grat·i·tude: the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness
I quickly buttered a piece of bread and stuffed it into my mouth, desperate for something, anything, to distract myself from the emotions bubbling to the surface.
My husband studied me from across the table and asked, “Are you okay?” We were enjoying a rare night out in honor of his birthday, and despite my best intentions, I felt the tears welling in the corners of my eyes.
I managed a weak smile and shook my head. We’d been discussing, yet again, whether we wanted to try for a third baby. And the conclusion we reached was the same as always: Maybe someday. But right now we’re just not ready.
I should have been happy that we were on the same page, should have been filled with gratitude for the two beautiful girls who already filled our home with such joy. But like a broken record, this conversation kept filling me with an unnamed emptiness, an overwhelming sense of shame and inadequacy.
“I don’t know why I can’t let this go,” I quietly murmured over the faint clink of water goblets. “I’m not ready for another baby and I don’t know if I’ll ever be. But I feel like I’m supposed to want another child, like I shouldn’t be so overwhelmed just by the thought of being pregnant again. I feel like a weakling for being maxed out already.”
I feel like I’m copping out if I decide I only want two kids.
To my surprise my husband didn’t laugh at me. He didn’t express shock or concern or tell me I’d clearly lost my mind. He just said, “I think you’re still patterning your life after that version of yourself that doesn’t exist.”
And just like that, it all became clear.
I’ve been nursing this image of myself for as long as I can remember, clinging to this unrealistic portrait of what a great mom is “supposed” to look like. The specific details have been edited and embellished over the years, but they’ve consistently been fueled by my own ridiculous notions.
Some of the requirements were easy to throw out the window (maintaining a screen-free home, making homemade baby food, and never going more than 3 days without a shower, to name a few), but the heftier assumptions have been a little harder to release.
Like the assumptions that I would be a rock star stay-at-home mom; that I would have at least four children (maybe five); that homeschooling would come easily; that our home would be loud, chaotic, and bursting at the seams; and that I would love every second of the cacophony.
Is it any wonder that I crumbled when the majority of my assumptions proved false?
I do love staying home with my children, and I do find fulfillment in shepherding their hearts. But this parenting gig is about 3,000 times harder than I ever anticipated, and I’ve been shocked to discover that I hate doing crafts, I will gladly serve my children McDonald’s chicken nuggets, and I fully support the occasional (read: weekly) need for all-day Disney marathons in our jammy pants.
That mom I always envisioned myself being?
She came tumbling down, piece by meticulous piece, a long time ago.
I’ve traveled a long path toward acceptance over the past five years, and I’ve grieved the death of my impossible identity. But that dinner with my husband brought forth a stark realization:
I’d begun the process of saying goodbye to the mother I will never be.
But I’d never expressed gratitude for the mother I already am.
Gratitude is what takes our focus off of our lack and places it instead on our overwhelming abundance.
Gratitude is what moves us from a posture of defeat and pushes us toward a posture of hope and expectation.
And gratitude is what enables us to pick up the pieces of our broken expectations and slowly, beautifully, begin the process of rebuilding.
So this holiday season, as we gather with our families and count our blessings, I’ll be making a few additions to the list:
I’m thankful that when God blessed me with my two beautiful girls, He also equipped me with everything I need to be their best mother.
I’m thankful that life doesn’t always work out the way we so carefully plan, but that instead we are given space to grow, change, and learn in ways we didn’t even know we needed.
And I’m thankful that after five long years, I can finally let go of my unrealistic portrait of the perfect mother, and instead express gratitude for the mother I’ve discovered myself to be: messy, devoted, real, and perfectly imperfect.
What was your most unrealistic expectation of yourself as a mother?