Let’s Just Be Mothers

It started a year ago. Oh, she was a long way from being born. I had yet to know that she existed. But I was a mother a year ago. How strange and beautiful that she knew me before I knew her. That second line showed itself, and it was shock and giddiness and such a deep joyful thankfulness that He looked at her, and He looked at me, and He said “yes, you will be her mother”. There is an honor to motherhood.

And we trash it.

You wouldn’t think that it would start so early, these “mommy wars”. I didn’t. I started researching all of the choices that I now had to make, discussing them with my husband. Choices about our pregnancy, our birth, our parenting. And then I started discussing them with other women, and naturally met those that made different choices than me. Some felt so strongly about their decisions that it felt as if a line had been drawn. I was either on this side of the line or that side of it. I either fit a label or I didn’t. There is, apparently, a right way and a wrong way to be a mother, and this – this giving of guilt, this culture of second-guessing, this my way or the highway mentality – this is what they call the “mommy wars”. As soon as you’re pregnant, they start. They start the instant that you make a decision. They war on your pregnancy, your birth, your motherhood from baby to teenager.

And I understand it. It’s because we love our children. It’s a scary big love. Motherhood and marriage bring Gospel love to life in an incredibly real and humbling way. There is not a single thing that I would not do for her. She is so helpless, so needy, and she has so much to learn and so far to grow. I think of how fiercely I love her, and my capacity to love is broken and flawed and cracked. Holy love, Gospel love, that is the stuff of legends. That’s the stuff that shakes heaven and hell. That’s the stuff that saves and heals. And I understand that holy love just a bit more by loving my little girl.

Now, I’m new to this. I don’t have all of the answers, but I do have that scary big love. I see the choices in front of me and I see the little child cooing to her animal friends on the playmat, and I absolutely do not have it in me to make any choice that is not for her good. Sometimes what is for her good makes things much more difficult for me, or it is something that my heart desperately wanted to avoid but I just have to set my pride aside. Every mother is like this. Motherhood is an honor and a deep responsibility. A lifetime mission field. It is so much a part of who I am, of my identity.

And so, when I hear another mother speak out against my choice, in person or more often behind a screen, what I hear is someone saying that I don’t have her best interests at heart, that I don’t love her enough, that I’m doing wrong by her. Perhaps they mean nothing by it, but I bristle. I’ll shy away, taking the guilt that they’re handing me without contest, or I speak back and unnecessarily add my voice to the noise. It’s the mixture of loving our children while simultaneously not having all the answers (oh no, say it ain’t so!) that creates this tension, that feeds these “mommy wars”.

But here’s what someone once told me – an informed decision, made out of love, is never a wrong decision.

I am not a better mother than you. I am not a worse mother than you. We are both mothers that are doing our best out of love for our children. We have different hearts, different needs, different children, different strengths, different struggles. Our families are different. Our support systems are different. I can respect your decision to use formula while you respect my decision to stay at home. We can discuss the things we know, the tricks we’ve learned to get the littles to sleep, how to soothe a crying carseat while driving. We can question the things we don’t understand. We can talk to the mothers on the next step, decide if their decisions work for our hearts or not. We can give each other grace enough to change our minds halfway through. We don’t have to feel guilt or be defensive when we mother differently.

The sisterhood of motherhood needs all of those differences. The differences add richness. It needs the breastfeeders and the formula feeders, the mothers that go back to their careers and the ones that stay home. It needs the sleep trainers and the co-sleepers, the mothers that swear by essential oils and the ones that go to the pediatrician. It needs the paleo all-organic family and the premade chicken nuggets, the mothers that space out their two kids and the ones that have seven kids back to back. Pinterest-perfect or yoga pants, there is room for all of us.

I am not better than you. You are not better than me. We’re mothers. Let’s just be mothers.

The Beginning Of A Story

There are many things that I don’t remember about how this tangled up mess of an English language works. I don’t remember when you use “who” or “whom”. I don’t remember what a dangling participle is, but that if you leave it dangling, a red check will come by and join it, and there goes the perfect score on the worksheet. I think I know how to use a semi-colon correctly. I start many, many sentences with a conjunction and I use entirely too many commas. But, there is one thing that I remember from my seventeen years of school – all stories have to have a beginning, a middle, and an end.

