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This final guest post is from my friend Myra. I worked with her and her family in Kiev, Ukraine right before I went from single to not-single-anymore, and they quickly became like family to me in that time. She is a lovely woman who appreciates beauty, art and words, a deep thinker with an equally deep, soulful laugh. We shared many mochas together in Kiev, and I treasure our conversations and her words closely in my heart. 

Myra is a writer, thinker, church worker and speaker, she’s married to Mike, and they have two grown daughters, Abigail and Rebecca. She spent the majority of her time after marriage in Ukraine but now lives in Tennessee. Myra blogs at Encouraging Thoughts, and here are her encouraging thoughts for us new mums today.

If I have any sage advice to offer young mothers, I will have to travel back five international moves ago and try to remember what life was like when I was a new mother. When you have a baby, not only does your world rock cataclysmically, but also your body has just been inhabited, used as a rocket launcher to usher new life into the world, and become exhausted in the process. No experience in life is remotely similar. But shouldn’t the heralding of a new life into the world be, well, intense? The passion that let up to it was also probably intense.

As amazing and transformational as it is, the mundane settles in quickly and your world suddenly shrinks to the existence of two people: you and your baby, with an occasional, tired nod to your husband. While you are trying to navigate new waters, the doting grandmothers and others are sure to offer their help and advice. Usually you welcome it, but sometimes you realize differing views have formed from poring over pages and pages of books while pregnant. You are not a know it all, but you do want it recognized that you have done your homework. You experience unsurpassed, holy moments as you hold your adorable baby and witness many “firsts”. But you also experience the uncharted territory of emotions brought on by sleepless nights, a body that doesn’t seem to bounce back quickly enough to your pre-pregnancy figure and perkiness, and a sense that you have lost your freedom.

When you watch your husband tenderly love your child, you discover new facets of him that cause you to love him more. And when your child is sick or in danger, your heart stops as you experience a greater degree of unselfish love than you have ever known before. In this way, you catch a greater glimpse of the love God has for us.

But before I offer advice, let me address the idea of “normal”. Normal is derived from a frame of reference and many women are facing unprecedented new normals such as parenting alone, becoming a mother later in life, trying to balance motherhood with one or more jobs, or finding themselves jobless when they need to work. Some go through depression. Some experience long-term fatigue. Still, God’s grace penetrating our individual worlds is the primary and lasting answer. My normal was mothering our two girls as babies and toddlers while living in Ukraine during its chaotic infancy after it became independent from the Soviet Union. I was stretched beyond my own strength many times. Far from extended family, our little family unit bonded closely while we forged community with people there through doing life together, serving God together and walking through hardship together. My greatest adventures did not end with motherhood, they had only just begun.

Here is my advice.

Give yourself and your marriage grace

Adjusting to this new stage in life takes time. Don’t place unrealistic expectations on yourself or your husband. You may have to pare down your schedule and say no to things. Only a few things are really essential and important. As you settle into a routine, hopefully before your child is five years old, you do have to make time for your marriage. We had a date night every week when our girls were young. When we lived in Ukraine, our dates were very romantic since we could afford ballets and our favorite café’s with live music. At other times, we carved out a date at home, which could be just as nice.

Embrace the season, it passes quickly. I know this sounds cliché, but it does.

This stage in life is only a season. I often look back on the years when my children were young and remember how precious and fleeting those years were. This may not help when you are tired or overwhelmed, but you may have younger or older friends who are in a different season that can offer help and encouragement. The multi-generational family of God helps us gain perspective when we are losing it. And we all do sometimes.

Even though you are new a mom, be yourself and don’t feel guilty about it.

