Everywhere we go, we’re given messages of what mothers should do or ought to do to prove her love for her kids. We’re covertly told that a mother’s love is based on her works, that every decision she makes is a statement about how much she cares for her child. Natural birth or medicated. Breastmilk or formula. Working or staying at home. Vaccines or none. Public or homeschool. Positive parenting or spanking. Crafts or TV. Processed or organic.
I am guilty of believing the lie, of putting certain things up on a pedestal. I wouldn’t dare claim that any of these things make or break a mother’s love, but I like to cling to my “camps”, the moms who are doing it just like me. Sometimes I fool myself into thinking that I’m “doing it right” and I need to do the world a favor by showing them what’s best.
But the Lord is in the business of kicking legalism to a curb. He finds ways to remind me that I have nothing and can do nothing to earn the approval I so desperately crave. He’s humbling me as I allow him to guide me closer to his heart for motherhood. And I realize now that his motto is not “breast is best” and his priority is not to put every mother into the home. I notice that he doesn’t favor the moms who only feeds her kids organic and he doesn’t punish the ones who send their kids off to public school. I see that he equips parents to love on their kids in unique, individualized ways and that he is found in many different kinds of parenting and discipline.
I know now that the biggest favor I can do for any mom isn’t to go on and on about why they should choose a certain style of mothering or why they should follow my example. The biggest favor I can do for any mom is to point them to Jesus. Why?
Because that “love” we’re putting all our hope and boasting in? The love that’s merely a collection of our good deeds based on our society’s ever-changing standards? The love that’s equated with what we put in our babies’ mouths, how many shots they’ve had, and who’s watching them? Well, it can’t hold a candle to the love of Jesus, the love that led him to the Cross. The love that defeated death for the undeserving. The love that throws shame to the curb. The love that promises fullness of life, both now and for eternity.
The love that he wants to shower you with so you can stop the useless striving and comparing and live in freedom instead. The love he wants to use through you to bring his kingdom near.
You want to leave a legacy? To love your kids in such a way that it stands out, transforms your family from the inside out, and doesn’t leave you exhausted or empty in the process?
Then love your kids as a mom changed and led by the Gospel.
Love your kids as a mom who’s freed from the pressure to attain perfection, who allows herself and others to be the messy, amazing people they were made to be.
Love your kids not as a mom who’s enslaved to her circumstances or emotions, but as one who’s dancing in the grace freely offered from heaven and rejoicing in her redemption.
Love your kids as a mom whose eyes are fixed upward on the Giver of all good gifts and whose hands are raised in praise to the only One worthy of glory.
Love your kids as a mom who’s not moved by the pressures of this world or seeking to outdo the moms next to her, but is rather chasing after God’s best for herself and her family.
Your heart’s attitude and the perspective with which you view motherhood changes when you realize that you need Jesus and his die-to-self, unrelenting love just as much as the next mom. When you embrace this sort of love, you no longer care about how you compare to the moms next to you or who’s “doing it right” and who’s not. You’ll be too busy living out your calling of motherhood with the One who called you to it.
Can you imagine it?
Every day I am amazed at how much the Lord has left to teach me about love. As long as I’m trying to prove my love for my baby through every little thing I do, I know I still haven’t gotten it quite right. As long as I’m secretly comparing and competing, I know I still haven’t the faintest idea of what love is really all about. I mean, forget trying to learn how he wants me to love my kids! I still haven’t figured out how to be loved myself! But I want to.
Because one of the best and most freeing parts of his love is that it doesn’t depend on my perfection. It solely rests on his.
And if I can get this and embrace this with what little time I have on this earth, what can stop me from raising a family of planet-shakers? If the Lord is for me and I actually believe it, who can be against me? Is there anything quite so powerful as a mother on a mission, equipped with the truth that the world so desperately needs?
I’m daring to find out.
Motherhood is a lonely thing.
