what I wish I’d known

Awhile back, Grace at Camp Patton hosted a series from some wise mommy bloggers titled, “What I Wish I’d Known” about motherhood. For some reason my cynical self was oddly moved by their words. I think what struck me the most was the wide range of advice offered, from the trivial to the profound. [If you haven’t read the series yet, please do yourself a favor and stop reading this banal post and go over there for a while.]

Anyway, it got me thinking about what I wish I had known about motherhood before embarking upon this journey. [Ugh. “embarking upon this journey”- so corny]

And what came to me was this: what I wish I would have known about motherhood is just how bad I would be at it sometimes.

Let me be clear that I did not make that statement out of some kind of false humility or self-deprecation or a desire for compliments. Simply, it is true: some days I am a bad mom.

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What makes me incredulous is that I never expected this to happen. I mean, what did I think, that my concupiscence would suddenly disappear the day I gave birth? Nope. I am still the same self-centered, flighty, emotional, slothful, quick-tempered person I was before Philomena (and now J) entered my life.

I wish I would have known that there would be moments when I would lose my temper with my sweet girl for such a minor offense. I wish I would have known that there would be days in which I would totally “phone in” with motherhood, instead of being actively engaged and present. I wish I would have known that there would be times in which I would consciously choose to zone out on the Internet, rather than play a game with my child. I wish I would have known that I would repeatedly call my husband at work in tears, because I had messed up again and again and again.

I wish I would have known all of these things, so I wouldn’t be obsessed with my failures when they happen.

We all have that distance between “the person I am” and “the person I want to be.” Lately that great chasm has absolutely plagued me. I have hours, days, weeks in which I become obsessed with my insufficiencies and my brokenness, especially in motherhood. I think this is partially due to the reality that my very identity is wrapped up in my wife-ness and mother-ness [are those words?]. I feel that when I fail as a wife and a mother, I fail as a person.

Indeed, it is a grace to see one’s faults (truly!); however, it is the father of lies who cajoles one into being obsessed with said failings.

When all I see in my motherhood are my sins, my faults, my less-than-ideals, then there’s no room in my vision for Christ. Deep-down, I know that in my insecurities is right where Jesus wants to be. He desires to transform those awful parts of me into something beautiful. But when I focus merely on my faults, then I forget about the Answer to these faults.

This is not an excuse to sit on my spiritual ass, and say, “well, we’re all broken, so it’s okay if I’m a bad mom.” Of course not! By God’s grace, we are to raise saints. And that means nothing, if we ourselves are not striving for sainthood. But what I am coming to realize is that when I focus just on the struggle and not on the goal, then all I will ever do is struggle.

Marriage and motherhood are like those mirrors that magnify your face and show every flaw, every pore. Those mirrors are totally freaky, but goodness knows I can pluck my eyebrows so much better with them. The Lord uses our vocations to refine us, and it really hurts at times. Nevertheless, I can see in the three short years of my motherhood His challenging me to embrace virtues I had no idea that I lacked.

And you know what? Even on the bad days, my daughter and foster son see my sincerely asking for their forgiveness. Even if I over-react nine times out of ten, there is still that one time that I bite my tongue and say a prayer. These moments impact them too, even if it is not conscious for them right now. This is part of what we want to teach our children: that all of us are broken and fallen, but the virtue is in embracing the cross, getting back up again, and keeping our eyes on the victory.

Yes?

what I wish I'd known about motherhood

“Nobody can go off to battle unless he is fully convinced of victory beforehand. If we start without confidence, we have already lost half the battle and we bury our talents. While painfully aware of our own frailties, we have to march on without giving in, keeping in mind what the Lord said to Saint Paul: ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’ (2 Cor 12:9). Christian triumph is always a cross, yet a cross which is at the same time a victorious banner borne with aggressive tenderness against the assaults of evil. The evil spirit of defeatism is brother to the temptation to separate, before its time, the wheat from the weeds; it is the fruit of an anxious and self-centred lack of trust.” – Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, “The Joy of the Gospel”

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To warn you, this blog post may get a tad deep [for me, at least] and perhaps a little rambling. If you’re not in that kind of mood, I totally get it. Might I recommend gazing on some cute kitties in real time instead? 

