Motherhood in the Crucible

I’ve been struggling lately. As a mom. As a human.

For some reason, I find myself in the mothering doldrums every year around Mother’s Day. The day comes and goes, but I have really small kids and a nonexistent budget for brunches or presents, so it’s a day just like any other.

Nearly every year the thought: “All Mommy wants for Mother’s Day is some dang time to herself” crosses my mind. And every year, I feel like a terrible person for thinking it.

Having little kids is really hard.

When it was one kid, I felt pretty awesome, if not more exhausted than I ever have in my life. One kid is life shattering, but also kind of easy, once the newborn days are past.

As the mom of one kid, I don’t know what I’m doing, but my kid didn’t know that so I can get away with my ignorance. I can pop her into the car seat and take her along to dinner, an event, a friend’s house, and it’s like: “Look, the Rystedts made a cute human!

No one really minds a single kid. A missed nap or bedtime? Eh, whatever. We can handle that.

Then my husband and I are like: “This is not so bad. Let’s have another!” And along comes Baby Two.

Whoa there.

Now I’m Mom allll of the time. One kid falls asleep and the other wakes up. One kid finishes eating and the other’s ready for lunch. Around the clock.

Now we have to worry about bedtime and naptime more religiously. The kids share a room and when someone is overtired they keep the other one up. Two overtired kids are a freaking disaster.

When it comes to things that happen outside of our house, people without kids are like: “Hey, that’s cool, bring ‘em!” But inevitably one kid melts down for no reason and we get promoted to the-friends-who-remind-us-why-we-use-birth-control status.

Plus, we have to leave anywhere by 6pm at the latest, unless we want to be out of rhythm for the next week, so that’s fun.

But Kid Two is even cuter than Kid One (how did that happen?), and we’re like “let’s go three for three.

Bam! Pregnant.

Now we’re outnumbered.

We’ve outgrown the apartment.

We’ve outgrown the car.

Honestly, the sheer amount of space that three kids require kind of takes us by surprise.

But we embrace it, because somewhere there are crazies living in tiny homes with more kids than us. (Although I hope for the tiny home parents’ sakes that at least a couple of their kids at least know how to wipe their own tushies).

These days, we live and die by the hours of naptime and bedtime. Except the baby doesn’t give two craps about those things yet, so I’m Mom 24/7 with a baby clinging to me for at least 20 hours in the day.

At least he has the decency to follow the family pattern, and is the cutest baby yet, so I mostly spend my time looking into his eyes and saying, “you’re the cutest baby eeeeeeevvvvveeeeeerrrrrrr”, approximately 50,000 times a day. (I may still be drunk on post-birth hormones.)

Three kids in, and we actually know other people with kids, so we have friends who want to get together at a reasonable hour – like 10am. This is progress, but generally we don’t venture into dinner territory. Ever.

You see, a dinner invitation is basically like “Hey, let’s have the Rystedt basketball team over. Except that one kid (Colm) eats an entire dump truck load of food at every meal.” “No way. That’s crazy.” “No really, they did a feature on it in the news…

But we can’t leave our house after 4pm anymore anyway because bedtime preparations now take approximately three hours longer than the kids actually sleep at night. My husband and I usually eat cereal with chips and salsa (don’t even judge) at the coffee table after the children go to bed, because that’s the closest thing to a date we get these days.

I love my kids. I love being their mother.

But the need for a break is so real.

When Kyriakos was born, I had to cut back from most of my writing work because handling my kids is a full-time job and then some. I feel like such an idiot even saying it, for even saying that I can’t balance a career and my kids.

I haven’t even been all that public about it because honestly? I’m embarrassed. I feel like a failure.

It wasn’t an easy choice, and is definitely not one that makes financial sense for our family.

Balancing my kids and my house take all of my time, and if we were well-off and I could whisk my kids to the aquarium and gymnastics lessons and all kinds of fun activities or outings, maybe I’d enjoy being mostly a stay at home mom more than I do. I feel guilty for saying this because once upon a time I used to think that simply being a stay at home mom would be the ticket to happiness…

But now my momming requires extreme frugality in addition to managing my kids while my husband works in the bedroom office all day. It involves conjuring free entertainment out of nowhere and making my tiny living room an exciting place that holds my children’s attention for more hours in a day than I’d like.

