So Motherhood Is Overwhelming You... Part 1
Updated: May 12, 2021
The sun has finally gone down. Finally. What a day. The kids were little monsters and the house a wreck, so most of your day consisted of damage control. Your husband has been at work all day and has come home tired and hungry. And even though it took some extra effort, you made him a warm, home-cooked meal. So when he gives you that special glance as you're crawling into bed, it's a hard pass. You give him your special "fat chance" look. After all, you're not super woman. You can't do EVERYTHING in one day.
I recently received a request to address a struggle I believe is common to most women as their family morphs from being a romantic twosome to including more and more wriggling, exploring, demanding babies. How to keep being a good wife when the kids are draining you dry?
As a first-time mom, things haven't gotten quite THAT crazy yet. With Emory's birth, our relationship definitely underwent some strain, and I'm balancing a lot more things than when it was just us two, but all the same, I don't think I can compare my struggle with that of a mom that has 3 or 4 little havoc - wreakers in tow. So I'm not an authority on this topic. But I did want to give answering this question the old college try, especially because we can glean so much wisdom about experiences we have yet to encounter simply by gazing into God's Word which we know is "God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Including excellent, God-honoring wifehood and motherhood.
The Why, The What, the How
Let's talk about why we might be overwhelmed and tired, mamas. I do want to specify that I'm addressing a recurring problem of being completely overwhelmed by motherhood and therefore neglecting our husbands. In the little situation at the introduction of my post, it's totally understandable that a wife would turn down her husband. And there will be plenty of situations where we can't give our husbands the attention they need. My post is for those women who find themselves chronically neglecting the needs of their husbands because they are finding themselves too overwhelmed or consumed by caring for their children.
I will be dividing the topic into two parts:
Part 1 will offer some insight into why we might be constantly feeling unable to handle both roles, and especially why we may be overwhelmed by our role as mothers.
Part 2 will clarify what a husband's needs are and discuss how to fulfill them by giving a few practical solutions to meeting them when our attention is divided.
So without further ado, let's dig into some reasons why motherhood might be overwhelming us.
Fun fact: though this blog post will run long, you don't actually have to read through all of these sections. I organized them into headings so you can skip ahead to the one you think you might be struggling with and focus on those. So why might you be feeling chronically overwhelmed by motherhood? Here are just a few things that come to mind:
We're Leaning Into Our Own Strength
The best example I can give is one from my own life. That's because currently, I'm smack in the middle of what feels like a blustery sea. The waves are big and there is no stability, no rock to hold onto other than the Rock, which is Christ. We are in the middle of selling our home, moving into my parents' home, and preparing to move to a completely different country an ocean away. All on my own, I'd be an anxious wreck (and I have my moments) - but they are just moments because I know that there's a solution for feeling like I'm dealing with something far bigger than I have strength for. God. I have a resource of infinite strength that is ever-present and completely free to me. I access it by faith, and find strength to remain peaceful and calm in difficult moments.
The same goes for motherhood - which in many ways I think is very similar to the turbulence I'm dealing with in the sense that there is so much being thrown at us all at the same time that it can be extremely difficult to find our footing, our balance, our rock to stand on in the middle of the waves. Sure, they aren't waves of sadness or transition, but they are waves all the same - waves of demands being made on us.
Here are a couple things to realize if we find that the "demands" of motherhood and wifehood are completely overwhelming us. First of all, God has promised that He doesn't give us more than we can deal with. In1 Corinthians 10:13 we are told that, "No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it."
"Beyond your ability" is a key part of this verse. It means that we won't be put in a situation that is beyond our ability to handle. Sure, it may be far beyond our human ability to conquer, but not beyond our ability. The next part of the verse explains how this is possible "He will provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it."
We have God's guarantee that there is absolutely no life situation that is beyond our ability to react to with holiness - as long as we are empowered with His strength.
The second thing to realize is that if we find ourselves constantly drained dry - we come to the end of our day and we are absolutely at the rock bottom end of our physical/emotional/mental strength, we may be habitually relying on our own personal store of resources to deal with the things God has prepared for us that day. Like habitually. What I mean is that it is so engrained with us that we have to meet every challenge by digging into ourselves for more patience, more ingenuity, more energy, more emotional strength that we do it every single day and in every single situation. Some days this may work and we come to the end of our day with everything accomplished. Some days it may not work and we proceed to beat ourselves up for all our failures. Regardless of our perceived success, however, we are drained dry.
