Despite having written a while ago about rationalizing why I’m happy to be a stay-at-home mum, I’ve still struggled quite a bit each day with maintaining an upbeat mood. It wasn’t until yesterday that I realized what was holding me back.
In fact, since the toddler’s birth (almost two years ago now!) I’ve had a lot of difficulty in feeling like I was doing well in motherhood. This self-doubt and constant fluctuation in mood was difficult not only for myself, but made life a little less enjoyable for the rest of my family. It’s times like these where I’m grateful for Jack, because he keeps showing me more patience than ever I could have imagined from another human being (besides my parents).
I don’t recall really enjoying motherhood with abandon until the toddler was nine months. Or ten. For the better part of a year, I felt unsure of myself, as if I were going insane, and as if I were doing everything wrong. Then one bright warm afternoon, in crossing a field walking to a friend’s house, carrying the toddler fast asleep and wrapped across my chest, I finally looked up and smiled at the sky. The blue, blue sky, and the bright, bright sun. I was happy and carefree… and then I wondered why it had taken me so long to reach this point.
In some ways, I felt almost ashamed. True, the toddler had come a little early, but I had the privilege of staying with my parents for the first month of parenthood and friends who would drop by in the following months. I had a roof over my head. I had food in the fridge. I was producing breastmilk. And sure, sleep was rough for a while, but I had no other worries.
Although I began to enjoy being a mother a bit more from that point on, the self-doubt didn’t stop. It went away for small trips and came back in full force, often right after I had lost all patience at the toddler spitting out her food for the umpteenth time, or when I nursed her to sleep because I refused to sleep-train her (everyone else seemed to be doing it), or when I simultaneously felt terrible for not enjoying her every waking moment and wanting her to sleep more soundly so I could shower. Or it came back every month, like a periodic friend. Hah.
I didn’t do too poorly until Jack started teaching in-person again. Now I was at home and much more isolated from my family (thanks, coronavirus), and now I had a lot more time to question my every move. These questions, in particular, kept cycling through my head (and they’d been there long before the pandemic):
- Would she do better in a daycare where professionals are trained to be with small children all day?
- Would I contribute to my family better by working?
- Is her being with me really the best thing I can do for her right now?
At the heart of it, I think, are questions that all caring parents ask themselves: “Am I doing the best for my child?” And as much as I rationalized staying at home, there was still something stopping me from fully enjoying the choice. Frustrating, no? Finally, I asked for prayer.
This was the first time I had asked for prayer with a much more open heart. Previously I had asked others to pray towards an attitude shift that I thought would be beneficial, but I’m realizing bit by bit that prayer is not about dictating our choices to God, but surrendering our will to Him, and being open to whatever He knows is best. As one of the ladies in my discipleship group prayed for me, I cried. Something moved.
That following night, I journaled, and realized that increasingly I had been trying to justify my stay-at-home status. I viewed it correctly as a gift, of God’s providence. (Jack and I could work together as hard as possible towards the goal of relying on one income, but all our work would be for naught if God didn’t provide.) But my mistake was in thinking that I could prove that I was worth having received such a gift. The thing about gifts is that the gift speaks more about the giver, and less about the recipient. When it comes to gifts, there is no justification.
With respect for today, there’s the gift of sacrifice, of the many veterans who fought in WWII. And there’s the greatest gift of all, which is Jesus dying on the cross. When we accept that Christ died for our sins, a perfect sacrifice to cover over our wrongdoing in the eyes of God, we receive the gift of being reconciled with God. In either case, there’s no justifying that we deserve these gifts. Really, gifts are not something people deserve. Things that people deserve are wages, payment, and so on (and on a semi-related note, the wages of any sin are death). But a gift is something freely given and left at the feet of the recipient, who can choose to take it or leave it.
On a smaller scale, there’s the gift of my circumstance. And by finally, fully understanding that it is a gift, I am freed of any burden of proof, any suggestion that I must produce some sort of result to match my gift. So really, I have nothing to prove. I don’t need to prove anything to anyone. Having realized this, I was free to do whatever I wanted with the toddler and our time together.
And yet, this thought wasn’t complete. The following night, I made another connection. I’m a slow thinker.
The proper response to having received and accepted a gift is not silence, but gratitude. Gratitude demands acknowledgement of a giver. In this case then, the proper response was not that I didn’t need to prove anything, but rather, that all I have to prove is my gratitude to God. And let me tell you, there’s something very different about proving my self-worth, versus proving gratitude. The former mindset suggested that I could make myself of greater worth; the focus is all on me and my insufficiency. The latter is an outpouring of thanks; the focus is on God and his goodness. And that truly makes all the difference.