Rachel Heath

Intentional Living: learning to be fully present

Archive for the tag “motherhood”

Sometimes

A few months ago, a friend asked me if I liked being a mom. I hesitated for a moment – just a split second – before offering the answer I knew was correct, the expected answer.

Yes! Yeah, I love it. It’s wonderful. Being a mom is great. A challenge, but really wonderful. Of course. It’s great.

I heard myself repeating the same words over and over, frantically racking my brain for something specific. The truth is, in that moment, I really didn’t. I’m supposed to adore motherhood, but that day, I didn’t. I left the restaurant troubled by my response, and over the last few months that little piece of conversation has come back to haunt me at every one of my lowest parenting moments.

You’re a terrible mother. You couldn’t come up with a single reason you enjoy being a mom! Why did you even have children? 
It’s certainly no secret that motherhood has been a difficult adjustment for me. Sleep deprivation, kind to no one, I think does an especially hard job on me, and neither of our tinies were (are) good sleepers. Isabella would wake infrequently but it would take us close to an hour to get her back down, and she didn’t sleep through the night till she was 1. Barrett had awful colic for 5 months, and at 13 months old, he is still waking up 6-10 times a night.

The night before Mother’s Day (of course) was a very rough one for Bear. After he woke 5 times between 10pm and 1am, Stephen finally gave in and got him up. I was too worked up to sleep, so I got up too. We sat on the living room floor in our robes, Barrett playing quietly between us, and had an awful conversation about our big doubts, disillusionment with God, and disappointment over unanswered prayers (the middle of the night is obviously the best time to talk about these light topics).

“If I had known what this would really be like, I never would have had kids,” I muttered, refusing to let the hot tears surface.

The desperation and rage when it’s 2:30 am and I can’t get baby to calm down and fall asleep; the trembling fear of finding out just where my line is and how close I can come to it in the dark hours of the night.

The inability to walk out of a room, or even move from one spot on the floor, without my child wailing because I am leaving.

The chronic sleeplessness, the chronic feeling that sleeplessness is making me a shitty parent.

The look of fear on my child’s face when I suddenly snap and lose my temper; the satisfaction of losing my temper; the immediate rush of guilt afterwards; the many broken items in my wake.

The loss of identity, loss of autonomy, slow death of untended relationships, sacrifice of career.

The constant demand for attention, the always being-needed.

The frightening realization of just how easily I can be worn down by whining, complaining, and backtalking.

The surprise of just how much a 3-year-old’s careless and ignorant words can hurt.

The tiredness in my very bones.

Being confronted by the ugliest parts of my heart; my need for control, my anger, my deficit of Every. Single. Fruit of the Spirit.

Yes, this is part of my parenting reality… but it’s not the whole truth. I got the chance (bless my husband) to go sit by myself at a coffee shop on Mother’s Day, and I took the time to write in the journals we keep for both kids.

God began to show me that I am indeed a different woman than I was before I gave birth… and that’s exactly how He intends it. He helped me see all the things I wouldn’t have had if I didn’t have kids.

The incredible gift of growing and birthing new life.

The indescribable feeling of being the one and only source of nourishment a newborn baby needs.

20 unbelievably tiny toes; 20 chubby fingers; the pattern the blood vessels make on the inside of Isabella’s ears; the faint birthmark on Barrett’s side.

Nursing smiles.

The glorious feeling of a baby breathing deeply, sleeping soundly, wrapped on my chest as I sing and worship.

The sweet feeling of a small head resting heavily between my shoulder blades, riding on my back as I hike.

Seeing eyes light up or arms flap happily, hearing gleeful shouts of “Mommy!” when I walk into a room.

First steps, first words, first everythings.

Hearing my daughter cheerfully, and of her own volition, recite to me the little incantation of love I have always said to her, “I love you higher than the mountains, deeper than the oceans, and bigger than the skies!”

The surprise of just how many beautiful, clever, hilarious, stunningly insightful things a 3-year-old says during the course of a single day.

Cooking dinner to a backdrop of the loud, joyful chaos of giggling, shrieking, chasing, and playing; a home full of wild happiness.

Being confronted by the ugliest parts of my heart; my need for control, my anger, my deficit of Every. Single. Fruit of the Spirit. Dealing with it, and allowing it to change me. Where I was inflexible, closed off, and stubborn, I am softening, opening, yielding.

