Thursday, October 14, 2010

How Do I Learn To Like Motherhood?

The Question:
As a teenager, I would lock myself in my room and shut the world out, be left alone with my thoughts and just be me. I hated it when my little sister would even touch me.  I need space.
Now that I'm a mother, I feel those same things yet don't get to lock myself in my room.  To top it off I have never been a very nurturing person yet not long after getting married, I wanted to have kids.  Now I have 3 kids (ages 8,6, &3) and feel like it's almost too much.  Some days I wake up asking myself what in the WORLD I was thinking having 3 kids?  Being a loving mom just doesn't come naturally to me. at. all.  I try and I try but it's almost against my nature.  It's hard for me not to compare myself to other moms who claim that they "just love being a mom" etc.  I feel like something is wrong with me because Some days I HATE being a mom.  When I leave on vacation without my kids, I don't really miss them.  It's hard to admit this as a member of the Church striving to magnify my calling as a mother.  I feel like this is not the norm.    I have read zillions of parenting books and am always working at improving but... I don't know how to LOVE (or even like) motherhood.  I wish I was the kind of mom that could handle 11 kids like yourself but I'm not and that makes me sad and frustrated.  So how do I learn to like motherhood?
The Answer:
Dear friend,
I am probably not the best one to answer this question.  I was born for motherhood.  I know that and I know that it's been a blessing for me.  The very thing I'm supposed to do--the very role that I am supposed to embrace, just happens to be my first love.  So a person like me gets all kinds of affirmation in the church.  My heart really does go out to people who struggle with this role and expectation and who just don't find the joy they keep hearing about.  I have a few thoughts and I'd like to invite readers to share their experiences in this area.
You already have children and they only have one mother, and one childhood.  You need to learn to really know and love your children.  You just can't give in to the self-doubts you're experiencing.  Nurturing is a skill that can be learned and love has a source.   Pray that your heart may be made tender toward each of your children.  You are the single most important person in their lives.  Your approval, your affirmation of them, your knowledge and acceptance of their uniqueness will stay with them throughout their lives.  If there is emptiness and coldness in your relationship with them, they will be injured.  You might feel like you really can't help that.  You don't feel it so what can you do?   You can invest yourself in a different way than you are now investing.  Maybe you are just very custodial.  Feeding them.  Cleaning the house.  Hauling them around.  Noticing all the ways they drive you crazy--arguing, undoing what you've done, talking back, etc.  But just step back.  Look at each child individually.  What is on their mind?  Who are they?  What is their world like?   Picture yourself building a visible bond.  Every time you smile at them, hug or touch or laugh at something together, you are strengthening the bond.  Be alone with each one and talk about things.  Just look right into their eyes and listen intently.  While you're listening, think that you love them, that they are precious.  They will see that thought in your eyes.  You might feel awkward about this.  Maybe you aren't a touchy feely kind of person.  But children really are and they interpret little gestures like a gentle hand on their back or a genuine smile to mean, "I love you."  I guess what I'm really getting at, is just force yourself to go through the motions of eye contact, touch and smiling with a light in your eyes until you begin to feel it.  Realize that you are feeding your child in a very real way.  This is nurturing.
Put yourself on a two week plan of going through the nurturing motions that I've described.  Take each child on an outing alone during the two weeks.  Do something fun like bowling or hiking or hunting for some special treasure with them at a thrift store.  When you get back home, don't go right into the house.  Just stay in the car.  Tell them that you've had such a good time with them and express your love.  Also during the two weeks, compliment each of them each day.  Focus on the good things they do.  Picture that you are building a bond.  Try not to raise your voice or look at them in way that communicates disdain.  If they misbehave, take them individually into another room and talk to them.  Hold their hand and talk to them. 
This is your family.  A family is different from any other project or accomplishment because it is an eternal, living thing.  It extends on for generations.  If you can make the sacrifice to learn to nurture, you'll not only be building emotionally healthy children, but you'll be teaching them how to nurture the generation that follows.  And I really can't describe to you the return on this investment of yourself.  Your children will not always be small.  They will grow to love you if you first love them.      My children still at home--ages 16, 14, 11 and 9 are genuinely soothing to me.  I look forward to seeing them at the end of the day--like good friends.  They aren't any better than your children!  I loved them every day.  Now they love me.

