It was December 2000. I had just written our annual Christmas letter. My upbeat and glowing descriptions of our family life, sweet children and their adorable accomplishments made the Means family leap off the page. It was a heartwarming combination of Leave It to Beaver and Ozzie & Harriet.
I gave the final copy for my husband to read before I sent it out to the masses. Who — in a pre-Facebook world — were no doubt waiting with breathless anticipation for our latest updates.
He began reading and then chuckled.
Me: Why are you laughing?
Husband: I’m sorry. It’s just that I got to the part where you say how much you enjoy being a mom. It doesn’t really seem like it sometimes.
Me: (through clenched teeth) Really? Why do you say that?
Husband: Well, you just always seem so stressed out.
I wanted to be happy. I tried to act like I was happy. I actually thought I faked it pretty well — to strangers. But my family — even my little ones — knew the truth. I felt overwhelmed, stressed and completely inadequate.
I longed to be a mother. I loved my children dearly.
So why was I so miserable? In hindsight, I can identify three main methods I used to achieve mommy misery. If I had written the real deal in my letter all those years ago (instead of my June Cleaver version), here’s what I would have said about each one:
She’s Isolated! Melinda doesn’t get out as much as she should. When she does find mom groups, she feels like she’s in a contest, instead of at a support group. While she always leaves with a smile on her face, she feels like she wouldn’t even rate an “Honorable Mention” as she compares herself to the other “Blue Ribbon Mommies” in the room.
She’s A Circus Clown! If Melinda has heard it once, she’s heard it a thousand times, “These years go by so fast! Enjoy every moment!” So she feels really guilty when she doesn’t “enjoy a moment.” Like the 14,000th round of Polly Pockets. Or the 512th game of Go Fish! She feels like her house is the Big Tent and all entertainment and joy must be provided by her alone. So when someone’s unhappy, it must be her fault. And she pulls out all the stops to remedy it.
She Expects the Impossible! Melinda sets a very high standard for her momminess. But the reality is that she’s been seen chasing her screaming three-year-old down the aisles of Books-A-Million. And there’s a rumor that her not-quite-yet potty-trained son emerged from the bathroom on Sunday morning with his pants and underwear around his ankles. Talk about a church scandal. She aims for perfect and generally achieves exhausted survival — but with lots of hugs and kisses along the way.
More than a decade later, I’ve taken off the mask and learned to be real. The very thing I was most afraid of. And instead of being ostracized, I found others — just like me. I spend time with my kids, but I’m no longer hanging from a trapeze. And I’m now convinced that perfect is overrated. While God’s grace is often under-utilized. It’s what set me free.
Now that’s something to write about — no embellishing required.
What robs YOU of your mothering joy?
My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness. So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. 2 Corinthians 12:9 (NIV)
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