Today I am guest-posting over at Abundant Life in the Making, participating in a blog series Aimee is hosting called “The Imperfect Mamas Club.” I love Aimee’s idea and series (first post here) which aims, in her words, to “share the good and the bad, in order give balm to the hurt, to feel less alone, to accept the hard and savor the great.” My post, “Mothering through the Panic Room phase,” also follows here.
We moved into a new neighborhood when our kids were nearly 3 and nearly 1. Our household was busy and we were encountering some significant parenting challenges…. but big picture, things still felt relatively manageable. Our new next-door neighbors, whose four children were 2 to 8 years old, were among the best parents my husband and I had ever met; we loved their kids and parenting style. My neighbor friend described the intensity of having four preschoolers. “My bedroom was like a ‘panic room,'” she told me. “When I felt like I was about to lose it, I’d go into my room, close the door, and scream into a pillow.”
At the time, I hadn’t hit that stage yet in my mothering. Now, with three kids under 5, I have. There are definitely days when I feel I could lose my mind at any moment. Days when I can’t believe it’s only 11 AM and have eight more hours till bed-time. Days when I desperately wish I could be somewhere – anywhere – else. Sometimes I find myself in a whole week of panic-room-style days.
Being an at-home mom of little kids is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Other significant undertakings- traveling weekly for a demanding consulting job; building our house from scratch; starting my own business; climbing Mt Kilimanjaro, even- pale in comparison. Recently I thought, “I wish someone had told me how hard this was going to be.” Then I realized they had… I just didn’t listen or believe. It’s not till you’re in it yourself, going through the day in and day out, that you fully get it.
Being needed all day long by multiple small humans is unbelievably wearing. And then, managing a household in which things constantly need replacing and replenishing – groceries, clean clothes, diapers, wipes, toilet paper, soap, dog food – could itself be a full-time job. If I had one day of finding every single thing where and when I need it, it would feel like a major accomplishment. It wouldn’t be so bad if it were just home management plus child management…. If, for example, I was happy to put the kids in front of the TV for hours and serve pre-packaged foods for dinner. Problem is, I’m not happy with that; the minimum effort doesn’t cut it. Doing this job with excellence – attending carefully and well – requires infinitely more.
When I hear moms who work outside the home say they “like”and “are good at” their jobs… boy, I get that. I like my (compensated) job too – at least, I like the space and independence and freedom that doing it brings. My consulting work (which now occupies 3 – 5 hours of my week), even in its more frustrating and taxing moments, is way easier than being home full-time with my kids. And in the short and measurable runs, I feel much more competent and successful doing it than I do when I’m correcting my seemingly untrainable child for the 11th time on the same issue. More successful than working, over weeks and months, with children apt to show me their worst and most sinful sides in the home space we occupy together. (Note: this is not to knock moms who work outside the home or to say there’s no place for doing so. I understand that the landscape is complex and am not judging, here or elsewhere.)
But mothering in today’s world sells moms such a bill of goods. All the options available to us cloud the realities – the full-time working mom, the part-time working mom, the part-time work-from-home mom, the full-time stay-at-home mom. The attachment mom vs. the scheduled mom. The child-led mom vs. the firme, high-expectations mom. We think, “This is so stinking hard. I must be doing something wrong. There must be a better way.” We feel discouraged and guilty. The photos we incessantly view on Facebook of other people’s families, the endless parenting magazines that fill doctor office waiting rooms – they show happier families, more fulfilled mothers. Hint at more successful strategies and results than ours. Can’t this be easier?!
The reality is: yes, there are parenting strategies that work better than others, critical principles that improve things when we employ them. But they’re no fix-all. It’s just darn hard work. We’ve been conditioned by our culture to see life in terms of instant results, short-cuts, and superficial happiness. But these have no place in mothering young children. A friend of mine told me about an older, wiser couple she knew who called their earliest years with kids the “Dark Years.” At first this struck me as sad – seeing such a tender and beautiful time with sweet babies int this light. But now I appreciate the candor and honesty that this viewpoint brings. This couple counted the cost; they got it. They didn’t deny that it was really hard at first; then they acknowledged and rejoiced when things got easier as their kids aged… when they got out of the ‘panic room’ stage. Because it does end, and it is worth it. We get moments of knowing this now, while we’re in this phase, and later we’ll get to relish it more fully when the intensity of life with young ones dissipates. God is with us. He humbles us as we mother young ones and teeter on the brink of insanity; he gives us the strength and vision we need. He equips us to fulfill our most challenging calling, that of mothering young children with excellence to grow and love him. God’s promise is that, as we trust and lean on Him, we will make it through the Panic Room stage and it will be worth it – for us and our kids.