One final note...sometimes we fill our lives with hobbies or pursuits that produce more immediate rewards.  If we aren't careful, we start to resent our children and see them as obstructions to the things that bring us real pleasure.  The key is to discover pleasure in our children--to make them central, to genuinely value them during the relatively short time that they are in our home. 

 The day will come that you will be free to spend whole days any way you want-- you can travel, go to school, or go in your room and shut the door  But today, you are a mother.  I challenge you to come out and keep trying.  I know that the Lord will bless your efforts.

All my love,



  1. Jane what a perfect answer... I especially loved the second to last paragraph. Thank you!

  2. I think more women feel like this than you imagine. I never wanted to have children. In fact, I never aspired to marriage. I imagined a life as a scholar or teacher traveling the world. Imagine my surprise when I ended up married my junior year in college. Even then, I wasn't ready to start a family right away. I waited a year and then the promptings to have a baby were so strong I couldn't deny them.
    I have five children and am pregnant with my sixth. Mothering hasn't come easy to me and there are many times when I have wanted to run away and I CRAVE space. I think Heavenly Father knew I needed to be a mother in this life because I needed these experiences.
    A part of me wonders if you aren't actually experiencing depression since I tend to dislike being a mother more when I am in a depressive state. It may be something to consider and one which treatment and help can really make a difference.
    I liked what Jane wrote about working to becoming more nurturing and loving. I think also an important part of me accepting my own role as mother was realizing that I CHOSE to have my children. No one forced me to have them. When I made that realization, I felt very enpowered because I realized that I also could choose everyday to enjoy mothering. Of course, not every day is gloriously fun or wonderful. In fact, most days aren't like that. But I learned to work harder to enjoy and appreciate the little moments of mothering. The joy of reading to my kids. (I make them play with my hair which relaxes me and we have fun plowing through adventures together.)
    I also discovered that I need to let my kids be a part of things I enjoy. I love traveling, going to museums, exploring places. My husband and I have traveled extensively with four kids (and we lived on a strict student budget, so we learned to do it very frugally). Since I love museums, I made a habit of taking my kids often. They have learned to love museums as well and behave beautifully there. So when I feel stir crazy and frustrated, we go to a musuem. We all feel better about the world, and I begin to enjoy my role as a mother again. I like scrapbooking so I let them make their own scrapbooks with my extra materials while I work on my own. I think doing those things have allowed me time to enjoy my role as a mother.
    Keeping a journal and a scrapbook have allowed me to time to reflect about my kids and work to understand their individual personalities in a reflective and personal way.
    You don't have to be a scrapbooker or a writer to reflect, but taking time to reflect is always helpful.

  3. Take heart -- your attitude and your feelings of joy can change. I love what both Jane and swedemom say. I've known swedemom personally for many, many years and I have to say that for someone who didn't feel naturally inclined to be a mother, she's done (and doing) an amazing job. She really has made mothering and nurturing her children her focus and done it in a way that is unique to HER with her talents and abilities. If you were to look at her family, you wouldn't ever know that she didn't naturally fall into the role of the mother. So there's hope -- many of us struggle to one degree or another with embracing the role of homemaker, wife, and mother (my millstone for many years has been cooking, for example. I just don't like to do it, though I'm finding myself more and more competent at it as the years go on).

    Is it possible you are thinking you need to mother your children the way everyone else does it? Are you really having a hard time loving your kids or are you having a hard time living up to the expectations you put on yourself? Make a list of all the things you think you should be doing and then really analyze it. Are you beating yourself up because you don't make the fancy dinners your neighbor does or sew matching outfits the way your sister-in-law does? Sometimes we have this idea of a perfect mother who doesn't ever lose her temper, bakes and sews and smiles and has children who pick up after themselves and never wet the bed, talk back, or make messes. That mother and that family just don't exist. I've known some pretty amazing mothers and when we talk, I discover the same behaviors and difficulties I'm facing are also in their homes!

    The truth is, we all have times and moments that stretch us to the limit. Yours could be the feelings of discontentment you're experiencing (a good book to read, by the way, is Contentment by Maria Covey Cole).

