Family Life, motherhood, Parenting

The secret whatever of motherhood

May 9, 2018

First, the good. This has little to do with her birth order and more to do with her temperament, I suspect, but Zelie is an angelic baby. I know this because I have had 4 other babies of varying levels of good behavior (number 2 in particular being a real doozie) and this newest human is an exceptionally calm and delightful varietal.

I love all my kids, but boy do I like this one a lot. She sleeps great, smiles often, and functions as a baby ambassador of goodwill wherever she goes.

If I had given birth to my number 2 child in the number 5 position, I think I’d be sending out a different sort of report right now. But as it stands, delightful Zelie has actually made life more pleasant and in many ways, easier.

Isn’t that strange? That having 5 kids could be easier than having 4? Economy of grace, y’all. His ways are not our ways. All I know is that when Luke (also a very good baby by all accounts) was the age that Z is now, I was one perpetually breastfeeding stressed out and sleep deprived mama. Zelie drinks bottles, sleeps through the night (lowers voice) for going on 6 days now, and lights up with a 1000 kilowatt smile if anyone so much as glances in her direction.

Because I don’t have post-partum depression this time around (thank you Jesus) and because I’m not nursing her at this point (worrisome weight gain on her part and a thyroid issue on mine which inhibits milk production…BUT WHY AM I JUSTIFYING MYSELF TO THE INTERNET? Oh yes, because breastfeeding is often mistaken for a moral issue by the court of public opinion) I’m feeling emotionally stellar. Waking up happy and glad to see the baby. Getting some quality time in at the gym – the pool, specifically – and having almost none of that “I’ve lost myself in motherhood” ennui that so often marks this fragile period after welcoming new life. I don’t feel like I’ve lost myself at all, in fact. I feel like I’ve found myself, if anything. That I’ve finally nailed down some best practices for how I mother and not how the internet/my mom/a book/etc tells me I should mother (note: my actual mom is very supportive and non-judgemental about my mothering. #blessed).

What works is having baby in a separate room at night – until recently, in a bassinet thing on the floor of our walk in closet – and not sleeping thisclose to my head. What works for me is lots of physical affection and following baby’s sleep cues and offering food every 2 hours or whenever she is acting hungry, and not following any kind of a feeding schedule whatsoever (27 year old first time mom Jenny is open-mouthed in horror at the thought) and letting baby nap wherever/whenever she wants to. In a plane, on a train, in the car, at a…bar? Sure. Whatever gets the job done and gets those zzzz’s logged.

Case in point: she is currently napping placidly in the rock n’ play whilst Luke and Evie engage in a knock down drag out screaming match one room over. True to fifth-born form, she seems to prefer ambient noise (lol that’s what we’ll call it) during her daytime naps.

What works is accepting help when I need it, declining invitations when we can’t make it, and not feeling guilty about things like sometimes missing fun parties or about keeping everyone out way too late because we had a fun night with friends and everybody ran around like a fool eating gluten-full hot dog buns and drinking gatorade until 10 pm.

Whatever.

If I had to sum up my secret for being a mom to many it would probably be just that: whatever.

Whatever works for the actual family, skill set, and personality God gave you. And not only whatever works, but in whatever you do. Laundry, carpool, nursing a sick little one, serving dinner to a cranky elementary schooler, having a hard conversation with a young adult. Every level of motherhood is saturated with opportunities to glorify God in the “whatever” while also doing whatever works for your family.

For me, more food comes out of packages and boxes than it might at your house. I frequently leave the house for an hour or more in the evenings to work out or pray or sit in the car in the grocery store parking lot and stare out the window contemplating the darkness of night. I read too late into the evening and drink a little too much coffee most mornings, but I also have been training myself to stop-drop-and-roll into a horizontal position should all 3 homebound kids chance to sync up their nap times in the afternoon.

I try to keep my eyes on my own page and remind myself that comparison is the thief of joy. That while Satan probably can’t tempt me to abandon my family and run away to Mexico to a margarita farm he can easily nudge me into thinking that mom over there is doing a much better job with her kids/house/spiritual life/body/career and I should probably just give up because I’m failing at all of it.

I’m learning to lean into the harder moments and not escape into a glass of wine or a perma scroll when the going gets tough. I don’t want to numb out the hard stuff, but let that hard stuff build up my muscles for the harder stuff to come. I know big kids will equal bigger problems, and if I can’t referee toddler death matches over the backyard hose I will find myself ill prepared to have all the sex talks and car safety lectures and that await me just around the riverbend.

