Motherhood after growing up Quiverfull: Part 2

Read Part One here.

From a young age I helped care for younger siblings. When I had my first baby I joked that the only thing that I had never done was breast feed. But it was true.

I had cooked, cleaned and done laundry. I had changed babies, bathed babies, fed babies, rocked babies to sleep. I had homeschooled siblings, disciplined siblings, gotten up early to make them breakfast every day and searched for pacifiers in the middle of the night.

I was very adept at caring for the physical needs of the family, and there were countless times that christian women told me how lucky I was to have so much experience with children and housekeeping before I got married.

I did have a lot of experience. I was often exhausted from all the upkeep of the family that I did as a teen. Actually, it took until I had 3 children under 3 years of age to feel that I had the same level of housework and baby care that I had been doing for years back home.

I was not ready to be a mom when I was 12. But in many ways I was expected to be one. No, I had not given birth, and I never had exclusive care of any one child, but at times it came close. Throughout my teens I made breakfast and dinner each day, I was in charge of deep cleaning all 3 bathrooms each week, maintaining the cleanliness of several rooms, and did several loads of laundry each day. I dressed, fed, bathed, and taught siblings. I remember asking my mom if I could have an hour to myself each afternoon where I could do whatever I wanted to and not be interrupted. She replied that it was fine for me to have free time, as long as I finished all of my responsibilities first and I understood that she would still call me if she needed my help. My responsibilities were never fully met, there were just to many of them. Sometimes I would sneak out of the house and read my book on the roof, so it would take her a little longer to find me, it was the only “free time” I had. I hardly ever went anywhere, so I was always able to be on hand to help out. As the oldest, when my mom was too sick or too tired to get up, I was in charge of the entire household. Children, meals, housecleaning and laundry included. Sometimes mom was laid up for weeks or months.

So yes, I was an “expert” on caring for children and keeping house. But that didn’t mean that I was ready to do all those things. I remember countless times when I was short, sarcastic or just plain mean to the many younger siblings who were adding to the work load or making my life more difficult. I was responsible for many things, I was supposed to direct the kids and keep everything under control, and if I failed to get everything done or keep the kids on track, I was punished. So I was motivated to make them perform to sufficient levels and that meant being bossy and pushy and even punishing them if I had too. I felt like a sell-out for perpetuating a broken system in the interest of avoiding more pain for myself.

I tried so hard. I prayed. I resolved over and over again to be patient and loving and understanding. So many nights I wrote on tear-stained pages of my journal that I had failed again to be the loving servant I wanted to be so badly. Some of those years are blank in my mind, fuzzy, as if they barely existed. Looking back it sounds crazy, but it was my reality for many years.

*************

When I gave birth to my first child I was very confidant in my abilities to care for my baby. Actually it was easy. I loved Ms Action. I nursed her, I bathed her, I played with her, and I rocked her to sleep.

But always in the back of my mind, I knew that she was the first of many children to come. I got only gender-neutral clothing so that I could use it for the babies to come. I trained her to sleep on her own because she had to get used to getting along without me. I decided against doing photo albums, because I would never have the time to do that type of thing for all the other children that were going to come. I remember letting her cry if she fell down and hurt herself, reasoning that if she was hurt badly enough she would come and get me, and I couldn’t train her to be a needy whiny child, I was going to have too many children to tolerate that sort of behavior.

Taking care of one baby took so much less time than running a whole household did, but I didn’t know how to enjoy that. I had a hard time figuring out what to do with myself. I would dress and change and feed the baby, put her in her bouncer, and be bored. Old habits died hard, I would clean and do laundry, and feel guilty if I “fell behind”. If the baby got in the way of what I was doing, I had a hard time being patient and loving, she was preventing me from completing my task! I had no interests or hobbies, I was a stay-at-home mom, that was my calling and dream, all I needed was a few more kids and I would be busy.

The pattern continued as more children arrived. I would take care of their physical needs and then sit around and wonder what else to do. I was bored with cleaning the house, and with no one to get on my case for letting things slip, I often let it all go. I was tired, I felt emotionally distant from everyone.