    For me, I would go back to the foundation. Don't compare yourself with anyone else. Decide what is absolutely most important to you, what is somewhat important, and what can be put aside for the time being. For me, building a spiritual foundation each day by prayer and scripture study and then going to work and building the relationships in my home is paramount. Over the years, I've had to make many significant sacrifices to make those things a priority, particularly as I've welcomed more children into my home than many of the others around me. For example, I see my friends who have fewer children who have all their kids in school now. They have time to help in each of their children's classes and go to lunch with their husbands while I'm still experiencing years of sleepless nights, exhaustion and the absolute need to prioritize and cut back on extras in order to build my home. Often, it has seemed the hardest thing to do, to give up something that I love or wanted to do in order to nurture others, but every time, I have seen in the future the happiness and blessings that have come from following the promptings of the Spirit. And it's not just the growth and changes I see in my children. Most significantly, I feel how I am becoming more refined, more compassionate, more like the woman I want to be.

  4. Wow, I have to say I am so inspired by reading all of your comments. Thanks for the encouragement. Thanks for the HONESTY! Wow! It takes a lot of courage to tell the truth about your feelings and thoughts!

    I really love what handsfullmom said about not comparing yourself to others. Why, oh why, do we as women INSIST on doing this? At a church training meeting recently, a speaker gave an excellent insight on this very thing. She said, paraphrased, that we are all on such different paths with different trials, different challenges, and different EVERYTHING, that comparing our life's road with someone else's is just completely ridiculous. We all have the same END GOAL (loving, eternal celestial families), but we are all going to be taking different routes to get there. We can't judge one another. We can't judge ourselves against others, because we simply DON'T KNOW the whole story about anyone else's lives but our own. All that really matters is that we have our Heavenly Father's approval, and once we have that, what else or who else really matters?

    I also second the recommendation for the book "Contentment" by Maria Covey Cole. Outstanding!

  5. I agree. Wow! We really do have some of the cream of the crop mothers commenting on this blog. Thank you so much for your wonderful insights and suggestions. Keep them coming!


  6. I have to say that I feel much like the woman who wrote in. I didn't come from a particularly affectionate family. I don't think I was "born for motherhood," as Jane puts it. Everyone is different. And that's ok. I'm a mother of two (ages 3 & 1) and have certainly struggled to find joy in my "role" most days.

    Jane talks about being careful of letting hobbies or pursuits cloud our focus on our children, but I just have to say, that outside pursuits are what saves my life.

    I'm a writer. I take an office night once a week and also have another woman watch my kids for a few hours a few times a week so that I can write. I am a mother, but I'm a person first. When I let myself be completely overtaken by house/cleaning/mothering stuff, I turn into "angry mom." And then--what's the point? When I take time for myself--not necessarily for mani/pedis or bunko night, but for fulfilling pursuits--it certainly contributes to my being able to "handle" motherhood.

  7. I am one who grew up yearning to be a mother. Ever since I was tiny I dreamed of all the children I would have, what they would look like, and what I would name them all. I have always found so much joy in children.

    That being said, I can still relate to how you are feeling. I now have 3 young kids of my own and often also think, "What in the WORLD was I thinking?!" Motherhood is so difficult, rewarding yet difficult.

    Recently I hit an all time low. I was just depressed a lot and missing family (we are living out of the country). I was so stressed that I couldn't even enjoy my kids. Something that I looked forward to all my life became something that I didn't know if I could do any more. In fact I often found myself crying on the kitchen floor saying, "I can't do this any more."

    So I turned to the Lord. I pray several times a day for help to enjoy my kids, to show my kids how much I love them, to find ways to laugh with my kids, and just surround them in love. It has honestly been my main focus and I am enjoying motherhood SO much more.

    My main advice, turn to the Lord. Spill your feelings, even though He already knows them. He will help you. Just remember what a wonderful work you are doing. And that you are never alone.

  8. I loved this post. Thanks for your advice, Jane. I'm reading a book called "Weakness is Not Sin" by Wendy Ulrich, an LDS psychologist and counselor. I recommend it! It's really changing the way I see myself and my role as a mother. The premise of the book is that we tend to think our weaknesses are sins, even though they are not, they're part of the human experience. If we didn't have weaknesses, there would be no point of being here. So, Ulrich encourages us to serve from our strengths. Think about what your strengths are as a person, as a woman. Think about how you can apply those strengths to your parenting.

