You know that feeling you get in an interview—or awkward icebreaker activity at work, at school, or elsewhere—when someone asks you to “Tell me a little about yourself”? That sense of standing at the mouth of the Grand Canyon and being asked to pick out a single rock that best exemplifies it?
I hate that feeling.
When people ask me to tell them about myself, I find it gobs easier to talk about the people, things, and pursuits I love, rather than many distinct personality traits of my own. It’s hard for me to explain “who I am” in isolation.
I don’t like to talk about myself. But I do like to talk about the things I like or dislike, and I think they say a lot about me.
That’s natural, because as God’s children, we are defined by love. It makes us who we are.
Unfortunately, we are also very deeply motivated by fear. We don’t generally talk about the things that scare us upon introducing ourselves. But our deepest fears do have an insidious way of affecting our choices and coloring our thoughts. That’s a reality we must all learn to acknowledge, no matter our vocation.
Resisting Change and Grasping for Control
If I had to pick one word to describe what it’s like to become a mother, I’d say change. And for someone like me—an introverted homebody who’s prone to worry and sentimentality—an experience dominated by change is also defined by an undercurrent of fear.
I hate change. It unsettles me. It makes it difficult to be myself. This is something I struggle with very deeply, because I know change can be good. But I like things to be smooth and low-key, and I stress easily when they aren’t.
I’ve never thought of myself as a control freak, but over the last year I’ve realized that this aversion to change is tied to a quiet desire to be in control of things.
I don’t know which came first—do I hate change because I need control or do I need control because I hate change?—but I do know that both of these qualities are vices for me. The truth is that we are in control of very little in this world. To think otherwise is hubris. To fear it is pointless.
The Unsettled Feeling at the Heart of Motherhood
I know that too much control and too little change wouldn’t be good for me, but it’s hard to stamp down this instinctive fear I have. Unfortunately, this weakness is not at all conducive to a joyful experience with motherhood. Whoops.
Motherhood is defined by change because every day is a transition. Our children grow so quickly, and our bodies and families and emotions change so frequently, that it’s impossible to pin down a definition of “normal” that will last for more than a very brief period before it needs rewriting.
Morning sickness becomes aches and pains. Pains become labor. Labor becomes delivery. Newborns become infants, become toddlers, become preschoolers, become kids and tweens and teens and full-blown adults.
A mother’s heart is a stormy sea. This is often a good thing—the blessings that drop in to churn these waters are full of active, bustling life and they are beautiful. But rarely does beautiful mean easy, and we moms go through a lot to bring our babies up into well-formed adults.
So whether it’s the crazy sleep schedules of an infant, the ever-changing preferences of a toddler, the hormonal mood swings of a teenager, or the far-flung independence of adult children, there is simply no time to pause and breathe and forget the chaos when you’re a mother. And there’s no time to get used to each flavor of that chaos, either, because it changes every hour.
And, of course, we can control none of this. Our babies will do or not do or feel or not feel or say or not say whatever comes to their beautiful little minds, with or without our approval. And as they get older, their self-sufficiency means we have even less of a hand in their actions—and the consequences they will face for those actions.
So yes, motherhood is change. Motherhood is letting go. And those are scary things. It means that we must be responsible for our children’s lives, and yet relinquish those lives to the hands of God and the story of their sweet souls. We hold ourselves deeply accountable for their joy, but we can do nothing to permanently impress it upon them. We can only hold their warm little hands and hope for the best.
Our love makes us want to bring them in close and protect them from the world and walk their path for them. But we can’t. And that’s the fear that defines being a mom.
Living in this Moment
So far, in my few years as a mom, the only balm I’ve found for that aching fear is to live in and enjoy each moment with my children. But that can be hard to do, too.
Selfishness makes it hard (“this got you to sleep yesterday; why can’t you sleep for me today?”). A lack of focus makes it hard (says the mom who scrolls through Facebook far too often). Impatience makes it hard (“when are you going to stop throwing every meal I make for you onto the floor?”).
Comparison is the enemy of confidence.
I’ve said that before, but I think it’s an important lesson for so many aspects of motherhood. We become downtrodden when we compare ourselves to other moms. We become discouraged when we compare our methods to the ones in all the parenting books.
Likewise, we torture ourselves when we compare one moment to the next. It’s common knowledge that, when it comes to littles, what worked yesterday probably won’t cut it today—and what gets the job done today will crash and burn tomorrow.
So I’ve had to learn to stop asking myself what if?; to stop wondering why one child develops so differently from another; to stop hoping that this will be the night or the naptime that begins a new, easier phase; to stop being afraid that my picky eater will never enjoy a real meal without a fight; to worry about whether this bad day will become my child’s earliest memory. The examples go on and on.
This applies in other areas of life, too. It’s hard to be grateful for what’s in front of you—to really enjoy it—if you’re too busy being nervous about or anxious for the next thing.
Fear is not always an enemy; it’s a healthy thing. But it cannot define us because, if we let it, it will control us. And that is not the life we were made to live.
In the moments when I’m failing to enjoy what’s before me instead of worrying about what isn’t—to embrace what I am given, good or bad, instead of grasping for what I cannot change—I pray.
Saint Padre Pio said something wonderfully simple about this: “Pray, hope, and don’t worry. Worry is useless. God is merciful and will hear your prayer.”
Sometimes I pray hard and long. Other times, when I don’t have the energy or I’m too bogged down by my fear or self-centeredness, I can barely squeak out a Glory Be or a “God help me.” But every time, no matter what, it helps. If I lean into it and let the words wash over me, it helps.
That’s the relief that defines being a child of God.