I’m trying to do more sitting down on the floor and tickling. Kissing my already resistant 7-year-old’s cheeks while he still permits me to. Saying “why not” when they want fudgesicles and rolled up lunch meat as a meal and pushing through praying a family decade of the rosary even when someone is screaming and someone else is curled up in a ball of self pity because the 6 minutes we’re asking of them is too much to handle.

I used to think that this was just survival mode and that things were going to calm down at some unidentified point down the road but then one morning this year I looked in the mirror (figuratively but also literally) and saw a 35-year-old mom with 5 kids who is really, really tired but also fairly happy most of the time, and figured I’d better get about the business of enjoying life in the here and now.

So we go to Mass as a family on Sundays even when it’s rough, we have margaritas on the patio on a Tuesday night because we can’t find a babysitter, and we stay up just a little too late reading most nights because introverts recharge alone together, and we’re going to be pretty tired come 6 am either way.

This embrace of reality has yielded some surprising results. First, that I am actually happy even at my presently overweight size. I know I’ll lose the baby weight and I’m working hard in the pool and at the grocery store to do so, but I also know I’m going to look at pictures of myself from this season someday when I’m older and my nest is empty and think to myself “daaaaaaang, you looked good, girl. No wrinkles. Cute babies everywhere. Shiny thick hair.”

I’ve also discovered that I need about 30% less sleep to survive than I’d ever believed possible. This one is a shocker, and some days I’m convinced God is bending the laws of physics to give me more rest in fewer hours as long as I remember to ask Him for it. So 5 hours can feel like 9? Yeah, sometimes. And that’s wild. Especially for a girl who used to start to cry herself when she was awakened by a crying baby. (Yes, I would actually start crying if I was awakened too many times by a newborn baby. And I have had 5 of them. If that’s not proof that God equips the called rather than calling the equipped, I don’t know what is.)

I have a feeling I’m really going to enjoy the next phase of motherhood because it’s already so much more fun than the early years. I didn’t love my first babies any less, but I definitely didn’t enjoy them the way I’m doing now. I worried and measured and researched and counted ounces and minutes and diapers and just generally felt like I was perpetually way out of my depth.

And now? I know I’m way out of my depth, so I can stop worrying so much. Worrying does nothing besides ramp up my baseline anxiety, and honest Abe I don’t need any help in that department. I know I’m messing up my kids. I’m sure I’ve made some choices that may haunt them one day. And (this is the worst part) it’s probably not even the things I’m consciously worrying about. So I beg the Lord’s mercy over my mothering choices and I pray His words over them as I send them out into the world (or the backyard) each day, and I ask for forgiveness over and over again when I fail.

Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.” Col. 3:17

16 Comments

  • Reply Hannah May 9, 2018 at 3:39 pm

    All I can say is a fervant God bless you and your ministry Jenny. So on the money. And so needed. *exhale*

  • Reply Nancy Schaub May 9, 2018 at 3:56 pm

    Sounds to me (now 71) like you are doing a wonderful job. A happy baby is proof of that. I was so young and lacking in knowledge when I has my first (my Mom was over 1000 miles away and all I had was Dr. Spock’s book). I knew I eventually would have to retuen to work and that the baby would need to be used to bottles. No one was suggesting pumping in 1968 so I breastfed when I could and offered bottles with formula when I could not. She readily accepted both and thrived in spite of my lack of knowledge. I do remember thinking that if I breastfed only, then my husband could never take the middle of the night feedings – although since he was a med student, I never asked it of him. When the hospital discharged us 5 days or so after her birth, I can remembering wondering how they could give a precious infant to someone who knew so little. Somehow, our good Lord and His mother got me through and I raised a healthy child despite ear infections until she was 5. Sometimes we succeed only through help from Heaven! I also never had a problem getting any of my three to sleep through the night at 4 weeks because I started adding rice cereal to the bottle. I know, many pediatricians frown on that, but I did it with three and none was ever overweight or overly sickly. I guess I did it because my Mom did. You will do fine. Your faith is strong and Heaven is caring for your little ones also. I have faith in you!

