The Art of Mothering

“Let us enjoy the art of living.” -Maya Angelou

Not too long ago, I was out with my children, running some errands. I’m not sure that I looked frazzled or weary, though, because I was out and about with four children, it’s probably pretty safe to assume that I did. A stranger approached, and obviously trying to offer comfort, said, “Don’t worry. Soon they’ll all grow up and then your real life can start.”

I did not know how to respond. I was thoroughly resentful of the implication that “real life”, whatever that is, couldn’t involve the wonderful little people that fill my living room. I’m not sure there is any greater joy than that which comes when my family is around me. What could this person have meant?

What would “real life” be to this well-intentioned stranger? Would it be traveling the world? Attending cultural events? Working on hobbies or other favorite activities? Those are all wonderful things. But I don’t think they eclipse the importance of serving and loving our families. The talk show hosts and magazine articles of the me-centered world around us will tell us that the most important thing in our lives is not our family, or our faith, but ourselves. It will tell us that true meaning is found when we do the things that are important to us. We take care of our needs. We fulfill our dreams.

Don’t get me wrong. I know the importance of taking care of myself. I know that if I don’t take time to fill my own cup, I will very quickly run out of anything that I might offer my children. But if I fail to see the joy and the fulfillment that comes from serving my family, it will not matter how much I fill my cup. Like pouring water into a bottomless glass, I will never be content.

Do you feel joy in mothering? I think sometimes it’s hard to see through the constant cleaning, the nurturing, the lifting, the helping, the fixing, that mothering is an art of living in a category all its own. It isn’t glamorous. It doesn’t reign an impressive salary. It’s a dirty, hard, painful job. And yet, would any mother tell you it isn’t the most rewarding?

But is it rewarding? I think we have a choice. All this that we do can beat us down and wear us out and make us wish, with all our heart of hearts, that our children were grown and we didn’t have to endure through the chaos and exhaustion of raising small children. But it doesn’t have to beat us. Because in the midst of the chaos, we will most certainly find little gems of rich deliciousness; moments when we see, with perfect clarity, the importance of these little people in our charge, the sweetness of their spirits and the necessity of being there for them.

I don’t love cleaning toilets. I don’t love cleaning up the same messes day after day, mopping the same floors, or picking the same dried cheerios off my kitchen table. But I love the little people that make those messes. I love them so desperately that I keep working. I keep cleaning, lifting, helping, fixing, nurturing.

I keep mothering because they deserve it; because it is my divinely inspired responsibility. And because God has told me that I can. When I think about my mother and the years she spent mothering her own houseful of small children, do you know what I remember most? I remember that she was happy. I imagine she had tough moments. What mother wouldn’t when your kids start a campfire in your bedroom, or paint your new carpet with red lipstick? But I barely remember those moments. There were too many that were filled with joy for the hard ones to ever find room to take root.

That is what I want for my children. I hope, that in some small way, I will be able to instill in my daughter a desire to be a happy mother of children, like my mother did in me. Is it too much of a simplification to say the easiest way to accomplish this is to be happy myself?

No. I will not wait until my children grow up before my real life can start. I will love this life, in all its chaos and stress. I will give my children my whole heart, and in doing so, will fill my own with more richness than I could ever imagine.

24 thoughts on “The Art of Mothering

  1. Andrea says:

    So true. This is real life and a great life. I've been thinking a lot about this lately too- being happy and showing that happiness to my children. I want them to remember having fun and being loved.

  2. M-Cat says:

    Beautifully written post, thanks for sharing.As one who is now on the other end, you know, when real life can start? I have to say, we walked out the door last night to go to dinner with friends and I hollered down the stairs "Bye….. um nobody……" It's lonely, and the mothering never ends. You never stop thinking about them or caring. Although there are times I absolutley wish I could! : )

  3. Jennifer Smith says:

    Thanks for sharing that, my friend! You had some "oooohhh" inducing points. Since my son was born I feel like THIS is my real life. I don't care that I will be awakened at 3 am tonight because when I reach in that cradle there will be a happy smile waiting for me. More rewarding than ANYTHING I've ever received in my life.

  4. Charlotte says:

    I can tell that sometimes people look at me with my 6 children and feel pity. I wish I could share a part of the joy I feel in mothering so they can understand. Real life can start? How sad for that person.

  5. Lindsay says:

    You should read, if you haven't already, Jane Clayson Johnson's "I Am a Mother." I read it earlier this week while I was in the hospital after Caleb was born. Her thoughts are along the same lines as yours, and what each of you has to say is lovely.