My life changed when I decided to stop spanking my kids. Now that I was actively involved in gentle discipline, that meant learning about the different ages and development levels. Slowly, I stopped seeing my children as little selfish sinful beings that were pitted against me. And I discovered something startling.

My children had personalities of their own. They had things they loved to do, and things they enjoyed talking about. As I started to listen to them and talk with them, I began to do more with them. Now instead of reading them a book to distract them and then leaving them to their own devices, I found myself reading story after story. I started playing with them on the floor, building blanket forts and wrestling and tickling. When I needed to do chores, I found that more and more they wanted to do them with me, My kids wanted to be near me. My kids got more snugly, and started saying things like “I love you mommy” and “you’re my favorite mommy!”

************

As these last 18 months have flown by, I’ve started to learn how to take care of myself, how to engage with my kids, and how to dream again. It’s as if my children have set me free from the stereotype of womanhood that I was trapped in.

On the one hand, I feel as though I am discovering my children for the first time! So much to learn, so much to enjoy. I want to revel in each moment, learn to love them better in every stage of their lives. On the other hand, I feel restless. I have been living the life of a stay-at-home mom for 15 years and my oldest child is only 4 years old.

I have new hobbies, I have new ideas and interests. And I struggle with feeling guilty over that. Here I have an opportunity to continue to develop as a mom, and I have dreams of going to college? I always understood motherhood and college as incompatible. I feel ashamed at times for being tired of keeping house and wanting to develop other aspects of my person. I have beautiful babies to raise, isn’t that enough for me? I vacillate between telling myself that I can be content doing what I have always done, and wondering what else there is to me as a person. Yes, I find a large sense of purpose and fulfillment in being the mother of my children, but what else is a part of me? Who am I? What makes me who I am?

Click here to read Part 3.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08135229596877003069 Michelle

    I almost cried reading this because I'm so happy for you that you have discovered such beauty in your children. I cannot imagine doing all you did as a child. and to ask for one hour to yourself, only to find that that is not possible?

    One of the things I have always struggled with as a mom who works a full-time job outside of the home is all the moments I miss with my children. Thankfully, my husband has been there to have most of those moments with our children and we have family moments and yes, even in the evenings and on weekends, I can individually have those moments, too. Cuddle times. Story times. And now that my oldest is nearing 10…hanging out and talking times. Last night she brushed my hair. I loved it. it was such a wonderful moment with my daughter. Enjoy all of that, YM. You will find that the more you do it, you kind of become addicted to it. Not only do YOU want to know your children…THEY want to know YOU!

    I pray for you as you discern whether higher education is something you wish to pursue. What a wonderful adventure may lay ahead for you and your family. Many of us moms do things outside the home while raising our families (attend school, have jobs) and I suppose I speak only for myself…but it doesn't mean I appreciate and love my children any less. God has called us to live together in unity as a family with two parents working full-time, opposite schedules, raising the kids.

    BTW – you have inspired me to continue writing a post I started long ago about ways I have tried to ensure my oldest does not feel like she is a mother before she has her own children. While I agree that upkeep of a home and running a household takes help from all members of the family, I am a firm believer in changing my own babies' diapers, feeding them, taking care of the childrens' basic needs…and that those responsibilities are mine and my husband's. My oldest is always "chomping at the bit" to change a diaper or to "be in charge"…and I always say , "honey, enjoy being a kid…it flies by" and I know when she is an adult, she will understand…but probably not until then.

    Great posts!

  • Anonymous

    I love your blog and so appreciate your honesty in working through these tough issues. There are a lot of people with as many (or more!) opinions on how to do the motherhood/ wife/ career life. I've wrestled with it a lot and decided that what God is calling me to isn't what He's calling anyone else to. So the mix is going to look different in me – there's no generic perfect mold of motherhood any more than there is of sainthood. Some saints were really public figures and some were hermits and some were married and some worked – but they all loved God in their own way. Your way won't fit anyone else's way.