It doesn’t matter how many times your family and friends promise to be there whenever you need a break or are reaching your wit’s end. When you are a new mom, you still end up feeling like you have no one to lean on, no one who truly understands.
When the baby isn’t going down for their nap and is crying from gas or when you’re nursing in the middle of the night for what feels like the twentieth time, there isn’t a loved one whispering “you’ve got this, mama” in your ear or an unread text from a girlfriend reminding you that this season will pass. There is no kind nanny just waiting to be tagged in or a therapist in your living room who is always available for a good vent. If you’re lucky, you have a friend or two who are also navigating the early months of motherhood. But even being surrounded by other new moms is no guarantee that you’ll find the immediate solace you need. Somehow you end up feeling utterly alone despite everyone’s supposed promises that you are aren’t.
If you’re in the early days of motherhood and are handling it anything like me, you try to keep busy. You involve yourself in church and Bible studies. You invite anyone and everyone to get coffee with you. You visit family. You spend a lot of time on social media and Netflix. You walk around the mall and try not to spend all of your money. You become a regular at the park, pushing that stroller around the track until you can’t feel your wrists anymore.
But maybe, like me, you have found that this “keeping busy” thing just isn’t enough. It can get you through a few days or even a few weeks, but the loneliness and purposelessness always return. Being a stay-at-home mom of a baby who can’t walk, can’t talk, basically can’t do diddly-squat besides shake a few toys and play peek-a-boo is rough, no matter how hard you try to sugarcoat it with a full schedule or how many friends you have.
The truth is that the loneliness of motherhood is not merely a matter of not being surrounded by enough people. No, it is lonely by design.
Only you are this baby’s mother. You offer them the special comfort that they can’t find anywhere else. You pay attention to the details of your baby’s development like nobody else. You alone know how to discern their different cries and the exact way they like to be rocked or held. You’re the only one who cares if they miss a nap or get hungry sooner than expected. You clock in the most hours with your little one and hardly ever get to clock out.
With this kind of around-the-clock care you are giving, it is no wonder that you start to feel a little neglected and taken for granted. That sleeping angel you just spent an hour nursing and coaxing to bed can’t express their gratitude. Your husband can only listen to your troubles and tend to your needs for so long before they have to get to work or get some sleep. Your friends don’t know that it hurts to wait for that text or invite that never comes. And those people giving you unwanted advice don’t understand that they are doing the opposite of helping.
Side note: this week I fell apart and cried in front of my five-month-old and she laughed. SHE LAUGHED. If that doesn’t make you feel taken for granted, then I don’t know what would.
If you’re a new mom and are tired of how lonely you’ve been feeling, maybe even embarrassed for not quite thriving as that mom you were so excited to become, I just want you to know that I do understand. I’ve been there and am still there. I don’t have any real solutions and I don’t think there are any. I think that when we became mothers, we unknowingly signed up for one of the loneliest of jobs. That’s just the nature of motherhood.
The one thing I want to say to encourage you, the thing that I wish someone would say to me, is that being lonely is okay. It doesn’t mean you’ve failed. It doesn’t mean you have to try harder (although you most certainly can try).
If you’re lonely, you’re doing something right. You’re allowing yourself to give fully and freely to that precious baby, even while knowing there is a cost. You’re learning how to bear hard times for the sake of your family, one of many sacrifices you’ll make for the rest of your life. You’re walking through the valley that can refine you and point you to the Most High Comforter.
One day your little one will be able to thank you for all you do. You’ll get more time to do things for yourself. Your day will consist of more conversations than coos and cries. But in the meantime, my lonely friends, I am right here with you. You are loved and not forgotten.
You’ve got this, mama.
I’ve been asked numerous times what has been the most difficult or challenging thing about being a new mother and my answer is always the same: Nothing in my life has ever required so much selflessness.
