Earlier this week I asked readers, "What do you need help with?" This answer hit my inbox just minutes after I'd posted...
As a mama of two (very) littles, I feel like I'm in survival-mode all the time. Diapers, feeding, playing, crying, cuddles, slobber, baths, bed time...I feel like I can never catch my breath. And in the middle of all this, I'm supposed to be a faithful Christian and devoted wife. "How?!" I say! I feel like my husband and my studies are neglected everyday. SO often, I just feel completely overwhelmed and even depressed. I don't want to wish away their baby years, but I often find myself thinking "If they were just a little older, maybe it would be a tiny bit easier..." And then, of course, guilt sets in [...] So, yeah...that's what I need help with.
I get messages like this one a lot, messages from young mothers drowning in the duties and chaos of life with little kids.
Six years ago I had my second child. I remember the moment just after labor, still in the blur of nurses coming in and out, cameras snapping, when my dad brought my daughter London into the room to meet her sister Eve. He carried her to my hospital bed and sat her down beside me and I thought, "She is so small." Not my new baby (she was gigantic), no, the baby I already had. At a whopping fifteen months, London barely qualified as a toddler. My husband had to separate her from Eve so she wouldn't poke her sister's eye out.
In the months to come I would negotiate car seats and try to get two babies in and out of Target and change SO MANY diapers and clean the highchair thousands of times. I would put the books back on the shelves six times in 24 hours. I spent huge swaths of every day just trying to figure out why someone was crying. I remember the crunch of cereal under my feet--always, always cereal on the ground. And I remember feeling like my brain was full of mashed potatoes.
Too, I remember how empty I'd feel on Sunday mornings, trying to wrangle two kids in the pew, trying to sing while one kid pulled my earrings out and the other walked on her sister's crackers, crushing them into the pew fabric with every step. I remember getting up and walking the long aisle to the back of the church, everyone staring, with my hungry, crying, disobedient babies.
I cried a lot during those days. And, to be completely honest, I'm glad they're over.
If I can provide any help to moms of young kids, it won't be of the "Just enjoy every moment because it doesn't last long" variety. Sure that's ideal, but in the moment it feels like just another task you're not up to.
I try to limit my expectations of drowning people.
No, instead, I think the best thing I can offer are some thoughts about how to grow closer to God during this season of life. Because these few years, if not approached with care, can lead to spiritual famine that brings with it depression, anxiety, and emotional bankruptcy.
The primary thing I think young moms need to realize is that (for a few years at least) your most meaningful experiences with God won't occur in a church building. Unless your church has a robust childcare situation, Sundays will likely be some of the most stressful moments of your life. Supposing your church does have a staffed nursery (in which case these mornings may be lovely oases of peace and rest), you're still likely to find yourself distracted and tired during worship.
I mention this, because so many of us have been taught that connection to God happens at church. We "go to church" to be filled and taught and encouraged, challenged, inspired, blessed, and uplifted. It's like a one-stop shop for spiritual wellness.
But what happens when our kids are sick two out every five Sundays? When we can't hang around after service to talk to friends because hanging around just means chasing our kids up and down the aisles? When we barely make it to Bible class because out baby threw up on the first two outfits we dressed her in?
We have to learn to seek God elsewhere.
Still go to church, of course. You never know when something beautiful will break through and soak you in love and light. You need the connection to people who're rooting for you, and you grow when you push yourself into uncomfortable disciplines. Just lower your expectations of Sunday church. And (and this is a big and) start pursuing God in other ways.
What are those other ways?
Three months after Eve was born I started this blog. I started it because I needed to make sense of some things, because I needed a place to look for God. In writing I realized God cares about (and shows up in) my everyday life.
That changed things.
I started meeting God at the changing table, praying while I wiped down the highchair, and singing praises in the rocking chair. I stopped making myself feel guilty about not going to the missions meeting or not finishing my Bible study and focused instead on the ways God was growing me in patience and trust, the selflessness He was teaching me, and the opportunities I had to model God's love to my kids.
I realized my kids weren't keeping me from living out God's calling on my life, they were God's calling.
The best advice I can offer moms in this season is to welcome that calling--to stop kicking against the goads, trying to accomplish something "more" and simply embrace the holiness and transformation available in serving your helpless, ungrateful children.
Pick up Cheerios with joy. Wash your baby with tenderness. Do laundry with hope. And all of it becomes an act of worship, glorifying the God who, in His last moments, knelt beside the people he loved and washed their dirty feet. Remember that God while you're under the table at a restaurant cleaning up baby puke--remember He's shaping you into His image.
If this were one of my usual posts I'd end there because it's beautiful and true. But because I'm shooting for the pinnacle of helpfulness this week, I want to add a list of ways you can pursue God in addition to looking for Him in your daily routine.
Here are a few things I did when my kids were little to strengthen my relationship to God:
1. I learned new ways to pray.
After I had babies I never could pray long prayers in my head. So, I leaned heavily on ways of praying I'd never tried before. I began memorizing and reciting the Lord's Prayer. I kept short written prayers around the house and read them when I most needed them. I kept lists of things I thanked God for. And I texted very short prayers to friends and family. The biggest change I made was to begin writing my prayers to focus my thoughts. I still do that today.
2. I made regular playdates with Spirit-filled people.
Being a mom of tiny kids is a super lonely thing. So, I regularly spent time with other mothers who loved God (and talked about it). We'd share our struggles, confess our failings and pray together--all while our children drooled on the carpet or climbed around on the Chick-fil-a playground.
3. I strove for quality over quantity in Bible reading.
During those early years, I needed the Bible, but I couldn't prioritize reading the same way I did before I had kids. So, I started reading in two to five minute snatches whenever I found the time. I read the whole book of Psalms that way. Too, I'd write down favorite verses and post them around the house. Often, when I really needed wisdom or strength, I'd run across one of my index cards and find exactly the truth I needed most.
4. I joined a Bible study with childcare.
I know some of you don't do childcare. Personally, I think that's problematic. It is going to be very hard to maintain peace, joy and abundant life if you never let anyone hold your baby for an hour. One of the best things I did as a young mother was to join a Wednesday morning Bible study with childcare. I spent the morning learning from wise, much older women, completely distraction-free.
I could list more: listen to the Bible or sermons while you clean, find ten minutes to be alone every day, listen to praise music in the car, read uplifting blogs, etc. But the point is, you just need to be intentional about living a life that revolves around seeking and glorifying God. That's entirely possible with little kids. It just looks different than it did before kids.
To close, can I pray for you?
Dear God, Father, be with the mothers of small children today--be close to them, fill them with Your Spirit, open their eyes to You. Bless their every effort to glorify You as mothers and wives. Shape them in Your image as they do what sometimes seem like endless menial tasks. Empower them to keep going. Give them hope for tomorrow and joy today. God, remind them of Your love for them and Your delight in who they are and the good kingdom work they do. In Jesus' powerful name we pray...