When I pictured being a mom, I figured I would have a more secure sense of what I was doing and who I was before I became a mother. I thought I would be a very intentional mother who never questioned her decisions because they were well thought out, and someone who always knew exactly what to do because I am a follower of Christ after all – the Holy Spirit should give me the cheat code to this journey. I became a mother at the age of thirty and although that was considered late in my culture, it still did not feel like I had enough information about this journey. Almost seven years into my mothering, and I am still expecting someone to show up and tell me that there was a mistake and they cannot allow me to raise my children because I do not have enough knowledge to raise these boys into men.
When I pictured becoming a mother, I figured my husband and I would do the work hand in hand – evenly sharing the responsibilities. I did not imagine him being gone for 15 to 20 hours daily or being consumed with responsibilities that are necessary to prosper our household. I did not imagine being trusted to raise our children by my best efforts and judgment and making decisions that affect both their present and their future largely by myself.
As a new wife and mother I was racked with self-doubt and insecurity whenever other wives and mothers bragged about their hands on partners who seem to be killing the fatherhood game. My husband was mostly gone because his workload and career were unforgiving to our plans as newlyweds and parents. When he was here, he needed an optimum amount of rest to tackle the next 12 to 36 hour shift he would take on. I was not prepared to take on motherhood as a happily married woman who needed to operate like a single mom out of necessity.
For months I was too ashamed to ask for help from my community because inevitably they would ask why I needed so much help if I was happily married and my husband and I lived together. Staying silent denied me of the opportunity to connect with mothers who were in similar situations as mine – military wives, wives in -long-distance marriages, and those whose husbands worked upwards of 20 hours per day like mine. When I got passed the shame of feeling alone in my parenthood, I discovered that there was nothing to be ashamed of. I also discovered the provision of God to send me help and support outside of just my spouse. I thank God for a husband who is emotionally and spiritually vested in our family even when his schedule does not allow him to be as physically present as we both would prefer.
Now, on the other side of mothering a newborn and a toddler around the clock, I can see the hand of God more clearly in my mothering. The Lord provided me with a solid community of sisters who empathized with my situation because their marriages were similarly situated to mine. I also met women and wives who were eager to support me in my journey into health and wholeness as my children were growing.
Being married with children was a dream I have had for decades. The journey has unfolded for me in ways that I did not anticipate. Initially, I wanted the idealized image of motherhood in my head – beautiful nurseries, a doting spouse, picture-perfect milestone photos each month and etc. When my journey unfolded into multiple days and nights alone with a newborn, waking up by myself every night for three years because my children did not sleep through the night (and their dad worked third shift), and being shamed for breastfeeding in public – it was hard to reconcile my idea of motherhood with the reality of our day to day life.
Every effort to live up to my own expectations of parenthood, and those thrusted on me by my community (“clean your house, make the meals, let your husband rest, be sexually available at all times, breastfeed your baby but only for a few months, cover up when you do so”) made me feel like I was drowning. One word changed my life and gave me more peace than I had experienced since my first pregnancy test – grace.
God has graced me for my portion, my motherhood, and my two children – and I needed to show myself a full measure of grace. After that revelation, I learned to let the house be unkempt so I could nap. I gave myself permission to serve Chick-Fil-A as a nutritious lunch five to six times per week. PBS Kids became a regular part of our preschool-at-home curriculum. I would call a friend and ask them to watch the children so I could shower or nap. Once I stopped trying to be every woman and realized that it was not all in me, the crushing weight of perfection that I had carried on my shoulders immediately lifted.
My children will not be scarred for life because they ate noodles regularly, or watched TV for multiple hours in a day. The measure of my motherhood is how loved my boys feel and how safe they know themselves to be. If these soon-to-be-men of mine recognize that they are accepted, loved, and safe – then my job is mostly done. If I can steward their heart in such a way that they fall in love with Jesus for themselves, my life’s work is complete. I am no longer holding myself (or my husband for that matter) to impossible standards of what parenting should look like. I am no longer subscribing even to Christian parenting standards that tout socio-economical preferences and privileges as if they are Gospel-truth.
I am done shaming myself and lamenting my portion as wife and mother who works outside of the home because all the ideal pictures of Christian mothering feature a wife who stays at home and homeschools her children. As much as I adore my sisters who do the grueling work of full-time keeping of the home and raising their children, including homeschooling – the false dichotomy between working moms and stay at home moms made me internalize quite a bit of shame for not homeschooling and not staying at home full-time. To quote one of my friends, “all moms are working moms.”
My mothering does not have to fit into one category, or look like anyone else’s – especially when my entire journey as a woman and a believer has transcended all the neat little packages I have tried so hard to portion myself into. Even as a believer, a married woman, a mom of boys, and a working adult (categories inhabited by millions of women worldwide), I am finally at peace with my unconventional circumstances because they are giving birth to a glorious finished product – joyful lives submitted to Christ and stewarded to the glory of God.
The lesson I have imbibed for the last eight years is one I want to pass on to you because it saved my life – yours does not have to look like theirs to be approved by God. Whether in your motherhood, ministry, marriage, relationships, or calling – you have permission to be unconventional. Glorify God in your own Bible-approved, unusual, uncustomary, non-conforming, and distinctive circumstances.