By Julie Davis, Crosswalk.com
“They grow up so fast! Cherish every moment!” an elderly woman shouts to us as my three children and I cross the parking lot.
My 2-year old wriggles and kicks my ribs from the carrier on my back as I wearily force a smile before continuing on my way with a cart full of groceries and my 5- and 4-year olds in tow.
She’s right, it will be over before I know it. However, it’s not that I don’t have the desire to cherish my little ones; it’s that I often feel like I can’t.
Not when I am in the throes of sleepless nights, unending needs, and relentless messes. I have my moments of bliss (many of which are documented on my Instagram), but in general, I have struggled with my role as a mom ever since I became one.
This isn’t the case for everyone, but I know that I am not alone. So, read on for a few exhortations to encourage those of us moms who feel stuck when it comes to enjoying our kids.
1. Acknowledge the Good
Naming the good things in my daily life as a stay-at-home mom doesn’t come naturally for me, at least not initially. I tend to understate the positive aspects of motherhood because it feels like I will lose credit for all the parts of it that are hard.
But because we have a God who sees it all and enters into both the light and the dark places of life alongside us, we can freely acknowledge the good in motherhood as a vital part of growth in joy. This can be done on both a theological and experiential level.
Theologically speaking, we see Scriptures affirm motherhood as a gift from the very beginning. Eve recognizes this in Genesis 4:1 when she responds, “With the help of the Lord I have brought forth a man.” God has demonstrated incredible kindness by including women so centrally in the ongoing materialization and nurturing process of His most important creation: mankind.
Though it is wrought with pain from the curse of the fall (Genesis 3:16), the woman’s role in bringing forth life is a true honor, and one that deserves our utmost gratitude.
Make an effort to regularly acknowledge the good things surrounding you: from coffee, to a cozy blanket, to even that little child who was driving you up the wall five minutes ago, but now is sweetly sitting in a sunny spot on the floor. Notice those brief pleasantries and give thanks for them.
Emily Jensen from the Risen Motherhood podcast recently shared, “So while I want to continue to acknowledge the hard--that we mother in a world of sin, struggle, and suffering--we also taste the goodness of God in this gift. Let’s keep saying, ‘I love being a mom. This has enriched my life. It’s a joy to serve and raise children. If the cross itself can hold both beauty and sorrow, goodness and pain--then so can any of its shadows.”
2. Consider All the Factors
The simple instruction to “cherish every moment” is not always attainable through merely resolving to enjoy your kids more. As physical beings, we are affected by the limitations of our bodies, especially as they go through the hormonal shifts that commonly coincide with motherhood.
The physical transformations of pregnancy, postpartum, and breastfeeding are enough to send anyone whirling. Additionally, a constant slew of changes accompanies both your children and yourself as each of your roles, abilities, and identities progress from one phase into the next. Change is hard, and when you are frequently encountering new experiences and circumstances, tracking down the source of your difficulty becomes complicated.
Am I struggling to bond with my baby because I have postpartum depression, or am I just not a fan of the newborn phase? The fact that you may not enjoy your kids right now does not mean that the situation will be the same in a year, a month, or sometimes even an hour.
The spiritual dynamics of our struggles are likely also far more complex than we may want to believe. The shame and discouragement that stem from comparing ourselves to others can quickly choke out our joy.
Your own personal history of disappointments and longings in life impacts your relationship with your children. Beyond that, factors outside of yourself are also at play: your children’s unique personalities, struggles, and sin issues as well as the reality of a fallen world all have an effect on your experience with motherhood.
While there are certainly actions you can take to improve life as a mom, we ultimately know that nothing this side of Christ’s return is going to be void of disappointment.
Ever since the Fall, we find ourselves continually facing the reality that this world just isn’t what it’s cracked up to be. Motherhood is no exception; it’s what makes us long for heaven.
