One constant in the experience of a young mother is change. All moms deal with it, but the degree of change seems to accelerate with each new baby. Our first three children were born in a timespan of less than four years- a short period, though longer than many I know. From our eldest’s birth to today, the ever-changing elements of daily life include: my waistline; clothing that fits me; clothing that fits each child; the kids’ diaper and toileting situations; kids’ sleeping modes (bassinette, crib, bed); carseats; feeding issues. Not a complete list, of course – and one that entirely excludes intangibles like hormones, character development matters, correction techniques, etc.
Even apart from the fact that the landscape is always changing, it’s a lot. With the continual changes and the need to stay on top of them, it can be overwhelming at times.
There’s a funny cycle that can happen when a big new change – the addition of a baby, say – happens. There’s the Kickoff Season that accompanies the change – the hang-on-by-the-skin-of-your-teeth adjustment. Then there’s a Smoother Patch once new rhythms are created and a sense of routine has resumed – the new normal. Then, at least for me, there’s a funny jetlag effect that kicks in later – the Reality Catches-Up Phase.
Example: last month, I suddenly felt exhausted and overloaded, like I hit a wall. I felt completely ill-equipped to manage my life. Reflecting on it, I realized that a big part of it was a jetlag effect in which the reality of having our third child fully penetrated. We had a grace period that started a couple months after the birth, but then one day after weeks and weeks of quiet build up, the full force of it hit me like a load of bricks. Suddenly having three kids – along with a household, budget, dog, chickens, part-time job, and sundry other tasks – felt like too much.
A huge part of dealing with the onslaught of continual change that accompanies mothering little ones is frequently (re)assessing the situation. Because it’s constantly changing, our assessment of it must change along with it. We have to hit the “refresh” button on our minds and circumstances so we can see it how it really is today and respond appropriately. Pace ourselves, manage the impact of our mothering – emotionally, spiritually, maritally, physically – so we can run the race well. Our doing so actually matters a lot – not only to our own mental health but also to God and His glory, to our children and husbands, and to those our family will impact.
When I hit last month’s wall, I had to step back and see what was happening: the jet lag had caught up with me and the full weight of our family’s life changes were emerging. I had to take an inventory of my emotions and the contents of my life and sit with God to reconfigure things. Part 1 is a “back up and take stock” step. For me the process goes something like this: 1) squarely acknowledge feeling overwhelmed; 2) lay everything on the table before God and ask what He wants me to do with it; 3) wait there till He provides direction, clarity, and peace; 4) do whatever He directs. Part 2 is working through all this with my husband to protect our marriage, ensure that no resentment takes root, and love and unity can thrive. The more changes and life additions we experience, and certainly the more kids we have, the more frequent these types of sessions are likely to occur.
God alone can keep us from burnout on one side, or checking out on of responsibilities on the other as a reaction ot feeling overwhelmed. After all, he’s the one who chose to use family life – our marriages, mothering, and household realities – as the central ingredients of our santification. He’s the one who assures that that He’ll fully equip us for our life mission and carry the load He calls us to. In the words of one of my favorite hymns: “Leave to thy God to order and provide; through every change, He faithful will remain.”