I feel as though I am continually being refined, having the selfish, lazy parts of me brought to the surface so they can finally be dealt with and put to death. This sanctification process is so wonderful, but it does not occur without pain. Worse than labor and birth pains, it’s a cold slap to the face day after day as you realize you are nothing, have nothing, and can do nothing — NOTHING — without the grace of God.
And I’m only five months in.
Although I am helplessly wrapped around this little baby’s finger, I still find that I get wrapped up in my own life and resort back to my old ways. I try to figure out how to fit Tessa into the mold of what my life once was and I fight the process of necessary growth and change.
Being a mother is challenging because it all comes down to letting go of control. In order to be the mother that God designed me to be, I have to surrender. I have to give up and give in. Let him take over. Let grace carry me through the day.
She’s not the one who needs to change; I am.
She’s not the one who needs to change when she wakes up from her nap as I attempt to lay her down in her crib. I am the one who is in a hurry, wanting to “put her away” so I can keep my routine and resume my life. I forget to give her time to soak in her mama, basking in warm arms.
She’s not the one who needs to change when she’s waking up every other hour throughout the night because she’s a hungry, growing girl or has a little gas to let out. I am. I am the one who needs to remember that this season of constant night feedings won’t last forever. There will come a day when she will sleep soundly in her crib by herself instead of share a warm space with me in bed, and I will yearn for co-sleeping again.
She’s not the one who needs to change when she’s crying the whole ride home because I knew she was hungry but told myself she could wait ten minutes. I am. I am expecting her to be rational and understand that milk will fill her belly soon if she would only wait.
She’s not the one who needs to change when she’s squirming at the breast and not enjoying her feeding because of gas or teething. I am. I am the one who is embarrassed in public by her fussiness, wanting to make breastfeeding look like a beautiful, peaceful moment instead of the tricky game it sometimes is.
Looking back, I realize that my best days with Tessa have been the days when I let go of my agenda and just embraced each moment as it came. On those days, I was willing to hold her longer, able to comfort her better, and found myself loving motherhood even more.
But days like that do not come easily, especially when you have a lot going on besides the baby and you’re still battling that “me, me, me” mentality from the days before you were called mama. It’s even harder when you’re in the early days of motherhood and you WISH you could have more going on besides the baby, but she’s practically dominating every minute of every hour.
So if you’re like me and are struggling to remember that it is YOU who needs to seek a better way and change rather than expect your little one to do the changing, here are some things that have helped and are still helping me to this day. Through A LOT of trial and error, I’ve found some new ways to do things that make both of our lives a little better and keep that mother-baby connection strong.
Ask the Lord each day to increase your love for your baby and show you something new through your baby each day.
Every morning as I nurse and rock Tessa back to sleep for her morning nap, I take some time to pray over my day. I used to put her down first and THEN go downstairs to pray, but sometimes she’d wake up sooner than expected and my prayer time would be interrupted. This led to a lot of frustration, but this is yet another example of how it is up to ME to do the changing, not her. So now I don’t wait until I can get away to pray; I make it part of our time together.
One of the first things I pray for is an increased love for my daughter. A mother’s love is naturally strong, but even a strong bond like that can be made stronger. I remember telling my husband when she was about a month old that I’m not sure if I would be willing to die for her. I liked to think I would, but I just wasn’t sure if I was there yet because being a mom was so new and so were my feelings for her. In fact, about a month later there was a day when I thought our house was being broken into and instead of grabbing the baby to bring her upstairs with me, I headed to the stairs without her and had to turn back around to get her!
Not every mother has a delay in these sort of instincts, but I certainly did and probably still do in some regard, so when I pray, I ask God to increase the measure of love I have for her in my heart. I think about 1 Corinthians 13 and say, “Lord, I want to be more patient and kind towards my baby. I don’t want to be self-seeking or easily angered. Give me the kind of love that always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres.” I also ask God to show me something new through her each day, whether that means I discover a new exciting ability she has, something about my attitude towards her that needs a correction, or something about the Lord himself and his great love for us. Even though most days are not smooth sailing as a result of these prayers, I have felt a difference in my heart over time. Praying these prayers aligns my heart with God’s and helps me be open to any challenges or growth I may face as I care for Tessa that day.
