The Hand That Rocks the Cradle: The Power of the Modern-Day Mother

I walked lightly through the kitchen, away from the bedroom where my twin babies were napping. I had the phone to my ear, waiting for my sister to pick up on the other end. I swallowed hard.
It was quiet in the house. I needed it to stay that way so I could talk with her for at least a few minutes.

 

"Hey, Jen."

"Hi! How's it going?"

 

There is so much internal pressure to say "good", isn't there? But there was no way my sister would ever believe that after she had heard the fault lines in my tone of voice.

Deep breath.

"I wouldn't actually do it, but, lately...I keep thinking about wanting to run away. I don't even know where I would go, and I know I couldn't stay away, but I just..."

 

There I was, a healthy 23 year old, with healthy 6 month old twins, living in a cute basement suite, married to the love of my life. I had friends in town, regular and accessible family support, and even a church community that I had been a part of for {literally} decades. I had dreamed of motherhood and cheered when we discovered that I was pregnant. But this new life of mine that revolved around the demands of cute, unpredictable dictators was wearing me down.

Wearing me down like, "I don't know if I can do this anymore." The weight of responsibility, the monotony of tasks, and the isolation for hours on end was piling up to be an insurmountable mountain.

 

How many more times over the years has that thought risen out of me? "I don't have what it takes. God, please. Help me."

I wonder how many mothers are out there groaning similar prayers.

A few years ago, a friend of mine had her first baby. We didn't see each other that often, so when she reached out asking for a bit of support, I was more than happy to visit. At the time I had four boys, so she was asking for a bit of advice. When I went to her house I had hoped to do her dishes or something helpful, but you know how we can be. Always cleaning up before the help arrives.

I remember holding her little guy who was about one month old. We were swaying and bouncing. I was rubbing his back, with my forearm pressed gently to his abdomen. He had been squirming and struggling non-stop since I had been there. My friend explained that this was his normal.

She took a deep breath. "How do you do it?"

"No. I've never done this." I assured her. 

"My babies never squirmed and cried quite like this. Listen, you aren't failing. Your challenge is unique. You aren't a weak woman."

 


I wonder if women from previous eras would say something similar if they were to somehow stop by and see our generation in our post-partum days. Hear me out on this. I know that we have unique privileges and technology. We have dishwashers and grocery stores, running water and advanced medical support, but something has happened to our communities that is breaking women at unprecedented rates.

If the mothers of the past could step into our homes, maybe they would come sit close enough to us that their knees would touch ours. Maybe they would lean forward, look us in the eye and say, "No, dear. You are not failing. You are facing a challenge that we never did. You are not particularly weak. You are a pioneer woman in a world that has not set you up for success."

 

We are aware that we have physical needs. Nutrition, exercise, rest. Especially in the early days of motherhood these are hindered. We stuff bite-size banana muffins into our mouths on our way through the kitchen to go pick up the crying baby or quickly start a load of laundry. We try to keep a glass of water on the table by the couch so that we can remember to drink while we are nursing. Resting feels like a joke. Even when the baby sleeps and we sneak away for a shower, we can hear phantom cries.

We try to remember to supplement with essential oils, vitamins and minerals. We have learned about self-care and so also attempt to fit this into our schedules: artistic expression, personal interests, intellectual stimulation. (could also be read: fifteen minutes of sketching, fifteen minutes on Pinterest and a Netflix documentary. If we get out for a walk around the neighborhood we feel like champions!)

 

However, from what I have experienced in these last ten years of motherhood, we face three great challenges every day that are unique to our generation:

 

1. Unprecedented Loneliness

Have mothers ever been as alone as they are now?

Beth Berry, a writer over at “Revolution from Home” recently said, “The injustice is this: it takes a village, but there are no villages.”

Yes, our children need a variety of voices speaking life and strength into them, but perhaps more so they each need a mother and father who are being strengthened and encouraged by a village. What if all mothers and fathers had authentic community, with peers who relate and older generations who remember and lend wisdom and serve with kindness?

We were not meant to experience the strain and stress of motherhood alone. Somehow just looking in the reassuring face of another parent gives us the permission to admit, “This is hard.”  Somehow being with a friend who understands makes the situation humorous instead of insurmountable. Somehow hearing someone else share their past experiences gives us strength to face our current one.

