Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Letter to a Mother

[fourth and final post in a series...start with part 1]

Back in December, I told you about an amazing Internet phenomenon called “The Mother Letter Project.” A man named Seth compiled hundreds of letters from mothers to give as a Christmas present to his wife, Amber. I felt compelled to contribute to the project, and I’ve wanted to share my letter here, but felt the need to provide more context first.

Now that I’ve done that, here’s my mother-letter. The first half will sound familiar if you’ve been reading along over the last week, but I hope you'll find the ending to be a blessing.

* * *

December 24, 2008

Dear Mother,

I’ve spent the last sixteen months feeling completely unqualified to be a mother—so I hardly know how to write you an encouraging letter about motherhood. Rather, I’m sure you could teach me a thing or two. Never in my life have I felt so utterly incompetent at anything.

And yet I can’t stop thinking about this Mother Letter Project, can’t ignore the compelling urge to be a part of this sisterhood of motherhood. So here I am.

In this new season of life, I have floundered; my days have been marked not by enthusiasm and confidence but by fear and overwhelming guilt. I know women who say things like, “I was made to be a mother—it is the most incredible experience of my life!” But the truth is, those statements are foreign to me. My journey as a mother hasn’t been “This is hard, but it’s totally great. Without a doubt worth it.” It’s been, “This is hard—really, really hard. And I am not thriving.” I wish I could echo those delighted mothers’ comments, but I can’t—and so the lack of enjoyment is compounded by a crushing weight of guilt for not feeling like a mother “should” feel.

The day I gave birth was not the greatest day of my life; it was the most traumatic. I expected motherhood to be love at first sight. You always hear mamas talk about holding their babies for the first time: "head over heels in love"..."totally smitten with this new little person"..."never knew it was possible to love someone this much"... That's how I expected it to be. I never imagined there could be any other reaction. But when my son was born, I felt more shell-shocked than anything else—less "love at first sight" and more "what just happened to me?" I didn’t feel that tremendous, instantaneous bond people talk about. And you know what? A year and a half later, I still don't feel that overwhelming sense of "I could never love another child as much as I love this baby."

Eventually, I found the courage to open up to a handful of women who reassured me that I was not alone. Not everyone has that love at first sight experience, and that’s OKAY. But I still struggle to shake off the oppressive weight of guilt and shame. I feel like I can't talk about it because women who had that “smitten” experience everyone expects, who adore motherhood, are secretly appalled or horrified that anyone could NOT feel that way. I feel like an awful person for admitting it is not like that for me.

But what I am learning, Mother—or rather, what I am telling you in hopes that it will sink into my own heart—is that love is a choice mothers make. Maybe you are one of those mothers who, upon seeing your babies for the first time, felt as though your heart would explode. Or perhaps you, like me, lack those mushy motherly emotions a lot of the time. Neither makes you more or less a loving mother, if day by day you choose to love.

I’m learning that motherhood—loving my son—means dying daily. Laying down my desire for comfort and ease, my independence and freedom, my preferences, even some of my dreams. It means I show my love, mushy feelings or not, by changing stinky diapers, reading the same story for the six-hundredth time, waking at three a.m., spooning vegetables into a hungry mouth.

Each day as I care for my son, I must die to laziness, to self-centeredness, to pride. And it’s in death that I am most beautiful, because it’s here that I look most like my Savior—the One who died that I might live.

“And Jesus answered them, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.’” (John 12:23-25)

Yet death is not the ultimate goal of a mother. I die so that I might live—and so that, seeing me live abundantly, my son might also have life to the full. As a living mother, I am selfish, prideful, angry, impatient. But as a mother who has died to self and sin, I have hope in the gospel, in the power of Christ to change my flawed and broken ways.

“He who did not spare his own son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32)

The day I depend on my own strength to mother my son is the day I fail miserably. But my Savior, whose death purchased my forgiveness and reconciliation with God, also purchased my transformation and gave me His Spirit. He who called me and justified me has promised to glorify me (Romans 8:30). And that means His grace can provide what I need to be an effective, faithful mother.

That grace is available to you, too, Mama. And so I pray that each day you’ll find the grace you need to die to self, in order that you and your precious little ones (and others who are watching) can love and live abundantly in Him.

Grace and Peace,


* * *

Previously in this series:
Crushed by Mother-Guilt
Breaking the Silence
A Mother in Process, Clinging to Hope


Jennifer said...

Hi Amy,
Just wanted to let you know that my first post is up. I'm not sure how frequently the series will be added to, but my intent is to be progressing on it steadily. Take that for what it's worth!
Blessings to you in abundance.

Anonymous said...

I thought of you while listening to today's "Revive Our Heart" podcast. Listen to it, I know you'll be encouraged!

Marianne said...

Hi Amy,

Your transparency is one of the reasons I enjoy your blog so much. You're such a gifted writer that I'm sure your pain (I'm so sorry) and experiences help women who have gone or are going through similar seasons.

Sarah D. said...

Hi Amy,

You might be surprised (or not), but I've had some of the same feelings as you. Motherhood is a process. I think we erroneously assume we will just "fall into" it. But, like anything else, we must train and practice.

I'm praying for you! Hang in there! =)

Unknown said...

Hi Amy,
I don't know if you remember me, but I am a friend of Julie's. I just wanted to let you know I really, really appreciated this post. I haven't had exactly the same feelings as you, but definitely have experianced feelings reguarding my children I didn't expect. It's so important to remember the goal we are striving for. And although all of our journeys are different, no one person's is perfect. (I hope that makes sense.) It's so easy to look at other mothers and feel like they got it right, and you got it wrong. It's a process, day by day, one step at a time. Anyways, thank you for posting this, it really blessed me.

Anonymous said...

Glad you enjoyed the podcasts, Amy! I'll have to listen many times to ingrain so much of the good things she had to say into my head!

Suburban Turmoil said...

What a great post. I tried to tell a few women that I was feeling the same way you were as a new mom- and they acted appalled. At the time I was crushed, but now I look back and realize that that moment had a LOT to do with why I started a blog. :)