“Have you ever felt like being a mother has ruined you? Has brought out the absolute worst–from being a sensitive, emotional mess that will snap at the slightest challenging remark or unexpected turn in the day to making you seethe with anger and frustration all too often?
I feel like I used to be so good, so on top of everything, so “proficient.”
And here I am, on the eve of my son’s first birthday, and I feel like I have suffered a long, tragic, and painful defeat. I only have one child; it has only been one year. I thought I was ready, that I was going to make a great mom, and look where I sit.”
This is a snippet of an email I got from a sweet young mama in need of encouragement. Reading her words brought tears to my eyes because I HAVE BEEN THERE. I have been exactly there. It brought back a wave of pain just remembering my son’s first year and how defeated and exhausted I was. Drowning is probably the best word for it. I was drowning. Gasping for air.
I don’t think this reader and I are the only ones to have experienced the brutal reality of motherhood in this way. So I’m sharing my response here in hopes it can encourage others.
Have I ever felt like being a mother has ruined me? Brought out my absolute worst? Of course. All the time.
I thought I was a patient, laid-back but on-top-of it kinda gal. I didn’t have a short fuse. I didn’t get easily flustered. I was rocking out life. I was good at everything. Then motherhood broke me. Or rather, it was a huge inescapable mirror that showed me who I really was. And I didn’t like what I saw.
I had a friend tell me once what an empowering experience becoming a mother had been for her. “For the first time in my life, I feel like I’ve found the thing I’m really good at. I’ve never been good at school, or sports, or anything like that. And then I had my baby and I discover that I’m really, really good at being his mom.”
I’m sure my friend isn’t alone in her experience. But mine was very different. I had always been good at stuff. When I was growing up ballet was my thing and I was just good at it. I didn’t have the ballerina body, but I was intuitive. I trained hard but dancing came easy. I got the starring roles I wanted. If I tried, I got what I wanted.
School was a breeze. There was that one time that I got a B+….the rest were A’s. Sure, I studied but I never struggled. I was offered a full scholarship to a private university and graduated with honors. I got a great job right out of school. Then when I applied to one grad program (just one?! What was I thinking?) I was accepted and offered a stipend. If I wanted to succeed at something, I did. I just did.
When I got pregnant it was my first taste of what it feels like to be out of control. Hard work and talent had no effect on the nine months of unbearable morning sickness. I would drag myself to the office, vomit into my trash can all day, and crawl into bed as soon as I got home. Willpower couldn’t fix the situation.
“But when I get through this physical suffering, when I get to the mothering part, it will be better,” I told myself. “I’m going to be the best mom. How hard can it be?”
Enter my precious, perfect baby boy. After my 48 hour labor, I had never been felt so empowered. I had just brought a new life into the world! Any accomplishment that preceded that seemed trivial. Despite my exhaustion, I stayed up all night just staring at him. He was the most beautiful, wondrous sight I had ever seen. And my heart broke with love for him.
I expected that night to be the start to regaining control over my life, but it was really the beginning of my unraveling. I would break down at 3am after spending all night desperately trying to get my baby to sleep. The tears would fall on his perfect little cheeks as I rocked him in my arms wondering why I was so terrible at this new role. I had read the books! I had followed the rules! Nothing worked, so I assumed it was me that was broken.
Breastfeeding was a nightmare. Wasn’t it supposed to be intuitive? Why was I so bad at it? I gave up after 4 months and switched to formula trying to ignore the guilt I felt every time I mixed a bottle.
I was an emotional basket case and would have pushed my husband away if I hadn’t been holding on to him for dear life just trying to survive each day. But it was more than the physical and emotional upheaval that was breaking me. It was the realization that the love I had for my son was forcing me out of myself for the first time.
I actually cared about someone more than I cared about myself! And the transition from self-absorption to self-giving hurt.
Motherhood is a refining fire. It is sanctifying love, like marriage. It doesn’t smooth things over, it brings sin to the surface. And that process is unforgiving. Everything we’ve been able to keep under wraps, under control escapes and reveals itself. Like a flashlight on the dark places in our souls.
Each night’s sleep lost for love of a child, each puddle of vomit to be cleaned up, each nursing session with cracked and bleeding nipples, each bottle scrubbed, each tray washed, each onesie laundered, each diaper changed chips away at our former selves. But what’s underneath is something better and more beautiful. That painful love washed away every facade I clinged to and revealed a truer me. But the process is brutal.
The hardest thing I’ve ever done? Yes. A thousand times yes. Worth it? Many times over. What my kids bring to my life and how they have changed me is like seeing in color after living my whole life in black and white. Trust me. I wouldn’t have had two more after my first. I wouldn’t hope for many others if they weren’t the absolute best thing to have ever happened to me.