  • Reply Melissa May 9, 2018 at 7:07 pm

    I’ve literally had the same thought about getting enough rest. Nights that I stay up way too late or can’t sleep (#pregnant) I freak out that I am going to be SO exhausted the next morning. And then the next morning I feel pretty much the same as I do every other morning. It’s either God’s grace at work or I am so used to being sleep deprived it no longer registers. Also it’s blogs like yours that have helped me calm the heck down on a lot of fronts and take things as they come, and for that I say thank you. I’m sure I would have learned some of those lessons much much later in the game if not for the mom blogs I love so much

  • Reply Mom of Six May 9, 2018 at 7:58 pm

    Really liked this article. Just thinking how much fun my 6th baby (really a toddler) is these days. So much easier than #5, but he’s pretty cute too! Every child is different and it helps a lot when mom can is calm and content. πŸ™‚

  • Reply Meg May 10, 2018 at 7:03 am

    Best one yet JU. πŸ˜‰

  • Reply Sheila May 10, 2018 at 7:29 am

    I think I want your closing scripture verse on a a t-shirt … like “WHATEVER” in large bold letters and then the rest in fancy script underneath πŸ™‚

    • Reply MB May 10, 2018 at 10:02 am

      Oooh — I want that T-shirt, too! Good idea, Sheila! πŸ˜€

  • Reply Rebecca May 10, 2018 at 9:42 am

    This is so exactly what I needed to read today. Thank you. I’m currently pregnant with #4 while the others are 6, 3.5, and 21 months, and this pregnancy has been harder than my others so far. Three kids has also been a lot harder for me than one or two were, so I’ve been worried about how I’m going to handle it. I’m realizing my limits are a lot narrower/lower than I’ve been used to, and it’s hard for me to change my expectations of myself. This is a really hopeful look into the future for me, so thanks again!

  • Reply MB May 10, 2018 at 10:00 am

    Jenny,
    Maybe I kinda/sorta know where you’ve been, and if there’s any truth to that, then I am happy for you. My struggle is not the same as yours, externally. I’m a 50yo single woman who has been battling depression and anxiety for 10+ years. (For the record, d&a STINK! But if I get through this #readsurrender, some good is, by His grace, bound to result.)

    However, reading this post of yours gave me hope. Through it — and especially because you were reflecting about several years past — I saw that perhaps this current chapter is my ‘struggle through the best I know how to’ time….and that there ** WILL ** be a future chapter of being able to live my life and enjoy it, without the anxiety/angst/stress I experience currently.

    Surely, that was a grace. But you wrote the post through which He sent me some of the hope I have been praying for, so thank you πŸ™‚

  • Reply Hannah Gokie May 10, 2018 at 10:47 am

    <3 <3 <3

  • Reply Jen @ Surprised by Marriage May 10, 2018 at 11:35 am

    This is so good 😭❀️❀️

  • Reply jeanette May 10, 2018 at 10:45 pm

    I was thinking about this phrase you used: “comparison is the thief of joy”.

    Comparison is really just the act of making an observation about reality, isn’t it? and we cannot help but make these observations. So, comparison itself cannot really rob us of joy. What robs us of joy is how we react to the knowledge we gain from making comparisons. A truthful examination of who we are can sometimes be gleaned from comparisons. It can lead us towards the virtue of humility wherein we see ourselves in a truthful way. We neither despise the gifts and graces God has given to us, nor envy that which is given to others which we do not yet possess. While it might make us feel better not to compare ourselves to others, comparisons are not bad when we make proper use of them. For instance, if you really admire the way someone else does something that you β€œlack”, it might encourage you to make the effort to grow in that area of your life because you value what you see as a possibility. Admiration of others or goal setting for oneself can be the outcomes of comparisons, and they are a lot different than feeling inadequate, which is the real thief of joy.

    • Reply Marie May 12, 2018 at 7:44 pm

      Jeannette, very good comment! I don’t have anything to add, just to thank you for your clarity of distinction. It is not something I have ever thought about, and this article is certainly not the first place I’ve encountered the idea “don’t compare yourself to others” But you are the first person I’ve heard explain the good side of comparisons. Thank you!

  • Reply Rachel May 11, 2018 at 11:57 am

    This is beautiful and gives me such hope as a future (God willing) mother of many. <3

  • Reply Diana May 11, 2018 at 1:39 pm

    We just adopted our second 2 months ago but I can so relate to so much of this. Thank you for sharing!

  • Reply Becky May 13, 2018 at 3:04 pm

    Beautiful as always.

  • Leave a Reply to Sheila Cancel Reply