Mother’s Day. It’s a day that is meant to be special and joyous and everything beautiful and glowing. Or at least that’s the romanticized, Hallmark perfect picture that so many of us women conjure up in our heads. In reality, though, that description often bears little resemblance to our actual experience of the day.
Perhaps this Mother’s Day finds you fighting back waves of grief as yet another year passes with empty arms as you walk the hard road of infertility.
Maybe this Mother’s Day is a painful reminder of a child who has gone into a “far country” leaving your heart broken and desolate.
For some of you, this day is poignant with sorrow as you remember your child whose life was cut tragically short, whether in the womb or at some point beyond, or the often minimized, but very real, loss of a failed adoption.
Others of you are mothers to a child or children with special needs or medical conditions who may never be able to accomplish the things you once hoped and prayed a child of yours would. A day set aside to celebrate mothers might be just another reminder of the unique and lonely challenges you face on a daily basis.
Often, for many of us, it’s nothing as difficult as any of those situations. Maybe its just an underlying sense of disappointment, of unmet expectations, or of feelings of failure as a mom that hit us especially hard on a day meant to honor moms. Perhaps it’s an overwhelming sense of just being tired and wishing for even one day where everyone gets along, someone else answers all the calls for help, and your children do or say something that makes you feel loved, appreciated and like you really are doing a good job as a mom after all.
I have never lost a child to death and my children are still too young to be making their own independent choices of whether or not they will follow in the ways of the Lord, so I won’t even pretend to know what those levels of grief feel like. (If you are walking through a dark valley of grief right now, you may find some comfort in this testimony by musician Shelly Hamilton, who lost her son to suicide on Mothers’ Day). Listen to her story here.
I do know the sorrow of facing years of infertility, of having a hopeful adoption come to a grinding, heartbreaking halt, and the unique challenges of being a mother to children with special needs.
But honestly? My biggest struggle with Mother’s Day has been my own unmet expectations. Let me start at the beginning. It was May 12, 2013. My first Mother’s Day as a mom, and three years into my marriage. For the previous two years I had chosen out nice gifts for the other mothers in our small congregation, while I waited to hopefully someday become a mother myself. (Ironically, the previous May, I had been providing emergency childcare for two little boys who would soon move into our home for the summer, and who would become our sons forever the following year. But I didn’t know that at the time!).
I don’t remember exactly what I was expecting to happen on that long awaited First Mother’s Day, but looking back I think my expectations were a little unrealistic and maybe even a smidgen silly. I guess I had been building some high hopes of what this day would entail. I don’t know that I necessarily expected much from my then 1 ½ year old and a not quite three year old, but I know I had expectations of my husband. Surely he would wake early with the children this morning, and let me catch a little extra sleep. Perhaps he would even feed the children for me, and I could eat my warm toast and tea in bed, while gazing at the beautiful bouquet next to me. Never mind that Mother’s Day is always on a Sunday, the most intense day of the week for my pastor husband: this was going to be a day that I was appreciated, pampered and, best of all, well rested.
What really happened my first Mother’s Day:
- My husband woke up sick. In addition, he was looking after the two dairy cows of a family from church who were out of town, so while he was up extra early, it was to go get the cows milked before church – not to make me breakfast in bed.
- My little boys were their normal lively selves. Somehow they didn’t get the message that they were suppose to be extra angelic that day.
- Our church had planned to grill out on Mother’s Day instead of doing our normal potluck after church. The church would provide the main meal and each family could just bring a dessert or side in an effort to give the moms a bit of a break from kitchen duties. The dads could take care of the grilling and set up and the ladies could sit back and relax. I was excited, but as I called around on Saturday to touch base with the other ladies on what to bring, one person after the other informed me that they had other plans for this particular Mothers’ Day Sunday and wouldn’t be in church at all. Turned out that Sunday was a very lonely one, too.
I’m pretty sure I cried that day. Now, since then, some Mother’s Days have been better, happier days, like the Mother’s Day a couple years ago when we had our camper packed and ready to go and headed out after church on Sunday morning for a leisurely visit back to my family in Alberta. Some others have been rough. Last year, all through the Mother’s Day church service, I attempted to wrangle my youngest son and our new foster daughter, who had been with us for only two days, as they both fought over who got the most space on my lap as we sat in our pew. Let’s just say I don’t really remember much of the sermon my husband preached last year. I just remember being almost to the point of tears as I felt waves of disappointment and frustration wash over me as I pondered the hardness of motherhood, and felt my own shortcomings so keenly.
I certainly hope your Mother’s Day memories are much brighter, but I have a feeling you’ve got at least one or two hard ones behind you. We can’t go back and change the past, but I believe there are a few things that each of us can do when Mother’s Day is just plain hard that will help us immensely. These are things I need to remind myself of most every day, not just Mother’s Day.
