It was 6:10am. All 3 kids had joined us in our bed and decided it would be a good time to bounce jubilantly. I lay there, trying to maintain my horizontal status and also protect my very pregnant stomach. In case you weren't aware, spatial awareness and caution tend not to be the hallmarks of 5, 4 and 1-year-olds. A very literal Hop on Pop. Our dreams of more shuteye shattered, John and looked at each other. As we often do, we smiled wryly and asked "How did we get here?" And also, "what are we going to do when there's 4 of them??"
"I'm out," John said dryly. He knows exactly the thing to say to make me crack up in those moments.
Accurate photo of how things are around here these days.
In 6 short years of marriage we've acquired a, shall we say: Posse? Bevy? Coterie? Assortment? of small people at a pace I never, ever anticipated. I often think back to my single years and what I'd tell myself then knowing what I know now. They felt so long and so full of thinking and wondering. In certain ways I was right to dread motherhood. I knew it would stretch me in uncomfortable ways. I'm an extremely ambitious person who loves making and meeting goals. I knew entering into motherhood, with its lack of short-term, succinct goals and plentitude of long-term relational goals (which I may never even get to see, depending on what my children chose to do as adults,) would frustrate me.
Internally, I fought within myself hard the first few years of my mothering journey. My mom gave me a book called Surrendering to Motherhood when my oldest was a newborn and I almost barfed. I probably should have read it instead of balking at the title, but I didn't. That time was exhausting! I didn't give myself the grace to just do less. The phantoms of my past flashy successes came around often to ask, "what are you doing now? Cleaning the floor, AGAIN? What about all the projects you want to do that you can't do because the baby turned over his lunch tray? Miss them, huh?"
Many things have changed in my life. Honestly, I still miss hopping out to daily mass carrying no children and no diaper bag. I'm still a creative at heart who misses her daily ballet class, and I still love to do many, many things that at first glance aren't compatible with full-time homemaking. And I struggle when the kids just won't nap, won't go down for quiet time, and mommy doesn't get time to work on her podcast....which, wait, that's most days. (My littlest has a sleep disorder resulting from her brain injury, so she just doesn't do the normal baby things in some ways, including napping.)
She may not sleep much, but she is stinking CUTE!
I know I'm not alone in this. I see other young women, very good people who want good things, struggling to understand how to meld their passions with the all-consuming demands of this messy and beautiful calling of being a mother. My group of young mom friends and I talk constantly about striking a balance, if ever there is such a thing in parenthood. But this post isn't gloom and doom; I have lots of hope to share! If you're single and want a family, but wonder if you could ever really be happy (or even survive,) or if you're a mom in the trenches like me who's in an intense season, I hope this post can provide empathy and a way forward.
Everything, Everything is a Season
On days when I don't get 5 minutes to myself to nap, let alone work on something creative that feeds my soul, the most helpful thing I can remember is that this, too, shall pass. I remember that, even in my single years when I had complete time freedom, I couldn't do everything. I reached the pinnacle of my ambitions at ages 23-25 touring the USA and Canada with Broadway shows, and yet I remember many days feeling trapped by the touring schedule. I had to sacrifice a stable relationship, the familiarity of home, my church community, and seeing my family to live that dream. That was a lonely season too!
I remember this truth: I'll never be able to do everything all at the same time. Truly, I never have! Every experienced mom tells me that when you see your baby dressed up and going off to prom you wonder, where did the time go? It helps to remember that my kids' needs won't always be this intense, and that I'll actually miss that someday. And in the meantime it helps make me grateful for all those slobbery kisses, the endless requests to read books, and the never-ending, highly original stream-of-consciousness thoughts I'm expected to listen and respond to 14 hours a day (the other day my 4-year-old says out of the blue, "Mom, did you know some kids want to be chocolate bars?")
In every season, I'll never be able to do everything. But I can always do some things. Which leads me to my next point...
You Can Still Do Some Things
I heartily emphasize as an important follow-up that you can still do some things! I believe you can always find a way to do some things apart from your children that feed your soul. The basic principle is this: Make room for what's most important to you. I refuse to be martyr mom, and it's one of the healthiest mindset decisions I've made on my motherhood journey.
We homeschool so I'm technically with the kids all day every day. It's been very healthy for me to invest in babysitting or daycare a morning or 2 per week so that I can have time to tackle my to-do list and creative ventures. I gain the benefit of looking forward to that morning all week and knowing I'll have time to do the things that don't fit into my everyday kid hustle. And then actually having a block of time to sit down with a cup of coffee and check off those goals feels so good and, to me, is completely worth the money.
When I write it down, I've actually been amazed at how much I've been able to do in the last 6 years with the help of family, babysitters, and a generous husband. It required some thinking outside the box at certain points and lots of letting go of those untrue guilt messages telling me that a mother should always be at her children's beck and call (ugh; just don't let those voices run around in your head. Just don't.) I've written and taught a course, flown across the country to speak at conferences, run my own online conferences, and started a podcast that's up to 80+ episodes. It happened slowly and incrementally, but with determination, it all happened.
