Mother’s Day is only a couple days away and I’ve been thinking quite a bit lately about what it means to be a mom. I’ve got three amazing kids, ages 7, 11 and 13 and, while I am no expert on parenting, I have learned more from being a mom to these three humans than just about anything I can think of. It occurred to me the other day that when school ends in a couple weeks, I will officially have one child in elementary school, one in middle school and one in high school. How I made it to this stage in my life is a little mind-blowing to me. There have been seasons where it’s been not much more than a blur of chaos, confusion and sleepless nights. In other seasons (lots of them, fortunately), I’ve hung out with my kids, watched their personalities come out and heard stories about things they did, and I get this overwhelming realization that I made them, that these amazing kids are actually ours, that somehow we have been entrusted to raise them! That’s a pretty amazing, privilege (albeit exhausting at times)!
So, in no particular order, I wanted to share three things that parenting these humans has taught me over the past (almost) 14 years.
1. Life is messy. Embrace it.
I’m just going to jump right into it. Life can be really messy. I’m not just talking about the potty-training and booger-eating kind of messy. Or the never-ending pile of papers from school kind of messy. Not even the barf stains that will literally NEVER come out of the carpet no matter how many cleaners you try kind of messy. Don’t get me wrong, these things can be the absolute worst. But sometimes it’s so much deeper than that, isn’t it?
Sometimes we put all sorts of expectations on ourselves that are just plain impossible. Then, life happens and we get sick or the kids are awake all night or someone breaks a leg in the middle of a camping trip, and we think we need to keep going and fulfilling all of those expectations. That’s when we have a choice. We can let the spiral of mom shame start and let the guilt, anger, sadness or you-name-the-feeling take over and ruin our day which, let’s face it, happens sometimes. The thing I’ve learned works so much better though, is to embrace the mess. When I let go of those expectations of myself, my husband or my kids and simply face the unexpected “mess” in the moment, you wouldn’t believe how many times I actually find myself filled with joy, because not only do I experience a bit of freedom, so do the people around me. Even as I write this, memory after memory is flashing through my mind of times we’ve told our kids they could put their feet in the water at a lake or river and they’ve ended up soaked from head to toe and full of joy, because I decided to let go of my expectations and just let them be kids.
2. There’s not one “right” way to parent.
I had the chance recently to visit and stay with one of my dearest friends, Nikki, in Minnesota for a few days. Her husband was out of town while I was there so she was in full-on mom mode. It was such a blast to spend time with her and get to watch her parent her kids. Nikki and I have very similar values when it comes to parenting and life but what that looks like coming from her personality as she parents her kids, with each of their own unique personalities, is different than what it looks like when I try to convey those values as a mom. Every time I watch her parent, I learn something from her and am challenged to be a better mom to my own kids. I know a lot of incredible moms and not a single one of them parents exactly the same way because of who they are, what they value and who their kids are. Heck, I don’t even parent each of my kids the same way! I absolutely love that! I truly believe that most of us are doing the best we can and there is so much we can learn from one another, if we stop trying to judge which one of us is doing it right.
3. I need friends to be a better mom.
One summer when our kids were little, I remember finishing a 3 week vacation with Ben and my kids where we camped, relaxed at home and visited family for a bit. Toward the end of the three weeks, as we were sitting around a campfire, Ben and I had one of those great conversations about all the ways we were driving each other crazy. During the conversation, it occurred to us that we had been with each other almost every minute of those three weeks. We love each other deeply but that vacation and conversation became a catalyst toward us investing more fully in our friendships. We needed people to share in our life besides just one another. We had gotten married right out of college, started working and doing full time ministry in our church, gotten pregnant with our daughter and then Ben went on active duty for the Army National Guard, all within the first 8 months of marriage. There really hadn’t been much time to invest in friendships before that!
Let me just tell you, making this choice was one of the best things I could have done for myself, my marriage and my kids. There are women and men in my life who have poured into me over the years, prayed for me, challenged me, laughed and cried with me, celebrated and grieved with me and encouraged me beyond belief. I can say with certainty that I would not be the mom that I am without these people. If you don’t have these people in your life, it’s not too late. All it takes is one invitation to coffee or showing up to that play group you’ve been meaning to try out. It might be awkward but trust me, it will be worth it!
This isn’t an exhaustive list, by any means, but these are some of the most important lessons I’ve learned as a mom. Thanks for taking the time to check out my little corner of the internet. What are some things having kids has taught you? I’d love to hear from you!