I will never forget the look on his face. The salesman rang our doorbell for the third time in as many days, and I’d had enough. He was nice, but persistent as a toothache. Sure, he was just doing his job. But on the inside of that door was a fragile mom, triggered by another unwanted visit from a stranger.
I had maintained polite composure for our first two encounters: “No, thank you, we are not interested.” By his third visit I didn’t even bother pulling myself together before opening the door. Two children under two. One with a cold, the other with reflux. All of us sleep-deprived and crying. If the diaper-covered floor and all of us wearing last night’s pajamas didn’t convey disaster, my expression sure did.
I opened the door. One eye twitched while the other stared into his face. I didn’t need to say a word this time. The babies wailed in the background, while my breast milk stained-PJs gave off a certain je ne sais quoi. (The “quoi” was probably odor.) We’d stood in these same positions twice before. I could practically hear the old western standoff music. Each time before, he had maintained a professional posture. Not this time. He opened his mouth to speak, but then closed it. His expression softened as he averted his eyes. “I’m sorry. . . I won’t come back, I promise.”
This poor guy knocked on the door of a desperate mom in her worst parenting season. I had just quit my full-time job to stay home with two kids, fifteen months apart. It was not going well. I stepped into a new normal: full-time motherhood, where no relationship exists between effort and success. Exhaustion convinced me I was the wrong girl for the job. No matter how hard I worked—and I worked my tail off around the clock—I never felt like I was doing a good job. Life was HARD. I felt on edge and bad at being a mom, my shame exacerbated by sweet old ladies at Target warning me to “treasure every moment.” (I haven’t slept in three months, none of us have clean underwear, AND YOU WANT ME TO TREASURE THIS?)
I had always thought that stay-at-home motherhood was supposed to be easier than working outside the home. Even the title sounds relaxing, with comfy words like, “stay” and “home.” The irony is that moms are always hustling—to doctor’s visits and Costco and the pharmacy. Buckling octopus-children in and out of car seats. Over, and over again. Even when we are actually “staying home,” we are still hustling—to fix meals and wash dishes and, if we’re feeling fancy, to put everyone’s pants on by noon. (Which is SO much harder than it sounds.)
In my former 9 to 5 life, I worked for accomplished people with high standards. Sometimes I even felt like I was doing a good job. Then I quit my job to “stay home.” My new bosses had a combined lifespan of two years and stood maybe three feet, stacked. And I’d never felt worse at my job. It took two babies to dismantle my pride and sense of worth.
“But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.” (1 Cor. 1:27) Leave it to God to use babies to put my epic list of shortcomings on display.
While I’d called myself a Christian since high school, God put my spiritual growth into high gear in the trenches of motherhood. His word says that He gives grace to the humble. And “humble” is the perfect word to describe the work of stay-at-home moms.
Parenting two kids was too much for me to handle. I was drowning in inadequacy, with nowhere to look but up. I gad been giving lip service to a God who sees, knows and rescues. But I was ignoring God in my day-to-day, exhaustedly stumbling through early motherhood on my own strength. How long had I been a nominal Christian but a functional atheist? I didn’t seek Him, didn’t cry out to Him, didn’t trust Him. God showed me the end of myself via two tiny, beautiful babies. So I cried out for help. That’s when the real fun started. I started trusting God with the hard stuff, knowing that He works all things for the good of those who love Him. I joined Bible-based community, where I was comforted to find other honest and broken mamas, just like me; not the Instagram-filtered, #blessed moms I imagined. I also found more experienced moms, who assured me that one day my children would all put on their shoes by themselves. We cried and shared and encouraged one another to keep seeking Jesus.
It is solely by the Grace of God that I currently parent five kids. And now on most days, we all have pants on by 8am! (Talk about nailing it!) My increased capacity and endurance for motherhood is a testament to God’s grace. He allows me to see my natural sinful state, my lack of energy, joy and capacity—and then He grows me, His strength showing up in my weakness.
I wish I could say I’ve arrived as a mom and now look like some cross between a Disney princess and Proverbs 31. But let’s be real, many days I still need to give myself a timeout because this Mama is prone to snap, especially if someone loses another pair of shoes. I am a work in progress, and God is using toddlers and third graders to show me the areas of my heart and mind that aren’t facing the right direction.
I am praying for your mama-heart today, that your awareness of your own shortcomings lasts but long enough to send you running to Jesus. He is enough for you. He loves you like you love your babies. And if you happen to be reading this while sleep-deprived, in your breast milk encrusted PJs, please hear me when I say this: God knew exactly what He was doing when He put you in charge of your little people. Go to Him with your stress and failure. He wants to give you peace and hope. Raising kids won’t always feel like drowning. And one day, a few years from now, you’ll be encouraging a young mama in the throes of diapers and midnight feedings. You’ll remind her to turn to Jesus in the mess, that it won’t be this hard forever, and that the stink-eye and screaming babies are an all-natural salesperson repellent. We are all in this together.