When something just isn’t working for you or your baby, be creative in finding a solution and get excited when you do find one.
Motherhood requires an immense amount of creativity. I realize that now as I have faced many dilemmas that I have needed to think and talk through. One of my new favorite things to do when I am feeling overwhelmed and am beginning to lash out at either my child or husband is make a list of stressors or problems I have faced in the past week and then come up with a few solutions to them, no matter how crazy those solutions may seem. Sometimes the solutions I come up with are not really things I WANT to do, but I realize would help me A TON if I would just be willing to compromise and try it out. And other times some of my solutions end up being some of my best decisions! A perfect example of this is my decision to bed-share with Tessa.
Right after Tessa came home from the hospital, we hardly slept (no surprise there). After a late night feeding, I would attempt to put her down in the bassinet, but she would instantly wake up. This was fine for the first two weeks, but the sleepless nights eventually wore on me to the point of screaming — yes, SCREAMING — at my sweet, innocent newborn. It didn’t help that my husband had to go back to work on the night shift. I was seriously losing my mind. Finally I threw up my hands, said “screw the AAP standards!”, pulled that baby into the bed with me, and nursed her to sleep as we laid side by side. For the first time, we slept through the night (with quick, quiet feedings every few hours), and we have slept soundly ever since. Being willing to change my position on bed sharing was a game changer for me, and I still believe to this day that it saved my relationship with my baby.
It is up to us to be willing to admit when something just isn’t working for you or the baby. I have had to make plenty of changes I haven’t wanted to make, such as delegating ALL of the cooking to my husband (five months in and I can still only count on one hand how many times I have made dinner), but in the end, it’s always turned out alright. We have to save our sanity and protect our relationship with our little one, even if the things we choose don’t make sense to others or it involves a compromise on our end.
Recreate a sacred moment for you and your baby.
When I feel as though I’ve been losing touch with my baby or getting annoyed at the fact that being a mom isn’t a 9-to-5 job, I find that what helps restore my joy in motherhood is recreating a sacred moment between her and I.
Usually this means I dim the lights, sit in the rocking chair or climb into bed with her, put the phone away, and offer to nurse. Even if she isn’t all that hungry, she usually accepts the milk for a time, allowing me to enjoy this special moment that only her and I get to share. I play with her hands and stroke her hair as I watch her nurse. Sometimes we even lock eyes and she’ll give me the sweetest smile if I talk to her during her meal. I like to tell her about how much I enjoy being her mom and getting to provide her with the comfort and milk she needs. I’m telling you, there is a renewal that takes place as I do this. Even if I feel like I failed as a mother that day because I was on Instagram too much or made her wait for a feeding until she cried or selfishly set her in front of the TV because I just wanted to be left alone, I feel my guilt being replaced with peace as I cherish the sweet gift of motherhood once again.
Being selfless and able to change really comes down to one simple thing — slow down every once in a while. The season you’re in will soon be over, for better or for worse. Nursing won’t always be painful or inconvenient and you’ll get a full night of sleep once again. Teething doesn’t last forever and there will come a day when you will change that baby’s diaper for the very last time. So slow down. The dishes can wait, half of your to-do list can be tossed to the side, and there’s nothing interesting on Facebook anyway. If you need an attitude change or change of heart, stop fighting it and let it come. Slow down long enough and it’ll catch up to you. That is the beauty of grace. Sitting at Jesus’ feet to receive all he has to offer.
Becoming a selfless, die-to-self mother does not happen overnight. It is a process that looks like battle, hurts like hell, but is rewarded with the most honorable medal at the end. Knowing this, I suppose I’d have to say that the most difficult part of being a mother is also one of the best ones, too. It’s bittersweet and so worth it. The Lord entrusted this baby girl to me and I know that “he who began a good work in [me] will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6). So be it. Amen.