 

But too often we are alone in our houses even in the middle of a busy city. We are separated by touch screens, always trying to affirm one another and simultaneously give each other glimpses into our real life withou delving into self-pity or habitual complaining.

Hours and hours of isolation, punctuated by the occasional pause for face to face conversation.

We as women are particularly wired for sharing our everyday experiences with others. We ache to communicate what is in our hearts and have people to relate with. We want someone to “walk to the well with” everyday. The burden of daily duties is not so heavy when we walk together.

 

2. Increasing Pressure for Perfection 

 

On our tablets and smart phones we have windows into the world of our neighbors. There have been many well-written articles on the topic and it is not my intention to echo every sentiment, but it is worth saying that the levels of comparison are off the charts in our lives today. Not only are there the real people around us, but there are also the manicured worlds we see in advertising and the expert recommendations we are exposed to nearly every day.

 

We may not even succumb to jealousy, but we are certainly in awe:

“How does that mom already have a six-pack? Her baby is only three months old!”

“How does she always keep her kitchen clean?”

“How does she decorate birthday cakes so well?”

“How does she get everywhere on time?”

The list goes on and on. Because we are isolated we fall for an illusion that the rest of the world dwells in success. They are winning, we are losing. Our meals, our marriages, our bodies, our homes, our intelligence, our experiences. Then someone asks us, “How are you?

We aren’t sure that they have the time to listen to our full answer.

The pressure to say “good” rises within us. I’ll take this moment to admit that in my effort to not lie to people, sometimes I just make nondescript noises and say, “ahhhh, mmmm, ppphht, and how are you?!” Often people don’t seem to even notice. Emergency averted.

Falling for lies that we alone are the flailing ones keeps us from vulnerability. Without vulnerability we are alone, and when we are alone we cannot be encouraged.

 

3. Disrespect for Motherhood and Devaluing of Children

I recently was searching online for a painting of a mother and child that I had once seen. It had once captured my heart over ten years ago, before I had any babies of my own. I naively thought, “Maybe I can just type “mother and child painting” and will be able to find it again.”

I had not considered the enormous number of artists throughout history who have attempted to capture the beauty of a mother with her child. These weren’t moms asking for a family photography session. This was a reflection of the sentiment of past generations; artists had devoted hours of their time to the subject.

Humanity once believed in the power of motherhood. We once treasured and honored the years that a child could rest in the arms of its mother. We once saw the loveliness in the unsculpted body of a woman that sacrificed to sustain the life of her young. 

In my early years of motherhood it felt like I was regularly swarmed by criticisms of my life choice. 

You are wasting your life. Wasting your mind. Wasting your strength.”

I would try to swat the thoughts away and keep to the task at hand. 

Feeding. Changing diapers. Wiping faces. Patting backs. Finding soothers. Helping them walk up steps. Clipping fingernails. Showing them colors and teaching them what elephants say.

 

The shadow of death always taunting.

What’s the point? Giving your life for these children that keep demanding from you. What reward will there be in that? Is this what you dreamed it would be?”

I’d backhandedly push the demon off my shoulder and get back to work.

Washing countless dishes. Teaching compromise and patience. Finding the missing sock. Catching them at the bottom of the slide. Reading the same story one more time. Washing the shampoo out of their hair. Trying to translate their babbling.

This is a joke. You wanted to make a difference and experience the wonders of the world.

Here you are, making pasta. Again.”

One day, for the first time ever, I turned around and took a moment to face that whisper. 

“Stop. This is my choice. I will not give up. I believe in the power of motherhood. I believe in the power of a woman who will surrender her will for the sake of her children. Over and over again. I will tell my sons over and over again that they are valuable to me. The whole world may not see the glory hidden in them, but I want them to know that the one who lives nearest to them believes in their worth. Enough to sacrifice. Over and over again.

That day was a game changer. Strength rose in me in me in a new way. I have had to add the rhythms of self care and living in purposeful community. I have had to be on guard against the comparison and ensuing insecurities that follow peering through the window of social media, but without the shift to fight for the value of the work I was doing, I could not have made it here.