  9. Jane,

    I just have to say that not only was your answer spot-on and will hopefully benefit the mother that needs support, but the second to last paragraph really resonated with me. Every time I have felt uncharacteristically agitated, the common theme has been that there was something else I wanted to pursue, like a craft, and life had a way of inserting itself as it often does and interfering with my plans. Those times have NEVER felt good, and primarily because I knew I was being selfish. Thank you for so eloquently putting into words what I instinctevly know...

    that today I am a mother.

    And so thankful to God for the privilege. (And subsequently thankful for your wise insight.)

  10. I really enjoyed this post because I can understand how the writer is feeling (As I have felt that way many times before) All I can say is that I agree that it is important to find joy in your children and not let outside hobbies get in the way. But as a woman who has always needed and loved her space (I lived in the basement two floors down from the rest of my family by choice from the time I was eight)(not anymore now that I am married.) I think it is important to realize that there is nothing wrong with taking a break away from the kids. Go on a date with your husband, take a break in your room, go to enrichment night without carting a kid along. Plus it gives your husband a chance to bond with the kids without you. For me it is those moments that make me more able to be an effective mom. I love my kids but I crave my space and become cranky if I don't get it. Every Sunday once the kids are in bed I have my own "Lindsey Time" to plan my week and decide what I need to do. I am a much better mom when I do this because I can see what I want to get done and evaluate the past week. I spend some time writing in my journal, planning my menus (cooking is my favorite thing), seeing what I have to do and just thinking. It has blessed my life. Don't feel guilty about needing time to yourself just make sure you are also fufilling the needs of your children. I have found how much better I am when I take a step back to evaluate myself, my life and the growth of my children.

  11. The line "sometimes we fill our lives with hobbies or pursuits that produce more immediate rewards. If we aren't careful, we start to resent our children and see them as obstructions to the things that bring us real pleasure. " was just what I needed. Thank you. Nurturing is hard for me and I think sometimes I loose track of the fact that the rewards aren't instant but will come someday.

    Also Jane I just wanted to let you know I gave you blog award on my blog. I love your insights. Here is the link

  12. I love being a mom, but I know there are certain things I do or don't do that make me love it more or less. One of them, is I view it as my job. I had a really (really) stressful job before I stayed home to have kids. I think I appreciate being a mother all the much more. Yes, motherhood is hard, but I think I'm the only one to ever say, it's not as hard (yet) as my job was! :) When I first stayed home, I couldn't believe I was doing my duty by taking my baby to the park. So relaxing and fun, and no one was yelling at me... But maybe if you enjoyed your career before children, you haven't experienced this much. But I still think about that. My husband is at work all day long. I'm at home. So, home's my job. It's not my place to be relaxed all the time. It's supposed to be hard. Anyway, I think it can be a big disadvantage to view the home only as your sanctuary, like it was when you were growing up. Now it's also your office, so it's okay if it's demanding.

    Another thing is getting enough sleep. Taking care of your body in general, but sleep really impacts me. If you're miserable, try early to bed, early to rise. And that way you also start out the day ahead of your kids. Nothing makes me grumpier to waking up to kids who have already been messing up the house, and I feel behind.

    And taking care of your spirituality. If you can do an early morning scripture study, I really recommend it. It puts everything into perspective, makes me WANT to do the things I'm supposed to do, and gives me confidence that I am doing what the Lord wants, which gives me a real sense of accomplishment.

    And I also agree with Jane about the hobbies thing. I love to read, but I don't read novels much, because they suck me in. I don't like the fact that I'd rather be reading than playing with my kids. A lot of hobbies can be more appealing/addictive than being with children sometimes, so I like to put those particular hobbies on the shelf for sometimes long periods of time.

  13. I recently read this quote from the First Presidency and it turned my role of mother into a partnership with the Lord, I began to see myself accoutable to Him for these children He was entrusting me with. It really blessed and changed my perspective.

    "Motherhood thus becomes a holy called, a sacred dedication for carrying out the Lord's plans, a consecration of devotion to the uprearing and fostering the nurturing in body, mind and spirit, of those who kept their first estate 'to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them'. To lead them to their second estate is the work of motherhood, 'and they who keep their second estate shall have glory added upon their heads forever and ever.'"

    We are all in a dual partnership with the Lord. With Him all things are possible!

