I am quite possibly the one mommy-blog you’ll read that will not be an epic recap of how crazy the holidays were, complete with Instagram-worthy shots of fabulous meals and beautiful decor (instead, you’re in for appropriately placed gifs). There were some pretty fabulous meals, but the decor is slightly less than fabulous due to the presence of eager grabby hands roaming our abode, and the holidays were the most calm and refreshing I can recall.
It All Started with a Bittersweet Choice
I can’t remember the last time the holidays were a time where I slowed down and caught my breath, but this year they were just that. After travelling to see family on opposite sides of the country for Thanksgiving and Christmas last year with a 10 month old while I was pregnant (ahem, morning sickness), we decided that this year we’d be sticking around the Capitol region. We knew it would be a huge sacrifice not to have our kids around the doting grandparents or catching up with our extended family and friends, but we also knew that with one side of family in Wisconsin and the other in Texas and Louisiana these decisions would be inevitable from time to time (thanks to some major help from FaceTime, we made the best of it).
Without the hustle and bustle, I was able to get the greatest gift I didn’t know I needed: time to myself to make sense of this whole SAHM gig. I just completed my first full year as a SAHM, and after our son arrived in June, I found myself becoming more and more discontent with my life. The isolation, repetition and total loss of freedom in my new profession are palpable and I could no longer overlook my need to get a handle on my negative thoughts.
Revisiting Bedford Falls
I can remember one of my mom’s favorite movies around this time of year was It’s a Wonderful Life. I grew to hate it because I thought it was extremely depressing. When I saw it pop up in my Amazon Prime queue, I thought, hey it’s been a few years, I’ll give it another go.
What struck me watching Capra’s classic this time around was how George Bailey’s life unfolded. At first glance, it might seem like his dreams were taken away from him unfairly, that life had actually dealt him a bad hand. But on closer inspection, he made a decision at each juncture life threw at him to do what he believed was right at the cost of his youthful dreams.
Even though George was an undeniably blessed man, he was angry that life hadn’t turned out how he dreamed. He felt confined, overwhelmed, and that despite all his hard work it seemed to count for nothing. I’m somewhat ashamed to admit how much I related to him, but then the first step is admitting you have a problem.
Capra gives us an undeniably happy ending (in fact, I found myself tearing up), but nothing actually changed for George. If the movie had been made today, I imagine that a happy ending would have consisted of George finally leaving everything behind to find himself by traveling Europe, probably with Violet at his side. The only thing that changes is how George sees his life. And that set off the light bulb for me.
Sometimes You Just Need a Hug
I realized the only thing I needed to change about my life was how I viewed it. The facts were pretty simple. I made the decision to stay home because when I worked full time after Evelyn was born everyone suffered: my boss, my husband, my daughter and me. I knew my first responsibility was bound up in my marriage, my kid and my home, and no amount of income or fulfillment from a job outside the home could take the place of that.
Even though I had the facts, I found myself angry more and more often. I could go off on Nick on the kids like a hair trigger, and though postpartum hormones might like me to think otherwise, I knew it wasn’t them I was angry at. Something needed to change, and what better place to start that process than in the confessional. It was Advent after all.
There’s been plenty of times when I go to confession and the priest gives me a verbal wallop upside the head, and while I hate it, I know I deserve it. But a couple weeks ago, God knew I needed some serious coddling.
Standing in the waiting line, I was just wracked with guilt. Why on earth didn’t I appreciate the blessings I have? How on earth can I be angry when I’ve been given so much that is beautiful and wonderful? Why on earth am I having a hard time liking being a mother? How can I be so ungrateful? Also, why in the heck did it take me so long to get back here to confession?
Once I walked in and knelt down, I was met with a kind and gentle voice saying, “Welcome back! It is so good you are here! Doesn’t this feel like home?” It was like Jesus wrapped me up in the biggest hug. I felt so loved, so un-judged. I handed over all of that guilt, and walked out feeling so clean and SO ready to start on this new change!
As my favorite Bishop Sheen said, Satan may get his hour, but Christ always wins the day.
