Ideals versus Reality for Mamas

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“Ideals" is practically my middle name. And it reaches into nearly every area—I’m idealistic about faith, about romance, about life! Every area, that is, except one: I didn't have any ideals about being a great mother. Honestly, I was one of those women who just didn't think about having children or mothering them. Having only older brothers meant I never lived with babies,  and I only remember babysitting about twice in my whole life—and that, under duress.

Now, if I had been a mothering/baby-oriented sort, I would have been idealistic about that, too. Honestly, though, what could be so hard about having a baby? I figured that as a fairly mature Christian (I had been in ministry for eight years, and missions at that!) I should also be a fairly mature mom.

Fast forward, a few years into marriage. Living in Southern California was such a challenge for me as a young mother of two young children. Clay worked 65-80 hours a week, I didn't know many women in my area, and I had almost no "mother" friends. Our families lived halfway across the United States and I was exhausted all the time. It didn't help that I was pregnant with my third child and struggled with morning sickness for six months.

After straightening up my house one afternoon, I poured bubble bath into my oversized double sink with Sarah, 4, on one side and Joel, just under 2, in the sink next to it. I gave each of them small plastic cups to use in the warm, bubbly water to play with and hoped for a bit of reprieve for myself.

"This will hold them for at least 30 minutes and I can get a break," I thought as I waddled to a chair nearby.

All of a sudden, 22-month Joel stood up straight in the sink. With a very exuberant smile from cheek to cheek, he screamed in delight and started scooping bubbles and water out of the sink and onto the floor as fast as he could, having a merry old time. He was just being an exuberant, happy little boy.

Something in me burst, and I started screaming at him with vein-popping intensity. "What are you doing? You are making a mess all over my floor! Stop it. Don't you know you are making a mess? Don't you know how tired I am?" The lecture had evidently been stored up for months, and I just kept going and going in anger and frustration.

My stunned, happy, easy-going boy plopped down (making another big splash on my floor) and looked at me with wide, sad eyes and then just started crying and crying and crying, as though I had wounded him for life.

All of a sudden, I felt soooooooo awful! What had happened to me? Where had this kind of anger come from? Here was my gentle Joel, my cuddly one, who was doing nothing wrong but just being a darling little toddler.

Shame poured over me in waves. Sarah looked at me in fear. The fun I had planned was totally spoiled. Everyone was crying. And all afternoon, I shook my head over the incident. How could someone who called herself a mature believer lose it like that? I was not worthy to be a mom. What would my friends think? What would Clay think if he had heard me being so irrational?
Darkness seemed to cover my whole being in disappointment with myself. I knew I had been wrong and impatient; that my son had done nothing wrong. He had been so delighted in his bubbles and then .....!!!!!

As a young mom, I had absolutely no idea what to expect. I had three children in less than five years. I had never been trained to take care of children, to change diapers, to nurse a baby, to miss hours of sleep for months at a time; or anything else that was required, and had almost no knowledge of what it looked like to be a "good" mother. Of course I read as much as I could, but the books didn't cover everything. And then there were so many formulas, and so many differing voices!

Scripture, though, became my saving grace. I would pray and pray that God would help me--and little by little, He started building in me a philosophy of parenting, motherhood, and home building; generation-inspiring messages, and I found grace and freedom as I slowly grew.

As I sought Him, and followed what I believed was the way of wisdom in parenting my children, by faith, I began to really, really fall in love with my children, with who they were, and the deep call of motherhood. This took years, and for me it was never easy. But my home began to become a place of deep happiness and fulfillment. It was not from seeking the fulfillment of ideals, but from seeking Him and His wisdom and seeing His love and patience with me.

"Even as a father has compassion on His children, so the Lord has compassion on you." Psalm 103

I wish I had known ahead of time that motherhood was a place of battle and growth.
If only I had understood that there were no perfect moms and that all moms, including good moms,  became frustrated, sinned and were selfish, and succumbed to exhaustion. If only I had not wasted so much time on guilt and inadequacy, but instead focused on seeking to enjoy life with my children more.

I wish I had known that all mamas get angry, that messes happen on a daily basis; that's the norm--it is nothing to get upset about! I wish that I had understood that children are pre-wired to behave like children and do toddler-ish, baby-ish, teenage-ish things, and that God wanted me to learn to enjoy them and not be so neurotic about every single little thing.

I wish I had relaxed my ideals as a young mom, and just leaned into the life of being a mom more.
So many of my friends miss their children now that they are older. Most all of them say they wished they had relaxed more, loved more, and paid more attention to them personally--looked into their eyes more often.

Wisdom applied:
What are your biggest disappointments over how you expected yourself to be as a mom compared to your reality?
In what area were you least prepared?
How do you most need to adjust your expectations and find a way to enjoy this stage of your children's lives?