We all think we know what’s coming when we sign up to become a parent… Jill is a nurse, she knows how to handle pressure, to care for those whose lives are placed in her hands, and she was mature enough not to have delusions that motherhood would be easy. And yet, as we have probably all learned, you can never truly be prepared for how challenging this role will be. Whether it is in the ordinary challenges of adapting to giving of ourselves SO completely, or extra-ordinary challenges like unexplained childhood illnesses. Jill and her family have dealt with their share of both, and she will be the first to admit that she still doesn’t have it all together. And I absolutely love that about her.
Sometimes life throws us on a wild ride. When Melissa and her husband decided to have children, they felt like they had themselves and their lives pretty well figured out… they had done plenty of travelling and enjoyed their share of evenings out cultivating truly great friendships. They had a solid foundation on which to build their family.
Yet looking back, Melissa has a feeling that most of us can relate to: that she wouldn’t recognize her former self if she was staring her in the face. It isn’t that any of us were less of a person before we had children, but the ways in which this role changes us are completely undeniable.
As much as we can plan the perfect timing for our big life decisions, the timing of our lives is not really within our control. As Melissa and her husband began to grow their family, they were hit hard with two terminal diagnoses in the family. During their first pregnancy, her aunt was diagnosed with leukemia. Shortly following their daughter's birth, her father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
The ordinary adjustments of sleeplessness, being constantly needed, and adjusting from career to motherhood were compounded with questions of how long, with rearranging lives and relocating, all while continuing to live life and anticipating a second child. While they were blessed to enjoy many more months together, they eventually lost both her aunt and her dad during her second pregnancy. The typical moments of joy and anticipation were swirled in a world of more complicated emotions.
It seems that facing the impending loss of your dad would be the worst time to adjust to a growing family, and it obviously wasn’t ideal, but both Melissa and her mother recognize that these children have been their saving grace in this time of struggle. A welcome distraction and ultimately the motivating force to strive to be an even better version of yourself (when the easier route would be to sink into an entirely justified depressive rut). With little eyes and ears absorbing everything, the choice to burden ourselves with anger at the tragedies we cannot control is much less attractive.
Not only have her children provided a source of joy through the tough times and the motivation to keep getting out of bed on the days that it feels nearly impossible; they have also been a reminder of the memories that matter.
When it comes to embracing traditions, Melissa worried that her children would be missing so much of her story in not having a chance to get to know her dad. When she and her husband moved back to their hometown, they ended up missing the window of time that they had left with her dad.
Now, despite not having his presence, she has found that she can enjoy the history of this place in a new way through the eyes of her children. Even memories that she had long since forgotten are reignited as she takes the parental role where her children represent her childhood self.
Driving past the same great big Christmas tree in the town centre that she had once craned her little head to stare at in awe there is a glimmer of a memory...
The memory of her father turning from the front seat back to enjoy her state of wonder. Now it is Melissa watching the same scene from her front seat.
The vintage rocking horse in the living room is the same one that Melissa herself grew up playing with. Their lives are a beautiful blend of appreciation for the past and engagement in the present moment.
These children have given Melissa access to her strongest self and her best self.
In turn, she is giving them a pretty amazing mother, and a childhood overflowing with love and patience and grace. She is embracing the messes and soaking up the crafting. She is loving these children in every moment and giving them the safe space to grow into their own best selves.
The thought of participating in these stories was altogether terrifying at first for Melissa. We are not generally very comfortable letting a stranger into our homes and into the truths of our joys and struggles… Not to mention the world of strangers who will have the opportunity to share in these secrets online.
So what would possess her to open up and share her story? It was the same thing that motivates so much of what we do as parents; to build a story that evidences for our children that they are loved entirely unconditionally and beyond the reaches of their imaginations. It is critical that they know that they are her greatest teachers and certainly her salvation over this past couple of years.
I would love to know...
How has motherhood changed you?
What do you need your children to remember?