This is common sense, but for someone like me who wants to do all the things it's necessary.
Since this post is for type A people, I'm guessing you have the same internal drive I do, regardless of any outside pressures about your lifestyle choices. While I'm fortunate to have relatives who are fully supportive of me being a full-time homemaker, I've still had a massive mental battle to work through about it.
For some people simplifying will be a no-brainer; for me, it's hard mental work that took 5 years to feel natural. I used to choose late night work to cram in those final finishing touches on a project. Eventually I had to accept that this made me cranky and short-tempered the entire next day. And eventually I realized I just didn't want to live like that and something had to give. At first it felt like disappointing everyone to turn down projects but eventually I've finally experienced the joy of simplifying. I get to say "That's enough for today!" and mean it! I'm pregnant and need more frequent naps, and it's a joy to wake up rested without feeling guilty.
Many of my passions just aren't possible in the form they once were, for now. Plus, for months it's felt like a battle just to get enough rest in this 4th pregnancy. Yet I know God, in his endless creativity, doesn't want us to stew in unhappiness feeling unfulfilled. John and I often talk together and pray over the question, "How we can find ways to do what we love in a way that works with our vocation and the current demands of children?" We've found that getting creative lets either new endeavors or old passions emerge in a new form.
A new endeavor has emerged for me that has been bringing me so much joy: Candle making! What's funny is in my first interview with Fr. Gregory Pine, O.P., linked above, we talked very specifically about candle making before I ever tried it. Fr. Gregory, who loves scented candles himself, insisted that people who are cut out to be Yankee Candle sniff testers had better get after it and not hold back because what you love is what you're made for. Oh, what a funny little God wink for me that was.
I can make candles in the midst of our homeschooling day. It doesn't require quiet or a lot of space or dedicated time separate from the kids. In fact, they get very, very excited to help me doing some of the steps! It doesn't take energy that drains me when I'm pregnant. It keeps my hands busy doing something I enjoy, while still being available to answer the endless questions that float through my kids' minds every day like, Do birds have pockets? Or, Does God still love the Devil? (That one was deep.) Plus, my whole house smells amazing and getting to light my creations for my prayer time brings me such peace.
These cuties were a huge help fulfilling an order for hundreds of candles for the Catholic All Year subscription boxes! Raffy exclaimed, "Mom, we should be a candle factory!" And I said, "We are!"
A partnership with the Catholic All Year Market has emerged that's even a further blessing. I get to focus on making the candles and Emily Tate handles the website and shipping. I've loved the personal growth that's come from researching phthalate-free and natural fragrances, as well as the different kinds of wax. For example, if you will tolerate my nerdy side a moment, did you know beeswax candles burn brighter than any other wax AND actually purify the air as they burn? They release negative ions that eliminate dust, mold, pollen and other toxins.
Do you want to see a sneak peek of the candles?? Well I'm going to show you because I'm so dang excited. They're available for pre-order on Catholic All Year and will ship mid-November. Four are ready so far with more to come. Naturally, I've given them Latin names because it's our Catholic secret language (knowing me, the homeschooled nerd, this should surprise no one.)
Gaudium Caeli: Heavenly Joy. If I could smell one thing for the rest of my life, it would be this scent. Top notes of white lily, aloe blossom and pear transport you to the sweetness of the new earth, intermingled with sugared amber, musk, bergamot and sandalwood to remind you that God’s heavenly presence finds us here, in the familiarity of the everyday.
Venite Adoremus: O Come Let Us Adore Him. Check out the beautiful jars for this special Christmas candle! Evergreen symbolizes eternity, and the tantalizing fir and spruce scent is a reminder to us that the focus of the joyous season is eternal union with Christ.
Memento Mori: Remember your Death Lent countdown candle. The label has a countdown so you can check off a day every day as you fulfill your prayer resolutions! Rosewood symbolizes love and cedarwood according to legend was one of the 3 woods used in Christ's cross. Mingled together with citrus scents, it's an awakening reminder to carry our crosses and a reminder of Christ's love for us.
Domestica Ecclesia: Domestic Church. This would be a great gift for a housewarming, baby shower, bridal shower, Mothers' Day, or wedding! Cardamom and cinnamon sprinkled on top mingle with the beeswax for a homey, cozy scent.
They're all hand-poured pure beeswax with either phthalate-free or completely natural fragrance. Beeswax candles are used in Catholic liturgies with their own mystical meaning: the pure wax symbolizes the pure flesh from Christ's virgin mother, the wick symbolizes his soul, and the flame his divinity.
By way of a conclusion to this entire post, hopefully the full picture of what I'm trying to say is coming through:Your life isn't a blueprint of anyone else's. I pray all the hardworking mamas out there can find not only grace and holiness in the frustration of tough seasons, but also creative new outlets that roll with their current season. You can't ever do everything all at once, but you can always do some things!
This Type A Sister Who Never Has Enough Hours in the Day