The Best Christmas Gift
For a SAHM, the thing we crave most is precisely the thing that is hardest to get: time entirely to ourselves. Sure, we can take advantage of those blessed hours (or sometimes minutes) when the kids are napping, but then we are still surrounded by [insert all household duties here]. It’s impossible to shut off our daily duties when we’re sitting in the middle of them, and it’s generally frowned upon to leave kids under a certain age home alone.
As Christians, we know we find our true selves in Christ, and that our relationships with Him are most deeply cultivated in silence. For many SAHM, it probably feels like if we didn’t find Christ before kids, then we never will. It is possible, but it requires a partner. This year since we weren’t traveling, I got to take full advantage of having Nick home for an entire week and spent several afternoons in coffee shops alone while the kids were napping. I knew this was my chance to constructively deal with my reality and focus on reshaping my mindset.
A dear friend had read and recommended In Praise of Stay-at-Home Moms by Dr. Laura Schlessinger. She’s known for shooting it straight and not mincing words. So is Dr. Laura (hah!). I felt like it was a good time for me to get a healthy dose of that. A not so subtle hint passed along to dear husband and the book showed up under the tree for me on Christmas morning.
It felt admittedly strange reading a book whose purpose is to validate and bolster the decision to stay home when I am the very grateful product of a SAHM and can personally attest to the benefits. I shouldn’t need this decision validated because I lived it, right? But the truth is I did need it validated. I am a different woman in a different time with different circumstances than my mom, and like it or not, I realized I had to own this decision for myself not just because it was how I was raised.
I found myself resonating with so much in Dr. Laura’s book as she describes the struggle it can be to make the transition, and felt such relief knowing that I was completely normal for even having the struggle. She takes a whole chapter to address the big ways that being a SAHM changes you. I started cheering internally when I read this:
Being a mom, especially a SAHM, is a sacrifice of incredible dimensions and a real test of your ability to give (the never-ending variety), endure, postpone gratification, think of somebody else way, way above yourself from moment to moment, be patient beyond reason, and have a sense of humor and a willingness to admit to weakness, ignorance, need, exhaustion, and nuttiness.
And there it was, staring me plain as day in the face. The reason I have had such a hard time adjusting to the SAHM life is because I am a selfish person, full of pride and ego, and my kids have zero time or pity for any of that. This job is all about dying to myself daily, and up to now it has felt like a slow suicide that I viciously needed to fight, but that felt wrong too. This is exactly my call as a follower of Christ right? Dying to myself is exactly how I find joy and fulfillment, the two very things I felt that I’d been lacking.
Somewhere along the way when I was in college and while I was working before I quit to stay home, I had lost sight of that truth (probably when I nailed a critique, or around the time I got my first raise based purely on merit). But hey, if I changed once, I can change again. It just requires a little effort and a lot of will power, something I’ve never found myself wanting. I can’t think of a better gift to have been given this Christmas than this realization and rediscovery, a gift as much for my family as it was for me.
Resolutions I Plan to Keep
A few years ago, I proudly gave up New Years resolutions as things that are made only to be broken. The truth is though that resolutions are about the chance to start fresh, and that chance offers something life would be unlivable without: hope.
There were so many good things that I learned this Christmas and so many habits that, though I can’t make as frequent as they were when Nick was off of work for a whole glorious week, I can – and will – make more of a routine. Changing a mindset is an ongoing process, and both me and my family deserve that I keep this good change going.
So here goes!
Lesson 1: While a huge motivator for doing what I do is knowing that I’m appreciated, appreciation cannot be the reason I do what I do.
Resolution: to see the fruit of what I do as the reward in itself and appreciation as icing on the cake.
Lesson 2: Even though I know what I do is good and that I wouldn’t change it, it can be easy to lose sight of those things when my days are dictated by the necessary, trivial and often irrational needs of my miniature hedonists.
Resolution: to continue practical ways of taking time alone for recollection, especially when I’m feeling prone to bouts of anger.
Lesson 3: The blessings in my life are so obvious a blind man could see them 10 miles away.
Resolution: to cultivate gratitude, cherishing the beauty in the small accomplishments and big smiles of those same miniature hedonists.
Lesson 4: I am more merciful to others when I am merciful with myself and when I open myself up to receive mercy.
Resolution: to not be surprised when these resolutions are periodically thrown over, but to always have the courage to pick up good habits no matter how far off track I get.
And with that, a Happy New Year it will be!!!