Wednesday, May 27, 2009

I am not the mother I wanted to be

You don't need me to tell you this, but here goes:

People can--and will--say the darndest things.

Out loud, even.

I was at the Y yesterday, signing Oliver and Manolin out of childcare just after my 45 minute biking marathon with Jo. It's a wonderful Mother-Daughter bonding time; if you've got the means to work out with your daughter, I highly, highly recommend it. The conversations we've had in those 45 minutes have been some of the ones I know I will cherish thirty years from now. The big boys are in Karate at that time, the little guys are in childcare and it's just Jo and me,
racking up miles on those stationary bikes while everyone around us wonders what in the world we're finding so stinking hilarious.

But I digress.

As I said, I was at the Y. Manolin had already been handed over the counter and was grinding his face into my collarbone with every ounce of his being. Oliver was being led--in protest, mind you--away from the playdough table and towards the little green exit gate. I wrote my name on the register with a flourish, and turned my attention to signing dramatically so that Oliver knew it was time to head home.

"You've got, what? Three boys? Holy cow," said the worker, a woman about my age.

"You missed one," I offered helpfully, taking a step to the side. Sure enough, Atticus was hidden just behind me in the tight reception area.

"Four boys? I couldn't do that. No way. They would drive me nuts."

I smiled broadly and nodded. This woman, after all, goes to my church. And you know ... she really ought to know better.

"I like raising boys," I said. "These guys are awesome. I can't imagine how boring life would be without every single one of them."

You think that's it, don't you? You're saying to yourself--"This is a post about how people are always bashing on little boys." Well, it could be. But no. This woman just didn't know how to quit when she was ahead. Just then, Jo came through the door carrying our workout gear in our oversized blue duffel.

"Oh my gosh, I totally forgot! You have, like, five kids. All those boys and a girl."

Great math skills, I thought. You must be so proud. My sunshiney thoughts had turned decidedly sour. Because at this point, let's face it: the woman has already basically told my sons that they are a burden to their mother. Now she's going to harp on our family size. This keeps getting better!

The woman then shook her head and delivered the jewel:

"I couldn't have that many kids. There's no way. I just couldn't be the mother I want to be with that many of them."

And you know what? I told her she was absolutely right.

"I can't either!" I admitted. "And I'm so thankful!"

Now before you look at me like I've grown ten heads (which is precisely the look she delivered, by the way) let me tell you why I feel the way I do.

I am not the mother I wanted to be with these children. Can't be. It's not possible. There's only one of me ... and five of them. Do the math. I can not be all things to every child.

The world says I am failing. I have chosen quantity over quality. I can't possibly be a good enough mother. Needs will not be met. There are just too many kids.

Praise God, I say.

Because I have come to realize that the things I want to do and be for my children are not necessarily the best for them.

I want to kiss every boo-boo. Fawn over every picture. Brush every head of hair. Trim every finger nail. Hold the back of each bike seat as the training wheels come off.
Stop the hurts before they come. Be the ear for every heartache. Bake every afternoon snack. Cheer at every game. Warn of every danger. Read every book. Watch every impromptu performance. Be a part of every game. Lead every troop. Sing every song. I want to right the wrongs. Hold off the enemies.

I want to be their world.

With one child, I could do that. No problem. With two, I think I could manage pretty nicely. But with three, five, seven? No way.

Instead, what my kids get is something different. Maybe not better--the Lord's plans are different for each family, and I respect that. But at the very least, what my children have is equal. It's not some lesser thing. It's not worthy of pity. It's just different.

It's not about me, The Perfect Mother, this growing up thing. No matter how much I always dreamed it would be, it just isn't. It's about God and the family He provided to meet every need.

Do boo-boos get kissed? Of course! But a portion of the time, it is a big brother who kisses the baby's head after he's tried to fit underneath the coffee table for the fifth time in an hour. Do cookies get baked? Yes. I admit, though, that Jo is turning into quite the chef thanks to being blessed with the opportunity to experiment in the kitchen without my hovering. And do you know who taught Logan to balance on his big boy bike when he shed the training wheels? It was Atticus, running behind him and shouting, "Brother! Brother! You're doing it!" in a voice so full of pride and utter joy that I get a catch in my throat just remembering. I cried from the curb, my hands busy plaiting Jo's hair to fit under her helmet. It was a gorgeous moment, burned into my mind, my heart, my soul.

"Brother! Brother! You're doing it!"

