Reflecting on the Gift of Motherhood with Danielle Bean's Latest Book

Giving Thanks and Letting Go is a treasure for moms in all stages

(photo: Register Files)

“I registered my youngest son for recreation league basketball today, and it was so very weird.”

So begins Giving Thanks and Letting Go: Reflections on the Gift of Motherhood, by Danielle Bean (Ave Maria Press, 2020). The copy I have already shows signs of “love,” and it's earmarked with book darts.

I’m a Danielle Bean fangirl, ’tis true. Years ago, when her second book was coming out, I blogged a hint that I wanted it, and my husband, champion that he is, duly bought it and had it shipped to his office (though the receipt ultimately came to our house and left me a bit confused... though the surprise was none the sweeter). 

In my own mothering, I'm a few steps behind Bean: My oldest is 14, the age of her second youngest. While she’s facing marriages and engagements, college and graduations, I’m still forging through high school with my oldest and preschool with my youngest.

Over the years, though, I'’e become friends and even colleagues with her, and it's given me an appreciation for the honesty she brings to her writing.

The first time I reached out to her, after reading her blog for some time, was after I had broken my arm. At the time, I had a very active 2-year-old. I wrote her to ask for her tips for dinners. She wrote back, in what I think now was probably a laugh-out-loud kind of response, telling me to use my microwave and take it easy.

In Giving Thanks, Bean returns to the essays that were the hallmark of her early writing, here in the Register and in her first book, My Cup of Tea (Pauline, 2005). She poignantly paints the picture of her life as it is, in all its messiness and hilarity, and tosses in the dose of God that threatens to bring a tear or two trickling down my cheek. “When I was a younger, struggling mom,” she writes, “I used to lie awake at night sometimes, worrying that I was failing. Failing at the important things. I was weak, I was tired, I was cranky and selfish. I was pretty sure I was messing up this whole marriage and motherhood thing.”

Now, she notes, she’s not spending the exhorbitant amounts on sports registrations, and she’s also not feeding the two-casserole-dishes-full-and-then-some crowd that used to grace her table. In fact, at one point, she’s shocked to admit that she has the time to ⏤ get this! ⏤ lead a women’s group at her parish.

On the one hand, there’s hope, moms of young kids! On the other hand, this is a reminder that it’s no easier to be on the other side of the challenge of hands-on young mothering than it was to be in the midst of it.

A lot has changed since Bean wrote her first book, and she's the first to reflect on it: “In earlier years, we might have struggled to keep up with the fullness of our nests, and yet now we find ourselves grappling with a startling new sense of emptiness. Here it is. Right before us, or perhaps only on the horizon, but we see it ⏤ that 'empty nest' we have observed in the lives of others. Only now is that phrase beginning to apply to our homes and families.”

She brings it back around to God, in the most beautiful way. Walking through current challenges and tying them in with the past hurdles she’s faced with her family, we see God at work.

And we see joy. In all its messy glory and the beauty of its everydayness.

“Happiness loves company,” she reminds us, taken from her own words, in her earlier book.

Looking back is a natural thing, though I didn't think about it as such until I dug out her other book. I've done it myself, remembering my first after college job, before marriage and way before kids (before I was Catholic, in fact). So much of where I am now is a surprise to me, even still; I find myself intrigued by Bean’s approach to looking back and reflecting.

It's as though an older sister is showing me the way.

And isn’t that just what Danielle Bean has been to me, all these years, an older sister in Christ? Hasn't she been a guide as I’ve struggled with diapers and menu planning and the absurdities of family life? Wasn’t she the one who encouraged me, through her own example, that laughing wasn’t just okay, but probably better than the tears? 

Whatever end of the mom spectrum you're on, new to it or an old hand, Giving Thanks and Letting Go is a gift you'll give yourself. Reading it will remind you to stop and savor those moments, even the ones that you can’t laugh at yet. Let it be the encouragement you deserve, the little hope-candle every mom needs.