The last few weeks have brought about a dramatic change in my motherhood role. After an arduous twenty-nine month adoption journey, Rees and Lily, our precious new toddlers, finally came home from Haiti to join our family! Now, I’m a mother of six lively little ones, ranging in age from two to ten. While there is no question that this has been a beautiful and unforgettable time marked by the supernatural grace of God, I’ve also had some major adjustments to adapt to. Though I haven’t been in “toddler mode” for several years, I suddenly find myself changing pull-ups, supervising bathroom visits, cleaning up spilled smoothies, and working through those irrational toddler meltdowns that always seem to happen at the most inconvenient times.
The other night Eric was on a conference call and I was putting all the kids to bed on my own. I was happy with how quickly the toddlers settled down. They were quiet and calm when I left their room. But about thirty minutes later I heard a suspicious rustling sound coming from their bedroom. I peeked in the door to find them out of bed, running around the room, their faces completely lacquered with sticky white diaper cream. They had even smeared it up their nose and in their ears. The message to my soul was loud and clear…“Welcome back to the wonderful world of toddler-parenting!”
Going out in public has become a whole new experience since we became a family of eight. Eric and I pretty much had things down to a science with four kids. We could go out to dinner, take off on family bike rides, and visit friends with minimal incident or drama. Taking six kids out on the town is a bit of a different story. It isn’t fun or relaxing at this point in time – it’s work. Keeping everyone calm, well-behaved, clean, orderly and happy requires both Eric and I to be as sharp and focused as CIA operatives on a save-the-world assignment. Not to mention the fact that we draw a lot of attention. Our family stands out like a neon sign because we have so many children close in age with a variety of nationalities represented. We often get asked if we are running a daycare. And those that don’t ask questions usually steal plenty of curious (or sometimes incredulous) glances our way. It’s pretty much impossible for us to go somewhere unnoticed. Maybe this is the way celebrities feel – like living in a fish bowl. (Except that a celebrity’s fish bowl is noticeably more glamorous than ours.)
Then there is the jarring change in our daily home life. When Eric is away and I’m home alone with all six kids, I can easily start to feel overwhelmed, wishing I could just hop in my car and escape to the mall or coffee shop and have a little time to breathe. Tending to four kids’ needs was a lot of work, but doable. Tending to six kids’ needs has me running up and down the stairs all day long and frequently breaking out in a sweat. The noise level in the house has escalated tremendously. Our bedtime routine for the kids used to take about twenty minutes. Now it can easily take an hour. My time seems to evaporate far more quickly now that I am a mother of six, causing me to feel like I am falling behind in my work and important projects, which can create stress and agitation.
To top it off, winter decided to hit our town quite early this year. Just after welcoming our new toddlers, the temperature dropped into the single-digits with several inches of snow covering the ground for weeks, making it impossible for me to take the kids outside for exercise and fresh air and leading to a lot of pent up energy, noise, messes and extra chaos at home.
I must admit to feeling a bit suffocated in the midst of these circumstances. My emotions have been up and down. On the one hand, I am thrilled with what God has done in blessing our home with these precious little lives. I am equally awed by how well they have already bonded to us and how comfortable they feel in our family. I am loving the snuggles in the rocking chair and the little voices singing happily in the morning. I am moved to tears when I see my four older kids smothering their new siblings with genuine love and affection.
But there have also been moments when I’ve felt a bit smothered; when I’ve felt stretched beyond my capacity, when find myself longing for my “old life” and resisting the idea that mothering six children has become my “new normal”. There have been moments when my emotions threaten to pull me downward, cloud my perspective, and bait me toward self-pity.
And in those times, I’ve felt the gentle reminder from God’s Spirit to fix my eyes upon Him and not allow my emotions to lead the way. My perspective toward motherhood must always be based upon His Truth, not upon how I happen to be feeling in the moment.
The Bait Toward Mommy Meltdowns
Most of us are familiar with how toddler meltdowns work. When a two-year-old is overtired or doesn’t get what he wants, his emotions can take a sudden downward spiral. And if he hasn’t yet learned the art of self-control, his feelings of anger or disappointment will completely take over his mind, body, and vocal cords – negatively impacting everyone around him.
Mommy meltdowns aren’t really too far removed from this scenario. While we may not throw ourselves on the ground kicking and screaming like a toddler, we are often just as susceptible to letting our emotions control us in moments of frustration or exhaustion. When circumstances are less than ideal and motherhood pressure is mounting, it’s tempting to let our feelings take over and plunge us into depression, despair or frustration. Yelling at our kids, slamming doors, or giving our husband the silent treatment are prime indicators that we’ve let our emotions take control, rather than basing our actions upon the unchanging Truth of God’s Word.