    I guess the biggest "a-ha" moment for me was when I realized that God gives us the desires of our hearts. As in, He is the one who made us with all sorts of desires that we can fulfill to be more perfectly ourselves. I have no desire to do engineering, for example, but some people do, and thank goodness! I can drive on their roads and be safe in their buildings. Your desires aren't completely selfish (just like your children aren't totally depraved and out to get you.) Your desires actually come from the creative work of God in you! Just like you delight in seeing your daughters discover a new book or try a new game or hobby, so He does for you. Take a cooking class if it's on your heart! A little bit more creativity in the world is a little more joy in the world.

    I always forget that God actually wants me to be happy. He is not out to make me miserable by squashing myself completely. (Some people are extremely selfish and struggle w/ "dying to self" for others. On the other hand, some people "die to self" so much that they forget that God made them to be a unique, happy, individual, not merely a slave to others.)

    Wanting to do some things for you is not opposed to wanting to be a good mother. You are one, whole, person. Will getting an education expand your horizons? Teach you new things? It might help make you more you, and that, most of all, is what will help you be a good mom. [Of course I'm not talking about chucking your kids in daycare for 70 hours a week while you explore your inner self. But it sounds like, from what you've said, that that's not an extreme you even need to worry about.]

    Sorry that's long. It's my 2 cents after thinking through a lot of the same stuff myself. Hopefully it's at least a little bit helpful :)

  • Anonymous

    You write so well. You have put the struggle into words so well. I didn't have your upbringing ( I can't even imagine.), but I had a lot of the teaching that you described about women and roles. I just told Markus last night that I didn't even know how to be a mom. I meet their needs and then am bored because I don't know how to engage them. So I am having to learn.
    Leigh Ann

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17871256362646081536 Amber

    I don't even know how to adequately respond because I relate to this so much. I came from a family of 10, second oldest, and so much was expected from me in terms of housework, childcare, and even helping out when we were financially hurt. I was lucky in that my parents tried to give me free time, but my personality is such that I felt guilt if I wasn't helping, and I did such a great job of fulfilling these responsibilities that they started to lean on me.

    When I went away to college (something my parents fully supported, another difference), I had to evaluate what having a family meant to me. It was there that I realized I wanted a big family. But I needed to do it on my own terms so that my health didn't deteriorate like my mothers.

    Yet, my first two came 14 months apart. I got pregnant 3 months after the second came, only to have a miscarriage, and pregnant again 3 months later to only, once again, have a miscarriage. And now I'm wondering if my body can handle more.

    (My thoughts as they came after reading this post. So they might seem…out of place. Sorry about that!)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18185954714426587340 Cara Coffey

    May you be able to let go of all the programming and hear the Lord in what He enjoys you doing each day, and may your joy abound in Him.

    May you understand the difference between the conviction of the Holy Spirit and the guilt of demonic oppression, in Jesus' Name.

    Much love,
    Cara

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06505329167788856051 Gae

    Thank you for sharing both of these posts.
    We have 11 children and I am expecting our 12th.
    I understand what you are saying about the children and I try not to allow the children to do so much. Life is different with lots of kids though and there is lots to do.
    I certainly hope that our children don't feel as you did and do about it.
    I think though that they do have time to them selves and develop a bond with each other and us.
    However I think I am not that big on cleaning ( I need things tidy) but cleaning can pull you form the life of enjoyment with children. It is a never ending task that is constant and can be a real slave master.
    Anyway it was a thought provoking series and one I need to constantly look at to remind me not to overburden our children
    God Bless
    Gae

  • Claire

    I have been reading for you for awhile, as you know, and never before did I really fully understand the family dynamic as you grew up. The term "quiverfull" gives it more context, too. Now that i know your background better, I better understand your struggles.
    I also marvel at the way you have been able to really enjoy your children and not resent them, along with the switch from viewing them as sinful beings in need of correction. This is SUCH a harmful belief and I struggle now as a parent to distance myself from it…sigh.
    Inspiring.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00550847149908532903 The Praying Mom