I have my own corner of this giant internet. I’ve planted my flag there for a good five or six years, although you wouldn’t be able to tell. I have yet to find my own style, my own voice. I’ll have a piece of writing that gains some traction, and feel like I should keep stringing words together in that same fashion, but the truth is that I’m not eloquent every day. Some days I’m more poetic than prosaic, but on other days, like today, I tend to shoot more from the hip. And I’m ashamed to clam the label of “writer”, because I’m still very much in the beginning of that story, and all stories have to have a beginning, a middle, and an end.

There are giant gaps in those five or six years. I graduated college, moved to a new city, left my family that I’m close to, started a job that grew to become a cage, got engaged, and got married within the span of five months. I was drowning, and instead of treading water, I shook my fist at God. I was following Your promises!! Why is my teaching job slowly killing me? Who is this man I married, because this is not who he seemed to be on the other side of the altar? Why do I feel so achingly, desperately alone? And I would open a screen, see a blinking cursor, and… nothing. I didn’t like my story. But that’s not something I could share. I was standing at the very beginning of my adult life, and I truthfully didn’t much care to see the rest of it, but all stories have to have a beginning, a middle, and an end.

A friend asked if I would be a contributing writer here, to tell a story at least once a month, to share with other women and mothers. And, yes! And yet… how? This motherhood thing is another story that I have just started, that I’m still at the beginning of. All stories have to have a beginning, a middle, and an end.

But why?

So, so many women in my life are mothers, and the closer I get to becoming one myself, the more I look at them in awe. Some of them have raised kids that have become these wonderful, missional, earth-shaking young adults, off starting their own families, and now those mothers are taking other young women under their wings and mothering them as well. Some of them still have all of their birds in their nests, and are teaching them, growing them, disciplining them, pushing them. Some of them have just become mothers in the past few months, and there is such a joy in their tired faces as they sooth once again, nurse once again, swaddle once again, rock once again. They all seem to have figured it out, to have found their groove, to have answers and opinions and reasons for their opinions. They have endings to some of their stories, or are at least far enough in the middles to be able to speak into the lives of those of us still in the beginnings.

But the beginnings of stories matter. Just like all stories have to have a middle and an ending, they need beginnings, too. Something has to start them off. Something has to grab a person and shake them up. Something has to unsettle the normals for there to be a middle, for there to be a story to tell at all. And I think there is something beautiful and often forgotten about beginnings. There is a hope there, and some fear. There is confidence and idealism that may often be brushed off as naivety, but it can also bolster the confidence of people in their middles. Beginnings are exciting, and bewildering, and terrifying.

So, here’s my beginning.

My name is Katherine, or Kat, or Kitty. My body doesn’t work, and I’m not sure why. It had never completely worked, although birth control pills made it seem like it was working for a time. I was sure that I would never be able to give myself, my husband, this world a child, and that broke me. We prayed, and we ached, and we cried, and we prayed more, and on the next to last round of fertility treatments before things either got incredibly expensive or we just gave up, God fixed me. God put a little soul inside of me, a little person with numbered hairs and breaths and days, a little story that He knows all of the parts to already. In seven more weeks, we’ll get to meet him or her.

And then, everything will change. We will go from two incomes to one; I will go from teaching four-hundred hungry children to teaching my own. My marriage to my best friend who I have learned to be strong, patient, tender, and oh-so-exasperating man, despite all the rockiness that shook us at the start, will surely change again as we go from husband and wife to mother and father. I have opinions on who I’d like to be and what I’d like to do as a mother, and that will probably change (see confidence and idealism above).  I have a faith in a Jesus that has unrelenting grace and mercy for every time that I fall into the same rut of thinking that I can handle things on my own, and while that same set of mistakes probably won’t change, neither will that unrelenting grace and mercy. And if everything else about my life changes, if that remains constant, if God remains constant… then I’ll make it to the ending of my story just fine.

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