There's a far better way that's actually not an "option;" it's commanded in Scripture. And it's actually commanded because it will lead to a more healthy, happy, fruitful life. God calls us to practice meeting the demands of our day with His strength, not our own. To understand this better, I want to use a popular analogy; I invite you to think of yourself as a cup full of water. Some days you start out full. Some days you're half empty before the day has started. Regardless, if you are called to pour out of it time after time throughout the day, by the end, you are drained dry because you are pouring out of your scarcity (you actually need all that water too). Now imagine that the cup is perpetually held under a faucet. You are so full; you are overflowing.
Whenever we are called to pour into others, we give from the overflow and remain full ourselves.
Dear mama, encountering the demands of motherhood and wifehood when we are plugged into God's perpetual, never-ending strength will result in not only meeting ALL of the demands (neither neglecting our children or our husbands) but also in a feeling of fullness at the end of our day. Sure, we will be tired. But not drained dry. It's a distinctly different feeling that only walking by the Spirit can bring. To fulfill the roles of both wife and mother in an excellent way, we truly need God's strength and not our own.
We Need To Feel Needed
In his book The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis talks about the phenomenon "Need-love," a love that we helplessly and dependently need. For example, a newborn baby requires "Need-love" because it is born totally dependent on the love of its parents. He contrasts this with "Gift-love" which is pure and disinterested love directed at someone with no hope of return. God's love towards us is Gift-love.
However, C.S. Lewis then explores a tension that exists between the two:
The importance of this image is that it presents us at the very outset with a certain paradox. The Need and Need-love of the young is obvious; so is the Giftlove of the mother. She gives birth, gives suck, gives protection. On the other hand, she must give birth or die. She must give suck or suffer. That way, her Affection too is a Need-love. There is the paradox. It is a Need-love but what it needs is to give. It is a Gift-love but it needs to be needed.
I think this is a really insightful way to state the fact that though our children may need us, we as mothers often need to be needed, in rather a selfish way. God gifts us with totally dependent, sweet little babies, and we feel deeply that they need us to survive; they need us to feed them, wash them, clothe them, rock them to sleep, guard them, help them when they fall, support them in their growth and development. As pleasant and life-giving as this role may be, however, it presents us with a distinct danger. We can fall in love with being needed. This is a sinful reaction to embracing our roles as mothers.
C. S. Lewis goes on to explains what the true goal of motherhood should be:
It is easy to see how liability to this state is, so to speak, congenital in the maternal instinct. This, as we saw, is a Gift-love, but one that needs to give; therefore needs to be needed. But the proper aim of giving is to put the recipient in a state where he no longer needs our gift. We feed children in order that they may soon be able to feed themselves; we teach them in order that they may soon not need our teaching. Thus a heavy task is laid upon this Gift-love. It must work towards its own abdication. We must aim at making ourselves superfluous. The hour when we can say "They need me no longer" should be our reward.
C.S. Lewis is trying to say that a mother's love should be focused on making itself unnecessary. If we fall into the trap of needing to be needed, we will no longer be focused on raising children that are well-adjusted and independent - that would make us unnecessary and we can't handle that. We will subconsciously always be inventing things to do for our children, some of them truly unnecessary, that not only put them in the position of constantly needing us but overstretch us to our limit. And curiously, at the end of our day, when we fall into bed absolutely exhausted, we feel a little burst of fulfillment and meaning that we were so "useful" without realizing that we are actually sinning and acting selfishly. As C.S. Lewis puts it, "But where it does not, the ravenous need to be needed will gratify itself either by keeping its objects needy or by inventing for them imaginary needs. It will do this all the more ruthlessly because it thinks (in one sense truly) that it is a Gift-love and therefore regards itself as 'unselfish.'"
C.S. Lewis observes that a "much higher love [is] a love which desires the good of the object [the children]."
This is regardless of whether they need us or not. This means we welcome when they can begin to feed themselves or sleep on their own, and allow them to do that. We lift some of the burden off of ourselves, even though it makes us more and more unnecessary, because we care more about raising a child that can stand on her own two feet rather than a child that will be calling us desperately crying from her college dorm because she is so dependent on her mother.
Dear mama, I know that your whole heart is truly to help your child, because mine is too. As godly mothers, by God's Spirit, we can set aside any selfishness that creeps into our loving child-rearing. Our goal is to teach the little ones to be more and more independent and make ourselves more and more unnecessary, no matter how that may pain us. Especially if we have been subconsciously "inventing" needs, this will lift the unbearable load that we are feeling and free us up to focus more on our husband and the rest of our God-ordained roles.
