Finding Gratitude in Hard Places

MOTHERHOOD


The last eight weeks have had an unexpected thread of familiarity for me, like a found trinket from childhood or an old pair of running shoes. Holding them provokes something deep within me, a small sense that I have been here before. To be clear, I have never been here before, but there were years of early motherhood that felt a little like sheltering in place. Whether juggling a schedule of staggered naps or experiencing too many sleepless nights or feeling overrun with logistical details, it can simply be necessary to stay home. Or at least that was the case for me. With four children 5.5 years apart, I felt all of it. I enjoyed taking our children places and traveling, even with an infant in arms and breastfeeding, but so often I chose a simpler path, to plan ahead or simply wait. I strategized the best time to go to the market or which windows of time were the lightest traffic or best opportunity for the park or museums. I partnered with Mark to decide who might make the grocery run or who would take bath routines with the children versus kitchen clean-up in solitude. In public, I felt vigilant–not afraid or anxious, but watchful–of people around us, of park settings or trips to Target. We found rest in being outdoors often and walked daily for long periods of time. Sound familiar?

Like many of you the last few weeks, our home has practiced some of these old rhythms with a mixture of emotions. No one loves it. The simplicity of that early season has passed, and although those years were exhausting and beautiful in a way that differs from our home now, I value them more for how they caused me to slow down and pay attention. I am grateful for the ways they bonded us as a family, merely by doing ordinary things together at home, working through squabbles and rote days. I have a bit more perspective now for their brevity and the important work happening beneath the surface.

In those years, I also remember days when it seemed there was nowhere to hide. Perhaps you feel it, too? Days of being called back and forth from toilet training to a sibling squabble to a read-aloud or lesson to a child on my heels with a question to a meal needing attention. Holy moments do not always feel as we might expect. Bonding is not always quiet cuddling. Sometimes it is eye contact. Sometimes it’s a gentle, firm no. Sometimes it’s a required rest or quiet time for everyone including mom. Sometimes it’s walking or climbing trees or pushing a swing. Sometimes it’s pulling out all the art materials or a camera to notice the beauty. There were days I wanted to throw in the towel on homeschooling, days when I felt impatient and exhausted, or that I was not enough. With nowhere to hide, I had to choose how to recreate the moment and find the space that my children or I needed.

As one who can be quite private about my interior world, I am oddly thankful for all the years of having to learn to address the more painful life moments in the midst of parenting. When crises have come and tears with them, I am grateful that my children have seen me in the more intimate moments of disappointment or frustration or uncertainty because in them they have also seen me pray and worship and trust. They have watched Mark and I problem-solve and discuss and adapt. They have seen us, as Kipling writes, “watch the things [we] gave [our] life to, broken / And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools.” As parents, I imagine we prefer the lessons offered from our successes, the sage advice passed down from our victories. But I assure you, as much as it breaks our hearts, our children will experience grave disappointments and failures, too, and it’s powerful for them to experience us find hope and persevere in those places as well, however imperfect. We learn so much by watching others.

I should note that I have always been protective of our children’s sense of security, especially in the little years, carefully forming an honest but age-appropriate narrative for them. Our children do not need to know every detail of our heartache to learn how to work through their own. Looking back, what seems most valuable at the moment with all the apparent uncertainty is that we keep talking through it all. They have seen me slow down and change course before, and now as they are older, they are learning to do the same, to adjust plans and expectations, to be honest about their disappointment, to pray, to talk through it, to find hope.

I wonder–what have the last eight weeks stirred within you? Have you been still enough yet to ask yourself?

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