The Cost of Motherhood

Kids are costly. And I don’t just mean the diapers, clothes, toys and pediatrician co-pays. While all those tangible things can and do add up, what about the cost of everything else? Motherhood, it seems, comes with quite a price tag.

We pay a physical price. First comes pregnancy. The nausea, the achy boobs, the expanding belly. Sometimes the baby will even set up camp right on your sciatic nerve for a month (cough, first child, cough, cough) or cause you to develop raging eczema (ahem, second child).  Then there’s the birth and immediate aftermath – and whew, that’s a post unto itself. Slowly your body morphs out of the pregnancy zone, but even if you do lose the baby weight, things are never quite the same. Everything is just a bit softer and rests a little lower.

We pay a mental price. That part of our brains once reserved for remembering important details and engaging in intelligent conversation is gone, it seems. Every available neuron is now occupied with keeping alive these little creatures who seem to have no sense of self preservation whatsoever.

We pay an emotional price. Our patience is tested and our sanity shaken to its very core. We idly wonder how many sleepless nights we can endure before we start to lose it. Our dignity is gone – the shreds that survived the experience of childbirth itself are thoroughly disposed of during the toddler years. When you’re eating in a restaurant and your son is shouting for a fork, but his two year old lisp leaves out the all important “R,” you feel the last of it slip away as you slide down in your seat.

We pay a price in our relationships. Having kids does not make marriages stronger; rather, it tests them in ways you never imagined. Your friendships are placed on the backburner – a 20 minute phone conversation with your best friend is an impossible luxury; you settle for texts that average a 1/2 day minimum response time.

We pay a price in our careers. For those who leave altogether to stay at home – whether for a season or permanently – there are lost wages and benefits, and sometimes a lost sense of self for awhile, too, as the adjustment is made to a new normal. For those who stay at their jobs, there’s the price of competing priorities and the ever-present mom guilt.

When you tally it all up, it’s staggering, really. With all that they take from you (and take … and take), how can motherhood possibly be worth the cost?

The answer, I think, lies in the payments we receive – in toothless grins and sticky-handed bear hugs, in fistfuls of daffodils and after-bath snuggles, in overly-wet kisses and perfectly-lisped “I love yous.” In eyes that light up when you walk in the room and sweet-smelling heads that nod off against your shoulder. It’s when she says “mama” for the first time and when he promises, quite solemnly, “I’ll never get too old to snuggle with you, Mom.” These moments … they’re priceless, you see.

Suddenly, it doesn’t matter what it’s cost us. We’d pay it all again and then some, and still feel like we got the deal of a lifetime.

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Rock-a-bye Baby

Confession: I rock my baby to sleep. Every night. And I rocked her brother to sleep, too.

I know what the books and all the experts say. “Put your baby in her crib while she’s drowsy, but still awake. This way she learns to fall asleep without you.”

Well poppycock, I say. Because I’ll tell you this – those moments when I’m holding her while she’s fast asleep are my most redeeming part of motherhood.

We get to just be, she and I. I’m not needed for anything. There are no tears, no whining. No battle over trying to force feed her solids (baby food of all varieties is NOT going over well). I don’t have to entertain her or play peek-a-boo for the millionth time, and she doesn’t have to compete with her big brother for my attention. It’s just me and the weight of her body, the smell of her skin and the softness of her breathing.

It’s my reset button, especially on the hard days. The days when poop, spit up and pee have hit every non-moving surface – and all the ones that didn’t move quickly enough, too. The days when nothing I do seems quite right, and she fusses constantly. The days when the days and nights before have been bad too, and I’m running on fumes. The days when I’m just keeping my eye on the finish line and waiting for it to be blessedly over.

But holding her close and rocking gently as she dreams erases all that. When it’s a bad day, it’s her at her best, and I finally get an opportunity – sometimes for the first time that day – to be at mine. I cradle her the way she likes and press a kiss to her smooth forehead, breathing in that perfect baby smell. Sometimes I take a few minutes to pray over her; that God will always keep her safe and that she’ll always know she’s loved. Sometimes I pray for me, too – asking for patience and gentleness as I look to starting anew tomorrow. This time each night is my reminder of why I ever wanted to be a mom in the first place.

And, as she grows and takes up more space in my arms, I need these few quiet moments to cherish her smallness. Usually, it’s the only part of the day when I will agree with all the little old ladies who tell me how quickly this phase passes, and how much I’ll long for it when it’s gone.

So, sorry, baby experts. I’ll vaccinate on schedule and follow your carseat safety guidelines to a T. I’ll breastfeed for a year and even try my hand at making my own baby food. But I have already had one sweet baby morph into a gangly whirlwind of a four year old right before my very eyes to remind me the smallness doesn’t last. So I will hold my baby close, even once her tummy is full. I’ll watch her eyes droop close and listen for the change in breathing and feel the relaxing of her muscles as she slips off to sleep. And then I’ll relax, too. I’ll enjoy a few minutes of being a mama, without the hard parts. Someday, she’ll learn to fall asleep without me. But while I’m here and she still fits so perfectly against me, we rock.

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Can’t Never Did Anything

“How do you do it? I could never stay home with my kids all the time.”

Yes, you could. You could if you really believed it was the best choice for your family. You could cut the budget corners and squeeze in a part time job if you needed to. You could learn how to shop at Aldi and hit more than one grocery store to make sure you get the best deals, instead of just walking into Publix with your list and ignoring the prices. (Man I miss Publix.) You could do the research to find fun, free activities in your area so that your kids stay entertained (and you get out of the house) without breaking the bank. You could learn how to squeeze in some you time where you can and how to adjust your view of what you contribute to your family and your household.

Because, believe me, if I can do it, anyone can. I love my children and my husband, but June Cleaver I’m not. Some days, Daniel Tiger is as much (or more?) a parent as I am. Some days, I thank God that my mom is just a phone call away and a magician at wrangling kids and getting laundry done at the same time. Some days it’s pancakes for supper. Some days I take off my pajamas for the first time when I shower at 10 p.m., just to put another pair on. I am not a Pinterest mom or the perfect wife. Five years ago, I would’ve never dreamed that I would be a stay at home mom. Even just last year, while pregnant with Ellie, I frequently uttered the phrase, “I just can’t be a stay at home mom.”

But then she was born, and I quickly recognized that my daughter is not as easygoing as my son is. A few weeks in, I immediately knew that daycare was not the right place for her. She would’ve been miserable, and thus so would I. So our plans changed, and what I thought I couldn’t do, clearly I can. I may not be the best at it. But let’s be honest, I’m sure there were better communications managers when I was working full time, too.

Besides, I want to raise children who don’t see limits on what they can accomplish. I want them to be determined and tenacious and, when they’ve decided what they want, I want them to go after it with confidence and gusto. So these days, I’m not a big fan of can’t. It’s too limiting, while at the same time too freeing. Can’t is a great excuse for things that seem tedious or difficult. It also stops you before you even get started.

The start of a new year is a great time to get rid of can’t. Instead of can’t, decide what it is you want. Then be honest, and look at what’s getting in the way. What are the obstacles between you and your goal? What makes you say “I can’t?” Then, you remove the ones you can and learn to surmount the ones that remain.

So, no more “I can’t” quit the awful job/start my own business/take that amazing vacation. No more “I can’t” make this work/forgive that person/ask for forgiveness.

You’re way too strong for can’t, my friend.