Isabella and BarrettHad I not had children, I would never have had to deal with the tough stuff… but I never would have known the beauty I was missing, nor the power to become better, become transformed. The truth is that parenting is hard. REALLY hard, and messy. It is also dazzling and magnificent and FUN. Like any journey worth taking, parenting is made up of many small moments. Some of them suck. Some of them are amazing. Strung together, they are the stuff life is made of.

I suppose if I had the chance to answer my friend over again, I would say:

Sometimes. Usually I like it… sometimes I love it, and sometimes I don’t.

And that’s ok.

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On My Most Urgent Prayer

Parenting is my crucible. How immensely rewarding and reworking and relentless it is. How huge is the responsibility of tending two tiny humans, day in and day out, again and again, without stopping, like the waves upon the shore.

I stand in The Here and Now, keenly aware of how my words and actions will ripple through days, months, years, decades, as these small people grow into big ones, complex and independent, with relationships and big plans and influence of their own.

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And I tremble at the massive weight of this. I live in fear that my lack of constancy should teach them more than my rare glimmering moments of self-control. After all, children remember what we said less that how we said it, how we lived it.

Oh, I tremble.

So when the baby is screaming, the toddler whining, the pressure building, when I feel trapped by the tedium of it all, this is my prayer:

Thank you, thank you, thank you for trusting my slipshod self with this beloved girl and beautiful boy, and help me, help me, help me do this right.

Though I feel laden, they are no burden; caring for these little hearts is a privilege.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Help me, help me, help me.

On Living in the Trenches

Our baby boy arrived on April 15th, nearly 5 weeks ago. It feels like yesterday, it feels like eternity ago, it feels like he’s been here the whole time. Our family feels complete, and my heart is full. Isabella taught me how to love unconditionally, and now I love without struggle.

Everything is so different this time. Where the first 6 weeks with Isabella were a fog of numbness and depression, I’ve felt (mostly) happy, present, and balanced this time around. I’m head over heels in love with this little boy.

So it’s hard to explain why I’m still ticking off the days till the baby stage is over.

When I go out with the kids, Isabella walking by my side and little Barrett snuggled on my chest in a sling or a wrap, people notice. And I grit my teeth every time they do.

I avoid eye contact with the little old lady at the grocery store who slowly wanders my way. I keep my eyes straight ahead on walks, ignoring the woman who looks towards me with congratulations on the tip of her tongue. I pretend I don’t hear the  bank teller’s hushed-but-loud-enough-I’m-obviously-intended-to-hear-them comments, “What a cute baby!” and “Aww, so tiny!”

Usually the well-meaning interluders are older women who miss having little ones, or younger women whose children are just old enough that they’ve forgotten the hard parts about having a baby. Or, maybe they just genuinely loved the baby stage. It’s been well-established on this blog that I am not one of those women.

When people look at me knowingly with a smile on their face, I think most of them are imagining that my day-to-day experience (though challenging, certainly) is an idyllic baby paradise that looks just like a Johnson & Johnson commercial, where my infant and I stare deeply into one another’s eyes and smile and bond, and soft light pours in through a window, and I have showered within the last 7 days.

But this is what it’s really like:

I’m living in the trenches. It’s warfare, and I’m just keeping my head down and trying to make it through the day. And yeah, it’s been a while since I bathed. At least I’m alive.

Don’t get me wrong- I couldn’t possibly love this little dude more. I’m crazy about Barrett and Isabella. Before I had kids, I didn’t know you could love someone – someone so little and helpless who can reciprocate nothing – so damn much.

Parenting babies is my refining fire, a blaze I cannot put out. It makes me better, stronger, yes. But the process brings my every heinous imperfection to the surface. It’s valuable but it’s also painful, ugly, and really, really hard.

We fought for a noble purpose in World War II, but the reality on the ground was muddy and bloody and perilous.

 

I genuinely appreciate congratulatory comments from people who actually know me, even if they don’t understand what it’s like for me. But what I appreciate even more is when fellow soldiers say “hang in there,” or “me too, mama.” I love when veteran parents tell me “you’re doing great,” and “keep fighting, it’s worth it, I promise.”

I don’t need pressure to enjoy every single second because it “goes so fast,” or stories about how much worse it will be when they’re teenagers. I need validation, commiseration, and the assurance that it eventually gets better.

