“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.