  6. Linda @ My Trendy Tykes says:

    Great post!Your REAL life? Wow! I can't believe this has all been fake.hmmm….This may not be how I imagined but I would not trade my life for anything. Yep, some days are draining and downright exhaustin but never a day goes by without a little JOY!Maybe I need to call my mom and ask her what REAL LIFE is now days. :Snicker:

  7. oddball says:

    i'll be honest here, i didn't get it for a while after having kids.the whole "joy" thing. i thought about all i wanted to accomplish but had put aside to have children. i never regretted that but i didn't get the whole happiness and actual joy in motherhood itself, until i had to give a talk on mother's day. it was on the joy of motherhood. the real joy. i'll never forget it. i get it now and i'm so grateful that heavenly father gave me this opportunity to find out this part of mortality and what it can mean for my eternal family. it truly IS the most joyful job on earth. thanks for sharing.

  8. Annette Lyon says:

    Couldn't agree more. What some people don't get is that there are seasons to life–and seasons to motherhood. And we need to enjoy each season as it comes. No, poopie diapers weren't a highlight of the baby years, but I wouldn't trade those sweet moments of me nursing my babies by the moonlight in the rocking chair for anything. I'm in a very different season now, and it's rewarding and joyful in a new way. I'm loving it. And I'm glad I enjoyed the earlier years, even if they were stressful and exhausting at times. Motherhood is full of joys. I'm more aware of that now ever. I realized as school began this year that I have my oldest home more only four more years before he heads off to college. That's nothing. I have to suck the marrow out of each moment I have left with him.I swear, he was just a baby. Now, he's officially taller than I am and calls me his "Little Mom." Makes me want to weep.

  9. Rachel Sue says:

    This was lovely. Lately, since the baby has grown out of his screaming at every possible moment phase, I have found those delicious moments more often. And, really, they do make everything worthwhile. Thanks for sharing.

  10. Klin says:

    Even with the tough times I find my greatest joy in being a mom. I was under the impression that being a mom was my real life. It's my favorite job and title. I think this woman was mislead in some way. She has no idea what joy there is in raising children and watching them grow.I feel sorry for her.

  11. Tillia says:

    Whenever i hear a Mom act as if being a Mother is not the BEST job in the world I have to say I feel sorry for them. How can raising your own kids not bring you joy, I feel joy everyday. I pray every night that things can slow down so I can have more time while they are little. Our job is the greatest and anyone who thinks other wise, I just hope their kids don't know it.

  12. MommyJ says:

    That's just it… I think there are people who don't feel like they enjoy it, and probably feel guilty because of it. I think we need to say, "It's okay to hate the parts that stink. That's normal. But look for the joy. Find joy in serving, and don't give up." I make it a part of my prayers in the morning and ask my Heavenly Father to help me focus on the joy, because I know sometimes it is REALLY hard! I'm at a point in my life right now where it's a lot easier to focus on the joy. Three of my kids are in school. The mental burden of my responsibilities is significantly lighter. But there have been times when it was more difficult. When my twins were tiny, and my two year old hating the world because his life was invaded by two new babies, I might not have sung such a happy tune. But there were people who told me not to give up, who told me it would get better, and easier. They lifted and supported me and helped me get a place where I felt better about things… where I hit my stride, so to speak. We are all at different points in our mothering journey, and need to love and support each other as much as we can.

  13. Kimi says:

    There is no greater joy than being able to raise your children. What a blessing to have those sweet little spirits entrusted to you. Very well written post. This is definitely my real life.

  14. Lara says:

    What a strange thing for someone to say! Usually people comment on how we should enjoy them now because they grow up too fast.Thanks for this. I really needed it. Moving has been hard on me, and I've NOT been finding much joy in my mothering lately. Thanks for the reminder to slow down and not worry about unpacking and such too much. My children are more important.

  15. The Kooky Queen--Rachel says:

    Such an awesome post!!!!!! I totally agree, sometimes it's hard to pick out snatches of "joy" and "fulfillment" amidst the chaos and mess but there are many moments where I look at my girls and feel the joy and that feeling lasts!

  16. wonder woman says:

    AWE SOME.I echo every sentiment you shared.It makes me want to cuddle up with my boys on the floor tonight (they choose to sleep on the floor instead of their beds every night!) and hug them till morning.

  17. Tobi says:

    So bizarre. We are reading each others minds now! I swear I didn't read your blog before I posted my own rant about missing my kids while I was out running errands. We even both used the word joy in our titles. I swear on my blog that I hold most sacred that I did not intentionally copy you. Seriously.

  18. Momza says:

    As a Mom also on the other end of tiny tots and diapers, I can relate to what the stranger said to you…and I think she was trying to encourage not discourage you in the season you're in…once you're past tiny tots and diapers you have more opportunities to develop other talents that may be laying dormant right now and which will enhance your SELF beyond being a Mother.Real Life is every day.

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