- Be honest about the burden you are bearing. As believers in Christ, we are instructed to “bear one another’s burdens.” (see Galatians 6:2). But so often we keep on a brave face and a pasted smile even when our heart is breaking, and then wonder why no one seems to care about what we are going through. Maybe it’s because they just don’t know, or they are afraid to ask, not wanting to pry into painful areas that you may not want to talk about. Now, I am not advocating sharing your heart with just anyone. But can you be open with your husband, a trusted friend, or family member about the struggle you are facing? If not, ask God to provide you with someone who can walk alongside and truly help carry your burden. Most of all, remember that you can take your burden to the Lord, and safely “pour out your heart before Him…” because He knows and He cares (Psalm 62:8.) And just as you need someone to come along side you when life is hard, be willing to be the one who is the burden bearer for another heavy hearted woman.
- Adjust expectations. I know this one isn’t much fun. I’d much rather someone else do the adjusting to meet my expectations. But so much of the disappointment and frustration I experience is of my own making. Our expectations can so quickly morph into demands, and there is nothing beautiful, peaceful or joyful about a demanding person. Even if the expectations are eventually met, we won’t appreciate them and value them because we have begun to think we were owed them. Love “does not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not [does not crave or demand] her own, is not easily provoked,…” (1 Corinthians 13:5b). If I do experience those hot feelings of frustration, disappointment or anger beginning to well up inside of me, it may be a red flag that I am running short on true love towards others.
- Practice gratitude. We are so blessed. Truly. Whether you keep a gratitude journal, or just make a conscious effort to find things to thank someone for, developing the beautiful habit of gratitude will change your life perspective like nothing else. I don’t say this lightly, as I know it isn’t easy, and sadly it is not something I’ve done very well in the past. But what if on my first Mother’s Day I had focused on being grateful that I had two healthy, adorable sons who a year ago I had no idea I would someday be mommy to? What if last Mother’s Day I had focused on being grateful for another two children to sit on my lap instead of feeling sorry for myself that Mother’s Day was always hard because my husband was always behind the pulpit and I always had to sit alone with the children. How about being thankful that I have a godly husband who, though not sitting with me, is there with me in church each week, and that my children have a godly man to call Daddy? Do you see what I mean? This is just the beginning of a list of things that I could find to say thank you for. I don’t know about you, but sometimes (often?) I actually like wallowing in my self-pity. Whining is far easier than worshiping, and I still find myself sometimes believing the lie that whining will get me what I want and will make things better. It does not. It never has and never will. I teach my children that, but it’s an area that I need continual growth in.
- Move my focus off of myself and on to others. I have found that without fail, whether it’s Mother’s Day or any other day, looking beyond myself to someone else who is struggling and seeking to be a blessing to them is the best way to lighten my own heart. What about the friend walking through infertility? You might find that by writing her a note to let her know you remember her and hold her in your prayers your own burden is lifted. What about your own mother who you have perhaps underappreciated for all these years? Now that you know how real the struggle is, perhaps you can do something to let her know how deeply loved and appreciated she is by you. What about the single mom whose load is never shared by a husband, or the mother in a difficult marriage who will be coming to church alone this Mother’s Day, again? When my own needs are big in my eyes, they can eclipse the very deep needs of others. But when the needs of others come into focus, I find my own becoming a little smaller. “There is that scattereth, and yet increaseth; and there is that withholdeth more than is meet, but it tendeth to poverty. The liberal soul shall be made fat: and he that watereth shall be watered also himself.”(Proverbs 11:24-25). Am I experiencing a poverty of peace and joy in my soul? It could because I’m so focused on clinging to what I think I need that I’ve forgotten about the needs of others.
- Communicate my true desires. This point may seem like a bit of a contradiction to the previous three points, but stick with me. Just like the first point about being willing to be honest if Mother’s Day is hard for you, there is also a place to be open with your husband and/or children about what they could do to show their love and appreciation. Chances are, they really do want to do something special, but they may just not know how or what. If flowers and chocolate are just what you long for, let them know! If that’s the last thing you would like, but you would love a couple quiet hours at the library or coffee shop, let them know that! If you struggle to communicate what makes you feel most loved (and to understand how best to show love to others!), you may find this book about love languages helpful (Amazon affiliate link). For me, my number one love language is acts of service. Knowing this about myself helps me to be able to express graciously what would mean the most to me, rather than feeling continual disappointment or even anger that my perceived needs aren’t being met. And if Sunday is a full day for you, as it is for our family, ask for a rain-check to celebrate another day. Believe it or not, your husband and kids are not mind readers, and its not fair to them, or healthy for your relationship, to expect them to be. Just be careful that your wishes don’t become demands and that you find joy in the simplest little expressions of love.
I hope that this Mother’s Day is truly a sweet and memorable day for you. I do hope that you feel cherished, appreciated and that your family does something extra special to show their love for you. But most of all, I hope that by the grace of God this day will be joy filled for you because you are honest about both the things that are hard and the ways that you feel loved. I hope that you experience the happiness of reaching beyond yourself to someone else who needs a dose of cheer, and that whether or not your expectations of the day are met, that your beautiful habit of gratitude will grow stronger as you find all the little blessings in your life.
And from one mama to another, God bless you for doing the hardest job in the world, and for doing it so well.
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