I want you to know that you’re not alone. You’re not the only one drowning. While some women may just take to motherhood like a duck to water, I think there’s plenty of us who struggle. And I think if we’ve experienced success in other areas of our lives it makes the transition harder, not easier.
We’re not used to struggling. And we’re certainly not used to the thanklessness of it all. Succeed in school? Get an awesome grade and praise from professors. Succeed at work? Get fantastic performance reviews and feedback from your boss or clients. But there’s no awards for surviving one more day of motherhood. So here we are, formerly successful ladies, drowning for the first time in our lives and there’s no award at the end of the day.
But here’s some reasons to give yourself some grace. You haven’t slept in a year. Let me repeat that: YOU HAVEN’T SLEPT IN A YEAR. Sleep deprivation is real. Sleep deprivation is a method of torture. Don’t be disappointed in yourself for falling apart in physical circumstances that would break any human being.
You’re also dealing with some crazy postpartum hormones. And if you still don’t feel like yourself, don’t hesitate to ask your midwife or doctor about postpartum depression. Caring for an infant is hard enough, as it is! If you have any inkling that you could be experiencing more than just run-of-the-mill new mom exhaustion, seek help. You are not alone.
You have to give yourself a break. Pick a time each week to go somewhere alone, even if it’s just for an hour. Grab a coffee. Read a novel. Give your brain a chance to relax from being on mommy alert. Having that time scheduled without fail makes it easier to survive the rest week because you know that you will get a chance to come up for air. Needing a break doesn’t mean you’re weak or you don’t love your baby. It just means you’re made of flesh and blood. Give yourself that.
And when motherhood feels like the hardest thing you’ve ever done, remember that’s because this is the hardest thing you’ve ever done.
Don’t let your imagination run wild and get ahead of yourself. Stop the “I only have one kid and I’m drowning….what will things be like when we have two…three….four…. Will we homeschool? Will I be a full-time SAHM forever?” Just stop. One day at a time.
While having a new baby is always a transition, after your first child, a new baby doesn’t bring a complete identity overhaul in tow. You may become a mother for a second time….but you never have to become a mother for the first time again.
Here you are. A mother. And like anything worth learning how to do, you’ll get better at motherhood as you go. I promise. That first baby and that first year will likely be the hardest year of your life. So give yourself some grace. Throw that first birthday party not just in celebration for your baby’s sweet life, but because YOU SURVIVED the first 12 months as a mom.
And one last thing. Allow yourself to think outside of the ideal motherhood box you’ve created for yourself. God made you. He made YOU. He didn’t make the cookie cutter perfect mother who lives in your head. He made you. And He made you with all the gifts and talents and personality you have to share with the world.
It is ok if your motherhood looks different than you expected. God can handle that. He made you. Give yourself room to explore how to make YOUR family thrive. Maybe you thought you’d love staying home but now are itching to take on some work outside the home. That’s ok! Maybe you thought you’d love homeschooling but now you’re reconsidering. Reconsider! You get to change your mind because it’s your family. It’s your life. Explore that. Sometimes you may realize you want to make a change. Or you may realize that actually, you’re exactly where you want to be and then you can own it.
Have I ever felt like motherhood ruined me? Yup. But I needed it. I needed to be broken and remade. I think we all do. And if it’s not motherhood, there’s something in life that will break down our charade of control and proficiency. There will be some kind of pain that can teach us how to love if we let it. But for someone as selfish as I am, God is using motherhood because He knows that the only chance for me is the pull of that overwhelming love I have for my kids. That love so good it hurts. That love that makes their laughter golden. That love that hits me in the gut when I’m least expecting it.
It takes a few hours of pain to birth a baby. Becoming a mother takes longer and it’s more painful. But your baby is turning one. You made it, mama. You’ve been broken and now you can be remade. Now you can do anything.
Your words are needed- for many, for me. Another round of first trimester for the third baby and I’m thinking, “UGH! Why do I have be brought back to this, Lord? This struggle. Why can’t I just rock it?” It comes in cycles over your motherhood life, I think, and brutal is the word exactly. You give good advice Haley!
Definitely with you on the cycles. My third pregnancy was also a knock down drag out survival season, too.
