There is only one way to be a mother.
It looks like staying at home full time, breastfeeding, giving birth with no epidural, making your own baby food, delighting in playdates, meal plans, a clean and orderly home. It was God’s plan, they said, This is what it means to be a godly woman, wife and mother. You do it, you do all of it (except for the clean home part). No epidural, check. Breastfeeding, check. Staying at home full time, check. Making your own babyfood, play dates, meal plans, check, check, check.
You drive yourself hard, you push your husband and kids to perform. Everything needs to fit into this box where we look like The Ideal Christian Family to everyone around us, except there is no audience, you live on a continent that doesn’t know about The Ideal Christian Family enough to care, your audience is two oceans away happily living their life never knowing that you were on the other end of the world needing applause.
But something inside of you is dying, and you know it when the exhaustion starts to cripple you, and not because there are children waking in the night. You are breaking down because you cannot possibly live up to your own expectations, you feel daily like you are failing, and you know when you look in their eyes: Your husband feels like he’s failing, your children feel like they are failing.
Something inside of you is struggling for air, and you know it every time you pick up a book or put your pen to paper, there is an unspeakable mystery calling your name, begging you to listen, pleading with you to take notice. But you won’t do it, you can’t do it.
You can’t give up this dream, you’re so determined to be a good mother.
They sit with you in coffee shops sipping teas, cafe au laits and chai lattes and munching on chocolate croissants, babies bouncing on your knees holding their Sophie the Giraffes, drool pouring down your hands, and you’re talking about how much your lives changed. Most of them are back at work, their babies loving creche and eating three-course meals for lunch, everyone is still exhausted – as are you – but content with the pace of their lives. Eventually you move to Sweden where less than five percent of parents stay at home with children over 1.5-years and almost all kids over two are in state-funded dagis (daycare/preschool).
I need a space for myself, the woman tells you at the Oppna Forskola one Friday morning. You’re both feeding your one-year-olds, and in between bites of waffle fries, she tells you she loves her maternity leave and her time with her son is precious, and goes on to say that she will be back at work in September. He seems too young to be left in dagis, but I need to know that I’m doing something for myself, she says.
You nod and smile mechanically, and don’t dwell too long on the thoughts scanning through your brain, How incredibly selfish. This isn’t about doing something for yourself. It’s about the children. But you can’t ignore what’s cramping inside. You wish you could give yourself the same freedom. You wish you could do something for yourself.
You’re deeply unhappy but unwilling to see it because happiness is not a virtue of godly people.
So you find another group of people, these ones are mostly online, and they are preaching a message that sounds good. You have gifts, talents, abilities, the world needs what you have to give. Figure out with your spouse how to divide labor, so that you have time to do what you’re called to do. It’s not just about the future, it’s about living your purpose and living out of your passion NOW. Yes it may be messy, it may be hard, but it can be done, and it’s worth it.
You watch a video of woman talking about how to balance motherhood, calling and family life; she stayed at home for a while until she found her passions. But now she’s written a book, speaks, and she says she and her husband share homeschooling duties and trade off on office times. They lead a non-profit together. I used to have a clean home, she says, but I didn’t have a voice.
And you look around your messy home and wonder if you can have a messy home and still not have a voice. Do these North American dichotomies somehow apply to you, and how does it work when your husband is a businessman who loves his work and you love that he loves his work?
But you try anyway. It sounds good, you admire them, you are grateful for them and for their place in your life. You try to find the time to live out your calling, and a nap time gets interrupted. You try to start something in a new city, and you can’t figure out the culture. Your husband gets up at night with your kids, does almost everything you do at home, and is unceasingly gracious about it all, but he still works full time in middle management. And you have no desire to divide labor equally.
Because as much as there are longings in your heart, you can’t ignore one simple fact: You are loving your time with your children. Yes, the dirty work is no fun, but the relationship building, the conversations, the cuddles. You don’t want it to end. Ever. You want to soak it all up. You can’t get enough of it. The days slip by one by one, they are growing, changing, you are growing and changing, you have no desire for it to slow down even as you desire to write more, to let your voice and story be heard.
Even as the drum beats in your heart for Gaza, Ukraine, Syria and Australia, even though there are words that long to escape your fingers and fly into the world, you are intoxicated by the chubby fingers eating strawberries straight from the bushes and giggling with a toddler while wading deep into sea water still seems like the best way to spend the afternoon.
So this is where you find yourself – you’re not mom enough for the Godly Wife crowd, you’re not success-oriented enough for the Work Crowd, you’re not calling enough for the Live Out Your Calling people, but you’re trying to fit with all of them, keeping an orderly life, enjoying the kids and making pinteresting crafts while carving out time to write and read and think, exhausting yourself at both ends and coming up empty on all accounts, unable to enjoy any of it.
It’s this feeling of failure that is so deep, eating slowly away at the core of who you are because nothing it finds there is good enough.
You sit down with your kids for a meal, and what you hear is, It’s not healthy enough. You failed. You haven’t been reading to them enough. You failed. You lost your temper. You failed.
Nap time starts and you sit down to write, and what you hear is, You haven’t been writing enough. You failed. You haven’t been stewarding your words. You failed. You don’t have enough readers. You failed.
The yoke around your jaw is heavy, its eating into your mouth, disabling your ability to speak, and for a long time, you do nothing at all.
He finds you where you are, bends down and eases the yoke off your jaw and anoints your head with oil. There is a quiet whisper. Most of the time, you’re too busy to hear it, but there are a few silent evenings, moments gathered when its shocking truthfulness is there in simplicity, freedom and grace.
You belong to me.
You’re not a mother or a writer, a woman or a wife, stay at home or work at home or work outside the home.
You are mine.
Women and men will try to pull you into their way of life, their books line your shelves, the blog posts and status updates echo in your mind, offering a list of ways to become something, to be part of the group, to perform for an audience who will applaud or boo; their way always involves an audience.
I offer you something else – belonging. A green pasture and still waters, a place where you can rest your head, where I will gently lead you through dark valleys and up high mountains. There won’t be a list of right and a list of wrong, only my voice, my Word, my presence, and only a living in that place of belonging where you can hear my words. And live.
You want a prescription, I’m sorry I have none. It’s going to look different for you than it will for another woman. I offer you no opportunity to feel better about yourself than anyone else. My ways afford no time and space for you to look down on others. It’s an invitation that I offer you – to belong, to live as Mine, to lay down and rest in this green pasture, and to enjoy those who are in it with you because my pastures stretch on forever. There is room for everyone.
So come. Come, daughter. Come and rest.