I struggle with being a mom. I’ve struggled through six years of the predictable laundry, food, scheduling, and interrupted sleep that comes with being a mom. And I’ve struggled through the highly unpredictable explosions, emotions and exhaustion that come alongside too. I’ve struggled in and out of post-partum depression; I’ve struggled in and out of my teaching career; I’ve struggled in and out of most every week.
Being a mom is hard. Trying. Exhausting.
However, I’ve come to understand that what I struggle with is not being ‘a mom’ in some universal sisterhood tribal sense. It’s when I see my little girls’ eyes full of love, when I hear my title with the undertone of need, when they need more mama time at the end of a day I’ve been with them for every moment.
It’s when I sense that I am their truest compass in their vast world that I struggle the most.
Being ‘a mom’ is hard. But I find being ‘Mama’ to my little girls is harder.
I am their person. I am their nurturer, their desired source of affection and stability. I am who they want most when they have hurt feelings or a skinned knee. Their dad is loving and funny and caring and amazing, don’t get me wrong. But there is something a small child needs that their mom only possesses.
Maybe it’s birthed in those early days of nursing and smelling their soft little heads and trying so hard to be the one that makes them smile. Maybe it goes deeper than that into the very DNA of the perpetuation of life in the form of a family unit. Maybe it’s both. But kids tend to want their mom more than any other human.
For me, being ‘Mama’ is profoundly difficult because I feel so wildly unqualified. To me, the whole realm of Mama is outside my entire comfort zone. That they are so exceedingly attached to me is, on many days, deeply terrifying.
To call me Mama, they are speaking to my identity something that I’ve struggled to believe for six years. I am someone who jumps around meeting needs and putting out fires, but someone who doesn’t often feel the emotion of it unless it is the emotion of overwhelm.
To call me Mama, they are voicing a capacity I possess to nurture and love be vulnerable and caring – a capacity I haven’t believed for my whole millennial life.
To call me Mama, they are speaking the language of attachment. And the language of attachment is one I am not naturally fluent in.
As a child myself, my home was one that was either unpredictably silent or brimming with angry tones. My home was one where nobody spoke love in a consistent way, or necessarily in the way I needed.
This was not at all intentional, but rather the by-product of a past beyond my own.
My parents did the best they could with what they had. But that didn’t change the result of me growing up with unintentional scars. Deep wounds that calloused over and over again as I withdrew emotionally and physically.
Detached. Emotionally controlled. Distant.
I want more for my girls, for my own family. I want my home to resound with the sounds of laughter, to be the place they want to bring their friends home to, to be their place of refuge. I want my girls to feel safe and loved and accepted, no matter what phase or mood they are in. I want them crave eye contact and conversation and connection with me, and each other, for their whole entire life.
In words that I didn’t yet know before any of them were born, I desire them to be attached.
Going from wholly detached to fully attached is a far cry from easy. But it’s not impossible.
Looking back, I’ve seen not just Hansel and Gretel’s bread crumb trail, but a whole buffet leading me from there to here.
Unhealth to health. Detached to attached.
It has to do with identity. It has to do with rooting through my soul to find the pain and confronting it head-on. It has to do with dependence. It has to do with believing truth over myself. And it has to do with a God who is greater than any amount of darkness that can be cast over me.
This buffet was laid before me in the valley of death. Not when I had crawled up out of it, but right there in the middle of it. And I was spoon-fed by the Father himself when I had no strength to lift my own hand to mouth for sustenance.
What I saw in every one of my memories of being alone or scared or shut down or angry, of my family not being able to emotionally nurture me, was that God the Father, in his goodness, was with me, and that He was giving me Jesus through the Holy Spirit. Jesus who is enough.
Jesus who did the work of perfect attachment once for all time. Jesus, whose Father nurtured me in every place where my earthly parents could not. Jesus, whose Spirit comforts, consoles and fills all the places beyond measure.
Where I remembered a parent unable to comfort me in a thunderstorm, I saw a Father who found me and removed me from my house entirely into his comfort.
Where I remembered a colicky baby unable to be consoled, I saw a Father who held me and wouldn’t put me down until I felt the safety of his unrelenting embrace.
Where I remember working tirelessly for my worth and approval, I saw Jesus tell me to lie down and rest, take my shovel from me, and he did the work while I slept. Then he gave me permission to rise and enjoy life while he continued to do the work for me.
Jesus was enough. He was the buffet in the middle of my starving darkness.
This is the dynamic of the Father and the Son. The Father wills all to be fully attached to him, and Jesus did the work of reconciliation to make it possible. They delight in our resting in their unity perfected.
Perfect acceptance. Perfect wholeness. Perfect love. Perfect comfort. Perfect unconditional approval. And it is the Holy Spirit who continually breathes this message into our souls.
This is the definition of attachment. Unconditional approval. Being fully home. Acceptance.
I am convinced there is no way to be whole without allowing this dynamic to move in the deepest part of your soul.
We all crave to be attached. And, to be frank, human attachment will always fall short. There is no perfectly attached human relationship. We constantly scrape each other to bleeding with our outcroppings of imperfection.
But what is impossible on the horizontal with humans is eternally possible on the vertical with God. And once its possibility is accepted on the vertical, it is a little more feasible on the horizontal.
My little girls have always believed in something I didn’t. My worth. My approval. My enough-ness. The capacity of my heart. For me to begin to believe it, I had to stare the pain of my past in the face and let Jesus show me truth.
On days when I start to feel stifled by my girls’ need for me driven by their attachment to their Mama, I need to remind myself to remember. I need to remember that though I grew up in a house with anger so thick that I detached for survival, I don’t belong there. That is not my future.
I am enough. Just me. Enough. Because Jesus attached himself to me at the will of his Father through the breath of his SPIRIT. I’ve been invited to this buffet since the loneliness of childhood.
What is true of me is that I am accepted – my past, weakness, hurts, strengths, desires, eccentricities, bad days and all.
What is true of me is that I am approved, no matter how hard or little I try to work for it.
If you feel completely unqualified to be a mom, rest assured, you possess every capability.
If you feel completely unable to escape the patterns that your past laid out for you, rest assured, you are more than able with the help of Jesus.
You can be more than what your parents gave you. The four walls that they built for you isn’t where your family has to live now.
You are able to give a different home to your kids than you received as a child.
You are building something new for your own family, by the power of the Father’s love, that is not controlled by the generation before.
So, together with me, allow yourself to rest in the vulnerable place of attachment. Let’s believe in our ability to respond to the Father’s overwhelming, eternal acceptance and be changed because of it. Let’s lean in through all our pain and weakness and let him make something more in us. And let’s believe what our children believe of us.
You are caring. You are loving. You are kind.
Your heart is open, full, able to give and receive Love.
You embody the very title of Nurturer.
Embrace your identity as mama, Mama. You are a good one. God himself makes you able.