One of the most striking things about motherhood is how it consumes. One day, there you are, doing the things you want to do, on a schedule you choose (how much choice you really have you may not realize yet)–and then, suddenly, the next day, you’re completely at the beck and call of a small unreasonable creature. And the only break is one you arrange at the expense of those around you. (Baby naps, while they may be a refreshing pause in an otherwise busy day, are not “breaks” in my vocabulary, because you have to be quiet, observant, and restrained, and you never know exactly when the nap is going to end.)
And thus it is easy to lose oneself in the vastness. And it is hard at first. I read once a theory about oxygen in the depths of the ocean, that there could be a liquid (instead of gaseous) form that could help the lungs deal with the pressure of ocean depths. I think this was in a fiction book, because I remember very clearly that they talked about how hard it would be psychologically, because it would feel, for a moment, like drowning. Eventually you would discover that the liquid filling your lungs was oxygenated and life-enriching, but for that dreadful moment, you’d be sure you were going to die as your lungs lost their last tiny bit of air, all you’d ever known–only to be filled up by this alien liquid. That’s the best description of motherhood I can think of. One day air, the next day liquid. Different. Foreign. Scary. Drowning. But eventually, every bit as useful and good and maybe even better.
The common response this overwhelming transition: don’t give in! Take time for yourself! Be your own person! Have your own identity outside of motherhood!
Indeed, one must not allow one’s children to become one’s idols. But this response of unabated narcissism annoys me. I hadn’t quite put my finger on it until tonight, but after reading the umteeth blog about not losing yourself in your kids, I finally realized why this had been rubbing me the wrong way even more than usual: there’s a third way. It’s not either/or, me or my children. It’s not a split, some time for me, some time for them; a little energy here, a little hobby there. The thing all this pop psychology can’t account for is that some of us already lost ourselves long before we had kids. It’s hard to be overly upset about the reassignment of our time and resources when we didn’t count them as our own anyway. I’ve thrown myself into motherhood without too much fretting about my own lost opportunities because I recognize that this new calling of mine is one I’ve been given, and one that’s an honor.
I don’t mean that I don’t struggle–deeply at times–with the fact that so many of my old ways have been subverted. There are certainly things about life pre-kids that I miss; a good night’s sleep tops the list at the moment! But what I do mean is that I consider this a failing, in large part, when it distracts me or dissuades me. Complaining and grumbling in my heart about this job I’ve been honored to do is well, sin.
A happy mommy does make for happier, better children. That’s the mantra and the justification of the do-something-for-yourself crowd, and I have no doubt that it’s true. But the more important question is, what makes a happy mommy–and what should make a happy mommy? True happiness is not found in serving myself. The same One Who made me happy before children is the same One Who makes me happy today, and the happiest, most satisfying thing in the world is to be completely consumed, used up, obsessed, and burnt to a crisp in affection and service to Him.
Compared to that, children are about as much work as brushing my teeth.