You probably go through more changes during your twenties than any other time in life. For many modern young women, you pursue your dreams in college, find your soul mate, marry and become pregnant over a relatively brief period of time. This was my experience. I became a mother at twenty four. I remember worrying that I would have to morph into a domestic diva. Even though I cook, enjoy hosting people, and can decorate my home nicely, when I spend time with friends I don’t want to talk about those things. I want to talk about books, the news, or some aspect of faith. I had to learn not to feel guilty about this and to find friends who will connect with me over these things. This became easier as a missionary living overseas. I asked one of my favorite people, Nadia, a Ukrainian who is my mother’s age how she stays so vibrant. She said she doesn’t care what people think. She doesn’t bother with comparisons. I also know she pursues her passion as an artist and serves people through her ministry to the poor in the Carpathian Mountains.

Express gratitude and appreciation daily

I cherished the moments I spent with God in the mornings when my children were young. Sometimes those times were pushed into the evening when my husband was home and available to help, but God was and is the anchor for my soul. Sometimes I would go to a park bench in Lviv, Ukraine near our flat to read, pray and take in the beauty of my surroundings. The simple truths, wonder of life, and the daily adventure I was on with God gave me joy. And many joys came through the uninhibited wonder and discovery I witnessed in my girls.

Lastly, no matter what you accomplish in life, you will never regret the time you spend with your children. Because of it, your children can be some of your greatest joys throughout life.

This post is Day 28 of 31 Days of blogging in October. I am writing this month about my first season of motherhood, sharing stories and lessons that stayed with me from that time. 

(New to this series? Start here and follow the links to each day’s post.)

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My university years were rich, developing, healing years, and I thank God for the many wonderful friends I made in that time. Most of them are crazy gifted as well, and Hannah is one those. We lived on the same hall our freshman year, majored in the same department and worked on our campus newspaper together. She is a wise, compassionate, thoughtful, kind woman, and one of my dear friends. I think her words today will be timely ones for many of us as we remember our first months with a newborn. I hope that these are words of healing, hope and freedom for you as they were for me.

Hannah Hall loves roller coasters, sushi, sunshine on her face and writing with a really good ink pen. She and her husband, Josh, have three kiddos- ages 1, 3 and 5- and live in Arkansas where, sadly, roller coasters and good sushi are hard to come by. Her first book God Bless You and Good Night was published by Thomas Nelson in September. 
  

Mommy and Edy

Dear Hannah,

Oh, darling, you were a wreck, weren’t you?

It was hard. Honest-to-goodness hard. Those first weeks (and months) can be ruthless. No mom who’s being truthful would say otherwise.

But you still thought it would be easier, didn’t you? That it would come more naturally. Instead you struggled through every day and dreaded every night. The feedings were especially hard then, when J casually snoozed through your quiet sobs and had no idea that you were drowning.

Why am I not better at this? This is supposed to be natural.

Your mind viciously wandered back to a conversation you had with a friend some months before your first babe was born. She was talking about another friend, someone you didn’t even know, but you will never forget what she said.

“Being a mom doesn’t really come naturally to her, you know?”

You had nodded your head in mock agreement, completely ignorant yourself of what “being a mom” entailed but unwilling to admit it, lest she turn her wagging tongue on you.

But her words settled heavy. Festered. Grew. Suffocated.

They gnawed at you in that moment of nasty, juicy gossip but then, once she was born, you wept over their brutal honesty.

God created women to be mothers. But look how you struggle! Your mom was a natural. Why aren’t you? Look! You didn’t even get your first motherly instinct right.

And it was true.

You and J had decided not to learn the sex of the baby beforehand. You wanted the surprise. The “It’s a boy!” moment at the hospital. And that’s what you expected: “It’s a boy!” Every single person you encountered during your pregnancy took one look at your growing belly and declared with absolute confidence, “Oh honey, you are having a boy.”

And then there you were, in the hospital, holding your lovely, perfectly pink and healthy baby girl and all you could think was “you were supposed to be a boy.”

Was it a defunct motherly instinct that expected a boy or just an impressionable naivety clouded by the opinions of others? Either way, you already weren’t a natural and she was only moments old.

And so it set the tone of those first few days and weeks. Nursing, napping, swaddling- all of it was difficult. You loved her desperately, but, goodness, how could something so small have turned your life so upside down?

