God Hates Efficiency

Efficiency is a tricky thing. Our market-driven, productivity-obsessed culture holds it as one of the most important virtues (along with autonomy, independence, and originality), and let’s face it: who among us is sitting around with too much free time? Not me, that’s for sure. I have to be efficient just to get the laundry done in between changing diapers, making meals, and wiping snotty noses (thanks, preschool!). If I were more efficient, maybe the living room floor wouldn’t have so many crumbs on it right now.

But it’s easy to fall into the trap of prizing efficiency as the highest good. It’s not. God doesn’t care much about efficiency, and I know this because He Himself is super inefficient.

Don’t believe me? Let’s consider the inefficiency of God.

God Hates Efficiency

 

In the first place: we exist. Creation itself is VASTLY inefficient. God is perfect and perfectly self-sufficient, so why create anything  at all? We can add nothing to God’s perfect nature; He didn’t need us. As a Trinity of Persons, he’s even got community baked into his divine nature. All the angels, saints, sinners, and the whole material and immaterial universe: what a waste of time and effort. Very inefficient.

But hey, here we are, and the inefficiency doesn’t stop there! God decided to take millenia to even bring the human race around after kicking things off with a Big Bang–was that really necessary? After Adam and Eve finally show up on the scene, they have their big moment of bringing sin on our poor species, and then God waits ANOTHER few thousand years before sending Jesus Christ to fix things up, the slowpoke.

But beyond just taking his time, God has built inefficiencies into the system. For example, there’s the concept of the intercession of the saints. We Catholics believe that we can pray to our departed brothers and sisters in Christ in Heaven, asking them to intercede for us to the Father, the same way our friends here on earth can pray for us. But here’s the thing: how do the saints hear our prayers?

Well, it’s through the beatific vision. That is, the saints spend their time contemplating and worshiping God, and through this heavenly union with God, they receive information from Him who sees and knows everything.

So this is how it works: we pray to a saint to ask for his prayers. God is the messenger who relays our prayer to that saint. The saint then prays to God for us. And then God responds.

Talk about inefficient! It’s like giving a note addressed to your child, TO that child, to deliver to someone else, who has to give it back to him before he can read it. It’s almost nonsensical.

Actually, it IS nonsensical, until you think about why God might do things this way. It’s because He doesn’t value efficiency in itself. He values love. He values community. He values us, his beloved creation, and so helps us to find ways to depend on each other, to build each other up, and to participate actively and meaningfully in his divine plan of redemption.

Sure, He COULD do lots of things more efficiently, but instead He delights in involving us. He says, “Come join in this wonderful work with me!”

It’s like baking with a small child: you could make the muffins way faster by yourself, but they love scooping the flour and mixing the batter, and they are so proud of the muffins that they truly helped to make. You do it for your love of them. The relationship and the time together are more important than the lost ten minutes and the extra step of wiping down all the sticky surfaces.

Just like the generous Father he is, God chooses extravagant love over efficiency every time.

If our personal pursuit of efficiency comes at the expense of love or our relationships, then it’s not a good thing at all. There have been plenty of villains who were incredibly efficient, but they were still villains. “Getting things done” is only as good as whatever the “things” are.

Sure, sometimes efficiency is good–we are called to be stewards of creation and to use our resources wisely. But in those cases, efficiency is subordinate to a higher priority. Being efficient in our use of paper is in recognition of the importance of forests in our environment. Wasting money might endanger your family’s well-being if that money would be needed for food or rent. Efficiency isn’t an idol being served in these cases; it’s in service to a greater good.

Often the most important forms of love are seemingly inefficient: sweeping the same old kitchen floor over and over again to provide a clean house for your family. Visiting a nursing home. Praying a rosary with your children. Kneeling in front of the Eucharist. Putting your work aside to give a hug and a listening ear to someone who’s upset. The world calls these wastes of time; we know differently.

So if you’re frustrated today because it feels like you can’t get one simple task done around all of the interruptions and questions and snack requests, remember this: as long as you are acting in a spirit of love and service, you are doing your job perfectly. We are here for each other and for God, not for clean floors and big bank accounts. It doesn’t matter how long things take.

In fact, when it comes to love, the longer the better.