Just as a follow up. We had three really close together and then I had some tough health issues. Then we had a space of about 2 years where I was neither pregnant or nursing and sleeping mostly through the night (save the odd stomach bug). I yelled less, I was patient and pride slipped in. I got this motherhood thing down. My house, our schedules, my fitness, the kids and the marriage were humming along. Then we joyfully got pregnant and man oh man.. I am humbled. Morning sickness in the beginning and crazy hormones through out and now in the last weeks extreme fatigue have me back on my knees. To the mom feeling overwhelmed take heart!! Every mom feels like they are failing, but children don’t need perfect moms, just ones who love them a whole lot. My own mom got mad and had a bit of a temper, but she was also always there for me, present when I came home from school and very affectionate and loving. She always apologized to us when she yelled and reminded us that she is still a work in progress and struggling. There was never a feeling in my house growing up that the parents were perfect and the kids were the only ones needing to improve. I am clinging to this example and hoping my kids will feel the same way..
“Every mom feels like they are failing, but children don’t need perfect moms, just ones who love them a whole lot.” Thank goodness for that!
This is great Haley! I’m pregnant with our first, so haven’t made it past the “ideal motherhood” picture in my head yet… but this advice is so applicable to other life changes outside motherhood… marriage, vocation decisions, career changes. And great for women to hear they’re not alone in their feelings; that “alone-ness” is probably the most destructive lie in any of these situations you may find yourself in.
Absolutely! I was thinking about marriage challenges and thought about my priest’s daily life (whoa! I can’t even wrap my head around how hard it must be!). There are certainly other refining fires out there. ” that “alone-ness” is probably the most destructive lie in any of these situations you may find yourself in.” Yes! THIS!
This may be the most beautiful thing you’ve ever written. I’m shaken. Amazing. Amazing.
Thanks, Leah! I really appreciate that. <3
Honora Bartlett says
wonderful, humane, thoughtful post. Just when I start to think ‘can I take all this hipster Christianity?’ you always do something absolutely first-rate–I am sure your response will REALLY have helped that young woman. Very good luck in your new ventures. nb
This was the best thing you’ve ever written. Period.
I did not struggle my first year. Or my second. But now I’m starting my 4th year, with a 4 year old who is just a tough, tough kid, a wild “terrible” 2 year old, 17 weeks pregnant with number 3, just getting over HG, and I’m just done in a lot of the time. And I keep thinking how terrible I am at this “mama” thing. But then I remind myself of a lot of what you have written here, about how this really truly is making me better and more humble and I keep trying. Sometimes it doesn’t hit you at first, sometimes it take a while before you feel overwhelmed. And not being overwhelmed the first year made me very proud of myself. Now I know better!
I’m with you, Sheila. I loved the baby phase and the struggles seemed to pass quickly. But when I became a SAHM after the birth of my second it all hit me. Toddlers are tricky – and even more tricky when you’re caring for a new little one 🙂
Thanks for the honesty, Haley. I’ll never grow tired of hearing that I’m not alone.
Thank you for writing this. My first year of parenting my firstborn broke me, and I needed to be broken. Motherhood requires an immediate death to self which is just so ugly, but necessary. Now pregnant with our third, I keep my eyes peeled for new moms with a desperate look in their eyes so I can assure them that it is okay to struggle and that it will get easier.
High five, sister.
My new favorite piece of yours. I am an older mom (46)with three kids spanning 21 to 3 and nothing has continued to drive me to God the way motherhood has. Thanks for this post.
My son is turning 2 soon and I wholeheartedly agree! Celebrate survival it will get better!
Great post, Haley. Beautiful and compassionate and real. I have been pondering this for some time, how God shapes us with our sufferings and the gifts He gives us. My children are gifts, yes, but also require much sacrifice, and let’s face it, some real suffering in order to gestate, give birth to, care for, teach, etc etc. My sixth baby is nearly 4 months old and I find each new baby brings along a tough time for us. So, even this ” experienced” mom feels stretched and refined by caring for a new baby. That’s not to say it doesn’t get easier. In many ways it does. But, I guess I still have a lot of work to do towards holiness.
Tears here because of the truth of this post. Thank you so much and beautifully written, as always.
Yes. Yes. Your story is just. like. mine. And I am so grateful for the articulation of this struggle, this immense transition from easily measured success in your pre-motherhood life to the day in day out grind of motherhood where you can only vaguely see what you are doing right and see in glaring relief all the mistakes…
Katherine Lauer says
Thanks, I needed this tonight.
~Pregnant with #5
Thank you so, so much for writing this. Only just a few hours ago I was sitting on the couch while my almost-three-year old (finally) napped, and I was sitting in so much guilt and so much pain in my feelings about being a mom. I felt as though I could do absolutely nothing right as a mom. I’m 8 months along with my second, and I’m so worried about so many things: potty-training my first before he starts preschool, the transition from one to two, and how we’re going to handle it all. On top of that, my mother is very very sick, with not much time left on this side of Heaven, and I constantly feel so overwhelmed.
But your words helped me so much, and although I didn’t write you the original email, I feel as though you’ve spoken right to my heart. Thank you so, so much.