The other night I was procrastinating going to bed. [Am I the only one who gets “too tired” to go to bed? My husband certainly thinks it’s a freakish anomaly of mine.] And so, I delved into the most advanced time wasting device modern man has to offer. [You may know it as “Facebook.”] For some reason, I examined my own profile, which is rare, a shocking reality in the face of the embarrassing amount of time I spend unabashedly stalking “networking” on FB.

And what did I discover upon investigating myself? I have a baby. And apparently this baby is the only thing going on in my life. Evidence: a status update about teething, a tag in a video of my daughter waking up, a picture of said baby eating a crucifix, a tag in a video of baby scooting, a ridiculous picture of the baby hanging from the pull-up bar…you get the idea.

And let’s not even talk about my instagram feed, in which truth-in-advertising would demand my user name to be “menaunfilitered.” [I have a friend who likes to remind me that when I was pregnant I said something along the lines of, “those women who post hundreds of pictures of their children are just over the top. I might share one or two every once in a while.” Ha. Hello, Over the Top, my name is Sarah. I’d like to join you.]

My first reaction to seeing my own FB page was, “maybe I should post a profound quote or Scripture verse or political news article, so people know I’m still intelligent and my brain hasn’t converted to Mommy mush.” I quickly nixed that idea, because really, it was pretty contrived and vain, even for me.

However, as I thought about the page more, for some reason I got a pit in my stomach, and I thought, “Is my very self now defined by my child?” Am I no longer “Sarah,” but rather “Mother of Philomena”? And, “Did this naturally arise from motherhood or have I forced it upon myself?”

I don’t have an answer to these questions yet, but they certainly provoked me to examine my experiences of the past seven months. At the risk of sounding corny, I can honestly say hands-down these have been the best months of my life. I’m not some kind of idealist who remembers during my day-to-day-ness the holy vocation of marriage and motherhood. Most days I’m probably complaining about teething or not being able to wear necklaces, because she chews on them. [Yes, my problems are big.] And living on one modest income is tough. Very tough. 

And yet, amidst this, I am happy. So, so, so, happy. [Imagine me saying that in sing-songy voice with a bluebird next to me.] When I was pregnant and we made the decision that I wouldn’t go back to work full-time [no, I don’t think that’s the right decision for everyone, but it’s what we discerned was the best for our family right now], I was scared, completely freaked. I spent most of my pregnancy with anxiety that I would get bored at home with a baby, that I would feel under-challenged, that I would miss full-time teaching too much. I was afraid people would judge me for not “using” my advance degrees. [By “people” I mean myself.]

Aaaaand, like most anxiety, it was all for naught. I’m afraid I’m sounding all sugary, but I truly, deeply love being a Mother. I almost feel guilty that this gets to be my job. And yet, I am grateful. Many women close to my heart long for motherhood, but lack of husband prospects or infertility stand in the way. My heart aches for them, and I desperately pray I will never take this gift for granted.

Returning to the night of the Facebook profile dilemma, I tried to remember what my page looked like a year ago, two years ago, five years ago. Even fondly reminiscing through my rose-colored glasses at my fancy-free single life, I have to acknowledge that my page probably didn’t consist of things that much more exciting than a baby learning how to crawl. Most likely, I had statuses about things like “Margarita Thursday” [truth be told, I’d love to have a mid-week night out with my Atlanta besties again] and going to see some cliche indie concert [I miss you, Joshua Radin] or my latest “Lost” theory [RIP]. And definitely there were pictures of me in significantly more fashionable clothes and accessories, no doubt. [Oh, expendable money, how I long for thee.]

As a single person, I felt very defined by the things I did– teaching, friendships, young adult groups- and most likely my online self reflected this. Single-ness in and of itself is difficult to be defined by, simply because it is by its nature a lack of something. And that’s okay. Often it is good to lack something. I know my 20s lacked a husband and baby, but they were filled with truly amazing experiences that helped form me and prepare me for my life now.

And this life is very different. I can’t do whatever I want; my life is not my own. I am Ryan’s wife. I am Philomena’s mother. And yet, in this “limiting” of self, I have actually found a freedom of identity. It’s as though I was always meant to be defined as “mother.”

But, you know, even in my unattached single days I was never my own. I was always His beloved. That is, indeed, the most defining of identities. And correspondingly, the most freeing.

This probably didn’t make much sense. And I’m fine with that. Excuse me while I go take a picture of my daughter waking up from her nap.