The Mother Load

For the last 18 months, I’ve puzzled over why I’m so much more tired at the end of a day watching Abby than I ever was after a day of teaching.  On the surface, the routine of a stay-at-home mom seems so cushy: playing with toys, eating in my own kitchen, running errands, sneaking some zzz’s during nap time, reading intellectually un-challenging material like “Moo, Ba, La La La,” maybe throwing in some light housecleaning on an extra-productive day.

Occasionally I might get my heart rate up when I have to dash across the room to catch my toddler before she falls off the top of the piano (how did she get up there when I was watching so carefully?), or when I have to run to catch the mailman so that the mortgage payment can be postmarked on time.  Yes, I’m on my feet a lot, and mentally alert most of the time, but who isn’t?

Why is being a mom so hard?

Here’s part of it, at least for me:  While I may look like this,

(minus the blonde highlights, of course)

I really feel like this:

The day is full of decisions.  And every decision is plagued by doubts and weighted with the consequences of the next thirty years:

Abby is whining at the pantry door, AGAIN.  Is she going through a growth spurt and in need of extra nutrition or have I trained her to snack all day long and eat poorly at mealtimes?  Will she grow up to struggle with her weight, or be enslaved to her stomach, or will she develop an eating disorder because I am being too controlling with her snacks?

Abby is crying because she wants to go outside, but it’s too cold.  Should I give her a hug and assure her that I understand her feelings?  Or put her in time-out and ignore her until she gets herself under control?  If I comfort her now, will she be a tyrant of a teenager when I don’t give her everything she wants?

The breakfast dishes are in the sink.  Should I wash them now, or do I need to sit on the rug and give my full attention to Abby and her shapes puzzle?  By doing the dishes, am I modeling a responsible work ethic or sending the message that a clean house is more important than quality time together?  How many minutes have I given Abby attention today?  How many minutes have I allowed her to play quietly while I work on something else?  How many minutes have I allowed her to hang on my leg, screaming, while I tried to finish what I was doing?  (Where’s a pencil?)

Rocking Abby before her nap.  Is this precious bonding time that I’ll be thankful for one day?  Or am I going to regret this when she’s five years old and won’t lay down for a rest without sitting on my lap first?  Am I teaching her that she needs me to be comforted and relaxed?  Should I just put her in her crib and let her scream herself to sleep?  Should I have developed better napping habits with her when she was a baby?  But she has a sniffly nose!  What if she’s sick and just needs some extra comfort?

And don’t even get me started on that old pacifier!

Well, you get the idea.  Behind my own nagging thoughts is a chorus of voices: parenting-book-experts, family members, friends, blogger moms, preachers and Sunday School teachers, parents whose children I’ve taught, slogans from the back of cereal boxes.  They all have opinions and experiences, and there is almost no consensus.  That means, no matter what I do, someone does not approve (those authors are the worst because they’re all so sure of their own methods!).

“Every child is different, every parent is different,” you’ll probably say.  “Do what is right for your family, and forget about who approves of what you do!”

But what do I know?

It’s really remarkable that first children ever turn out well, much less that they have the reputation of being the most mature and responsible of all the siblings.  You’d think that each kid would turn out progressively better, but it’s usually the youngest who is the family crazy.*  That’s a small comfort; it must mean that we fretful, clueless mothers must get a few things right.

A year ago, I posted what I think is (still) the answer to the Mother Load:

So what to do?  I guess it’s the same thing that all of you wise ones out there are already doing, whether or not you have a baby in your house: do the best you can, humbly depend on God for wisdom, and give thanks for GRACE that covers a multitude of imperfections!

The trick is just remembering this…every day…every hour.  Easier said than done, right?  But it’s worth putting the effort into remembering THAT truth more than remembering the “Babywise” baby schedule, or what Dr. Weissbluth says about recommended sleeping schedules for 18-month-olds, or the way your grandmother got stains out of towels.

And, not to state the obvious, but I think that Jesus had something to say to those of us who feel the weight of heavy burdens…

*I can say this, because I married an exceptional youngest child, and while my youngest sister IS a little crazy, she’s totally awesome, too.

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6 responses to “The Mother Load

  1. Yep. That’s motherhood. It’s sad how much of a burden of worry we put on ourselves. These days I wonder so much about Caleb’s little psyche, and wonder if it’s as delicate as books proclaim, and if it’s the cause of all the unexplainable changes in his habits (yesterday he had no accidents, today he had three; we haven’t had a tantrum since December, now one just went down on my kitchen floor; sleeping through the night vs waking up four times for teddy bears, blankets and potty breaks; etc.).

  2. Loved this! Thanks for posting. It’s so true, I have those thoughts all day long. I wrestle with putting down my current baby for her nap…Do I treasure those moments and snuggle her in her all baby cuteness or do I put her down and enjoy the two year old? Or do I forget both and clean my mess of a house? It’s hard to balance it all, but it helps to have these gentle reminders.

  3. Hey, remember you are a first child and look how you turned out…GREAT. The most important thing is to love them, and sometimes that is the hardest thing to do.

  4. Your paragraph about rocking Abby before her nap…YES! I am so with you on that one!

  5. As much fun as I’ve had these first five months, I find the sheer energy of always being so upbeat and even the little games (bounce, bounce, bounce) can be tiring and tedious. And unlike outside jobs where there is a constant benchmark for success, motherhood has very delayed ones, as you point out. And finally, because it seems like it should be so easy, its frustrating when at the end of the day, I still haven’t showered, the house is a mess, the laundry pile is huge, and dinner isn’t even started. How do those tiny chores never get done?!

  6. Thanks for the solidarity, friends. I’m glad I’m not the only one.

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