This isn’t a fun season.

It’s exhausting. It’s more stressful than I’d ever imagined possible.

Meanwhile, my three little brothers are off doing awesome things, winning awards, getting into their dream schools, pursuing careers. And I’m jealous as heck. We all grew up with the same educational opportunities and strong ambitions.

But now I’m just a mom. I know, I know.


Just a mom.

Just a homemaker.

Just a woman shopping at Aldi and planning a menu around inexpensive pantry staples.

Just a maker trying again and again to coax the sewing machine into making something useful for my kids from old clothes my husband and I don’t wear anymore.

This is a season, I keep reminding myself. Because it is. We’re not in dire straits – we’re business owners with three kids. My husband is a full-time student. We need to move halfway across the country in the very near future.

It’s a season of restlessness and exhaustion. Of a trip to the pet store being the closest thing we’re going to get to the zoo this summer. Of creatively putting all of the parts into order so my rapidly growing kids can have every piece of clothing they need exactly when they need it.

It’s by no means a hateful season.

I love the thrill of making the grocery budget go farther than it looks on paper. I love finding creative ways to store things in our few closets. I truly do.

I love the time I spend with my kids. But I miss the time with the person who gave me those kids.

I also miss the work I used to do – especially my writing work. There’s a version of myself that’s totally career-oriented and gladly leaves my husband home with the kids while I head out in a pantsuit every day. (Except minus the pantsuit… It’s 2018, People.)

I think what I really miss is the opportunity to just be me. For a version of me that exists outside of my house and has a purpose beyond keeping the kids alive and plating another dinner and wiping another tush.

As I write this, my kids are “doing yoga”, which actually means using my unrolled yoga mat as the parking lot for all of their toys with wheels. In the last month, I broke my favorite (new) coffee mug in an exhausted haze; the cup holder on my diaper bag expelled my custom Yeti tumbler onto the sidewalk, shattering the finish everywhere; and someone’s magenta tye-dyed shirt bled all over the DockATot cover I’d so diligently saved for while I was pregnant with Kyriakos. Nothing is safe from the touch of my children.

There is no Me anymore. There is only Mom.

This is a necessary transition. It’s one I mostly welcome, even though at times I struggle with the selflessness aspect required – especially when that time is 2am.

I don’t know if it’s the length of time that I’ve been mothering, the number of kids I have now, or the inevitable pushing of the pause button on my career aspirations that makes this season so pivotal in my mothering journey. Likely, it’s a combination of these things and others that I’m too tired to think of at the moment.

When my oldest – Paisley – was born, I became a mom. But in this season, I feel like I’m really becoming a mom in all of the ways.

I worry about some things, like “how long after potty training is too long to use a diaper at night?”, more than I used to. I worry about other things, like “when my one-year-old is going to decide to start speaking English?”, way less. I also worry way less about what other people think when I leave the house with my three kids because, well, I’ve left my house with three kids.

I don’t really wear makeup anymore, although I do still shower and wash my hair every morning. Not giving that one up no matter how many kids I have!

I don’t care about wearing trendy clothes or brand names anymore, although I do spend more time wondering where my kids’ clothes come from and what types of chemicals they might be treated with.

My priorities have shifted in so many significant ways that I’m not sure pre-mom me would even recognize the person I’ve become. Again, this isn’t a hateful thing. It’s actually a really good thing.

Paradoxically, I’m more comfortable in my own skin than I ever have been, even if I’m more physically uncomfortable (running on zero sleep, sleeping through my 5am alarm for workouts/yoga because the baby fell asleep at 4:30, perpetually pregnant/breastfeeding for four straight years) than I ever have been. (Mercifully, the three active kids keep the baby weight from accumulating and an obsession with feeding my kids nutritious meals means we don’t have heaps of Oreos in the house.)