Are there sweeter words?

My children have a cheering section, not a number one fan. They have a chorus of voices that sing their praises and hands that reach out to help no matter the hour of the day. Will they walk through adulthood with this same closeness? There are no guarantees, of course. My own mother is the youngest of seven children, and I wouldn't call their family particularly close-knit. There is no formula, no one perfect thing that will bind these little personalities into a warm quilt that they will want to stay wrapped in throughout their lives.

But there is love. Abounding love. More love than I, the mother who has been entrusted with them, could ever offer on my own.

I am not the mother I wanted to be. I do not make it to every event. I am sometimes preoccupied with a diaper or a math problem when a milestone flies past me at the speed of light. My children will not remember me in the foreground, chairing every committee, meeting every need and wiping every nose.

But I am the mother God wants me to be. I am in the background, usually. One voice among many in the sea of encouragement. Cheering. Praising. And witnessing the miracle that is our family.


Dearest Jessica said...

Oh my dear! That is crazy! We could never be the people we want to be all the time to everyone. No matter how many kids we have. There are always finances, sickness, and life!

I loved your responce. Next time tell the lady because she couldn't do it....and a lot of other people can't many children will go to bed tonight with out a Mother!

I would rather go to sleep exausted and with a dirty house becuase I can't do it. Than not do it at all!

You have such a sweet family.

obladi oblada said...

What a beautiful post and so so true. Im not the mother I wanted to be either, and you are right its not possible with 3 (or more). The bonds that they have with thier siblings is something that cant be replaced, and is something very special indeed. Love is love within a family, no matter how it is dispersed, it is there and for many there is none. Great post.

Stephanie/sdpwife said...


The Lord has used your post as balm to my hurting soul today. I have 4 Littles (5,3,18 mos, and 3 mos). These are the words I needed to hear. Thank you.

anya* said...

Oh my. Tears in my eyes. The Mom I would want to be would be an over analyzing, over dramatic (well maybe I still am a bit of that), over reacting , do it all person. Who would probably be very annoying.

I have to delegate now. I cannot buckle three little ones in the car and get the diaper bag, and put on shoes- but my older son can help.

I cannot organize the play group and host it every week- but I can show up sometimes if I remember.

I cannot fold all the clothes, wash all the dishes, sweep every floor.

But I can NOT imagine life without my full house.

I am linking this on my blog right now- hope you don't mind.

April said...

Beautiful. This really touched my heart today!

Benny said...

Well said, Mary Grace.

I have most definitely been humbled as I have watched the mother I am - the one God wants me to be (I hope) - come to life as the mother I had always hoped and planned to be has gently faded away.

I have said often to my hubby (and maybe even to you!) that God knew I needed a bunch of kids. With only one or two I woudl bo so over bearing and micro managing I would have squashed out any hope of their own little personalities and choices blossoming.

If nothing else, having four children has overwhelmed me just enough to keep me at a reasonable level of oversight and family management.

And to watch my children grow in the love of each other? Well that is just the most amazing gift of it all. Who knew I could so enjoy a relationship that I am not even a part of!?


Sandi said...

Thanks for expressing and sharing this. A cheering section...I so like that.

Anonymous said...

So well said.

Anonymous said...

YOU are on a roll, my blogging friend! Wow. You just blasted away my biggest *fear* about adopting. But besides that, if God should never bless us with another, my biggest issue with parenting the three I already have is that there isn't enough of wow.. WOW! Thank you for putting into words a totally "new" construct for parenting. Awesome. Truly you have spoken from the very heart of God today. :)


Sarah said...

Thanks so much for writing this post. I'm the mom of one girl and five boys, and I've had very similar conversations. I appreciated reading your take on it, and being reminded again of what a gift I'm giving my children by raising them with several siblings.

Kate said...

I hear you girl!

Laura said...

You've put it into words here... and I love it! My continued dreams of a gaggle are realistic because of what you have written.


Mama JJ said...

This is a splendid post. And I am impressed that you had the presence of mind to respond to that lady in such a way. Good for you!

Erika W. said...

What a beautiful post, it really blessed me this morning. Thank you for sharing.