You put on a happy face. You smiled appropriately but sobbed later when well-meaning visitors gushed over how wonderful it was to be a new mother. And you were drowning.

You were not a natural.

But you are three kids in now. You survived that first and find yourself in awe that she will soon start Kindergarten. You look back on who you were five years ago and can remember the pain so fresh. But you have grown and changed and learned.

And now you can say with honesty and grace for yourself, “No it didn’t come naturally. Dying to yourself never does.”

Because that’s what having a baby is. It is teeny, tiny bundle of lessons on how to die to yourself. How to give up what your self wants for the sake of someone else. And the self never wants to give up, to die.

You forgo rest for countless nights to feed a demanding human being while the flesh screams, “Sleep!” But you don’t sleep. You feed.

Not natural.

Re-route your entire life to accommodate their sleep schedule. The self cries, “Not fair!” But you do it anyway.

Not natural.

Listen to her cry at night and cry harder than she is because you know she must learn to sleep no matter how awful the learning is, and the flesh begs, “Don’t do it!” You hold fast and she learns.

But it’s not natural.

While birthing a child may be a completely natural process biologically, to do the deed of a being a mother requires the most un-natural giving up of one’s self. It is learned and trained and struggled through and prayed over.

And it will always be hard. But you do it anyway because it’s worth it. Because there is something greater than you going on here. Because Little Lives are watching, and they see it all.

They see how you loved and nursed and prayed and made mistakes and asked forgiveness. They see how you died to yourself for their needs day after day.

And you know what they will say? One day, when they’re grown, they’ll say the same thing you said about your mom.

She was a good mom. She loved me. She sacrificed for me. “

She was a natural.

Love,
Hannah

This post is Day 25 of 31 Days of blogging in October. I am writing this month about my first season of motherhood, sharing stories and lessons that stayed with me from that time. 

(New to this series? Start here and follow the links to each day’s post.)

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The more I’m in my zone, the more I love parenting.

My zone is rarely clean, it doesn’t look like a pinterest craft, it’s not matching or clever. My zone is a hint of a plan mixed with some spontaneity against a backdrop of disorder with splashes of creativity and colour and a huge helping of deliciousness and the sounds of guitars, piano and voices. If there’s learning involved, I’m thrilled. If we’re outside, fantastic. If it’s fun, even better. If we’re laughing, consider it the best thing ever.

That’s my zone for now, and living in it brings joy to my soul, life to my days as a mom and if I’m reading the laughter in their eyes, wonder to my sons.

Yesterday it was a late afternoon spent running around in the wet, semi-dark yard. With milk in hand, of course.

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Baby watched from the porch. He is generally content anywhere but ridiculously happy outside.

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Little Boy and I kicked a ball and leaves around.

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Today we spent the morning in a nearby shopping centre, only to come home to 13 C (55 F) and sun, and when in Sweden in October, we chase the sun. So I told Little Boy were were going to have an outdoor picnic, ran inside, took his IKEA table out (it’s a bit too wet to sit on the grass), grabbed a candle, his little pumpkin and last night’s soup and we picnicked outdoors.

lunch

And we feasted on my chicken meat ball, noodle and swiss chard soup. Not true. I feasted on it. Little Boy ate some of the noodles and a bit of the meat balls. We’ll try again next time, but the soup was seriously delicious.

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The table has oily hand print marks and dirt, the candle got blown out, and I still needed to deal with whining about food. Oh and breastfeed a baby while try to eat soup at the same time.

But the wind blew leaves down, and Little Boy gazed at them falling with wonder in his eyes. The sun warmed us up. We had fun. It was a great moment, and now a few hours later, a treasured memory.

This is my zone, and it feels good.

What’s your zone? What’s the space in which you are fully yourself? How can you invite your kids, family, friends and people around you into that space?

This post is Day 24 of 31 Days of blogging in October. I am writing this month about my first season of motherhood, sharing stories and lessons that stayed with me from that time.

