Even when my husband is home, motherhood and homemaking is work. Hard work. For me, there is often much that is not 'natural' about it. I'm not a natural housekeeper. I'm not really a natural with young children. My 'natural' self wants to be out working, or curled up in my bed devouring a book, or lying on the couch with my laptop, or connecting with people and just talking about life and the gospel until I'm hoarse.
Or, on nights like tonight, my natural self wants to curl up in a ball and cry, simply from sheer exhaustion, from wanting and needing someone to nurture me. But my children need me. And so I press forward.
Lately, I've been quite flabbergasted by how much it takes to coordinate my children's little lives (and we work to keep life simple!), to keep them fed and clothed and on top of their homework enough that they don't completely embarrass themselves (or me...yes, I'm still working on not having my ego tied up in my children's lives), and to try keep my house from always looking like a tornado hit it. (From a recent discussion with my children (OK, it was more like a mini-lecture): "Please, guys, just don't play in the living room. Just give me one room in the house that isn't a disaster! I'm starting to lose it!")
But there's more than that that has the potential to overwhelm me. My role as mother and nurturer demands much more than just keeping us all going physically. (Much more, actually.) Those little moments when they need help with this and I'm wanting to do that are often the most difficult parts of my days. There are times when I feel like I will drown if I don't stay on top of my to-dos (or that I will die if I don't have a moment of solitude), but I sense that they need me now. Those little moments can mean the world to them; the cumulative effect of lots of little moments is what can help shape their perception of my love for them and of their value as individuals.
Don't get me wrong. I'm so often not good at seizing those little moments. And I am not saying that moms can't or shouldn't ever have a break. But I am really feeling the need to do more of the "little moments" work that is so easy to dismiss. And just as with all the other elements of homemaking, nurturing is work. Even as I love my children with a fierceness that sometimes hurts, I struggle in my humanness to give them what they deserve and need. (A post for another day could be about how it seems that in a way, the older they get, the more they need me.)
I stood tonight, yet again, over the sink, rinsing dinner dishes while trying to orchestrate the children's remaining evening tasks. Within, I could feel the the seeds of an eruption bubbling beneath the surface. I fought that part of my natural self, fought it hard. I exerted all I had to try to speak with kindness, love, gentleness, patience, and attentiveness. As I did so, it was as if I could feel the roots of my soul digging a little deeper. I could feel just a few more rough notches on my character losing some of their edginess.
I was reminded tonight that I am doing this motherhood thing -- giving so much of my life and self and time and energy -- not just because the children need me (which they do, imperfect as I am), but because I need them. I need to be their mom, to learn to overcome my natural self. This role is teaching me new depths of faith and love and sacrifice and endurance, and helping me feel new depths of God's love and grace and refining power.
From one of my favorite talks on motherhood, by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland:
One young mother wrote to me recently that her anxiety tended to come on three fronts. One was that whenever she heard talks on LDS motherhood, she worried because she felt she didn't measure up or somehow wasn't going to be equal to the task. Secondly, she felt like the world expected her to teach her children reading, writing, interior design, Latin, calculus, and the Internet--all before the baby said something terribly ordinary, like "goo goo." Thirdly, she often felt people were sometimes patronizing, almost always without meaning to be, because the advice she got or even the compliments she received seemed to reflect nothing of the mental investment, the spiritual and emotional exertion, the long-night, long-day, stretched-to-the-limit demands that sometimes are required in trying to be and wanting to be the mother God hopes she will be.
But one thing, she said, keeps her going: "Through the thick and the thin of this, and through the occasional tears of it all, I know deep down inside I am doing God's work. I know that in my motherhood I am in an eternal partnership with Him. I am deeply moved that God finds His ultimate purpose and meaning in being a parent, even if some of His children make Him weep.
"It is this realization," she says, "that I try to recall on those inevitably difficult days when all of this can be a bit overwhelming. Maybe it is precisely our inability and anxiousness that urge us to reach out to Him and enhance His ability to reach back to us. Maybe He secretly hopes we will be anxious," she said, "and will plead for His help. Then, I believe, He can teach these children directly, through us, but with no resistance offered. I like that idea," she concludes. "It gives me hope. If I can be right before my Father in Heaven, perhaps His guidance to our children can be unimpeded. Maybe then it can be His work and His glory in a very literal sense."
And one more from Pres. Packer that has always stayed with me:
A sister may finally come to see why we stress the importance of mothers staying at home with their children. She understands that no service equals the exalting refinement which comes through unselfish motherhood. Nor does she need to forgo intellectual or cultural or social refinement. Those things are fitted in—in proper time—for they attend the everlasting virtue which comes from teaching children.
No teaching is equal, more spiritually rewarding, or more exalting than that of a mother teaching her children.