I am busy. I’ve been trying to run from that word because it just seems so overused these days, but I can’t deny the reality. This week was busy bordering on ridiculous. I have multiple part-time jobs I work from home, I had two speaking events, I’m finishing up putting together content for a retreat I’m speaking at soon, I had a meeting with a friend about an additional volunteer project I’d like to help facilitate, we planned and lead the music for church. . . and I also have six kids.
In the quiet moments (which are few and far between) I find myself wondering why I run at this frantic pace. Why am I always juggling and why do the balls I’m juggling always seem to be on fire? It’s in those quiet moments that I’m starting to hear an answer. I think it’s because I hate quiet moments.
The other night we took the kids out for ice-cream and they all ate their treats and then went to play in the playland. Nobody needed me to spoon-feed them their ice-cream. Nobody needed me to help get off their shoes. I didn’t have to climb into the play structure to rescue a terrified toddler. My kids are still young, but they are becoming more and more independent. I love this. I’ve been shooting for this moment from day 1 of parenting. I have taken such joy in teaching them self-help skills, self-advocacy skills and independence. But in the back of my mind I’ve always thought, “Don’t get too comfortable here. They’re going to grow up and leave you.” After a decade solid of parenting young children, I can finally take a breath. But that breath seems to catch in my throat.
I love being a mom with my whole heart. It is the thing I always knew I was meant to do. But sometimes I have thought about that girl in high school who was SUPER GOOD at high school. She was really having the time of her life while the rest of us felt awkward and were anxiously looking forward to the next phase. Sometimes I wonder what happened to that girl. Did she also become awesome at college? Is she loving life today? Or did she peak too soon and now she spends her days wistfully looking through her yearbook and boring her friends with tales of her glory days? I don’t want to be that girl, but I can already hear myself boring the neighbors someday years from now with tales of my adorable daughter’s exploits when she was a toddler.
Motherhood as a career. It’s an odd thing to devote yourself to. It’s a career with an expiration date and all the experience you’ve gained and wisdom you’ve learned will only be useful if you choose to pass it along to other mothers in the trenches who find you credible. You will be expertly prepared for a life that’s no longer yours. And all the sleep guidelines and when to feed them peanut butter and what kind of carseat to use knowledge will be entirely outdated and useless. It’s kind of terrifying when you let the quiet moments happen and think about it.
So I’m running at breakneck speed to make the most of these days. I see a lot of other mothers in the race right beside me. We’re racing for meaning and identity in a temporary world full of temporary problems and temporary people who will someday leave us. We sink ourselves into volunteer work and careers outside the home because we don’t want to some day be left alone, wondering if we did it all well and hoping our identity as mothers will sustain us through our long motherhood retirement phase. We have to hope our kids want us to be active grandparents and still come to us for advice. We have to be the right kind of mothers-in-law so we can have access to the children and grandchildren that will be the heart of our world. Right now we have all the control (or so it seems) over our little kingdom where we reign supreme. But someday, this little castle will be empty and who will I be then?
This is the question that haunts us in the quiet moments of stirring spaghetti or giving the evening bath. Am I doing it right? Is this what it’s supposed to be like? Will they love me even when they realize I’m just an ordinary person? Am I making the most of these days? Should I be diving into other jobs, volunteer opportunities, or relationships so I’m not depending on these little people to give my life meaning?
I don’t have a great answer to all this. But it has helped me to be able to identify that nagging itch that seems ever present in my soul. It keeps me from feeling content even when I’m so happy with this life I’ve been given. Contentment seems impossible when I’m always waiting for the other shoe to drop—when I’ve run out of interesting things to say, when no one wants me for their volunteer projects, when my kids have outgrown me. I feel like I have to grab on to every single opportunity that presents itself or risk becoming meaningless as soon as the last child crosses the stage at graduation.
My dad wrote me a letter recently after reading one of my pieces. He told me about my worth and about how it isn’t the accomplishments of my life that determine the value of my life. I believe my dad because this is the year he decided to retire from certain aspects of the work that has kept him busy for decades. My dad is a hard worker and finds meaning in being productive, but he’s always been the one to remind me that work is what allows you to do the more important things—love, serve, be obedient to whatever God would have you to do. It is an act of faith to believe when my days of raising these children are done, God will still have work for me to do.
I don’t want to be shielding my heart from the break-up of this little family I know is some day coming. I don’t want to throw myself into life outside this home because I don’t want to be hurt or feel empty when it’s all over. I don’t ever, EVER want my children to feel they weren’t enough for me and I was always off chasing the next high (of opportunity, of praise, of busyness) because I didn’t want to be present in their lives. That is what I would truly regret. There will be years I can devote to creating a career. Maybe I’ll go back to school. Someday I’d love to sit and write that book. But I know I can never have these years with my young children back. That knowledge feels overwhelmingly weighty and sometimes my irrational response to it is to get overly busy.
So I’m still working on finding that magical place where I’m using my gifts, providing for my family, being obedient to the work I need to do, investing in those outside my home who need me, and finding joy and contentment in my children, my husband, and this home we’ve created. This hasn’t been as effortless as I imagined when I was pinning all my hopes for meaning on motherhood. It hasn’t been effortless, but the effort to find contentment, joy, peace and beauty in this complicated and temporary stage of life is worth it.