I did not become a nurturer on my first child’s birthday. In fact, it took three children for me to finally feel confident and interested in the job of thoroughly nurturing my family. Three kids in four years. The intensity of having kids so close in age was the wake-up call that changed our lives for the better and I am forever thankful.
See, I used to measure my worth by my accomplishments and whether or not someone somewhere was awaiting my arrival. I stayed very busy and soaked up recognition. Having a baby jolted my lifestyle, but I juggled mommy tasks and my own endeavors well enough.
Even with two kids, I kept step with my expectations of myself. Of course, I loved my children, but many days motherhood meant distractedly providing their needs, not necessarily delighting in them. Their needs were so small and many and cyclical. Without a sense of progress, I felt I was wasting my time and I resented them for keeping me from “more important” tasks and relationships. I woke up early to read the Bible and enjoy my own little pursuits while they slept. Unable to pull myself away, I often finished working while they ate and played.
I read self-pitying mommy blogs bemoaning the precious “me time” their children had stolen from them. Rather than dismissing the posts as hogwash, I became determined to overcome my plight without complaining. I was determined to succeed! My tactics were sustainable. I could have managed it through two childhoods. And my self-centered attitude would have carried us through a busied hurried harried life.
Then I had my third baby.
The routine I had petted became impossible. The demands were too many and too staggered. I couldn’t wake up early. I couldn’t accomplish the things I wanted to do. My self-worth plunged and my frustration mounted to the point of desperation. Either I had to get a nanny so that I, a stay-at-home mom, could do what I wanted to do, or I needed to seriously reorient my expectations. I knew I was entering a period of transition, but my journey and endpoint turned out far different from anything I could have anticipated.
One day in 2015, Ruth Chou Simons posted a beautifully painted quote by Goethe on her Instagram profile (gracelaced). I was life-alteringly convicted in one thumb scroll. I read, “Cease endlessly striving for what you want to do and learn to love what must be done.” Goethe was not a Christian, but God used him to get my attention. I realized I had been wrong for desiring the seemingly good things I was pursuing more than the children he had put in my lap. A newfound determination seized me- I set about “learning to love what must be done.” If I was going to be happy, I had to make my kids my new project. I knew it was God who had corrected me, but I didn’t turn and ask him to help me in the transition. I tried for months to change myself. I debated in my journal and talked with friends and even memorized scripture.
It didn’t work. I was still frustrated.
God had revealed truth to my mind, but my heart didn’t follow. I kept trying to reorganize my schedule and convince myself that family life was worth focusing on, yet I couldn’t shake my old mindset. I still felt like my children held me back. I tried flipping the tables on myself and saw that it could just as easily (and more truly) be said that my hotly-pursued endeavors held me back from mothering my children. I knew that my newfound goal less resembled a value system turnover than a wild thrashing for happiness.
Finally, I “ceased endlessly striving” to change myself and just asked God to fix me. I prayed David’s “Fix me” prayer from Psalm 139:23-24,
Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
As soon as I prayed I felt an assurance that God would move. And he did immediately. He shone a flashlight into mucky chambers of my heart and showed me that quiet time, hobbies and projects were not wrong in themselves, but my unhealthy craving to pursue them above my children was very wrong. The problem lied in my attitude and in my motives. He faithfully, mysteriously, gradually, changed my heart in ways I did not know were possible and opened my eyes to truths I didn’t know existed and remolded me, beyond my own effort, into a person I didn’t know I could be.
First, he used scripture to reveal to my soul my purpose in this sweet season of life. Then he plopped me down in the presence of older godly women who were content to do the small, daily, hidden tasks that added up to years of selfless service for just a few people. They did not bemoan their burden and they sought no pity or recognition. I saw that they loved their families on a level that I…didn’t and for that I respected them deeply. Through prayer, Bible study, and conversations with those women, I began my journey to becoming a better nurturer of my husband and our children.
I took a hiatus from all the activities that once steered my affections. Like a monk taking a vow of silence, I grounded myself from my computer and from taking on new projects outside the home. But I wasn’t sure what to do instead.
I remember sitting at my table alone, crying, eyes and hands uplifted, thanking God for redirecting me, then readying my pen to jot out a plan. No ideas came. I didn’t know what to do next. I imagined myself staring at my kids half the day and mopping the other half. How was I to spend the time?
So I prayed again. And my pen started moving.
I pictured Christ setting children on his knees and listening to them with undivided attention. They aren’t a project; they’re people, saved and lovely and profoundly important. I thought about what God wants children to be and become. I thought of the discipleship he intends for them to experience and the imagination and curiosity he planted in them. I listed the ideal components of the most blessed childhood I could dream up and then considered how I could give that foundation to my own kids. My list was very long, but here are a few points:
- Time, resources and encouragement for creative and imaginative play
- Time and space to explore outside as often as weather permits
- Enthusiastic answers for the multitudinous questions flowing from their curious little minds
- Daily read-aloud time, sharing excellent stories with noble characters, beautiful illustrations and sophisticated language
- A very available parent ready to give undivided and genuinely interested attention to conversation with them daily
- Being heard and understood
- Discipline, firm steady and loving
- Family Bible study, worship and prayer (ideally led by their father)
- A mother’s specific prayers and living example of godliness
- Eye contact and a cheerful greeting every morning
- A bedtime routine that makes them feel secure and cherished
- Joyfully spent one-on-one time
- Healthy food and training on how to prepare it
The list goes on. I had a similar list for my marriage, but that is for another post.
This list served as a starting point for my new approach to mothering. (I cannot expound on parenting here, but I’ve written about it in my parenting tab.) Our time filled up quickly and I enjoyed the job immensely. I know my children better than I did and I truly delight in serving quietly within these four walls. My husband and I agree that I am happier than I was when I stubbornly chased my own priorities. Once he got a taste of life with a wholly present wife, he started guarding my time too and helped me say no to project requests.
I am still tired, but it’s a better tired. I still like to wake before the kids for some nourishing quiet time and my husband or mother-in-law sometimes keep the kids while I take some refreshing time to myself, but I do not treasure time alone the way I once did. Hobbies and projects are not bad, obviously, but idolizing them is. Now I truly deeply and actively treasure my children. I am still learning. God continues to shape me into the wife, mother and woman that he wants me to become.
I thank my God who answers prayers, corrects me when I’m wrong, leads me to ask for help, and changes me from the inside out. Amen
Patient Giver Vs. Snappy Grouch (which I wrote in the middle of my transition)