    From my perspective, college and motherhood can mix just fine. I take my classes online or at night. Having sometime to focus on things that interest me and improve myself helps me be a better parent. I feel more relaxed and confident. Plus, seeing mommy in school has made my kids even more interested in their own educations and has really shown them that learning never really ends.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06374573594800663980 Kacie

    As you develop as a person, youre kids will benefit from your example as a person who sees the world with a big vision and purpose as well as love for her kids. I'd say as you consider these questions it's worth thinking what you wish your own daughter would do…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02510172065585770709 Hopewell

    This makes me ache for you, for the Duggar and Bates girls [and others in this movement]. Of course you should develop yourself. College can GROW faith as well!! I am so glad you are able to have fun with your kids and not just "train" them!! Something tells me your marriage will be better too!

  • Rebecca in CA

    Like others I have really enjoyed this series you have written…very enlightening, though sad too. I pray you will find what is best for you and your family. I'm sure it will be an ongoing process of shedding falshood, seeking truth and what is real. I am one of only two, so didn't have your experience–also I was encouraged to go to college, and I did, and was glad that I did. However, there was the sort of opposite extreme, of thinking that the schools were preparing me for life, when in fact it was mostly a colossal waste of time, and when I was married and began having children, I had absolutely no idea what to do. It had nothing to do with what I had learned in school. I'm searching for the balance, too–I have found that I can pursue interesting things "unofficially", such as learning instruments right along with my kids, reading a lot of good books, learning how to do things I never had time to learn when I was absorbed with school. Doing yoga classes with my mom. Drawing more, writing more.

    The Catholic Church is very clear in its teaching that taking on the responsibility of a new life is an important *decision*–that is, something to be done after prudent reflection–and it allows much freedom here. Using NFP (even better, ecological breastfeeding if that can help you with spacing) to avoid a conception, if you have in mind the good of your family as a whole, including your mental/emotional health and that of your children, is a perfectly valid and reasonable thing to do, and should not be thought of as somehow less holy. There are people in the Church who embrace an almost quiverfull mentality, being very afraid even to consider spacing, but that is natural considering the puritan origins of our country and the reaction, which is sometimes an over-reaction, to the widespread use of contraception. I hope that people may gradually become aware of the beautiful respect and freedom of the Church's entire teaching on human sexuality.

    Thanks again for writing about this, and my prayers are with you.

  • Anonymous

    I always understood motherhood and college as incompatible.

    I hope you now realize that isn't true ! Most women who go to college are also mothers, or become mothers. My mother not only went to college, she had me while doing her PhD and is now a successful scientist and mother of four.

    If anything I would think having a mother who has aspirations and works to fulfil them is beneficial to children, you are their best role model after all ! I don't think I'd be living the life I am today if I hadn't had my mother's example showing me that women can have ambition, and can make it.
    –Caravelle

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13674332089949439989 Young Mom

    Caravelle- Yes! I've since realized that is not true, and I am excited about being a role model to my children.

  • Anonymous

    @Young Mom : I know you'll be a great one ! For what it's worth, you're already a role model to me :) There is so little advocacy for non-violent parenting and respecting children in our culture.

    –Caravelle

  • http://ofandfrom.com/ Christine

    This touched me greatly, and I ended up writing about it. The line that I want to share with you is this, "Parenting that does not reshape your soul is parenting poorly done." You, my dear, have allowed your parenting to reshape your soul. And not only are your children better for it, so are you. You are in my thoughts.

  • Anonymous

    As for college and motherhood, I just finished reading "cheaper by the dozen", about a woman who went to school, and taught school (college level courses) while raising 12 children- mostly on her own, since she was a widow. You might be inspired by it- I think most would be. I felt diminished by reading about how wonderful she was (her children wrote the book), but I would still recommend it, mainly because it's funny, and a classic. Actually, now that I think about it, "With Belles on Their Toes" was the one about the mom, the other one was mainly about their dad.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X