I’m more confident than I’ve ever been, too. Make a decision. Stick with it. Even if the only reason is because I’m too tired to change course and reverse engineer the progress (or not) that we’ve made.

Motherhood has stripped me down to the core.

And now I’m being rebuilt.

New priorities.

New perspectives.

New routines.

I knew, at some cerebral level, that this is what parenting would do to me. To us. But living through it is a whole different story.

Once I adjust to the curveballs of this season, the next season will already be here. And it’ll be time to adjust again. Every year, my identity will become more entrenched in the mom mindset, and bits of old me will leave or change.

My kids will change. I’ll get the fresh air I’m so desperate for now. The worries will change, no doubt. And the financial pressure of raising human people will grow as we add more babies and our current ones grow into new hobbies or permanent teeth that need braces.

This journey isn’t all about me. It’s not all about my kids either.

Motherhood is a vocation and has been the crucible for my own faith formation.

How can I expect my children to live out faith and reliance on God if I don’t model it for them?

Perhaps I never expected to have to live it in front of them. Sure, patience, grace and humility are a requisite part of parenting.

But there are times when I’d rather the testing didn’t come before my children’s eyes. That I’d get the divine epiphanies between the hours of 7pm and 7am, when my babies are fast asleep and oblivious.

Seasoned parents are laughing at me right now (I hear you). Many of the challenges that prove our faith come from our children.

Equally as many – maybe more – come from the challenges of providing for them or the worries of what they might encounter as they grow up. But I can’t walk into their room in the morning with the troubles of my heart written across my face (even though some mornings I do just that).

One of the blessings that this season has brought is a time to do devotions with our kids in the morning and at night.

Our routine has slowed in a lot of ways, even if our children have added layer upon layer of complexity to even the simplest tasks.

Spending time in the Word and prayer with our kids strengthens us spiritually, but also gives us the chance to teach them and help them grow in their faith. Surprisingly, coming together for devotions, even when the living room is strewn with toys and (clean) diapers or I’m scrubbing down the counters while my husband holds the baby and reads the Bible, strengthens me in a way I don’t consciously understand sometimes.

Never before in my life have I had the luxury of time to spend in lengthy devotions day and night. Even though parenting brings the challenge of crammed time, it also brings a freedom to fill that time with activities that are constructive and necessary for the formation of young minds and hearts.

As our children grow, we plan to continue our time together. We plan to homeschool our kids, both to solidify my all mom, all the time status and to help them maintain a healthy balance between their spiritual and academic nourishment.

Motherhood is truly a vocation.

Maybe I only got nine months of preparation before going into the big leagues. And maybe that’s why sometimes I feel so woefully unprepared for the challenges of each day.

But when I stop into our kids’ room before heading to bed and see their fluffy little heads and crazy sleeping positions, I always feel joy. Even if they were the rottenest little goblins that day.

When the baby cries in the wee hours, I cherish his warmth as I cuddle him close for a feeding. I don’t love being woken up in the middle of the night, but for this season, I hold him closer.

One day his baby cheeks will be stubbly and he won’t want to cuddle me. That season will hold its own challenges and triumphs. (Right now, I don’t remember that as often as I should, and often I’m frustrated that he can’t do a single thing for himself.)

Today I’ll clean the house and the diapers, cut the food into tiny pieces and bathe a curry-soaked toddler in the kitchen sink. Tomorrow will be a new day and another adventure as Just Mom.

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Gabrielle Rystedt
Gabrielle Rystedt
Gabrielle Rystedt is a writer by day and a writer by night (because writers never sleep), who spends time balancing client orders, a couple of books and her blog at Raising Rystedts. She’s a business school grad who’s dabbled in management, both at the project and company level. She loves coffee and crafting, and enjoys settling down with a good book. Though as mom to three kiddos in three years, she realistically spends most of her time reheating her coffee and typing away like a crazy person on a laptop keyboard while surrounded by (clean) cloth diapers and cheddar bunnies.

What are your thoughts?