I can’t be the only one. Caring for a newborn, working a terrible job, getting through the semester, going through counseling… Who else is in the trenches with me?

We’ll get out eventually. We will.

On Calling Myself a Feminist (even though I’m a stay at home mom)

This post is part of a link up with Kelly J. Youngblood over at Renewing Your Mind on the topic of feminism and traditionalism. Check out her post and the others that have been shared! (This is the first Linkup I’ve done. I have no idea if I’m doing it right.)

I was raised in a home where my parents generally played traditional gender roles; my mom was a homemaker for the majority of my school years, and my dad worked outside the home at least 40 hours a week. Yet somehow, I grew up free from the notion that women are bound to the home.

When I was in junior high my mom went back to school, and I thought her valiant and daring for it. She became a vet tech, a profession her school teachers had discouraged her from as a girl because she “wasn’t smart enough.” I think she determined then and there that if she had daughters, they would do whatever they wanted to do with their lives.

The church I grew up in has, to date, ordained more women than men, and half of our staff are women. The idea that women are any less than men, or that they must be relegated to certain roles in the home and church, was one completely foreign to me until high school. That was when I learned about the glass ceiling and the gender wage gap. I learned that most churches still don’t ordain women. I learned about modern polygamy. I learned about the stunning number of female babies aborted in China every year. I learned that most women worldwide are little more than property.

I was horrified by the reality of it all and dove headlong into a kind of immature, militant feminism, though I’m not sure I would have known to call it that at the time. For many years I shouted “Never!” to the spectre of marriage and children, “My whole life is ahead of me, I’m going to change the world!” (but wouldn’t you know, I fell in love with an incredible man and discovered you could be married and still change the world).

cheris KrameraeFor a long time I thought “feminism” was fundamentally the opposite of “feminine,” that anything which could be classified as conventionally female (like cooking dinner or wearing makeup or having babies) was something I should consider as antiquated, something I’ve been gloriously liberated from. As if a modern woman choosing motherhood over a career is like a dog returning to its own vomit.

I call myself a feminist, but I find myself filling the oh-so-traditional role of mostly stay at home mom, because it makes a lot of sense for our family and I (usually) really enjoy it. And though I also bear the slightly less traditional title of business owner, I often feel that I’m not allowed to use the feminist label because of how I spend most of my days: in the home. However, when I buy into the lie that my vocation makes me who I am, I’m doing a disservice not just to myself and my daughter, but to the feminist movement. That just turns feminism into another way to define me as a woman, to relegate me to a certain role, when feminism is really about freeing every woman to make her own choices.

And now, with a daughter of my own, feminism is more important to me than ever. Isabella is only 2 years old, but someday she’ll enter the adult world and get to make choices of her own. And since I don’t owe anyone an explanation about why I decided to stay home and raise kids (except the kids themselves), I’m devoting the rest of this post to my daughter. If she asked me today, “Why did you decide to be a homemaker?” this is what I would say.

Dear Isabella,

I don’t view my choice to be your full-time mommy as a concession or a sacrifice of any kind. I do important and valuable work every single day, shaping and guiding you through childhood, teaching you how to be a powerful person. You are a little revolutionary. You will change the world in the way only you can, in the way God created you to, and I get to be part of raising you up. I want to spend as much time doing that as possible.

I get up every day knowing that you will be watching me. I’m acutely aware of the influence I have in your life, and I want you to know a few things.

I want you to know that you will never hear me say “I’m fat.” You’ll never hear me make negative comments about my body, or yours, or any one else’s.

You hear constantly that you are cute, pretty, adorable, sweet, and beautiful (and you totally are), but you are much, much more. I want you to know that you are also fearless, fun, witty, compassionate, intelligent, joyous, creative, and strong.

I want you to know that no one can tell you who you are and who you aren’t. Your identity comes from Christ and not your chromosomes.

I want you to know the value of your body and your heart and how to fiercely guard both. (I certainly will, with a shotgun if necessary.)

I want you to treat others with respect because you’ve never been treated any differently by your Mommy and Daddy.

I want you to know that you are only limited in this life by yourself.

I want you to dream great big dreams and I want to dream them with you.

I want you to do these things in simplicity because I’ve plowed the way for you, because many plowed the way before me.

I love you dearly and I love watching your grow every single day.

Mommy

 

*Don’t forget that I am off social media this month. I’d love to read your comments so please don’t leave them on facebook and twitter!

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