Finding joy as a mother has been a long journey for me. Yes, there was the instant joy and love during the bonding phase with each of my children as newborns. After that, however, I really struggled with the realities of life as a mother…
Mainly, the lack of sleep. Lots of anxiety. The postpartum depression. The moving (we lived in 5 different homes since my now-preK aged son was born). Probably a lot of hormonal stuff after the first that I didn’t catch onto, but definitely after my second child to a degree we couldn’t ignore anymore.
I was surviving, fueled by love and God’s mercies, but I was hanging on by a thread. I am honestly amazed my marriage survived the past 4 years, because it was so tough on not only me but also my husband. Looking back, I see there were the many, many heartwarming, good times. But the overall feeling of the last 4 years for me has often been sheer exhaustion. I say this a little hesitantly because I don’t want people considering having kids to have fear, or to avoid it because of the possibility of struggles. I do, however, think it’s important for those who are willing to share to be open about that sort of thing, because awareness is key to navigating issues. I would not have realized what postpartum depression looked like (and how it can look so different for so many people) if women did not publicly share their stories, and it could have turned out much more seriously than it did, because I finally realized what was going on when my youngest was over a year old through random articles about PPD online.
I really had to fight through daily and weekly struggles, mainly my health struggles (mental/emotional, chronic fatigue, hormone/cycle related PMDD) and then my son’s sensory-processing issues (now my daughter as well), which made for intense times almost nonstop throughout the day. One of the light spots I remember during the darkest parts of this time was that I took a ton of photos and videos of the cutest moments whenever I was able that, later on at the end of each week, I’d review late at night after the kids finally went to bed, that made me smile.
(I am so thankful for how our neurochemistry works. That activity may be one of the key positive habits helping me make it through the darker periods of postpartum. If you like neurochemistry/psychology type stuff, check out http://www.pnas.org/content/114/9/2361.abstract . Basically, the amygdala, or the part of the brain responsible for social behavior, motivation and emotions, of mothers produces dopamine, which creates pleasure or rewarding sensations, when they view images of their children. Although they wore me out, my kids existence also motivated me to keep going.)
All that to say, my youngest is almost 4 now, and it’s only really been in the past year that life has been on the sunny side most of the time. My husband and I have grown in so many ways and changed how we do things, finding healthier ways to cope with stress. We’ve in general altered our lifestyle, especially food-wise, to promote our familial well-being.
So, to get to the main theme I was aiming at when I began typing…Finding joy in motherhood has been a long journey for me. On the days when I did not, or occasionally still, do not have the natural energetic enthusiasm to actively engage positively with my kids, sometimes choosing to do so regardless of how I feel is the best thing to create an environment of contentment and delight. Not just for them, either. Intentionally involving myself in my busy little people’s worlds can be difficult when my mind is preoccupied by you-name-it…But it’s the BEST way to spark joy. Because I was MADE for this.
(Let me clarify: I have a ton of potential I could invest anywhere I want. Got the degrees, got a lot of interests, talents and dreams. I am not limited to my home. [Hello, women’s rights movement? All things are permissible for me…But I don’t personally find them all beneficial.] Yet right now, I am mainly focused at home. This is the work I want to do, building my kids’ safe haven and our family’s HQ. I am choosing my family to invest into during this season of my life, when the foundations of my kids’ lives are being laid. And I find I am most fulfilled and healthy when I am whole-heartedly committed to my calling. I’ve known what I want to do since I was little, pretending to be a wife and mommy as early as I can remember, putting on my mom’s high heels, and directing the neighborhood kids in activities. [Some may call me bossy…I like to say I just have the skills of an administrator.])
Joy shows up when I am an active, caring participant in the lives of my family members. You know what I despise? Frigid temperatures. A cold nose and fingers and toes. (Also, being hot makes me feel grumpy, but that’s a bunny trail…). Know what else stresses me out like mad? The fact that getting winter gear on my daughter is a long battle filled with howling in pain (at least, her senses are telling her that she’s in pain) over “bumpy stuff” in her gloves, endless pairs of socks and boots. (We turn the socks inside out and have some other coping strategies, but I’m so emotionally exhausted after each session).
But you know what my son in particular loves? Playing in the snow. So I had to ask, what was more important? Me feeling comfortable, inside and warm folding laundry? Lack of stress interacting with my daughter (who, generally speaking, is the more cuddly, happy child)? Or my son’s heart? Him feeling valued, too, even though his temperament is often intense, needing lots of direction and correction to keep him calm rather than reacting with eruptions of anger or other meltdowns.
So I had a choice. I could base my success as a homemaker on my productivity–getting the laundry done (finally off the couch!). Or I could find meaning in my calling, using my gifts of creativity and sensitivity to care for and encourage those in my life as I am strengthened by the unconditional love of my Creator.
It’s not easy to choose what doesn’t always feel easy. I’m thankful for snowboarding pants to keep me from turning into a popsicle, and a seriously poofy winter coat and sturdy boots to hold me over for a good 45 minutes of outdoor winter playtime. I steeled my jaw to face the cold, hopped into the car with a couple of ladles, and we went on a mission for fun.
“Mom! What are you doing with the soup thingies?” My three year old asked me. I chuckled mischievously and said mysteriously, “You’ll see, babe…Wait and see.” And in a few minutes, my kids’ eyes sparkled. You see, intentional moms are magical creatures in the eyes of their children. You know what really makes us magical, though? Seeing that sparkle in their eyes and knowing we put it there.
Turns out ladles make some pretty spectacular snowball-scoopers and are just right for carving out snow-caves in snow mounds the plows made out of a parking lot of a mere 1.5″ snowfall.