Thank you. I needed to read this tonight. I just got some heartbreaking info from my four year old tonight (everyone is safe and healthy, we’ll be ok). It brought up all the feelings in your article, which I’ve felt all along. It’s good for me to be reminded that this journey is remaking me, and that God chose ME for this journey. Thank you!
Chrysten Copley says
“Motherhood is a refining fire. It is sanctifying love, like marriage. It doesn’t smooth things over, it brings sin to the surface. ”
I LOVED THIS. What you wrote was SO SIMILAR to my experience – the ability to excel as a single woman, the hypermesis (I wanted to punch people who recommended ginger ale and saltine crackers), the breastfeeding (it always hurt so I switched to pumping which stole all my time), the cloud, the fog, the hormones. One caveat…my first child was very much a dream experience. I was very much in love with being a mom, even in the middle of the night. Then when child two came, it was challenging, but manageable.
Then came baby three…
and baby four…
Four kids in four years and it is constant survival mode. But I needed it. I needed to understand how other mothers with just one, or six, or twelve feel. I needed to be poured out and refined.
Thank you for reminding me.
Bahahaha about the saltines and ginger ale. I had worsening hypermesis with my four pregnancies, and I was just like, “Uhhhh, do you THINK I haven’t tried All Of The Things That Are Supposed To Fix Nausea And Vomiting???”
Sometimes I wanted to say, “Oh my gosh, thank you! I’ve been vomiting for months and if only I’d know that all I had to do was eat a cracker before I got out of bed!”
(apparently I get cranky when I’m vomiting all the time, because normally I’m not a person who gets offended about small stuff. But this did bug me!)
I know, right?!?!
The nausea was by far the most difficult piece for me. I have sooooo much compassion for pregnant mothers who struggle with this.
This is a great great post. I didn’t struggle my first year of motherhood, but year 2 and 3 here are definitely “bringing sin to the surface.” In a way I’m glad for that because I know its going to help make me a better mother. But I wholeheartedly agree, motherhood is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I know that as the kids get older(I have a 3 yr old, a 2 yr old, and a 2 month old) it will get easier. My mother had 11 kids and she said (as I’ve heard from other parents as well) that when they are little it is the hardest. Its always nice to know I’m not alone in feeling like a failure as a mother…
grace martin says
really great <3
Agreed! Thank you for sharing!
Motherhood is a refining fire. It is sanctifying love, like marriage. It doesn’t smooth things over, it brings sin to the surface. And that process is unforgiving. Everything we’ve been able to keep under wraps, under control escapes and reveals itself. Like a flashlight on the dark places in our souls.
Yes! And this is why we need each other as Moms, IRL, too. We have to support each other, otherwise the prospect of motherhood can seem so bleak sometimes!But you’re right- it really is worth it to be remade, and to get that chance to be for God what he would have us be. Mothers to these eternal souls, these people he created.
Reading what your reader wrote to you and your response – it’s just all so foreign. Maybe I’ll feel that way after I have our second but so far, I relate much more to you friend who feels like she’s finally good at something. After Lucia was born, Motherhood just came so naturally. It felt like something finally clicked, that for the first time in my life I was where I belonged and was doing something that mattered. That’s not to say that I don’t have bad days as a mom – I do! I’ve just never felt like motherhood has ruined me. But it was really helpful to read this post and see the opposite side of motherhood.
It seems like the women who struggle with motherhood the most always seem to be the ones who are blessed with large families. I don’t know how many times I hear women with many kids say that they never wanted large families (or never wanted to be a mother at all) and it’s so hard to sit by as someone who always and only wanted to be a mother and who felt so comfortable in motherhood and have miscarriage after miscarriage trying to have another baby. I suppose I understand why this is. If motherhood doesn’t feel like a “refining fire” to me then it’s not making me grow in holiness like recurrent miscarriage does. And obviously women who struggle with motherhood are learning more when then have big families. That’s a tough reality and on the surface seems so unfair.
abby hummel says
I’m only 9-months into this living-child parenting gig (with a 21-wk boy gestating too) and I am with you, Mandi. There is a lot ahead of me, and I don’t want to complete blow off the potential intensity of two babies in a thirteen-month span, but… absolutely nothing about mothering my daughter has come close to touching the ruin and brokenness of the four years full of miscarriages before she was born. Now almost everyone is so shocked that we are expecting another baby and can only comment on how much work it’s going to be. I had an uncomplicated delivery so there was no medical reason to “wait” … why on earth would we go to any extremes to try to not have another baby!? Seriously! I spent a long time thinking I might not have ANY children and now it looks like I will have TWO! I feel like I am winning the lottery twice in two years. (I worked from home before she was born, so the SAHM adjustment has not been as intense as it might be for some people, but still…) I try to be sympathetic to my friends who talk about how hard and intense their vocation of mothering is. But. I don’t understand what they are talking about. Right now, I can’t relate at all.