Extravagant love

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Message from an Angel

Over the weekend, I had a really weird moment. A really weird, really cool moment.

One of the things that isn’t talked about much in many Catholic circles is that the Church still teaches that angels and demons are real, and that they can really have an impact in the lives of “ordinary people.” (But what is an ordinary person, anyway? Every single person is unique and of enormous consequence in the eyes of God. Every person’s “ordinary” story is a grand drama within God’s masterwork of salvation. Okay, end of lofty tangent. Back to angels and demons.)

Yep, despite the common idea that such ideas are “outdated” or “disproven” by the modern scientific outlook (as if purely spiritual beings could possibly be disproven by scientific observations!), we continue to believe that angels and demons are really REAL. They exist. They are powerful. And they want to have an influence on us, for good—or in the case of fallen angels, for evil.

Last week featured the feast days of the Archangels on Michaelmas, as well as the feast day of the Guardian Angels. How cool is the concept of guardian angels? There is a powerful, immortal, heavenly being dedicated to every single human person, trying to help keep us on the right track and protect us from harm—it’s awe-inspiring.  Your guardian angel is reading this over your shoulder right now. For real. Say hi! He loves you!

Now, truth be told, I’m not that great at remembering about my guardian angel, or treating him with the respect and relationship that he deserves. I don’t recognize his influence in my life very often. Still, I believe he’s there, and that he DOES have an influence, and helps me out when he can.

But this weekend, I had a moment where I heard a message. Two messages, actually. And the first message wasn’t from my guardian angel, but from a devil at my shoulder.

I was at Mass with my family at our parish in the suburbs of Philadelphia. Before our pastor began the liturgy of the Eucharist, he made an announcement: there had been a lot of leftover hosts from the Papal Mass in Philly last weekend, and so parishes had been given these hosts to distribute at this weekend’s Masses. So we would be receiving hosts that had been consecrated by the Pope.

My first reaction (along with most of the people around me): Wow, how cool! Eucharist consecrated by the Pope!

But almost immediately, a little cynical voice seemed to whisper in my ear: All those leftover hosts must mean that the turnout for the Papal Mass was WAYYY lower than anticipated. Lame.

And then it continued: And who cares who consecrated it, anyway? It’s not like the Eucharist becomes “more” Jesus if the Pope says the prayers, versus any other priest. All these people are overreacting. Lame.

But then a quieter voice came: You know, that’s true. It’s not that important who says the prayers of consecration. What’s important is what happens when those prayers are said: the bread becomes the Body of Christ. Jesus is present. Every week, at every Mass! That’s not lame—it’s incredibly awesome.

Most people in most places don’t get their hosts consecrated by the Pope, but everybody, every Sunday, is able to see, adore, and receive Jesus. It’s mind-blowing. I mean, no offense to Pope Francis, but I’m sure he would agree with me that his significance pales in comparison to Christ.

So as cool as it was to receive Eucharist consecrated by Pope Francis, we should be much more excited on any given Sunday to be receiving the Eucharist at all. Because there in every humble wafer is our Lord, who sacrificed his Body out of love to offer us a path salvation.

And this little exchange that I heard really jolted me out of my complacency. I had been kneeling there in the pew, just like any other Sunday, any other Mass, any other Eucharist… same old, same old. No big deal.

But that was wrong of me.

It may happen a lot, over and over, week after week in church after church, but every single time—the Eucharist is a miracle. Christ offers himself to us. It IS a big deal.

So the little demon who whispered in my ear didn’t win the day. He tried to bring me into his cynicism, to belittle the Pope and devalue the Eucharist. But the angel at my shoulder found the kernel of truth in the devil’s lies: that the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist is the important thing, and worthy of awe even when we are tempted to get a little too comfortable with it. It’s special. It’s miraculous. It’s Christ.

Wow.

Thanks, guardian angel. I needed the reminder.

Late 7QT – In Which We Meet Thomas Maximilian

Finally back in the blogging saddle after an unofficial maternity leave. That’s right! The whining of late pregnancy is over; the son has arrived. So for this week’s Seven Quick Takes, it’s time for introductions.

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Linking up with Kelly, as usual.

With lots of photos, inconsistently sized, sparsely captioned, and totally unedited.

 

 – 1 –

Meet Thomas Maximilian Carney.