Thelma said...

beautiful post.....and I too needed that today.....feeling like not so much a mommy when my children decided to play barbershop.....LOL.....but I am not the mother I wanted to house isn't spotless and kids immaculate cause kids make messes and hearing my children laugh in joy is much more rewarding than a spotless house.......laundry will always be here....the kids will grow up and are doing so at an alarming rate. I am thankful......for who Christ is in me....cause if it weren't for Him.....well.....I'd not bet he mother I am....I'd be someone else.......and it would not be pretty......I was feeling a bit discouraged today but choosing joy....and your post....helped me.....thank you.

Luke said...

Beautiful. May we all the be the parents God wants us to be. Though, it's still hard for me to accept that this life isn't about me [smile]. I know it's true, but it's often hard to live it.


Tiffany said...

Beautiful post- you've touched many hearts. Thank you.

I am not the mother I want to be or imagined I would be or even started off being. Why? Did I not try hard enough, committ myself enough? No, life happened. For some that is several children, broken relationships, death, disease, any of the surprises life can throw at us or choices we chose to make.

For me, it was cancer at 34 years old, with 3 young boys at home to witness every struggle, pain and reality of the disease. But- GOD IS GOOD- and they also became more independant, they began feeling deep compassion and empathy for someone other than themselves, they witnessed God's provision through friends and family who took care of the details of life when we couldn't. In other words, they saw -firsthand- God's blessings.

It was hard to take a backseat when it came to my children- I never even knew I could- but it also taught me great lessons. I will be a different mom now, just like you said- NOT BETTER, NOT WORSE, just different. What God wanted for US and we know we are loved God and the boys know they are loved by the mom God gave them.

God blesses every mother for giving it another try every day! I know everyone reading will be encouraged by your writing. Keep on Good Christian!

Mikki said...

Thanks so much for this post! I needed to hear this. I hope you don't mind but I linked your post in my blog and then also posted it to my Facebook. I think every mom needs to read this and those women thinking of what kind of mom they are going to be. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your words. We went from one son to 8 children through adoption rather quickly and it gave me the opportunity to see how it changed our son. The impact on our first son of adding so many children was my biggest fear. So it is amazing to me to realize how blessed he is not to have an overbearing mama so focused on his every move. Thank you God for blessing us even more than we can imagine as we feebly pour our love on others.

Sarah said...

I'm not the mom I wanted to be either. God had/has better plans!

Lisa H. said...

I ran here, there, and everywhere, dragging extra little ones behind me, trying to make it all the places I needed to be today. I ended up late, sweaty, and more than a little overwhelmed.

And then I read this post and the light & peace just flooded in.

Thank you so much for this post. It was exactly what I needed to hear.

The Beaver Bunch said...

Amazing. Thanks for this reminder.

I love what Voddie Baucham says about large families...this is not verbatim...

"At church we see a mother walk in with her 5 children and instead of praising her for her as a woman, we mock her behind her back."

Or something like that. I love it.

micah v said...

what a beautiful revelation and so wonderfully written. oh... i felt your tears of bliss while you experienced such love between your boys. deep down, your soul knew this is the mother you wanted to be and she couldnt be more perfect for her family!

keep being a blessing.

Liz said...

yes! thanks for this this morning :)

Michelle Howard said...

This is so profound. I wish I could print it off and carry it in my purse to read to people who think I'm naive. Don't ever quit!

Kathy said...

The BEST writing I've read in a long time...and so speaks to my parched heart. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for writing this. I have just found out i am expecting twins and i have 4 boys at home. Its such an overwhelming time and i have been feeling such guilt over not being the Mom i thought i'd be either. (or being my Mom who only had 2) It was such a beautiful reminder of the blessings my kids have in eachother and made me cry!

Sandy said...

I loved this post! As another homeschooling mom of five (four boys and a girl also), I have often thought to myself that I would be a much better mom if I just had some time... some peace... some quiet... But instead of being the mom *I* want to be, I've had to make peace with being in the loud, busy- and very blessed place- that God wants me to be. And I hope that I'm becoming the mom He wants me to be too.

Robin's Reports said...

You've got me on a roller coaster tonight. I no sooner get the tears wiped away from my eyes with this post and then I'm on the floor laughing with the one on Atticus. You're so real! I love your honesty. It is so thought-provoking.
While I only have 2 boys, I always live with those feelings of inadequacy (sp?). I'm no June Cleaver and I'm not raising Wally & Beaver. Honestly, I probably could say I have two Atticus' in my home. I'm just trying to keep up with their energy and gifts God gave them.

Your post is so very encouraging.

Tanya said...

