parenthood.
Instead, shortly after our 5th anniversary last year we had four children: our eldest whom we’d just adopted, two toddlers, and a newborn girl.
February 2015, married 5 years, 1 month, and 23 days
So, yeah. Sliiiiiiight change of plans.
I’ve reflected a lot this past year as I’ve held and mothered my fourth child, who was “supposed to be” my first according to my timeline. I can’t say for sure how different a mother I would be if our 5-year-plan had panned out, if I’d been older and more prepared. I can say for sure, however, that I’m glad my plans didn’t pan out. The Lord knew that my prerequisites for motherhood were bunk, and He flipped them all on their heads.
Here are 3 things I thought I needed to be ready for motherhood… and what I really need instead.
- Instead of personal strength, I need strong friendships.
I’m not even talking about family here. You can’t pick your family. As my kids know by heart and recite at the dinner table, “you git what you git and you don’t throw a fit” (forgive the drawl, we live in Texas.) Hopefully, like I do, you have a whole heap of supportive relatives that are there for you to share in the joy and hardships of becoming a mom for the first time. Maybe not, though; or maybe, like mine, they’re spread out and not necessarily there for the day in and day out of raising your kids.
Thankfully, as the Proverb says, “there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother,” and they’re just waiting to be found (Proverbs 18:24). So join a church if you haven’t yet and pick a life group or Bible study to plug into. Find a MOPS group or young mom’s group equivalent in your area to connect to other moms in the same season of sleepless newborn nights and disgusting potty training days. And then throw yourself out there!
I am not being dramatic when I say that my friends have been LIFE-GIVING to me. One friend and I regularly give each other heaps of grace for mothering our boys in particular; our beautiful, strong-willed, can-drive-us-to-the-brink-of-sanity boys. Another friend has adopted six times now and even though we’ve actually only hung out a handful of times, her transparency and perseverance inspire me daily to better love my own adopted son. I have one friend I’ve known all my life and can call anytime, who will speak Truth without a trace of judgment, like she did one night this past summer when I was staring down postpartum depression and could barely breathe through the tears.
Trust me, we don’t need to be “strong” to be good mothers, and we definitely don’t need to attempt to do this alone. Our DIY culture tells us we can do anything we want to all on our own, we just need to dig deep and work hard and muster up enough strength. We cannot allow motherhood to fall under this banner. We need each other! We need strong friendships with kind and brave women. We need women who can relate to us but also challenge us; women with whom we can be vulnerable and real even on our darkest days; and we need to be that woman for our friends. I am determined friendships are worth the time and effort to cultivate, and have a greater impact on our mothering than we can possibly imagine.
- Instead of financial stability, I need simple priorities.
Before I became a mother, I dreamt of shopping for cute little matching outfits, taking my kids to a new play or exhibit every week, enrolling them in music lessons, signing them up for their favorite sport, and planning trips so they’d grow up with a broad worldview.
Instead, 95% of what my kids wear are hand-me-downs from dear friends, they’ve never been to a museum, and the idea of enrolling them in expensive classes of any kind makes me flat-out laugh. And you know what? They’re some of the happiest kids you’ll ever meet.
Here’s what I’ve learned about money and toddlers: they really don’t need much to be content. Spending tons of money isn’t necessary to give them a great childhood. I’m slowly letting go of that picture-perfect version of my children in my head, and I’m realizing that simple priorities are what it’s all about. The hubs and I have a constantly changing, ongoing list of “things we really care about as parents” and “things we just can’t care about right now.” On the first list are things like feeding our kids healthy food (ours react very poorly to poor food choices, so the higher grocery bill is worth it), visiting family (no matter the current gas prices), and spending money on experiences vs. stuff (family days at the zoo or the movies throughout the year vs. lots of toys at Christmas).
Things that don’t matter so much to us right now? Birthday parties (they’re not my thing anyways, and until they’re old enough to actually have friends and long-term interests, I’m letting myself off the hook), memberships (until I’m no longer pushing a double stroller, at least), or classes (when they no longer change their mind about their favorite color every day, I might be able to trust them to choose a sport or instrument to stick with for a season!).
We do, however, go to the park every morning and know every playground in the area. We dance like crazy to music every afternoon and they’re learning to play the bowl drums with wooden spoons like champs. My 2 year old has one heck of a kick and I let them play soccer in the dining room (*gasp*). We read a ton of books (the library is free!), make a mess of art projects, and they love to help me mix things up in the kitchen.
