When I lived in Houston years ago, I often carpooled to monthly Opus Dei Women’s Evenings of Reflection with my friend Kathy, a mother of nine. I’ll never forget one night when Kathy and I met in the church parking lot to head downtown.
As I slid into Kathy’s SUV–five minutes late–I chirped nervously, “Thanks for driving this month, Kathy! So sorry I’m late. It’s just so hard for me to get out the door on time this time of day…and I only have two!”
“Want to know what my kids ate for dinner?” shot back Kathy with a grin. “I left Fred and the big kids making everybody scrambled eggs and toast, because that’s all we had left in the house tonight!”
As we chuckled together at this, I remember feeling something between startled surprise and a sigh of relief.
Because while Kathy by necessity and experience certainly had a few more good routines in place than I did, she didn’t have it all together, all the time. At least not in the ways I imagined she would.
The more I got to know Kathy and her family, the more endearing everything about them was to me. Nothing about them was perfect, but even especially that fact somehow gave me a lot of hope at a time that God knew I needed it. Life with two littles was hard, and I often felt like that meant I was doing something wrong.
Getting to know Kathy and her family started to teach me that I wasn’t doing family life all wrong if things were messy or less-than-ideal sometimes. And that first time Kathy and I met–wrestling wiggly babies in the back of mass–God knew I needed to see her wrestling, too.
Looking back, it makes me chuckle to remember how shocked I was that my friend Kathy had left her husband and nine children with a dinner of scrambled eggs. But I really was surprised. I obviously had imagined that she had ‘evolved’ to a level of domestic genius that would deliver home-cooked three-course meals to her family every night. Something like that. I imagined that you couldn’t have that many children without becoming a supermom hybrid of Martha Stewart, Mother Goose, and the Supernanny.
Which is ridiculous.
Because having a large family doesn’t mean that you’re a domestic genius, or a saint, or that your kids are robots. It doesn’t mean that at you never lose your temper at home or act badly. It doesn’t mean that you have discipline or routines all figured out. It doesn’t mean you throw discernment to the wind and become a “little baby making machine” (why yes, my last anesthesiologist did call me that to my face), or that you love having babies so much that you want to have as many as possible. It doesn’t mean that you have to stop doing things you love to do. It doesn’t mean your marriage loses fun and passion. It doesn’t mean that your home has to look like a war zone all the time. It doesn’t mean that you can’t spend time, money or energy on how you look.
I’ve also learned that, just like any other mom, mommas-of-many have different gifts they bring to their family table. One mother-of-many may be more gifted than the next in the serving-healthy-foods department. Or the serving-meals-on-time department. Or the juggling-kids’-activities, decorating, hosting, volunteering, home-business, homeschooling, room-mothering, mental health, craftiness, dressing, organization, or home cleanliness departments.
One of the secrets to contentment for a mother of any size family is to be able to delight in the gifts of other women, to learn from them if you can, and to stop being so down on yourself when somebody else has a gift that you don’t have.
Kathy isn’t the only fellow mother whom God has used to teach and console my heart over the years. The honesty of some of my favorite bloggers, close friends, and many other mom friends with families of all sizes has given me grace to be gentler with myself and to know that I’m not alone in struggling occasionally (or in some seasons, daily).
There is a complicated and amazing and slow-to-sink-in truth we all have to learn about marriage and parenthood: Sometimes the mess means we’re on the right track. Because God writes straight with crooked lines. Because we have to lose ourselves to find ourselves. Because we always have some dying to do in order to rise.
So thank you, Kathy. And Kristin. Betsy, Sarah, Alyson, Courtney, Kate D. Kate H., Ashley, Carly, Lauren R. Lauren S., Bridget, JC, Lindsey, Julia, Korie, Heidi, Leigh, Bethany, Claire, Mary, Jill, Myriah, Jennifer, Jenay, Lucy, Roberta, Katie Z., Stephanie, Kayla, Lauren W., Staci, Nicole, Roberta, Mignon, Gran, Maw Maw, Denise, Kim, Emily, Kendra, Colleen, Jennifer, Hallie, Elizabeth, Katie S., Shannon, Jacki, and Mom. And so many others.
I’m so glad God created our lives to intersect. None of us has it all together, but you have all pointed me back to the One who gave us all. And that always seems to help things fall into place.:)