I’ve learned that having a chipper, happy, positive, calm and peaceful attitude isn’t really that difficult when my home and family life is flowing smoothly. But it can feel almost impossible to maintain that kind of joy when I am running behind schedule, the kids are being hyper and silly, the weather outside is frigid, the playroom is a disaster even though I just spent an hour cleaning it yesterday, every pair of my pre-schooler’s shoes are mysteriously missing, the toilet has gotten clogged because one of the kids stuffed it with paper towels, and we somehow have an over-abundance of sippy cups without any lids. All of these little issues work together to create the perfect scenario for a Mommy meltdown. The voice of Self-Pity and the voice of Frustration begin to loudly scream out suggestions to my soul: “You can’t handle this. Go ahead and get upset, depressed, or angry – you have every reason to feel sorry for yourself right now!”
I’ve learned that it is right when that bait is at its strongest that I must choose Truth over emotion. Though my feelings may be strong, I must remember that God’s Truth and power is even stronger. I do not need to act upon my negative feelings just because they happen to be strong at the moment. Rather, this is the exact moment when I must cry out to God for grace to not only survive, but to actually triumph through challenging times and difficulties. Whenever I deliberately choose to tune out my screaming emotions and tune in to the grace of God, I find that I actually can handle the challenges with dignity and strength – because I’m building my thoughts and actions upon His Truth and leaning on His grace.
Putting Emotions in Their Place
One of the strongest messages in our society today is the bold proclamation, “Follow your heart!” “Don’t know what to do? Just listen to your heart! Do what feels right to you!” This advice permeates everything from love songs to children’s movies.
Our culture has conditioned us to place a high value on our own desires and emotions. And as mothers, we are encouraged to base our behavior and perspective solely upon how we feel, not upon what is true.
God gives us different directions when it comes to our heart and emotions: “He who trusts in his own heart is a fool” (Proverbs 28:26) and “The heart is deceitful above all things” (Jer 17:9).
Following our heart cultivates an attitude of selfishness rather than one of surrender. We cannot become the bondservants of Christ if we are controlled by our feelings. We cannot become Christ-centered mothers if we place a higher value on our emotions that we do on God’s Truth.
Emotions can be a beautiful part of our motherhood role – they can help us truly cherish our children and bring joy and laughter into our homes. They can help us empathize with our children and feel genuine sadness when our kids are hurting. But emotions must always remain under the control of God’s Spirit. If we allow our emotions to take over speak louder than God’s Truth, we are setting ourselves and our families up for misery.
During difficult times, our feelings scream, “I can’t handle this. I’m not strong enough. I must let my negative emotions control my words, attitude and actions because my circumstances are just too difficult right now.”
When we choose to agree with those feelings and base our actions upon them, we become an emotional basket-case, unable to truly care for our family with strength and joy or point them to Jesus Christ.
Truth-based mothering takes a different perspective: “I may not be able to handle this; but God can. If I ask Him, He can and will give me every bit of grace that I need to maintain a joyful perspective even when things are difficult. If persecuted Christians throughout history have maintained joy even during extreme suffering, then I certainly can maintain my joy through motherhood challenges by leaning on the enabling grace and power of God.”
As mothers, we want to our little ones to learn the art of self-control. This is why most of us will not sit just there and passively shrug when our toddler throws a tantrum or our pre-schooler tries to eat an entire jumbo-sized bag of jelly beans. But we must not forget that God’s command to embrace self-control also applies to us as mothers. And the most important area for most of us is gaining godly self-control over our emotions. We will have far greater success in teaching our kids this all important skill if we are practicing it our own lives. As it says in Romans 2:21, “You who teach another, do you not teach yourself?” Think about it. What good does it do for us to discipline our children for letting their emotions get out of control, when we are doing the very same thing on a daily basis?
If you frequently find yourself screaming at your children, chewing out your husband, storming around the house, or despondently shrugging your shoulders in defeat as your children fight and bicker, ask God to teach you the art of godly self-control and give you the strength to choose Truth over emotion. Elisabeth Elliot expressed it beautifully with her statement, “Obedience to God is always possible. It is a deadly error to fall into the notion that when feelings are extremely strong we can do nothing but act on them.”
It may be tempting to believe that you have no choice but to act upon your feelings of frustration or defeat, but that is the opposite of godly self-control. When we bring “self” under the control of God’s Spirit, choosing the higher path is always possible!
Remember that godly self-control and and human willpower are two different things. Willpower only lasts temporarily and is dependent upon our own ability. Godly self-control goes far beyond mere human “oomph” and comes through yielding to His Spirit and relying on His grace.
Next time you feel a “Mommy meltdown” coming on, remember that His grace is sufficient for you to resist that temptation. In His strength, you can choose to bring your “self” under the control of His Spirit – even at the moment when you least feel the power to do so.
Take it Deeper:
Read: Phil 4:13
Reflect: Have I been allowing my emotions to get the better of me? In what areas of my mothering can I replace emotional responses with truth-based ones?