Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Let Yourself Go

When I chose to be a full-time mom, the last thing I wanted was to lose myself in my kids. I imagine that’s the last thing any mom wants – for the four walls of her home to be the end all, be all of her existence; to become less marketable in the workforce every year; to be known only as “So-And-So’s Mom.” After all, our self-focused society says don’t do that. Be who you are. Put yourself first. Do what makes you happy. And whatever you do, don’t let yourself go – physically, socially, or professionally.

Well, that certainly wasn’t in my plan. I was going to stay involved in my profession, keep myself in shape, and jumpstart my writing career. I held onto my “self” – my wants, my goals, my desires – long after Reese was born, and I felt fortunate to have a baby who made it easy. She slept through the night early on, took long daytime naps, and was always mild-tempered. She was a great sleeper, healthy eater, and required minimal baby-proofing. Finding “me-time” was easy… and daily, and I quickly developed a very unrealistic set of expectations for this stage of my life.

Enter: Allie.

There have been times when I thought she would be the end of me. Shortly after she was born, I realized how spoiled we had been with Reese. Allie and Reese are opposites in every way. Allie takes short, unpredictable naps and still doesn’t sleep through the night. She’s the pickiest and messiest of eaters, and most of her meals require a mop and a bath. I have to wrestle her into and out of every outfit, and sometimes I swear it would be easier to diaper an alligator. She tears through the house like a wrecking ball, and I can’t turn my back for even one second or I find her climbing on the fireplace, pulling sharp objects from the dishwasher, or throwing things in the toilet.

For nearly a year, I fought to maintain my original expectations of life with children. I lived in almost-constant frustration over not being able to get to the things I wanted to do: cooking, cleaning, organizing, scrapbooking, reading, writing – all the things that keep me feeling like I have some semblance of a life outside of my children. My inability to meet my own expectations had me questioning my success and my happiness in this role nearly every day.

Over the past year, the demands of living with two small children have slowly chipped away at my selfish tendencies, and I started to realize that the little girl I once thought might be the end of me would actually help me find a new beginning.

Allie woke me one morning at 5:30 am – her usual. I trudged down the hall to her room and lifted her from her crib. We settled in the rocking chair with her morning bottle, and she stared up at me with her innocent blue eyes as she started to drink. I stroked her little face and ran my fingers through her hair. She dropped her bottle and smiled up at me. I noticed how much more space her body consumed in my lap now that she was nearly a year old. I thought about Reese sleeping across the hall and how much I miss the little babies they both used to be.

In that moment I realized more deeply than ever before how short and precious this stage of life really is, and I started to wonder what it would be like to really let my “self” go for these few years; to fully embrace this phase of my life without any selfish desires; to stop pushing back against the forces of motherhood and fully give my life over to the needs of my family; to abandon my own plans for myself and follow to God’s plan for me.

Just then Allie reached up and tried to poke me in the eye. I deflected her little finger and she squirmed off my lap and toddled away. I followed her into the hallway with more enthusiasm than I usually have before 6:00 am and without any of my own plans for what I would accomplish (or attempt to accomplish) that day.

Since then, I’ve tried to live every day like that – fully surrendered to the needs of my family and the plan of my God. I don’t rush through the bedtime routines or cut bath time short because I want to write a blog post or finish the dishes or catch up on scrapbooking. I do still find time to myself, but it’s no longer on my terms, and I’m thankful for the time I get rather than frustrated over the time I want. I spend less time wondering what will become of my career goals and more time praying for God to lead me down any path that lets me glorify Him while serving my family.

I thought losing myself in my kids would be stifling, especially when our self-focused culture says don’t do that. But it’s not stifling at all. My experience has been the opposite. It has freed me from unnecessary stress, pressure, and expectations. It helps me find greater joy in simpler moments. And day by day, it draws me into a closer walk with the Lord.

God knows that control freaks like me don’t go down without a fight, and every day I thank Him for the little girl who helped me surrender; the little girl whose curiosity and unpredictability keep me living in the moment every day; the little girl whose up-all-night, food-throwing, toilet-splashing antics remind me that there's no room for selfishness in motherhood; the little girl who taught me that sometimes you can’t begin to find yourself without first letting your “self” go.

Happy 1st birthday, Allie!