Today’s post doesn’t really know what it is. Is it a review or an advice column or just a rant? I don’t know, but that’s okay. The confusion today is brought to you by joy.
Yes, joy. It’s been a really hard week in the world, especially for my LGBT+ friends with the shooting at a gay club in Orlando, Florida. And I am grieving, but in the midst of the heart break that surrounds us daily, I’ve found a small glimmer of hope. Hope in the form of a book.
Desperate: Hope for the Mom Who Needs to Breathe by Sarah Mae and Sally Clarkson isn’t a book that I would usually pick up on one of my book raids. I wouldn’t even glance down the self-help aisle. But circumstances brought this book to my house and to my heart.
You see, I moved back to my home town just over a year ago and it is not the same place that I left. The close friends I had here are all over the world doing amazing things (living in London, graduating from optometry school, saving lives, that sort of thing) and I found myself more alone than I expected. A dear friend of mine sweetly introduced me to a mom’s group from her church and I, too afraid of being impolite to say that I was uncomfortable going, met at the hostess’ house on a Friday afternoon. And it went really well. I was welcomed, something I didn’t expect. I wondered if I’d get side-eyed all afternoon because I went to a different church and what was I even doing there and maybe I should just leave.
But that wasn’t the case. I was welcomed and prayed for. They didn’t even ask me to leave when I had to change Monkey’s stinky diaper. I started going again and again. That’s what introduced me to this book. We didn’t read it, but we would watch a minute video where the two authors would summarize the chapter. Then we would talk about it and pray together. I was so touched by the kindness of these women and I thought that if this book had anything to do with why they were treating me so well, I’d better read it.
So I ordered the book (I couldn’t find a physical copy of it anywhere) and when I got it, I burned through it in two evenings. Quite the feat if you’ve got two little ones. And it really spoke to me.
It’s divided into three sections: “The Dream Life… Altered,” “Getting Real About Mama-hood,” and “The Redeeming.” I found that it started out being really helpful, but kind of petered out by the end. The introduction spelled out exactly how I was feeling about motherhood: “I can’t be a mother today, Lord. I’m too tired.” I wish I could type out the whole intro because I felt like I had written it, but here is just a very small part:
I felt very alone, and very, very tired. Depression snuck up on me; there was a shell of a woman where I once was. My ideals, my hopes, my joy were snatched away before I had a chance to notice. Pleas for help aimed at heaven seemed to be met with silence. The message was clear: this was my life, and I needed to just deal with it.
Adjusting didn’t go well. Anger and resentment were living just under my skin. Exhausted, out of my mind, and still hormonal, every day felt like a fight. Feelings of desperation were like an ever-present shadow over the good in my life… Motherhood was something I planned for, something I wanted, so why was living it out so drastically different from my expectations?
This was me. Exactly me. The feelings of guilt and shame I was carrying around seemed to dissipate when I read this introduction. There was someone else out there who felt the same as I did. Someone who loved her children, but felt like she was living the wrong life. I read nearly the whole thing to Brian and saying, “This! This! This is me! I’m not broken!” It was such a relief.
Once the book proper started, I learned some things to help me make it through motherhood with a joyful, intentional spirit. It’s written by two women: Sarah, who is a mom of three young children, and Sally, who is a more seasoned mother and a mentor to Sarah. Each chapter begins with Sarah’s experiences, her triumphs and failings, before Sally’s passages, which focuses more on advice. Some of the chapters are helpful, some are not (I’m looking at you, housework chapters). The advice that stood out most for me were: find a community, make sure to rest, and decide what is important to your family and emphasize it.
Sally’s advice for finding your community centered on moms. She firmly believes that we weren’t meant to parent alone, but in large groups of friends and family. How to build that community? First, find a group of peers who are in the same stage of their lives as you. Find people that can commiserate, celebrate, and spend time together. These are the people you can rely on for play dates, heart-to-hearts, and accountability. Your kids can spend time together, which can equal free babysitting (both for them and for you). Second, find a mother or two who have kids much older than yours. These women will be your mentors, encouraging you when you feel like this stage will never end and helping you when you are overwhelmed. Third, find mothers with children younger than you for you to mentor. My mother explained why you need to mentor someone as well with this analogy: the Sea of Galilee is fed by the Jordan River (North) and feeds the Jordan River (South). It is vibrant and gives life to the land surrounding it. The Jordan River (South) then feeds the Dead Sea, which has no output. Nothing lives in or around the Dead Sea. If you only take and never give, you will become like the Dead Sea.
I appreciated this advice. And I felt thoroughly chastised when the book told me that I can’t expect a community to find me. I need to go and initiate. Ask people to come for dinner. Have coffee. Offer (free) babysitting. Not just sit in my house and hope that someone would knock on my door and say, “I hear you’ve been looking for a community. Well, here I am!” Suddenly, I could take the responsibility rather than cry in the drive-thru at Wendy’s because no one talks to me at church (which is totally a hypothetical situation in which I was very emotional and irrational and it definitely didn’t happen).
The second piece of advice seemed like common sense, but at the same time, it wasn’t. Yes, we hear “treat yo self” lots from the tumblr abyss, but when mothers take breaks, how often do we criticize because “she should be with her family”? This book gave me permission to say, “I need a break sometimes.” Turns out, parenting is a huge amount of work and there is rarely any time to rest, not just physically, but emotionally, spiritually, creatively rest. It’s years before you get to consistently sleep through the night or get time to do something that renews your spirit. So get a babysitter or take time here and there to do something you love. Ask one of your community members to watch your child for an hour or two. Your child(ren) deserves you at your best and you can’t be your best when you are burned out.
And the last piece of advice that I really liked was about decided what was important to your family and incorporate in your family life. For example, Brian and I both love reading. Our bookshelves fill up a whole section of our basement. Before we had kids, we devoured books like bacon, but there is very little quiet time to read anymore. We would love to instill that love of books in our boys so before bed, we read them two books. And anytime they bring us a book, we try to put down what we are doing and read to them. This is also important when you are trying to cultivate traits in your children. Like gentleness. We want our boys to be gentle with those around them. So we have to include gentleness in our lives. Yes, we rough house with them sometimes, but we are working very hard to be gentle even when we are upset. So no spankings or slamming cupboards or raising our voices. I’m not saying that we do it every time. We are imperfect people, after all. But we are trying.
I learned a lot from this book and I can think of several moms that I think could use its advice. There are some duds in it, for sure. The authors don’t encourage women working outside of the home full time and there is a yucky little passage about feminism warping our world (*rolls eyes*). But like all advice, you’ve got to find the things that will work for your family and the things that don’t. You don’t have to agree with all of it to use part of it.
So I am going forward trying to live a little more joyfully with my boys. I’m going to keep building my community and taking time to rest. I’m going to love on the moms around me because we are all in the same boat, even if our Facebook profiles look like we are Pinterest perfect. Motherhood is really hard, so let’s be in it together.