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Born ten days late, at 1:31 PM on September 11th. His first hours of life included lots of nursing, snuggling, sleeping, and a viewing of Hot Fuzz.

 

 – 2 –

Speaking of which… Meet screen time.

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Because baby needs to nurse and sleep, and mama needs to rest. Therefore all TV limits shall be rescinded, and Alex will watch incomprehensible amounts of of Thomas the Tank Engine, Blue’s Room (specifically the “Old MacDonald” episode, over and over and OVER), and Mother Goose Club (kill me now).

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 – 3 –

Meet a mom of 2.

 

 

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She is smiling because Tommy has turned out to be a dream baby. We hit the baby jackpot with this one. He eats well (back to his birth weight of 8 lbs 8 oz before hitting his 2 week birthday, unlike his older brother, who terrified his parents with a slowwww gain in the first months), he sleeps pretty well, he doesn’t cry in the carseat (yet?), and most ridiculous of all, he has spit up only ONE TIME in his life so far. And even that one spit-up was very small, and didn’t get any clothes dirty.

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– 4 – 

Meet the family resemblence.

Alex, a few days old:

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And Tommy, a few days old.

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I better start labeling our pictures now, before I stop remembering who is who.

But really, I love that they look so similar; we’re in for another kid as cute as Alex!

 

– 5 –

On that note: meet a big brother.

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Although he is not that thrilled to have to share mom and dad’s attention, he LOOOoooOOOoooOVES his baby brother. Alex is a bit behind the curve when it comes to speech, so “Baby Brother” is simply referred to as “Bee.” But “Bee!” is lovingly petted and kissed and hugged and held, every chance Alex gets.

The heart! It melts.

 

 – 6 –

Meet gratuitous baby pictures.

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Major victory: both boys napping on my first day parenting on my own, after Matt was back at work and my mom was no longer here helping out. High five. And a glass of wine.

 

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I hope you enjoy the warning label on our cosleeper, that I am currently too lazy to crop out.

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You’re welcome.

 

 – 7 –

Meet Blue Steel.

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Look out, ladies.

 

Random HDYDI: Laundry baskets!

Recently, a fellow blogger (one much cooler than me) posted a question on Facebook about laundry baskets. Kate’s had broken, and she was looking for recommendations for a new one.

(I know what you’re thinking: this post is going to be thrilling. Laundry baskets? Really?)

(Well… yes. Really. Sorry. I’m over 40 weeks pregnant at this point and my brain is not capable of any thoughts more complicated than, “When is this baby coming out?!” and “Someone bring me a burrito and a milkshake.” So we are talking about laundry on this here blog. Buckle up for the excitement!)

But here’s the thing: when I stopped to think about it, I realized that we actually have kind of an usual set-up for our laundry–and I LOVE IT. It’s super helpful in keeping our household in clean clothes. It’s way easier than any other arrangement I’ve ever seen. And so your humble servant is here to share the wisdom, in case this idea appeals to you, too.

Here’s the key: instead of having one big laundry hamper and one big plastic laundry basket, what we have is three of these babies–large utility totes from Thirty-One Gifts.

We keep them on a modified Billy bookcase from IKEA (the back panel was falling off anyway; my darling handy husband also shortened it somehow and took out one of the shelves) in our bedroom, and we sort our dirty clothes right into the baskets at the end of each day. Whites, colors, and delicates. Nice and easy.

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(At the beginning I put a tag on each basket to spell out what clothes should go into it; at this point we’re just so used to the system that when the tags fell off, I didn’t need to replace them.)

It’s not the prettiest system, but you can get the totes in different patterns, which is fun–and really, what laundry hamper is ever really beautiful? And it’s the practicality of this arrangement that has totally won us over.

The bags are the perfect size for one load of laundry, which makes timing the laundry simple: when a basket looks full, we carry it down to the laundry room and dump the load in. The sorting is already done.

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Here’s a wider shot so you can see the dimensions of the bags a little better. That’s our old dresser on the left and a closet door on the right.

The individual bags mean that while a load is being processed, you can leave its empty bag right there in front of the dryer, so that the clean clothes can go right back in to be folded and put away. You don’t get stuck in the situation of already having clean laundry in your laundry basket, but more that needs to come out of the dryer at the same time. Each load has its own container! Which means you can avoid having a giant mountain of clean clothes starting to pile up somewhere.

