As a young mother of three children, ages four, two, and six weeks, there was no such thing as a typical day. Every day was an adventure. Some felt like an exciting journey of joyful discovery while others were more like being trapped inside of a hurricane.
It had been one of those whirlwind days, and I was exhausted. My sweet two-year-old had turned into a terror, almost overnight.
Within the course of a few hours, he had climbed onto the kitchen counter to play in the sink, turning the kitchen into a swimming pool, unloaded the medicine cabinet and tried to brush his teeth with Neosporin, dumped an entire bottle of aftershave all over himself and the bathroom, pulled a chair over to a dresser to retrieve a bottle of muscle rub that looked particularly fascinating to his young eyes, and dumped a full container of fish food (enough to last for a year) into our aquarium.
Trying to care for a newborn and a stubborn four-year-old while I could not let my curious two-year-old out of my sight convinced me that I was in way over my head. I loved my kids but wondered how the daily experience of motherhood could possibly be joyful. Stressful felt like a better descriptor when I spent most of my time dealing with one catastrophe after another.
Now, 14 years later, thanks to the wise teachers of time and perspective, I have learned a thing or two about harnessing joy. It begins by internalizing these three principles of joyful motherhood:
1. I am a Mother, Not a Martyr
I knew I had a problem when a new friend asked me to share a few things that I enjoyed, and I couldn’t think of anything. It had been ages since I had focused on myself because I thought I was too busy being a mom.
In that moment of epiphany, I realized I had lost myself somewhere in the middle of kids, carpools, homework, and managing a household. I had forgotten that I was more than a mother; I was a woman with passions and interests unrelated to raising a family.
It took me awhile to find that girl again because she had been hiding for so long, but the process was incredibly freeing. Underneath all the layers of motherhood, I was still the same curious and driven girl that I had been before having children. I still loved to write and cook things other than chicken nuggets and macaroni and cheese. I still had a passion for learning and teaching.
I cherish being a mom and feel like it is the noblest work I could be doing at this stage in my life. But, to be whole, I also need to feed my soul with other things that make me happy.
Now say it out loud with me:
I am a mother, not a martyr. Some sacrifices come with the territory, but setting aside my passions because I have children is no longer one of them.
2. There is Magic in the Mess
In my world, mess equals stress. I can handle some chaos for a short time, but it will inevitably cause me to lose my cool and start acting like a crazy woman if it stays around for too long. As much as I would like to change that aspect of my personality, I think it is around for the long haul, which is sometimes tricky with a houseful of kids (and teenagers) who are not naturally tidy.
The reality is that family life is messy. I could spend every minute of my time cleaning, and my kids would still leave trails of disorder behind them. I could allow that to keep me in a constant state of frustration, but I would rather not. Instead, I am trying to train myself to find joy and purpose amidst the chaos.
Art supplies scattered across every flat surface in my home have become evidence of creativity and love.
Stacks of homework have become a testimony of academic dedication.
Flour and sugar spilled all over the counters have become proof of kids learning to cook.
Piles of laundry… Well, they are just piles of laundry. I’m still working on that one.
It’s my goal to teach my kids to clean up after themselves, but they usually just look at me with blank expressions like I am speaking in tongues. However, I grow more convinced with each passing year that finding joy in the messiness of motherhood is only a matter of knowing where to look.
3. Enough is Enough
While child-rearing used to be an intuitive process, it now feels like a competitive sport. There is immense pressure to help your children discover their unique talents before they start kindergarten. If you wait to enroll them in lessons or sports until they are seven years old, they will be behind, which means that scholarships will likely be out of the question in the future.
As a mom, it is easy to get sucked into the parental culture where keeping kids busy is an unwritten rule. I jumped on that bandwagon when my children were young, which meant that we were constantly on the run between all sorts of activities.
It did not go well.
While my kids enjoyed their classes and teams, they were often stressed and irritable because they had hardly any time to relax and play. They longed for unstructured time to ride their bikes, jump on the trampoline, or read a book.
Searching for more balance, I became extremely picky about the things I allowed into our schedule. I said no often, protecting our downtime like the treasure it was, which allowed me to say yes to the things that mattered most. We were all happier because of it.
In the fast-paced world that we live in, a little busyness goes a long way. Sometimes, enough is enough.
Throughout the years of motherhood, there will inevitably be ups and downs. It may not be possible to enjoy every moment or stage, but that doesn’t need to keep each of us from finding fulfillment in the overall journey.
For more of Lynnette’s signature candor (I love this girl!), hop over to read her other posts here at The Life On Purpose Movement, OR visit her at simplyforreal.com.