How do you do it?
I've never counted, but I imagine the number of times I've been asked that question by moms with one or two children is somewhere in the hundreds. I have five children, and judging by the look on the tired and weary faces that pose the question, that number seems simply impossible.
How do you do it?
Those are five loaded words. I suppose because the "it" behind that question is different for everyone.
How do you care for five little people?
How do you operate on little sleep?
How do you keep them safe?
How do you find time to do the laundry?
How do you afford them?
How do you keep from losing your ever-loving mind?
Mommas of one and two children: I understand every one of these questions. And, I understand where you're coming from.
There are some things I want you to know about me. About children. About this journey through motherhood that we're both on.
If no one has ever told you . . .
1. You are maxed out—emotionally and physically—at the number of children you currently have.
When I had my two-month old baby Jack, I sat on the edge of my bed, and cried like a toddler who dropped her brand new ice cream cone because I thought my life was over. This baby child, my supposed dream come true, wanted to wake up in the middle of the night and feed off of me, and all I wanted was to sleep. Baby "Not What I'd Read" would sleep all morning while I did dishes and caught up on laundry, but there was NO way I was getting a nap in the afternoon when all of that was finished.
The first time I went to Target with him, I took so much gear with me that after I loaded up the cart with him and my gear, I couldn't buy anything because nothing fit.
I was completely overwhelmed. Then he grew into a mobile baby, and I thought it would be a good idea to get pregnant again so that while he was ripping everything out of the cabinets, bleeding from the mouth from playing bumper cars with the coffee table, eating the sofa, crawling the stairs to plummet to his demise, and licking the electrical outlets, I could also be barfing.
Then his brother arrived, 18 months after he was born. And I had no idea how people could possibly care for two children. Who are these lunatics who have a ton of children? How on earth was I supposed to nurse a newborn and keep my maniac toddler from imminent death?
I was maxed out. It was one of the hardest times of my life—caring for one, and then eighteen months later, two of them.
Moms of one and two children, you are doing hard work. It is overwhelming and completely exhausting, and figuring it all out is some of the most physically, mentally, emotionally demanding, and heart-wrenching work you will ever do. I know you are maxed out—in every way. And, I tell you this, not as someone who is patting you on the back and looking at you with condescending pity, but as someone who knows how hard you are working and how taxing this season is on you. But, there is hope. It does get easier. Not because a light bulb goes off one day and you figure it all out.
But, because . . .
2. You will find your way.
Your way. Not your mom's way. Not Granny's way. Not pushy Aunt Bertie's way.
What worked for your mom, Granny, and Aunt Bertie may simply not work for you. I love hearing the wisdom and experiences from the older women in my life, but I have to sift through their advice, experiences, and choices to find what really helps me and what doesn't. Not only are children all different, but mothers are different. We tick and tock to different beats—some of us slower and some on hyperspeed, some on schedules and some just wingin' it (I'm the latter, Lord help me). As you get to know your children and build your home life, you will find what works for you. You will. Letting go of the expectations of others is a big part of that. Pull what works for you. Respectfully let go of the rest.
This applies to friendships as well. Do you know who my best friends are? The ones that I lean on and trust and cry to and share with? They are my friends who insist, along with me, that there is no one way to do something. I have a very difficult time developing and maintaining friendships with people who have found the one and only way to do something.
"OMG, you gave him PEANUT BUTTER at 10 MONTHS?"
"You don't have a laundry day???"
"Three year-olds should never still be in diapers."
No. We cannot be friends. Not close friends. Not cry on your shoulder friends.
As you find your way, quick-steppin' to a groove with those babies dancin' along with you, I've got some really, really, really good news . . .
3. It gets easier. If you let God get bigger.
I now have five children. And, I'm maxed out. Totally maxed out. Just like I was when I had one. And two and three and four.
But, mothering is easier for me now than it used to be. For one reason:
I need God more.
I need him in the morning, at noon, and at night. I need him to wipe my tears when my baby won't let me sleep at night. I need him to calm my heart when I'm changing bed sheets at 2 a.m. I need him to keep my children safe because I only have two hands and one set of eyes and crossing a parking lot means holding on tight, but it also means letting go of "I can do this, I can do this," and trading it for "God, you are with me, and you love them, too."
I need him to help me trade my doing for his doing.
I need his patience.
I need his joy.
I need his love.
You know, I needed God when I had one and two children. But I had all of this stuff—books and gear and grannies and know-it-all voices—and I had me.
So I flailed about amidst all of that and tried to raise my children in the Land of I Can Do This.
Now God has whittled away all of that other stuff. He's taught me that he loves my children more than I do, and he loves to hear my voice calling out to him and letting him fill me with strength and wisdom and love and joy for my children. I don't have it. But he does.
So, mommas of one or two littles afoot: when you ask me, "How do you do it?," I know what you're asking. I know what you're feeling and what's behind your eyes, and I walked in your shoes. You are doing the hard, hard stuff of motherhood.
It is not easier because you "only" have one or two children. But as you find your way, and the more you let God be your strength and realize that you cannot in the many ways you think you can, it gets easier.
And it gets so, so good.
Sarah Short is a blogger and mother of five living in the South. This post is a re-print, and was initially published as a blog post on Sarah's "Short Stop Blog." Connect with her on Facebook or Twitter @sarahgshort.