Q: I am a mom of 3 little ones ages 4 1/2, 3, and 22 months with another little one on the way. Motherhood has surprised me and has been quite a journey. I never expected to be worn out continually, fighting depression and anger, living in a losing battle with housework and feeling like my children are never going to see Gods love because I often question it myself. I love my family so much and wouldn’t give them up for anything but I’m wondering what is wrong with me. I enjoy moments with my children but days, weeks, months, years? Yeah, that’s a battle. I’m continually told by well meaning, sometimes nostalgic, older women to enjoy these years because they are the best years of my life. Best years? I have good days, yes, but years? Is there someone I could talk to who would be willing to be an encouragement, not just another person saying how these are great years? I really really want to thrive and invest in my children and work with their unique personalities but I feel so defeated and desperate.
Dear Defeated and Desperate,
My dad is always saying that moms with small children have the hardest job in the world. He’s absolutely right. You are, as G.K. Chesterton described mothers, “everything to someone”—and in your case three, soon to be four, precious someones.
The sweet, little, old ladies (forgive them if you will!) forget how hard it is, and perhaps, with forgetting, they only remember the happy moments. Be thankful that one day you will too.
For now, enjoy the good days when you have them and accept that you will probably have a lot more tough times than cuddly moments for a while. The wise man of Ecclesiastes tells it straight: “All things are full of weariness” (Ecc. 1:8). I think he must have had moms in mind. Life is hard and Scripture doesn’t try to sugar coat it. But it tells us how to live and thrive in the midst of hard.
- First of all, try get some sleep if you can. Whenever my sisters or I get overwhelmed by motherhood and call our mom in tears, she encourages us to leave the dishes in the sink and go to bed early. God created our bodies to need sleep. Everything may not be better in the morning, but at least you have strength to tackle it afresh. Now, with little ones the ages of your children I’m guessing some of them might not sleep so well. But do what you can. Ask your husband to wake up with the kids so you can sleep in. Beg a young girl from church to babysit. Take naps when the kids are napping. Mom also encourages us to do something restful that replenishes your soul so that you can persevere in the tiring work of motherhood. This might mean a morning at a coffee shop or time with a friend. It’s amazing what a few hours of rest can do for a weary soul.
- Second, feed your soul. Begin to collect verses, sermons, snippets from books, whatever encourages you in this difficult season and return to them again and again. You don’t need many, just a few really good ones. You may not be able to read your Bible for five minutes at a time without one kid crawling all over you and another one shaking milk drops out of his bottle all over the floor with glee, but get whatever nourishment you can, and hang onto it for dear life. For encouragement in this season, consider Feminine Appeal, Shaping of a Christian Family, Fit to Burst, Spurgeon’s Daily Readings, and especially the Psalms.
- Third, simplify where you can. When I’m overwhelmed and exhausted, it’s usually because I’m trying to do too much. Paper plates and fewer playgroups give me time to focus on what’s most important: teaching my children to love God and obey their parents, and creating a (mostly!) peaceful and joyful home. When things get easier you can add in more stuff, but when you have four under four, you probably only have time for the biblical basics. That’s not something to feel guilty about. And strategize about trouble spots. Pick one at a time. What’s the craziest time of day or the biggest discipline issue with your children? What is one small thing you can do to minimize the effect of that one trouble spot?
Once you’ve simplified and strategized and slept, motherhood will still be hard. But remember that today’s mothering hardships come to you, as Elisabeth Elliot puts it, “through the hedge of [God’s] love.” He has called you to care for these precious children and he will give you strength as you look to him for help. He promises that, “as your days so shall your strength be” (Deut. 33:25); he is the God who “gives power to the faint” (Is. 40:29) and “daily bears us up” (Ps. 68:19).
God doesn’t command us to enjoy the challenges of motherhood, but he wants us to find joy in the midst of mothering. Our heavenly Father scatters his goodness and mercies throughout the most difficult of mothering days (Ps. 23:6). The toothless smile, the sticky hug, the bedtime snuggle are all blessings from God, reminders of his good and gracious character. Even if the only evidence of grace is that the day is over, we can thank God for sustaining mercies and a new day to come.
Moms of young kids have the hardest job in the world, but it is not a forever job. The little old ladies remind us of that. Before you know it, you’ll be the one staring wistfully at the mom with young kids. When you find strength and joy in God for these challenging days, one day you won’t remember the half of it.
“He will not so much remember the days of his life for God keeps him occupied with joy in his heart.” ~Ecc. 5:20