(Or maybe you’re more on top of your folding/sorting/putting-away game than I ever was… but no, you’re not. You’ve had to sort through Clothes Mountain before, looking for a pair of pants that you eventually find at the bottom of the pile, unbearably wrinkly. I know you have. And I don’t judge. That’s just what happens when you only have one basket.)

But the best, best, BEST feature of this system is that the bags are so easy to carry. They are called “totes” for a reason. The bags are made with light, flexible fabric, and the straps are sturdy and fit comfortably over a shoulder. Which means you can easily carry a bag  while also carrying a baby.

Or while carrying a toddler and 38 weeks pregnant and taking a selfie.

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I know, this picture is not actually that helpful. The straps are on my shoulder, and you can see the white inside part of the basket on the right side of the picture. But still: I could hold a toddler, the laundry basket, AND take a selfie, all while also hugely pregnant. Amazing.

I get a lot of “grand ideas” to revolutionize our life that turn out to be horrible mistakes, but this one totally paid off. So if you’re in need of a laundry solution, think it over. Find a friend who sells for Thirty-One. Ask if they have any specials coming up to get you a discount on the Utility Totes (I know earlier this year at some point the Utility Tote was a monthly deal or something, which meant you could get them for like ten bucks a pop). We’ve been doing our laundry like this for years now, and have no intention of going back to a traditional laundry basket EVER.

Never ever ever.

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Our love is here to stay.

Triviality with a Side of Suffering

Linking up with Kelly once again!

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Time for triviality… and then some suffering.

 

 – 1 –

A scene from my marriage:

 

Husband (admiringly, as I changed into my pajamas at 37 weeks): Man, you are alllll belly.

Me  (thinking of thighs and hips and other things that have also expanded to unprecedented sizes): Well—

Husband (intuiting, interrupting): I don’t want to hear any of your bullsh*t.

 

❤ ❤ ❤

He’s the best.

(I never thought hearing that particular sentence would give me the swoony eyes and a self-esteem boost. Life is weird.)

 

– 2 –

Surprises in the life of a working mom: Last weekend, I discovered that at some point in his childcare career, my son has learned to say “cheese” and smile for a camera.

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When did this happen? Who taught him? Have I been oblivious to this skill for months? Maybe.  Have I been missing out on cute picture opportunities, thinking he wouldn’t sit still and smile? Definitely.

I’ll console myself with the thought that as a firstborn, we’ll still end up with more pictures of him than all future children.

 

– 3 –

Donald Trump is an embarrassment. Josh Groban, however, is a treasure.

 

– 4 –

I’m 38 weeks pregnant, and it is 90 degrees with 80% humidity.

Ugggghhhhh.

Eeeehhhhhhhh.

*Goes to change clothes, which have become sweat-soaked after 15 minutes of sitting perfectly still.*

(Please say a prayer for my husband, who has to listen to my whining on this subject on a daily—if not hourly—basis.)

 

– 5 –

Okay, getting a little less trivial for a minute.

One of the cool things about Catholicism is its deep, deep relationship with suffering. Growing up as a not-very-well-catechized Catholic, I didn’t realize this for a long time. My house did not know the phrase, “Offer it up.” But now I do!

Basically, we believe that by mindfully embracing suffering and offering it through prayer to God, we can unite our pain with Jesus’ on the cross. Just as his suffering was transformed and glorified for the redemption of humanity, our suffering can be used by God to bring about good.

We can offer up our earthly trials to help speed along some souls in Purgatory, or for the intentions of our loved ones, or for anything. God is uniquely capable of bringing good out of bad situations—it’s a part of his power as Creator. So when we offer up our bad situations to Him, He can put them to use and turn them into good things.

It doesn’t lessen the suffering, necessarily, but at least it can make the suffering FOR something, instead of just pain for nothing.

Which is pretty cool.

 

– 6 –

You know what includes plenty of good, meaty suffering?

Labor without drugs. Just the way I like it.

(If “like” is the right word for, “prefer above being strapped to a bed without feeling, even though it hurts quite a bit towards the end there.”)