Hi! For those who have experienced loss, I know motherhood as a sanctifying fire can seem foreign. But as a mom who has experienced both “super fertility” and miscarriage, the two types of suffering are both the same and different. Certainly, loss can make one more thankful for what they have. It does help with perspective. But even when we are very thankful for our families, we can still suffer greatly at different stages of motherhood. Just remember that no one wants to actually lose their child, even when voicing their struggles. No one is competing for the worst cross. They are just processing their own cross, something that is not even yet fully revealed. Who knows what will become of our children as they grow ? If life will proceed fairly routine or if tragedy will strike? Part of the anxiety for some parents is that we truly fear all the tragic possibilities even if we haven’t suffered them (yet). Letting go of control to some degree is part of the suffering.
I had my miscarriage with my fourth child — So I went through the ups and downs of three kids close together and young, and then a miscarriage, and then a fifth child. The suffering from the miscarriage doesn’t negate the suffering from three littles close together or any future suffering. We, as mothers, can be united in this suffering, even as it changes colors and depth. And even with the suffering of juggling lots of littles, I still feel like a really great mom (now that my oldest is almost 11!).
When someone throws out, “It could be worse, you could suffer loss” — while that might be true, it implies that the other mother isn’t thankful enough, doesn’t have perspective, or isn’t actually experiencing that sanctifying fire in some way — like they are weak in the face of a blessing. I promise you that most moms, when they express suffering, would never imply that somehow loss is better than their situation. I know it can feel that way when you have experienced loss, but that’s generally not what’s going on.
I just say all this, because we had such a divide in our old parish. People guarded their crosses so closely. If a mom expressed suffering from constant pregnancy vomiting and depression, moms struggling with infertility and loss would feel offended and hurt that a pregnant mom could “ever complain”. There was a lot of tiptoeing and dividing, unnecessary hurt, and lots of lonely suffering. As a mom who straddles both worlds, we may not be able to relate on every detail of suffering with each other, but we can be united in suffering nonetheless. We can help carry each others’ burdens, realize that the journey will continue to change, remind each other that we aren’t alone in all this, know that the circumstances now may not be the ones tomorrow. The future unknown is hard for all of us. And being able to trade different stories of suffering, without guarding our own crosses too closely, can bolster all our perspectives and deepen our friendships if we let it.
And suffering is definitely almost always unfair. Often we don’t know exactly why we suffer particular tragedies, despite understanding the theological explanations behind suffering in general.
Elizabeth, this is such a beautiful insight. Is it ok if I share it on the Carrots FB page?
Sure! Thanks, Haley :). And thanks for your beautiful post!
Wow, this is extremely insightful, Elizabeth. I am so glad to have come across it, even a few years late.
abby hummel says
(Mandi, I should also say I have someone in my life who is still really struggling with the idea that God gave her “the one thing she didn’t want” in a healthy little girl, and I still cry when she talks about it. I told my husband I would offer to adopt their daughter to raise with ours if she was still unable to make peace with motherhood after all this time. Those loss wounds are deep, deeper than a human baby can be expected to remedy. Even finding “success” after miscarriages, the healing and beauty in my life really is from the Lord and not from my rainbow babies.)
This could be one of the most read and shared articles you’ve written! So well said. Babies and toddlers are so wonderful and also so consuming! Teenagers are too in a whole different way. Motherhood continues to refine me!
Gosh, Haley! I’m old enough to be your mother, but I sure could have used this blogpost when I had my first baby almost 33 years ago. Everything you wrote was gold! I’m going to print it out to give to my hopefully future daughter-in-law, please, God – giving you full credit of course. Thank you so much for writing this.
Amanda Weddington says
It was like adjusting from having been a painter who worked exclusively with oil based paint to learning to paint only with watercolor. You have so much control over the oil based paint: it goes exactly where you tell it to. With watercolor you are still basically in control but the paint has its own opinion and therefore you have more “happy accidents.” Personally, I like watercolor paintings better.
I couldn’t agree more! The first year of motherhood is just so ridiculously difficult. I went from being a successful, to-do list accomplishing professional, to totally incompetent with the arrival of my first little one. A few things the first year of motherhood showed me:
– I wasn’t as great as I thought I was. That didn’t end in the first year though. My children copying my words and actions continue to reveal flaws I didn’t realize I had;
– The cadence of the Rosary can soothe mama and baby alike and Our Lady is a wonderful companion in our hours of loneliness and despair;
– Sanctification through vocation;
– I can’t do it all and I certainly can’t live up to ideals I put on myself;
– I needed community; and, most importantly,
– It gets better. I learned from my failures and successes, I became calmer and began to trust my instincts instead of my expectations, and around 18 months my first born stopped nursing through the night.