  14. Thank you so much Jane! You give me so much hope as a mother! Thank you for taking the time to share your wisdom! Have a wonderful week!

  15. I don't always feel I'm getting it right either, but I love this quote I found from Cat Stevens - of all odd places - it says "To be what you must, you must give up what you are." I think sometimes (most times) I hang on to the statement - but that's how I am - when the whole point is that I'm supposed to be becoming someone else.

  16. I agree that every mother needs to take a break but not to the expense of their children. I do a kid swap once a week with a lady in my ward. She watches my little girl for an hour and a half while I do something I love and then I take her girls later in the week. It provides the rejuvination that I need, but make sure you aren't doing chores on your to do list. Make it about you for that time and then give everything you have to your children and pray for the rest you don't have. That is the beauty of grace. We give all that we can and Christ makes up the rest. Just trust that He will and then act on what he provides.

  17. I feel like a better mom when I have an outside interest, too. I feel rejuvenated when I come back from some alone time, even if it's just grocery shopping without a toddler running around and an infant crying (and a husband sneaking things into the cart). I took a belly dancing class with my sister for a few months, and I REALLY miss it. I recommend looking into your community ed options and see if there's something new you can learn. I feel really stagnant if I'm not growing somewhere.

    I really liked the advice about thinking about how much you love your kids when you talk to them. It really helps to "fake it til you make it."

    I also agree with swedemom, that this might partially be depression. Maybe you don't need medications, but exercise could help boost your endorphins. And when mama's happy, everyone's happy!

  18. I've got to say I've felt some of what she's feeling. I have four kids and finally realized that my real problem is that I'm not a very good multi-tasker. All this time I thought my kids bugged me, but I realized that what bugged me was trying to manage my kids and clean house/do a project, etc at the same time. Just knowing that has helped me so much. It has nothing to do with them!

    Also, I've found that looking for the things I like to do with my kids and focusing on those helps. Like, I love to snuggle and read books. When I've had an especially hard day with the kids, I do this for longer. It helps me to feel a real enjoyment in them and love for them. I delegate some of the things the kids love to do for their dad and try to do things we both enjoy together with them.

    Finally, I have started telling myself the following phrase "Make it Happen". Whenever I don't want to do something that I know is good for my children, I just tell myself that it matters, so "make it happen". If kids need a mother who builds their self confidence or teaches them life lessons or feeds them healthy food, I'm not going to let mine miss out on that. I will make it happen! Hope this helps...

  19. I just wanted to compliment the person who asked the question, it took a lot of courage to be so honest.

    Jane, your wisdom is really a gift to each person who reads this blog. Thank you for sharing what you've learned. What a treasure.

  20. I really appreciated this post. It did take a lot of courage to write the questions; I really value our being able to speak about things so that we know that we're not alone. Jane, your answer was so wonderful...I am in awe.

    I did not know if I would have the capacity to nurture children. My nurturing capabilities were locked away due to defenses I had learned to build during my childhood. My mother was not able to nurture us due to some very serious unsolved issues from her childhood. She took very good care of our physical needs, but our emotional needs were not met, and there was a great amount of emotional damage inflicted. It wasn't until I began to heal myself that I could nurture another. Fortunately, we had our children after I had worked through some issues and my own healing had begun. I have found that nurturing and loving my little girls has been an added layer to my healing. Motherhood is the hardest job I've ever done. It requires me to be my best self day after day. I have many less than stellar mommy moments, but I have learned from them and just try to do the best I can. There have been many minutes on my knees pleading for help to manage motherhood. Motherhood is not something I think any of us can do well if we try to do it on our own. My prayers have been answered time and time again, and I know I'm having success only because I have included my Heavenly Father in the process. I do keep reminding myself that my little girls are going to be with me such a short time, and that helps me to embrace each day with them.

    I wish you much love on your journey.

  21. I loved this post. Thank you. Can't wait to start following this blog!

  22. Dear Jane. If you ever wonder why you take the time you do for this blog, please know it has changed my life. Literally changed my life. Sounds dramatic, but I am so grateful for your words of wisdom, and insight, and your profound comments on the sacredness of being a mother. I appreciate it more than you will ever know.

  23. I think so much of what is hard about motherhood is just exhaustion. If I could get 8 hours of sleep a night, I bet I would find motherhood much more enjoyable. I'll have to try it sometime and find out!


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