 

– 7 –

So those last two points were just the build-up to say: got any intentions you’d like me to remember while I’m laboring? This baby is officially full-term, which means it could happen any time in the next few weeks. I’ve got some intentions of my own, but I’d be happy to include any of yours on my list!

Feel free to leave a comment with as much or as little detail as you’d like. Even an anonymous comment for “a personal intention” counts. (God knows who you are and what you need, so it’s okay if I don’t.) Or you can shoot me an email if you’d prefer: littlefiatblog at gmail dot com.

 

Have a wonderful week!

To Share or Not to Share

Sharing. It’s surprisingly controversial these days, huh?

I find the discussions around sharing really interesting. Sure, we only have one son so far, and he has mostly been in daytime care without other kids (or with kids who are significantly older than he)—so it hasn’t become a real issue in our house or our day-to-day life yet. But with #2 due in just two weeks, the days of sharing battles are coming.

We’ll have to decide: make them share, or stand back? The notion of letting kids solve their own social problems is compelling, which would make me lean against forced sharing—but also appealing is the idea of teaching generosity and detachment from “stuff.” As Kendra says, people are more important than things.  (Also, I have an impression that “letting kids solve their own problems” sometimes happens via a lot of yelling and crying and hitting. Which doesn’t sound so great, after all.)

But I am getting distracted.

I actually wanted to talk about the idea that second (or later) children are worse off, because they “have to share” right from the start. First children may get inexperienced parents, but they also get 100% of your attention for their first year or two—uninterrupted nursing sessions; a full-time spotter and cheerleader as they learn to crawl, walk, and climb stairs; immediate kisses for every bumped noggin or bruised shin.

Second children do not always get these things. They can only receive a portion of the parents’ attention, right from the start, because toddlers are not ready to play calmly and independently and safely for hours on end. No, they are not. (Sigh.) Toddlers still need a lot of attention, so the second child’s newborn experience is going to take a hit.

(And suddenly needing to share mom’s and dad’s attention is hard on the firstborn, too—he used to get their undivided attention basically on demand, and now there’s this usurper to the throne on the scene. Pretty jarring.)

Learning to share is hard, and even as adults, we tend to think about it as a negative thing. Sometimes we have to share. Kids have to share. Have to, or else. My turn, then your turn, then MY turn again. My turn!!!

Is that the way we should think about it, though?

It helps me, when I’m feeling disinclined to share, to consider the outrageous generosity of God.

God doesn’t think that we have to share—He thinks that we GET to share. God LOVES sharing. Not in a resigned, habitual, “yes-of-course-I-love-to-eat-my-broccoli” kind of way, but out of pure delight. All of creation, the entire universe, is God’s constant, never-ending celebration of sharing: “Look at all this goodness! I made you, and all of it, just so that we can share it together!”

Adam's all, "Whatevs," but God is like, "No, really! You're gonna love this!"
Adam’s all, “Whatevs,” but God is like, “No, really! You’re gonna love this!”

God didn’t need to create humanity—He is perfect and perfectly self-sufficient. The nature of the Trinity, with three divine persons in one God, means that his very nature includes community and love, so it’s not like he was lonely before creation happened. Our existence is extravagantly generous—He created us simply out of the joy of sharing.

And ultimately, He calls us to imitate that generosity. To share what we have with others, not out of obligation and resigned duty, but out of love. If we have real love for our neighbor, and if our children can experience real love for their siblings, we will be able to truly rejoice in the other person’s enjoyment of whatever we give up when we share.

Have you ever seen something really cool—maybe an unusual sunset, or a double rainbow, or just a weirdly hilarious YouTube video—and you go running to the person closest to you, saying, “You’ve got to see this!” Of course you have. Because deep down we know that sharing things with others makes those experiences even better. Sharing doesn’t mean less stuff to go around, it means more joy to go around.

As St. Francis tells us, “it is in giving that we receive.” Sharing makes us give up some of our stuff, even if only temporarily, but we receive something way better: stronger relationships, happiness, detachment from possessions, and a focus on what’s really important. Those are gifts.

So as baby #2 grows and starts taking away Alex’s stuff, I’m going to try really hard not to repeat too often the idea that Alex “has to” share. Instead, my goal is to say things like, “Isn’t it awesome that you have a brother to share this with? Look how much he loves it! You two can enjoy it together!”