When we attend first birthday parties, I like the take the mother a bouquet of flowers because that little congratulatory acknowledgment is so necessary after a really hard year. So with that, congratulations mama; you’ve earned it!
Haley, a really important and beautiful post. My oldest is 47, my granddaughter just turned 21 so those days are long past for me. It can be much more painful and gratifying to parent adults, and the best thing in the whole world is seeing your children become exceptional parents themselves.
I am struck by the acceptance and freedom that you are giving new moms to do what fills them. The hardest challenge I faced when mine were little was the controversy between stay at home moms and working mothers. I experienced both situations. It was so very harsh and judgmental, a conflict factory. We must become champions of each other, and know that whether we thrive on staying home or thrive on working outside the home, the best gift we can give our children is a happy mom. I am so very happy that times are changing.
Rachel Rendall says
Holding my 2 mo old daughter and have years reading this. Thank you! After our first girl, who was a, um, very challenging, blessing, we were really looking forward to an easy baby…which everyone says happens on #2. And it’s just the same, but with louder crying, and ending ball bouncing instead of rocking and she also hates the swing and refuses to keep her head tucked in any baby wraps. It is just so hard some days. So hard. The effort to try to get her to nap, only to have her awaken 5 minutes later. Every single car ride, in which she screams bloody murder and is sweating with pools of tears. So hard. From experience, I know it gets better. My challenging first daughter is now a ball of glorious, amazingly fun, inquisitive, and musical toddlerhood. This too shall pass.
Thank you for this reminder that I’m not alone 🙂
Rachel Rendall says
This is wonderful. Something I completely relate to. Especially this: “And the transition from self-absorption to self-giving hurt.” I would never have imagined I was self absorbed, and I certainly don’t suggest people without children are– but I was and didn’t know it! Everywhere I went, everything I did– my focus was me- was I comfortable, was I looking nice–even good things to do with my job. Etc– was I doing a great job? I was a teacher and thought I gave a lot but now I see. I also love how you talked about the expectation for rewards! I realize how my world being built around academia and performance has made transitioning to motherhood hard! I’m used to doing things that begin and end– whew, finally finished that 20 page paper–and getting honored and rewarded. And with school and later teaching, I always got dressed and felt professional and left my messy house for a while. Now I stay home most of the time, in my messy house, in my old clothes or pjs and do a job that never culminates in a due date or a test or an A or a summer break or a recital! But I’m learning to start seeing life differently– not as a continuous cycle of tasks followed by accolades- but as an accumulation of meaningful moments, some hard, some better than others, some beautiful, all part of what God has for me, and of course, I’d never go back. The first year was tough for me to say the least and I still have some very hard times (with only one!) but I am thankful, and thanks so much for posts like these that let moms know we aren’t crazy or alone!
Katherine - halfkindled says
Thank you so much for mentioning post partum depression in your post! So often it is glossed over or ignored in these type of discussions and women who are struggling with a very real problem just assume their experiences are normal. I didn’t realize I was suffering from moderate- severe post partum depression until I sought treatment for a completely separate issue.
To any women who have any suspicion that they may be suffering from this, please get help! You don’t have to carry this cross alone!
One more thing! I think a lot of us are a little insecure as moms, especially in a world where everyone has an opinion and it feels like so much is at stake with every decision! (We are dealing with the well being of a little person in our care!) I for one have probably spent too much time researching, worrying, etc, but with school and careers and such, those rewards of grades and promotions kind of feel like little markers to let us know we are doing ok, but with being a mother I can get very wrapped up in worry over whether or not I’m doing things RIGHT and overwhelmed with anxiety–esp as a new mom. Which is another reason things get so hard for some people and another reason it’s good to help and encourage other moms.
Becky Hensler says
You are perfect, and so are your words. The world needs to hear this, and even though I now have 5 kids, maybe I needed it too. Thank you.
This is quite possibly the best blog post I have ever read. Seriously. Thank you for speaking to my heart. You have such a talent. God Bless you!!!!!
“And I think if we’ve experienced success in other areas of our lives it makes the transition harder, not easier.
We’re not used to struggling. And we’re certainly not used to the thanklessness of it all. Succeed in school? Get an awesome grade and praise from professors. Succeed at work? Get fantastic performance reviews and feedback from your boss or clients. But there’s no awards for surviving one more day of motherhood. So here we are, formerly successful ladies, drowning for the first time in our lives and there’s no award at the end of the day.”
