One June morning in Sacramento, I boarded a Greyhound bus with my five-month-old daughter to visit my parents for a weekend. We were with a rough-looking group of passengers. The drive was six hours. My baby needed a diaper change before we’d even gone 100 feet. But I was falling apart as a new mother, and this was my chance to take a break.
Eric and I had moved to a lovely suburb in Northern California after we finished school, and the world was full of promise. We had a new baby, a new job, and all kinds of fabulous ideas to make that new life sing. But our baby cried a lot, our apartment complex was a ghost town during the day, my husband needed to take our only car to work, and our budget didn’t allow much wiggle room. Life felt lonely and frustrating, and I simply couldn’t figure out how to improve my circumstances–especially since I’d just gotten a bad haircut and still couldn’t fit into any of my pre-pregnancy clothes.
Eric could see I was sinking, so we spent $79 on a bus ticket, and off I went for a little vacation. The trip rejuvenated me, and after all those hours in the sticky bus, my simple apartment felt like heaven, but the main thing I remember from that trip is a phrase a dear friend shared with me when I poured my heart out to her: Never, never, never give up. So simple, really. But that phrase has come back to me time and again, and today, I feel impressed to share it.
All of us have challenging times in our lives, and there are varying ways we might choose to give up. Sometimes mothers mentally check out–and just stop trying. Giving up might mean permanently walking out on the family–thinking that everyone would be better off if mom weren’t there. In some heartbreaking cases, “giving up” means suicide, and children are left to fend for themselves–or make do with a new guardian who tries to take mom’s place. I know I don’t fully understand the feelings that would lead to such an extreme, but I can empathize with the perspective a friend shared: “Death is easier than what I am living right now.” I’m not sure who is going to read this post, but if you have ever felt like giving up on motherhood, here are six reasons to stay strong:
#1: We are not alone.
Every mother (even if she looks totally put together) has discouraging times. We might need to look deeper . . . and get past all the talk about room remodels, vacations, and parties, but if we look carefully (and encourage honesty), we’ll see that everyone else is just as human as we are. Finding a trusted group of friends and reaching out to other moms has literally been a lifesaver for many, many women. When we know that others are going through similar circumstances, it just makes life easier. Sometimes we just need to open up and get talking in order to find the friends we need.
#2: Children would rather have an imperfect mom who is struggling to be better than no mom at all.
Deep down we all know this, but we need to remember it . . . and really believe it. I heard a story about a young man who went to live with his extended family after his mother took her own life. At his first back-to-school night, hundreds of miles away from his former life, he paused outside the doorway of his classroom and quietly said to his aunt, “Can you please just tell my teacher that you’re my mom?”
This story touches my heart every time I think about it. I ache for each mother who will never get the chance to straighten her son’s tie before the prom or see how handsome he looks with his new haircut. And I think about my children, who see me at my very worst, but love me anyway. They are so quick to forgive. I never want my little ones to have to explain to anyone why I gave up. So I won’t. I just won’t give up.
#3: There is beauty all around us. We just need to train ourselves to see it.
I have the opportunity to speak with mothers all around the world, and I know this life doesn’t always feel beautiful. What’s beautiful about being so exhausted that you can’t even get everyone out of the house? How is it beautiful when your bank account has $3.23, and it’s three days until the next paycheck? Where is the beauty in children arguing over who left the milk on the counter? It’s beautiful because it’s yours. Because it’s real. And because it’s full of potential.
Think of a lump of clay, a blank canvas . . . that seed covered with dirt. What about the bare maple tree in winter? Or the darkest part of the night? It’s about perspective . . . and potential. The way we enable ourselves to see that beauty is by polishing the lenses through which we see the world. And that’s done by taking care of ourselves. When we get away occasionally with friends, regularly make time to exercise well, eat food that fuels us, get enough rest, and remember we’re people, the world looks better. Is it hard to do these things? You bet. But we do it because it transforms our perspective on life.
#4: We have a purpose that’s uniquely ours.
This means a lot more to me now that I’m beginning to understand my purpose, but even while I was riding that Greyhound bus, I could sense my life had something more to offer.
When I was 18 months old, I was run over by a truck with a camper on top. In a string of unpredictable events (that weren’t anyone’s fault), I had ridden my little wooden, wheeled giraffe across the street at the same time our neighbor was backing her camper out of the driveway. When the camper and I met, I fell off the giraffe, and the camper’s back tire rolled over my lower back. Another neighbor weeding her garden screamed for the driver to stop, but it was too late. My mother ran out the front door in time to see me laying on the asphalt.
This story has many miraculous details that I need to record at another time, but the essence is that after being taken to the hospital in an ambulance and thoroughly examined by the doctors, I was sent home. They couldn’t find anything wrong with me. I found this website about children whose lives have been lost in back-over incidents, and not a day goes by that I don’t think about my second chance. Perhaps that’s part of why I’m so purpose-driven . . . because I came so close to losing this opportunity to live a full life. But here’s the thing, it is so easy to get confused about our purposes. We start thinking we have to look a certain way, dress a certain way, and have what everyone else has. We read an amazing blog and yearn to replicate what we see. We get frustrated with our children for “getting in our way.” I have to remind myself daily to cling to my purpose–not to get distracted by the siren call of all those “extras” that look so appealing.
#5: This life isn’t just about us.
I have this as a rotating image on my screen saver: It's not about you. It’s there as a reminder to think more of others because the second I choose to get outside myself–even if it means just talking with a neighbor who is struggling, calling to check on my mom, or considering the needs of my spouse and children–I immediately feel stronger.
Some days are long and stressful, and we have to work frantically just to keep up, but during those times,we can remember that our work, whether appreciated or not, is sustaining the lives of our children. That is noble. That is beautiful.
#6: Today is not forever.
My friend told me the story of a mother who took a bath with her newborn baby one morning. I won’t elaborate on the details, but the baby made an explosive mess, and the mother had to yell for her husband to bring a towel and help her get cleaned up. We’ve all had those really gross moments. But in the midst of the “yuck,” she heard a little voice in her head say, ‘Today is not forever.’
Fast-forward a couple of hours, and that same mom was sitting on the couch with her preschool son, who was climbing on her back and laughing while she tickled his legs. His arms wrapped tight around her neck, and smiles covered their faces as they enjoyed the moment. Then she heard that same voice, reminding her of the same truth, ‘Today is not forever.’
Whatever it is that we’re cherishing at the moment–or praying we can simply overcome–our lives won’t always be the way they are now. We have choices and power to change in areas where we are weak. And we have the fortitude to get through those days that feel impossible.
It’s my hope that each of us can accept the simple challenge to never give up on this beautiful life.