(New to this series? Start here and follow the links to each day’s post.)

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Dear Devi,

Hey, you over there, can you hear me? Yes, I heard the lady in the church crèche, too. Her son was talking at 10 months, and I saw your heart filling slowly with fear. You wondered about Little Boy – nine months at the time – and why he didn’t have words yet. You’re feeling afraid, afraid that you haven’t read enough, talked enough, spent enough time together, and you’re wondering about development, intelligence, autism.

How is comparison working out for you today? Here’s my opinion – not very well.

You thought you were great at not comparing him to other babies, but that’s only because when you compared him at the beginning, he was doing fine. There was no reason to worry and lots of reasons to feel like you were doing a great job.

Because that’s what comparison was about, wasn’t it? You needed all the evidence you could find that you were an adequate mother, that you were figuring out this baby thing, that you were doing a good job. In the absence of a progress report, salary or job performance evaluation, what you had instead was a baby, and there had to be a way to find out how he was doing you were doing.

Was he rolling over in time? Yes. Was he sleeping well at night? At the beginning, yes. Was he napping? Like a star. Did he cry for long periods of time? Never.

You desperately needed to know you were doing a good job, and he made it so easy for you to do that in the beginning. Comparison seemed like the only way you could know for sure that you were enough. You were enough because he was doing well. You knew he was doing well because he was winning a game. 

Here’s the thing, Devi. Children aren’t trophies, they are your treasures, your relationships, your gifts, but they are not trophies. They are not evidence of parenting successes or failures. Please don’t set yourself and your son up for a co-dependent future. He can own his successes, and he can own his failures. Your successes and failures are yours to own.

The more you feed the comparison monster, the more it will grow. Put yourself around comparison-oriented people, and the monster will thrive.

You don’t want this way of life for yourself, and you don’t want it for your children. You long to be the mother that only you can be because you are unique, with a unique past, moving toward a unique future. And you want your children to live free without the fear that they can’t meet a certain standard set by other people or even set by you. Little Boy, he wants to know that he can live, grow, thrive in a way that is his alone, not the way the sons in other families live. No other family in the world is like yours, every family has it’s special purpose, so don’t lock yourself into the box that comparison will build for you. 

So relax a little. You’re free to be a good mother, you’re free to be the mother you are supposed to be, the one who cooks with her boys, the one who doesn’t have lots of rules, who sings and dances daily, the one who reads a lot, who doesn’t give baths, the one likes to sit and think and think and think and so many other quirks and oddities and specialities and normalities. This is you. No need to be anyone else or try to meet someone else’s standard.

When you compare yourself, when you compare your children, this is what you are doing – making someone else’s life and standard the best thing and measuring your worth and your life to that standard. Whether you succeed or fail in the comparison game isn’t the point, as long as your way of measuring success is comparison, you will just keep having to do it. This is why it is so destructive – it keeps you coming back for more.

And one day it will wear you out. You will get tired of succeeding in your comparisons because it means you won’t get close to people. You will get tired of failing in your comparisons because it will make you feel worthless. But before it does that, it will wear out your kids and give them lots of reasons not to trust you. Every child gets to the point when they realize a parent is measuring their worth against someone else, and it immediately leads to feelings of inferiority, guilt and resentment. 

No comparison, Devi. Never. Ever. No one has a perfect family, and your family relationships are not your achievements. When you understand who you and Husband are, how you parent, who your kids are and what makes them tick and build the family only you are supposed to be, you give yourself, your husband, and your boys the gift of freedom.

Set your family free from the burden of comparison and watch them thrive in the light of grace and truth. 

Love,

Devi

If you’re interested in more thoughts about comparison, I wrote about it for 31 Days in October 2012.

This post is Day 23 of 31 Days of blogging in October. I am writing this month about my first season of motherhood, sharing stories and lessons that stayed with me from that time.

(New to this series? Start here and follow the links to each day’s post.)