Thank you so much for this post. I recently subbed to your blog and came across this. I'm so thankful. I had a horrible day yesterday, and this is just what I needed to read.

Jennifer @ Conversion Diary said...

What an eloquent post. I have four under five and we have a summer foster child arriving tomorrow so this is exactly what I needed to read today. I'm glad to have discovered your blog (via Making Home) and look forward to reading more.

coffeemom said...

Exactly. Perfect. Thank you!

Melissa Stover said...

that is an awesome post that just got better with each sentence and left me in tears!

Amber said...

A great post, thank you. I am certainly not the mother I wanted to be either, and I am so thankful for that! There seems to be such a movement in society to try and control our lives and make them less "messy" (for lack of a better term) and I think we miss out on so much richness by doing so.

messy bessy said...

Not only am I not the mom I wanted to be, I don't even know what kind of a mom I really am! Doing my best, every day, to just offer it back the Lord God, and say, "Your grace is sufficient for me -- supply what is lacking, Lord." And He always does, sometimes in the most unusual ways.

Sometimes my pride is hurt -- my six kids often go hours, days, without my being able to spend one-on-one time. I have to just grab them, hug them, look them in the eyes, just to remind them I'm here! But of course, they know.

Thanks for such good, important words.

Sandy said...

After 18 short years of parenting I can say without hesitation that this is not at all about me being the mother I wanted to be, but is entirely about God being the God He said He would be. If we think it is about us, we have entirely missed the point. I would much rather get to the end of my life knowing that I raised all the children God wanted me to raise, however imperfectly, than to be held captive by the pride of thinking that I was the 'right kind' of mother.

Tara said...

"My children have a cheering section, not a number one fan."

Love it! This post was such a blessing to me today. Thank you for your obedience in writing it.
Momlakes from SL

RT said...

Just so you know, it's not possible with one child either! I can't be everything to my little girl, not even if I tried. I am just as worn at by bedtime as any other mother, of two/four/seven kids. I think God is constantly calling mothers to Himself--for love, for peace, for acceptance, for encouragement.

Anonymous said...

I love love LOVE this post! I shared it with me Facebook friends :-) My gang of five kiddos is such a close-knit, encouraging bunch. I got here from a link in my Google reader, but just realized we are on the TOS crew together. I look forward to reading more of your thoughts! God bless!!

Kristin said...

Wonderful encouragement. I've been struggling with the need to do it all and be all for my children. I'm not talking about going here and there to every activity. We stay home much of the time and I still feel pulled, but I don't need to be. So thankful for the wise words. My children are close and I thank God for it.

Karie, the Regular Guy's Extraordinary Wife said...

Thank you MG. Your insight means so much to those of us who are not "small families".

Anonymous said...

This is a beautiful post!

Anonymous said...

That was wonderful. I am having a particularly difficult time today and I have been thinking all these thoughts about how I just can't get anything right. I often feel like I'm letting someone down somehow and it hurts. I am crying my eyes out reading your post because I feel exactly the same way. I'm glad someone understands.

MUM TO 3 boys and a girl and another due in October.

Thia said...

Thank you for this. As the mother of three, I've been having an internal battle over this lately, but now I know, it's okay to let go a bit.

Stephanie said...

What an awesome and insightful post! Thank you!

Meg said...

As number five in seven years will make an appearance this fall I am the recipient of this same inadvertantly belittling commentary. Thanks for putting it in perspective and giving me a better response!

Marcy K. said...

This was beautiful. Thank you so much.

Elisabeth LaMouria said...

I came from a family of 6 kids, and this kind of stuff (people saying hurtful things and not even caring or realizing it) happened all the time. We were seen as strange, but even stranger was that people seemed to want to be part of our home and activities. Our house was NEVER boring! I have 3 boys under 4 and people think at 25, I am crazy. Thank you for the encouragement!

Kerry Shealy said...

LOVE IT!!! Are you in my head? You are certainly walking in my shoes! lol A friend of mine sent me the link to this blog and I really enjoyed reading it. I have 4 boys and one girl (7 down to 8 months) and I am always trying to think of quirky things to say to people as they try to "minimize my blessings!" I think the next time they say, "Better you than me," I will reply, "Amen to that!" I love to leave people speechless!

natalie said...

Wow, wonderful post! I "only" have 2 little ones right now, but they're 18 months and 6 months, and the baby just started crawling... so I've been feeling very stretched! But they're happy and don't mind that I'm not hovering over every move each of them makes.