(And no, I’m not so foolish as to think that this will eliminate sibling rivalry, and that my boys will cheerfully hand over their toys and gadgets without a single complaint. We’re all fallen humans, and they have a lot of growing up to do. It’s a process. Sharing doesn’t come easily even to many adults. But it’s good to have a goal line in mind, right?)

Second children may not get the years of undivided attention that their older siblings did, but they get something else—an extra family member from day 1 to love them. An older brother to emulate and to be entertained by. A buddy to hang out with, when mom and dad go out and call in a babysitter.

Having people to share WITH is so, so worth the “cost” of sharing itself.

Sharing

If Today You Feel Like Less of a Mother

Ladies, I am disturbed.

I am disturbed because I keep reading that certain parenting practices may put you in danger of being “less of a mother.” Or that women were reassured when they were told that changing parts of their routine didn’t make them “less of a mother.”

Where is this idea coming from? Motherhood is so much BIGGER than that.

Less of a Mother

No matter what you are struggling with right now, no matter what style of parenting you practice, let me look you in the eye and give it to you straight:

You are not less of a mother.

Breastfeeding? Pumping? Formula feeding?

You are not less of a mother.

Natural childbirth? Epidural? Scheduled C-section? Adoption process?

You are not less of a mother.

Sleep training? Bedsharing? Working long hours out of the house? Staying at home fulltime?

You are not less of a mother!

You find yourself walking through IKEA with your 3 kids, one of whom is sitting in the cart wearing only a diaper and shoes while his clothes are hanging to dry over the side of the cart seat? (Saw that in person last weekend; do not know the backstory; wanted to give the mom a hug and a drink!)

You are NOT LESS OF A MOTHER.

Because what makes a mother? I think you know the answer.

It’s love. Love, responsibility, and nurturing the growth of your children. Shouldering the task, to the best of your ability, of helping them to develop physically, intellectually, spiritually, and emotionally—in stature, strength, understanding, and virtue.

All those specific parenting choices and practices? Those are things that mothers do, but it’s not what makes us mothers. And so changing those practices can’t make us less of a mother, either.

We ARE the mothers. Motherhood is not just a task, it’s a vocation that is part of our identities. It’s impossible to be less of a mother, the same way it’s impossible to be less yourself. You just ARE yourself, and now you are a mother. Each mom has a truly unique role—no one else can take her place in her kids’ lives, no matter how much “better” anybody else might be at parenting. Mothers are not like cogs in a machine, able to be swapped out for another identical piece. You are the specific mother that was given to your specific kids. And nothing can change that. God designed each of you–individually, lovingly, intentionally—to come together as a family for everyone’s mutual good. He entrusted your kids to YOU, forever, on purpose.

You are their mother. Full stop. There is no being “more a mom” or “less of a mom”—there is only being their mom.

Maybe you had hoped to exclusively breastfeed and be a stay-at-home-mom, but for whatever reason, you can’t. Maybe you ARE a stay-at-home mom, and you’re finding it draining and unfulfilling, and you yearn to go back to the office with adults and different kinds of responsibilities. Your plans aren’t working out, through no fault of your own, and despite your best intentions.

That can’t make you less of a mother.

Maybe right now, being a mom feels really, really hard. Maybe some days you hate it, or wish your kids would disappear for an hour or a week. Of course you do! Motherhood is HARD. The thing about vocations is that they are always hard—they have to be, somehow or another, to burn away our selfishness and sin. There’s hopefully plenty of joy to be found, too, but that doesn’t mean every day is sunshine and roses. A lot of days are diaper explosions and runaway toddlers or angry, silent teenagers. That’s difficult! It’s not fun. It’s downright frustrating and infuriating, actually. Maybe you lose your cool, snap, and do or say something you regret.

Maybe you feel like the worst mom on the planet.

But those days and those feelings don’t make you less of a mother, either.

No matter what is going on right now, you are not less of a mother. You love your kids, do the best you can for them every day, and keep on truckin’. What that looks like, exactly, is going to be a million kinds of different for the millions of individual women and families out there, but that’s what really counts.

You are the mother.

You are the mother, and you are doing great.