It was only after I gave everything I had that I finally realized the paradox of motherhood ...
Becoming a mother has given me the greatest jolt of my life. Prior to the day I held up the little stick with the two pink lines that changed my life, I felt like the nearly-invincible “master of my fate.” I decided how to spend my money and time. What course of study I would follow. My day and my life was basically a blank slate that I could fill in how I pleased.
That self-focus and sense of control changed somewhat with marriage, of course, but it all — all — fell apart once we welcomed our first little swaddled bundle of life.
The journey from being me-centered to being other-centered has been jarring, to say the least. My husband and I are 14 years into this parenting gig and each of those years has involved some painful chipping away at my own plans, dreams, desires, and sense of self.
Motherhood is messy. As a stay-at-home mom of six, there is a lot of drudge work. I am never quite “caught up.” And it’s not just because my husband and I have six kids; I felt the same way when I had one child, and then two, and so on. There’s chaos. And exhaustion. Tears. Messes. Frustration. Disappointment. More chaos. Repeat.
But in all the muck of family life there is also something beautiful. An unexpected diamond in the rough (or the oatmeal). There is love and laughter. Joy. Beauty. Comfort. Even — dare I say — peace.
I’m not that saintly. Often I still feel the pull to turn back towards my old, me-centered life and say “no” to today’s needs. No, I don’t want to read you Cat in the Hat again. No, I can’t stop what I’m doing to watch your impromptu dance for the 15th time. No, I can’t pull out yet another snack, tissue, water bottle, load of laundry, or volunteer sign-up list. No, I don’t feel like cleaning up your mess for what is surely the 100th time (today).
But I do. Over and over again. Partly because the alternative is living in a pigsty with a pack of unruly three-foot savages. But mostly because of love.
When I’m tired and you’re asking for a bedtime story, I’m thinking “No, I’m drained,” but say “yes.”
When my introverted mind and soul ache for quiet and solitude, but you want to tell me the full-length version of how you stubbed your toe, I’m thinking “no,” but say “yes.”
When you’re sitting on the potty hollering “I’m doooonnnnneee!” and I think “Not again!” I say “Coming!”
When you want to bake cookies with me, but I’d rather make them by myself and spare the mess, I say “Sure!”
When you want to crawl in my bed at 3 a.m. because of a bad dream and snuggle, I make room (and so does your dad).
If I could summarize the role of a parent in two words, they would be: “You. Give.”
You give when you don’t feel like it, when you’re exhausted, and when you’d rather be doing any one of a thousand other things. You give even when you feel sick and tired of putting your own needs and wants last, even when you’re wondering where the old you got lost to along the way, and whether you’ll ever feel confident and successful in your own skin again.
But the shocker is, even though you can’t always see it, you receive too. The crazy, counter-cultural assertion that “It is more blessed to give than to receive” one day suddenly begins to make sense and falls like a weighty ball of truth right into your lap.
When the realization of your child’s sweetness, innocence, and beauty crashes over your soul like a waterfall.
When your child brings you that special craft or project, and you look into her eyes and become aware of a deeper and purer love than you ever glimpsed before.
When your child does something noble, brave or selfless, and you realize you’ve been gifted with the profound blessing of nurturing a soul that can add some love to the world.
And in a thousand other moments I could never have anticipated, I receive. So many things I would never even have thought to ask for — but that enrich my life more than I could have imagined. Love. Joy. Peace. Laughter. Fulfillment. Contentment.
The shock and paradox of motherhood — that even though we give until we have nothing left to give, and feel like we’ve lost our selves along the way so many times over, we receive, too. Unexpected blessings that are greater and richer than we could have expected or imagined.