I had big mommy dreams before I had kids. I pictured myself chasing lady bugs and butterflies through open fields with my children as they giggled with curiosity and delight. I could practically hear the Chariots of Fire soundtrack in the background. I imagined our little family sitting at the dinner table for long periods of time with my husband and I calmly extolling our hard-earned wisdom to our eager little ones as we ate nutritionally, balanced meals. And I envisioned our family doing chores together on Saturday mornings and going on field trips to interesting places.
My husband and I were married for almost eight years before our first son was born, so I had a lot of time for these fantasies to become well rooted and unchallenged.
And then we had kids, and I heard reality laughing so hard it scared me.
When our first son was born I turned into a complete lunatic because of the lack of sleep. I can say with all my heart that I understand why sleep deprivation is used as torture tactic. Feed, burp, change the diaper, cajole to sleep, pray for sleep, beg for sleep, do anything for sleep, wake up after a cat-nap with spit-up all over you, and then do it all again. Whoever said time flies never had a newborn baby. Every day felt like a ground-hog year. I was buried in monotony, and I felt guilty that I wasn’t barefoot and happy about it. Did I love my baby? Of course I did. I just wanted his mother to show up so I could take a nap.
We did, in fact, chase lady bugs and butterflies in an open field. Once. But the kids were more interested in arguing and throwing weeds at each other, so I ended up growling at them while I begrudgingly gathered lady bugs in the stupid habitat container. The jar sat on the dining room table for a week, serving as a reminder of how not fun it was. Needless to say, I didn’t hear Chariots of Fire.
Dinnertime, my prized fantasy, ended up being the most awful time of day when our boys were young. Our kitchen table turned into a perpetual battleground complete with lines drawn and complaints and preferences rifling at me so fast I needed a catcher’s mitt. We had antsy, energetic boys who’d rather jump up and down making weird sound effects than sit and listen to any words of wisdom. It was crazy mayhem wrought with tears and loud noises, and eventually I stopped serving myself because I couldn’t swallow my food through all the stress. Dinner was over in a flash, and even though I was glad when it ended, I felt resentful that my two hours of cooking organic, hand-made meals were dismissed with horrified expressions and pinched noses as if I dished out sewer contents. The only wisdom we shared at the dinner table revolved around the fact that if they didn’t eat their vegetables they couldn’t have dessert. Period.
Chores were a joke. No one cared about a clean house. I felt more like a drill sergeant than a loving mother. The kids just wanted to play with Legos and leave them out wherever they fancied. Have you ever stepped on a Lego brick right in the arch of your foot? Two words: primal scream.
Can you hear my dreams shattering like glass on the floor? I could seriously write the best selling, most effective parenting book of all time, Do the complete opposite of what I did and you’re guaranteed to be a successful parent. Sigh.
On top of wanting to be perfect so I wouldn’t mess up my kids, I had some other major issues to sort through. I was undiagnosed PTSD and suffered from major depression, which only compounded the ordinary struggles and adjustments. I loved our kids so much it hurt, but I was treading water in the deep end of the pool long before they were born.
Motherhood was a shock beyond shocks to my psyche and it took years of butting my head up against my dreams before I realized I needed to let go of the fantasy, so I could make my reality work. Life improved dramatically when I realized I was trying to fit my children into the mommy dream box instead of meeting them where they were. I had to start from ground zero and work my way through all my unresolved trauma while trying to be a good mom. I walked step by painful little step until life opened up and things started to click. Oh, those early years were tough.
Out of pure survival, I chucked my ridiculous expectations of myself and our children. Forget running in fields and sharing insight; my goal was to keep our children one step above feral, so I could work my way through the depression.
Thanks to the grace of God, I found a great therapist who lovingly witnessed my breakdown while teaching me the tools to process my layered, complicated grief and PTSD. Slowly but surely I was able to manage quasi-sanity and chicken nuggets, and I made a promise to myself I wouldn’t quit until I was well. And it worked.
There’s a special joy that comes with making peace with domestic chaos. After years of dedicating myself to that adjustment, I can tell you with all sincerity that when I tuck my children into bed at night and I lay my tired mommy self next to them, my world is complete. As they open their hearts and reveal their secret wishes, dreams, and fears, I’m leveled by their compassion, untainted truth, and willingness to forgive. They’re far wiser than I ever imagined, and I’m humbled to know that I’m the one learning most of the lessons in this sacred relationship.
Yes, no one ever told me how hard motherhood was. But they also didn’t tell me how my life would really begin the moment my children were born.
Chasing an active, tantrum-slinging toddler around the park well past his nap-time while hauling a crying baby on your back is no fun. And if anyone says otherwise, it’s a lie. Whether a mom has depression, PTSD, or a solid background, any mom worth her weight will admit she wasn’t born a good mom; she had to work at developing past her natural abilities. She’ll also swear that every moment of frustration and fatigue pales in comparison to the holy bond she has with her children.
Long gone are the days of expecting things to be perfect. Instead of a sparkling, clean house, our visitors are promised nothing beyond flushed toilets; and I’m ok with that. Friends might not be able to eat off the floor, but they’ll be greeted with happy hearts and a genuine desire to connect.
And, yes, after almost twelve years of being a mom, I will agree that time flies…but only in retrospect.