This. So much truth here…
Nell @ Whole Parenting Family says
Such a wonderful post. Thank you for sharing it with all of us!! Resonates even three kids in!
Thank you for writing this. So beautiful. :’) Couldn’t get through it without crying. My son was born with a genetic disorder that caused him a lot of pain before he could have surgery right around his 1st birthday and these words describe perfectly how full of disappointment I was in myself for not always having my shit together when it came to being a mom and all the duties that come with it~ being fueled entirely by love and no sleep was a hard place to be for me. Thank you for sharing. Xo
Thank you so much for these words. I feel this drowning, but I also felt like your friend who rocked the new baby thing! Being mom to a newborn came so easy to me, the first year was practically a breeze, it’s the toddler and preschooler stuff that’s showing me what a mess I really am and bringing out the anger that I wish wasn’t there. One day at a time though, thanks for this post!
This reminds me a lot of your talk from Edel last year, which I think of frequently! Motherhood as a vocation means it is the path to prepare us for heaven–which means burning out our sin and refining us to be who we are meant to be. It’s an earthly Purgatory: suffering which is beautiful and has a purpose (if we are open to it!), but suffering nonetheless. And it’s an example of how suffering for love’s sake (because what else could make us endure this, but knowing its for the benefit of our children?) can be joyful despite the pain.
It’s so hard. It’s so worth it.
I’m reading this while nursing my third (thank goodness for Kindles and multi-tasking mother super powers!). This pregnancy was by far the most gruelling, and though she’s only seven weeks old, I’m already considering the possibility of a fourth–why do we do that to ourselves?! But, of course, you’ve already said the answer so well. Motherhood is a breaking and ruining experience, but I think it must be God’s favorite way to show us His love, through brokenness.
This article was just what I needed to hear! It had me teary the whole way through! I totally identified with the part of things coming easily to you until you became a mom. And I’m a perfectionist to boot, so imagine the control freak in me that came out when something that had my name (genes) stamped all over it didn’t act the way I had taught him over and over to!! I’ve got three boys and my youngest just turned one. That third one came with a nice slice of humble pie. Every ounce of with-it-ness I was desperately holding on to that used to just radiate from me has been completely lost! Honestly, this year on Mother’s Day I lost it reading everyone’s Ode to My Mom on Facebook. I became a sobbing mess, feeling like I truly did not deserve a day hailing me because I am so far away from who I thought I would be as a mom. It was a low moment for me for sure. I know I need to give myself a break, and really lighten up on my boys. I love them with my whole heart. I just figure every time I feel like I’ve messed up I should just add a quarter to a jar. That way it can pay for their counseling one day!
Hey there, as part of treating yourself as you mentioned in your article, I would say eat well. Consistent nutritious meat, veggies and fruit have pulled me out of some gloomy times. Funny how sugary snacks and skipping meals led to an overwhelmed me. Also, some time outside does me wonders as well. Thanks for the article.
In many ways, the most difficult part of parenthood so far was the road TO parenthood. Your words ring true about how intuition, lack of struggle, and general with-it-ness seemed to result in easy achievement; and what a confusing and broken time it is when that paradigm no longer holds. For me, it was conception . . . being so used to making the A’s, succeeding at projects, having good ideas, pulling things off . . . then realizing I couldn’t even rely on my own body to do what it seemed it “naturally” ought to do. What a sense of control I was used to, and how humbling it was to learn patience (not to mention learning about fertility . . . why did no one ever explain these things before?? who thought this was overlook-able??). So perhaps I went through much of this refining fire before my first baby was even born. Motherhood fits well– but I’m sure I arrived here a different person than I would have been had conception been quick, easy, or surprising. That journey was a trial of humility and patience I had no idea I needed, and for which I felt unprepared and ill-suited. In hindsight I understand it as a very real part of becoming a parent, just as much as the pregnancy or the presence of the little one.
Justine Rauch says
This is an awesome post. It’s such a struggle not to compare my free schedule, cute (unstained) outfits, and work successes before motherhood to the very different life of a SAHM. I have a 9 month old and another on the way. so I’ll most likely be referring back to this especially when the new little one comes. Thank you for sharing!
It’s nice to know I’m not the only one in this boat. My biggest struggle in college was deciding which classes I wanted to take the most. I also applied to exactly one grad program (top program in the country, baby!) and got in. Of course. I lived my life with that self-assured “Pft. I can do whatever I want with myself” attitude. Enter marriage and housekeeping; parenthood; and endless feelings of frustration, incompetence, and guilt. I hate being bad at stuff, and I constantly struggle with the unstructured vagueness of home life. And I’m really bad at being a mom and housewife, which is sad; it’s what I am to do for the rest of my life. So, reading this has really struck a chord. Thank you for talking about it.