Clarkston, Georgia is the epitome of diversity. If you ask me, it’s comparable to being at the airport, the Olympics, or a United Nations meeting. There are people from literally all across the globe. But the thing about Clarkston is that here you find people of all ages from all different countries living in the same CITY. In the same apartment complex, even. When I step outside of my apartment, I can run into a Nepali man in a colorful wrap skirt, an Iraqi woman wearing her burqa, a Somalian family piling into a worn-down sedan, and a swarm of barefoot Eritrean kids within just a few yards. This is Clarkston life.
Clarkston is this way because it was chosen a while ago to be the relocation center for millions of refugees coming into America. These refugees come from lives of chaos, danger, persecution, and rough conditions in countries such as Iraq, Iran, Bhutan, Nepal, Burma, Thailand, Afghanistan, Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Uganda. And they’re squeezed together into this one square mile south of Atlanta.
A lot of the refugees here aren’t fluent in English or even know the alphabet. They struggle to find jobs and pay rent. Homesickness is the least of their worries. They come here with nothing and are expected to thrive when the most they can do under this pressure and in their situation is simply SURVIVE.
I’m spending my summer in Clarkston (for the second time) because 1) these refugees need love, and 2) these refugees need Jesus. I’m working with an organization that strives to provide those two things in the form of ESL classes, summer camps for kids, gardening, prayer, and day-to-day conversations.
But not until today did it occur to me that they have something to offer me, as well.
This morning, my roommate Hannah and I stumbled across a scene we had never seen: an Iraqi woman with her young daughter, an Eritrean woman with her special needs son, and a Nepali woman with her infant… sitting on the same bench and conversing. We approached the three women and joined in on their conversation to the best of our ability. Do you know what they were talking about? How much our apartment complex stinks. They’re unhappy with the complex manager and how they’re treated. With kids in lap, through broken English and thick accents, they were engaging in a dialogue about these irritating and discouraging experiences.
And there was something beautiful about the way these three very different women were taking turns shaking their heads in disbelief, nodding in agreement, and sharing these burdens. Never mind the fact they come from various war-torn countries and different faiths and backgrounds. They just wanted to sit together and bond as next-door neighbors, as mothers.
In that moment I felt like I knew nothing.
I’m a not-even-twenty-year-old who has much to learn about independence, financial burdens, marriage, and raising a family. If I were to sit with two women of my choosing, it’d be women my own age who have no children, no real responsibility. Our greatest burdens would be choosing a major or dealing with our protective parents. And I don’t say that to talk down those burdens. I say that to show how much I have left to experience and learn.
Who am I to think that I’m here in Clarkston to solely teach and to change lives? No. I’m also here to have MY life changed by these refugees.
I don’t want to let my pride prevent real friendships from forming while I’m in Clarkston.
I want what those three women had: common ground forged in even the mundane trials of life.
I want to knock on that Iraqi woman’s door and ask her to show me the way of motherhood. How do you raise three children? How do you carve time for your marriage? When you’re a stay-at-home mom, do you struggle to find purpose?
I want to sit down with that Eritrean mom and hear her experience of having a special needs son. Were you scared? Are you still? How does it change you?
And then I want to spend time with the Nepali woman and her infant son and see how a love for a newborn grows from the start. What was it like when you first took him home from the hospital? What are your dreams for his life?
And then I’d ask them all about living. Not just living as a refugee, but day-to-day living. Is it hard to pray and pursue God in the busyness of life? Do you have unrealized dreams and how do you cope with that? How do you get stains out of clothing?
I know nothing. And these women know something. Instead of trying to teach, I think it’s time to learn.
And while doing that, perhaps I’ll be opening up doors for giving them the two things I still want to offer: love and Jesus.
I’ll keep you updated on how this goes. I’m nervous, but excited. Maybe I’m on the right track here.