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"I always thought I wanted a big family, but . . ."

Tuesday, September 25, 2012 7:00 AM Comments (108)

Here's a perennial question that turns up wherever Catholic moms gather:  a young mom admits, "I always thought I wanted a big family.  But now I have a toddler and a baby, and I feel like I'm losing my mind.  I love them, and do my best to take care of them, but life is boring and hard.  I feel like I'm not good at this, and I don't really like my life at all.  It makes me feel so guilty, but I can't imagine going through this even one more time with one more kid -- never mind the six or seven or eight more times!"

There are few things more discouraging than realizing that something you always wanted is not what you thought it would be -- especially when, all around you, there are other people doing what you're doing and (apparently) lovin' every minute of it.

I have lots of advice for moms like this.  I've written about it before -- most recently in "Escape from Babyland," where I reassure moms that these early days are just a stage.  Things are really tough when all the kids are little, but it's not as if adding to your family will just keep multiplying the work and stress.  Eventually the older kids will get old enough to be a genuine help, and you will escape from babyland -- you just have to hang in there and survive until it turns around.

Another bit of advice I give is to stop and think for a minute:  am I worrying about dealing with today, or am I worrying about being the today-me, dealing with tomorrow's problems?  If the latter, then that's silly:  tomorrow's problems are the problem of tomorrow-you.  (I talked about this in the context of providentialsm and NFP, but it's certainly an idea that can apply to any number of ideas about what sort of life you expect to lead someday.)  Don't plan your whole family.  Don't think about what God wants from your life in twenty years. Just think about what God wants from you right now.  That's what you need to tackle:  today.

And to new moms worrying, "I thought I wanted a big family, but. . . " there's also this:  When you've spent all week prepping for Thanksgiving dinner, baking, polishing silver, cooking, cleaning, and you get up early in the morning to put the turkey in, and you spend all day leaning over a hot stove with a basting spoon, and you're tossing salads and stirring gravy and whipping cream, and you finally sit down to enjoy the meal, and you light the candles and spread the napkin on your lap, and someone says, "And NOW, let's talk about WHAT WE'RE GOING TO EAT ON CHRISTMAS DAY!"  What do you do?  You groan, or cry, or punch them in the nose.  It's not that you have something against Christmas; it's just that you can't deal with it right now, because you're dealing with something else.

That's how it is when you have a bunch of little kids, and you think you ought to be somehow mentally preparing for six or seven more little kids.  Even if you always wanted a big family, your first thought may very well be, "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!"  This is not because you're an unfit mother.  It's because Thanksgiving and Christmas are two separate happy occasions, meant to be dealt with separately, in their own time, with some rest in between.  And so it is with children.  There's a reason they generally come one at a time!

Also, don't underestimate how much being tired affects you.  Being chronically tired month after month, even year after year -- and maybe feeling like your husband doesn't fully understand just how tired you are -- it has a cumulative effect on your spirit.  You don't even know you're tired after a while.  But it makes you stupid, and sad, and discouraged.  So when you think about the rest of your life -- gee, for some reason, you don't think, "Yes, please, more of this!"

One final thing I think new moms need to hear.  Some people . . . are not really baby people.  Some moms love their babies, and think they're cute and sweet, and love to snuzzle their soft necks and admire their fuzzy ears and all . . . but they're just not really baby people. They find babies kind of boring.  They find toddlers kind of boring.  They love their children -- yes, they do.  They love their children, and they're not trying to rush them into growing up.  But for some quite good mothers, these early years are really not the greatest years.

This is okay, feeling this way.  This is not the sign of a bad mother.  This is a sign that a mother has a particular personality, which will delight and bask in the pleasures of having an older child -- maybe one who can sing in harmony, or discuss literature, or tell jokes (actual funny jokes, not just jokes that are funny because you-are-such-a-funny-little-guy,-oh-yes-you-are!).

I mean, gosh, imagine if we gave birth to 13-year-olds.  They can be just as fussy and demanding and irrational as toddlers, but nobody beats themselves up for thinking, "Argh, I'm really not enjoying this stage very much!"  So why is it so terrible to admit that we have a hard time being happy and contented when a baby or a toddler is our whole world?

It's okay.  There are all kinds of good moms.  Really.

Your job, no matter what stage your kids are at, is to love them, to think about what they need, to provide it as best you can, and just to be content with that.  You don't have to be lovin' every minute of it.  But just because you're struggling now, that doesn't mean it will always be that way. 

So, oh, moms, poor moms, go easy on yourselves. I know it's hard to let these words sink in, but you're probably doing better than you think.  And, even better, you're probably going to do better and better, the more practice you get.  It gets easier.  It really does.  The really bad moms are the ones who don't even worry.

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About Simcha Fisher

Simcha Fisher
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Simcha Fisher, author of The Sinner's Guide to Natural Family Planning writes for several publications and blogs at I Have to Sit Down. She lives in New Hampshire with her husband and nine children. Without supernatural aid, she would hardly be a human being.