One thing which helps me stay on target—’cause I could always use the moral support—is a quotation from Blessed Mother Teresa: “Don’t look for big things, just do small things with great love…the smaller the thing, the greater must be our love.”
I needed to read this today, after waking my husband in the wee hours in tears because I just couldn’t get my 6-month-old (my first) to eat, and I hurt, and she was so chipper for 4am. I too found school so easy and thought I would be a great mother, only to find this is so incredibly exhausting and difficult (though also beautiful and amazing, even sometimes at the same time).
Amen!!! I hope the young mom who wrote you the email at the beginning of this post reads ALL the comments. She is not alone. I would have written the exact same words myself if I was as articulate as Haley. But she spoke for me and for many moms I know. I am 15years into parenting with 6 kids and I still can look back and wonder where the woman I was before motherhood went. The old me was obliterated by motherhood, and I can’t say I never miss the old me. But I am a NEW creation, and I would not want to give up one painful moment of this refining fire called motherhood. Not one. Accept the obliteration and start living the new reality. Like Haley said, it doesn’t have to look the way you thought it would. Blessings to you!
Beautiful post, Haley. I am in my first year as a mom to my sweet 8 month old daughter and it all resonates so much. As much as I found I was like a duck to water, I definitely agree with the idea of “drowning.” I always describe it as being in constant survival mode. Just barely getting done what needs to be done to survive another day. I’ve found that motherhood has especially challenged me as a wife more than ever, which has been so challenging but very rewarding. I also hadn’t really thought about the idea that I will never be a first-time mom again, which is SO reassuring. Thank you.
This is one of the most amazing pieces I’ve ever read on motherhood. I have 3, one planned (pregnant after infertility and IVF), and 2 surprises that weren’t supposed to be possible. And drowning, brutal, unforgiving, struggling, breaking me….it is such a relief to have words, and to know that I’m not alone. Thank you so much for sharing!!
Andrea S says
Thank you for writing this and empathizing with us new moms. My first child is 5 months old right now and I just keep holding onto the hope that “it will get easier” and “this stage doesn’t last forever”. As cute as she is, I have a hard time feeling like “it is all worth it”. I don’t FEEL like that right now and hope that I will someday. I long to have a more positive attitude towards Motherhood, but this is one of the hardest years of my life.
I’m struggling with the desire to express Motherhood in a positive light so that people will be more open to life in a culture where Motherhood and children are seen as undesirable a lot of the time. I want to be positive in my interactions with others and careful about what struggles I share with “the average Joe”. At the same time, I want to warn new moms about how hard the transition and change can be so that they have realistic expectations. I am trying to find a balance with both these things in mind.
I love my daughter, and I know that I’ll feel that its worth all the sacrifice and suffering someday…Do you remember when you started feeling that it was “worth it”? Like I said, I’m longing to tangibly feel that deep love, but its hard when all I feel is the desire for space from a clingy fussy 5 month old.
I needed this today. Raising two boys (4 and 2) and a baby girl (6mo.) and today I am broken. A refining fire, what a wonderful way to think of it. Thanks, Haley!
I identify with you so much. I was a gymnast and a black belt in karate. I too only got one B+ in high school (an 89% that haunted me for years. Lol). I also got a full scholarship to college and a job right even before I graduated. I got my MA at 22 while I was teaching high school Literature classes full time. I am currently pregnant with my 2nd baby due in March and this pregnancy is a lot harder than my first. Bad morning sickness, gestational diabetes, horrible sciatica which has meant I can’t sleep more than 2-3 hours a night all while teaching full time. I feel terrible guilt for not being able to do much with my son when I get home because I’m so worn out. And guilt that my husband essentially has to take care of me right now because I can’t even carry a load of laundry up the stairs since my back hurts so bad. And I know that when baby is born the sleep situation may not improve for a while. After all my first didn’t sleep thru the night till he was a year old (he’s 19 months now). But I also know from being a mom that what you say is so true about that “refining love.” I struggle with being selfish and prideful and being a mom has both revealed that and humbled me on so many occasions. I learn more about God’s love for me being a mom than I ever did before. So with this suffering that comes with motherhood I know comes rich blessings and joy. Thanks for this post.
This is so good and made me cry. I am nearly 8 years into motherhood though and still feeling broken. Every day I pour myself dry and it’s never close to good enough. I haven’t had a job for 7 years because my son has some additional needs and I feel redundant to the world but needed by my family in a way I can’t describe. I love my children fiercely but I hate this world and the utter nonsense it values. You helped me feel a bit less broken today, thank you.