They’re perfectly satisfied. I’m the one who struggles with being content. We as parents want to give our kids the best of the best, don’t we? What the Lord keeps showing me is that whatever He provides for us, is enough for them. Luke 12:22-34, do not be anxious, is one of my favorite passages when I’m tempted to worry about “enough.” Whatever’s in the bank account; whatever Christmas presents are under the tree; whatever is in the fridge or in the closet, it’s enough. He loves my children more than the sparrows and the lilies. He loves my children more than I do! He will provide for them.
Even so, some days it’s really hard. Raising small kids on a small budget takes intentionality, creativity, and sacrifice. But it’s doable, and has actually been less stressful in many ways. By sticking to a few simple priorities, I’m not constantly rearranging our schedule or worrying about the kids getting too worn out. Financial stability is something my husband and I will always strive for, of course, and we work hard for what we have; but having a large savings account is not the prerequisite for motherhood I always thought it was.
- Instead of spiritual maturity, I need daily direction from Him.
When I had my first daughter, I let my quiet times completely fall by the wayside. I think a lot of new mothers do. I could barely function in those early newborn days, and as a result spent way less time reading my Bible and writing in my prayer journal than I had in years.
It was easy to excuse it away. I had the best excuse in the book, after all: a new baby! God understood! Articles I read and even well-meaning friends encouraged this train of thought: “Don’t be so hard on yourself! Long quiet times are simply a thing of the past. Read when you can, pray when you can, and let yourself off the hook. It’s just a season of life.” So I clung to this idea that my personal spiritual growth had to take back burner for awhile.
And I suffered because of it.
An advent devotional I’m going through this month worded it perfectly:
“We can’t just take one deep breath and hold it, right? We can’t just breathe in the Lord and run fast. But that is what the holiday season looks like for so many of us. We take one deep breath at church on Sunday, or one deep breath if we had a good family moment, and then we run hard through everything else—shopping and lists and to-dos and crafts and all the other things, and we forget to breathe in again… I think we want to breathe in every day, I think we want to take time every day to stop and say, ‘God, how do you want to change me? How do you want to grow me? What do you want me to do? What do you want me to NOT do?” (Jess Connolly, Videos, Week 1 Advent Teaching, http://www.makeroomforadvent.com).
Substitute “holiday season” for “newborn season” and “shopping and lists” for “diapers and feedings” and you have exactly how I felt in those early motherhood days… like I was holding my breath and running hard, never stopping to take a breath. The thing is, as a mom, I need more time with the Lord than ever, not less! I need His wisdom all the more because my responsibility as a mother is all the greater. I need His grace all the more because I fail all the more often.
“Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 4:16
The truth is I get this motherhood thing wrong far more often than I get it right, and daily fight temptation to be lazy, stressed, and ungrateful; to complain, yell, and ignore. If I’m not coming to His throne of grace daily, minute-by-minute even, and asking His forgiveness, then odds are I’m wasting time stewing in denial or guilt. And then when my kids behave the same way, I am so much harsher on them. But when I’m actively receiving His grace regularly? It becomes that much easier to extend grace to them.
Four years into motherhood with four “excuses” running around, and I need His Word, His grace, and His direction more than ever before in my life. One quiet time in the morning doesn’t even cut it, because my tank isn’t just empty by the end of the day—it runs dry midmorning, when my eldest throws his third fit of the day. Then it runs dry again at 4:45 pm when they’re done with me and done with each other and I’m at my wit’s end and where the heck is your father?! Sometimes it runs dry in that witching hour between dinner and bedtime and I have to excuse myself to the bathroom for just two minutes of prayer.
We can’t rely on our supposed storehouses of spiritual maturity from years past of spending time with God to get us through the draining days of motherhood. We need more time in the Word as mothers, not less. Sure, it may look less like hour-long in-depth uninterrupted Bible study, and more like some Bible reading here, a praise CD there, some Scripture memory during naptime, and some prayer in the evening. The logistics don’t matter, as long as we remember: He can only fill us up if we come to the table.
I believe He wants to guide us to life-giving friendships. I believe He can help us simplify our priorities and find contentment. I believe He will heap on our heads grace upon grace when we are failing and breathless on this journey of motherhood.
So come to the table. Breathe in. He has all you need.