Brittany is a bit of a rare flower, and the powerful connection that I immediately felt with her goes much deeper than a shared first name. To see a young woman with such a balanced and steady sense of herself, and with such a solid footing as she enters motherhood is a truly beautiful thing. Of course, none of this came by chance, she has been very intentionally navigating a journey to self-discovery over the past few years, and it is this intentional path that has allowed the new role of motherhood to find a comfortable place in the rhythm. Brittany has made conscious choices to let go of anxiety and to embrace only that which adds meaning to her life.
One of the most striking things I noticed in conversation with Brittany was the answer she gave to my usual question about the most important gift that she can give to her little guy. It is a subject that often goes unnoted in our “children above all else” culture, but one that I have been thinking of a lot myself over the past few months. Brittany and her husband Kyle have placed a great deal of importance on cultivating a strong foundation for their relationship. The gift that they will give this family is the comfort of knowing that their love is unshakable, and that home will always be a safe space.
I see it as a logical but often ignored subject in relation to the popular topic of attachment parenting, the gist of which is that the more securely bonded a child is to his parents, the more confidently he will be able to go forth into the world. I have never actually noticed mention of the connection between a safe and attached parent/child relationship and the safe and confident environment created by a well maintained relationship between parents.
I am not the only child familiar with the turmoil of an unstable parental relationship. While I would obviously argue that I turned out just fine, imagining a childhood without that constant fear seems like some sort of utopia. The truth is, I have seen the way my daughters’ eyes light up when they see my husband and I show each other affection. The way that we lavish our children with cuddles and kisses and tickles clearly shows them the love that we have for them, so how would they not notice a discrepancy in the way we treat our spouses? I do not believe that “broken” homes will break our children, but I do know that the pain of a continually “BREAKING” home can be positively heartbreaking.
The way that Brittany sees it, putting the effort in up front to build a solid marriage, and doing the maintenance work as they go, means that their son will never face that fear that it is all going to fall apart, or worse, feel the burden of keeping face to keep it all together. With this safe space to return to always, he will be free to be imaginative, to take chances, and to go boldly into his life.
There will always be love to welcome him home no matter the outcome of his adventures.
The challenges of motherhood do not always come from the actual raising of the children. Kim was born to be a mother and has been blessed with fairly easy going children. For her, the role of momma is a natural fit, and the ebb and flow of parenting these two has fallen into place quite nicely. In all honesty, I had a hard time finding the words for this post. Kim is so laid back and simply takes things in stride. She didn't come into this journey with idealistic expectations only to be bowled over by reality. She has found her 'village' through strong connections to her church community. She has built a strong business that allows her to put her family first. Their family is alive with love, and connected in all they do. They make beautiful music together, share tea parties, story time, and bed jumping. Even so, she still hasn't found that magical 'balance' that we have been told to expect
The thing is, when we accept the calling of motherhood, the rest of the jobs still need to get done. There is bread to be won, laundry to be done, messes to be tidied, and so many opportunities to say "Yes" when perhaps we actually need to say "No".
Saying "Yes" naturally feels good... we do want to help everyone, and to be a part of everything. And so we start juggling to fit more and more into our days, and find ourselves frustrated when we can't do it all and make it look effortless. I know, because I have buried myself under piles of Yeses until I reached a breaking point. And you know what, breaking felt good. I mean, obviously it didn't feel good at the time, but it finally gave me the freedom to say "NO" without guilt. Once I knew what another "Yes" would mean for me, and for what I was able to give to my family, it became easy to realize that the needs of my children carried more weight, and that saying "No" to some things was really just saying "Yes" to my children, to my business, to my husband, and to myself.
And it isn't at all about finding 'balance' as though it were the scales of justice, it is about riding the waves, managing the ebb and flow without finding yourself under water. Thankfully for Kim, I have every confidence that she will navigate the myth of "balance" without reaching that breaking point. How do I know? Because she has the insight to know that it will take more patience. She is willing to reflect deeply and thoughtfully in prayer. She is learning to give herself more grace.
Thank you Kim for sharing these beautiful, real moments with me. I loved capturing The way Z holds that little monkey belly button and L's little mix of sweet and sass that reminds me so much of my Ottilia. I hope that the album will be something that you treasure always.