There are many aspects of parenting that are even supposed to feel unpleasant as you learn to die to yourself in order to serve another. It feels like death because that’s exactly what is happening to your old self (2 Corinthians 5:17).
That my sound bleak, but it’s actually exactly what our souls need as we become more like Christ and enter into His everlasting joy:
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:9-13)
3. Trust God with Your Struggle
It feels wrong to say that you don’t like being with your own kids. They belong to you; they share your name, and your responsibility to love and care for them is vital to their growth and welfare as people.
In a large way, the pangs of guilt that we feel in the struggle to enjoy our kids is based in the true conviction of the Holy Spirit as He unveils the sin within us. There is a difference between loving your kids and simply liking them, but sometimes our lack of affection toward them truly is a result of sin.
However disheartening that reality may feel, it ought not lead us to guilt and hiding, but rather into restored confidence and healing. Here’s why:
Regardless of what percentage of your struggle as a parent is rooted in sin, there is grace for you in Christ.
He paid for all the ways that we fall short, so we have the freedom to look at those ugly sides of us straight on. He is not surprised by your inability to love your kids perfectly.
Isaiah 49:15 speaks to this reality: “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!” You are loved by God and so are your kids.
Though our delight in our children waivers, the good news of the Gospel assures us that His never does. His grace and His love are truly enough.
While God’s love is sufficient, He is merciful not to leave you as you are. And because of His grace, you are free to give voice to the things that are hard for you as a mom.
Exploring your struggle is another vital step in growing in joy toward your kids. Suppressing, ignoring, and dismissing the emotions within yourself will lead to either relational explosion or withdrawal as a parent.
However, be mindful of the direction of your complaints. They have the potential to produce great healing or harm, depending on the posture of your heart. If you simply stew internally or vent to a friend or on social media about how much your kids annoy you, toxicity and bitterness will grow within.
Alternatively, gird yourself with humility and honesty about the disappointments you face as a mom, and take them to the Lord and His people.
Opening up to a trusted friend or counselor deflates the Accuser’s plan to isolate you in your struggle and paralyze you in shame. “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” (James 5:16)
As you allow the Spirit to enter into your struggle through prayer and community, you will be met with encouragement, redemption, and hope.
4. Find Joy in Jesus
Above all, remember that the true source of contentment lies in the Author of joy Himself. Psalm 37:4 assures believers, “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” As you seek Him, your joys will become His. But first you must daily cling to Him.
Though the limited downtime that comes with motherhood makes it nearly impossible to dig deep into God’s Word, He can still meet you in the midst of chaos.
You may not have an hour of quiet time to drink your coffee and write in a prayer journal, but He can minister mightily to you as you sprinkle in bite sized doses of communion with Him throughout the day.
Tape a memory verse to your bathroom mirror and read it when you brush my teeth. Listen to a chapter of the Bible while you wash the dishes. Sing along to worship music in the car. Read a short Psalm before going to bed.
Build in habits of little touch points with the Lord so that you can be reminded of His presence and refreshed by His love.
Even though I often find myself returning to the same discouraging place of discontentment with my daily life as a mom, I have found great hope in asking this question: If I continue to struggle with enjoying my kids for this entire journey, how will the Father feel about me?
Will he reach a point when He throws up His hands and says, “That’s it. I can’t deal with your complaints any longer.” Of course not.
He will still cherish and delight in me as only a perfect Father does. Whether these feelings linger or go, whether my circumstances change or stay the same, He will remain faithful, and I can be filled and satisfied by Him as I abide in His love.
Image courtesy: ©Getty Images / Tetra Images_Jamie Grill
Julie Davis is a retired ballet dancer-turned-homeschool mom of 3 young daughters. Her passion is for walking alongside fellow believers and reminding them of the grace and power of the Gospel in their lives. She loves to ponder and laugh at the adventures of life and motherhood via her Instagram and blog. Julie and her husband George live in Richmond, Virginia and enjoy hosting friends, getting outside, and sipping on moderately priced bourbon.