We Have An Idol
This ties in so closely with the need to feel needed that I wanted to place the sections right next to each other. I think a very real temptation that comes with being gifted the role of motherhood is misunderstanding that a role is not an identity. We become mothers, and it opens up a whole new world to us. All of a sudden we are needed, we are important, and we feel deeply meaningful. It's understandable that Satan uses this key transition moment to sell us a lie. We begin to believe that our motherhood is our to our identity. The moment that we start believing that, we set up an idol for ourselves; the saddest idol of all, I think. Our very own children.
I say this - and I could be wrong - but I don't personally think that we can idolize our own children without it somehow coming back to a belief we have that is feeding our own ego. Either we begin to treat our children as the center of the world purely because they are ours, or we think that somehow, through their successes we can redeem our own mistakes and failures. We maybe need them to feel needed, as discussed above, or find our deepest meaning and greatest talent in being mothers. But I do see this as a real danger to myself and any other woman that becomes a mother. It is so, so easy to slip into finding our meaning and identity in being a mother. And so everything in life comes back to the kids. We stop thinking even about ourselves too much, except as it relates to the kids. We stop developing our own interests and hobbies, we stop pouring into our relationship with our husband, we even stop working in the church and for God's kingdom except as it relates to the kids (example: we'll teach Sunday school, but only so long as our kids are in that age group). We stop taking care of our looks beyond what is necessary. We stop really caring about anything that doesn't relate to the kids.
Dear mama, this is not healthy motherhood. If we find ourselves wholly consumed by raising our children, consider that we may somehow be hinging our identity on being their mothers. Consider how this might affect "needing to be needed" and what we will do when they fly the coop and the whole basis of our identity is suddenly threatened. As Spirit-led mothers, we can actively focus on growing and developing ourselves as a Christ-followers. We can co-work with God on a healthy, well-balanced fulfillment of all our roles: serving in the church and growing God's kingdom, being godly and supportive wives, taking time to bless and pour into our girlfriends, being caring sisters and daughters, as well as nurturing and raising healthy, God-fearing children.
We're Trying To Meet The Wrong Standard
When I first had my daughter, I was shocked to find out that there is no consensus on how to raise a child. You can spend hours and hours in the bottomless hole that Google is and come away with lots of different theories and expert opinions on how to best raise your littles. I think that in our efforts to do our job to the best of our abilities, however, we can create an unreal expectation for ourselves. We can attempt to meet every expectation that the experts recommend for raising children (and as the years pass, the list will only grow because often there is money to be made in recommending wipe-warmers and ultra-specific organic formula). And in doing so, we can create a false standard for what "good" motherhood is. That is to say, if we fail to cross off all the "very important things my baby needs," we can feel like complete and utter failures when this is in fact far from the truth.
God's Word defines the most crucial things in raising a child. We are to raise them in the fear of the Lord, read them Scripture and have them memorize it, take them faithfully and punctually to the gathering of the saints which is the church, teach them to serve the body of Christ, model a Spirit-led life, pray for them, etc. Secondarily, we are to fulfill our roles of providers and guardians responsibly, making sure they are fed, clothed, washed, and protected.
It's not that the research isn't important, but the issues is that often, we become so over-burdened by meeting the worldly, scientific standard we have set for ourselves that we neglect the actually crucial things. We become unable to take our child to church because they need to stick to a research-based bed-time schedule. We are drained from providing them with intelligence-stimulating and body-strengthening activities all day and don't have time for spirit-strengthening - we neglect to read the Bible and pray with them before bed. Our time is so consumed with researching and shopping for the best organic meals to feed them, finding the latest scientifically-supported toys and play methods, taking them to the best therapists and counselors, working to be able to afford the best of the best that the world recommends - that we neglect our personal relationship with God and model a life that bases its hope on the knowledge of the world rather than the knowledge of God. We measure our success as parents based on what scientists say rather than on what God has to say.
If we overburden ourselves trying to meet the world's requirements, we will have little time or energy left to meet God's requirements. He will get the leftovers, and God doesn't do leftovers. He's the King of Kings.
As mothers, we need to shift our focus and our priorities. I'm NOT saying stop researching and that science doesn't know anything. Not at all. I think it's a responsible thing to know what is best for our children in terms of care. What I AM saying is that we need to prayerfully set our priorities straight. The most important measure of health, good development, and success of our children is their spiritual health. We should prioritize that, make sure their basic survival needs are met, and then where and when we can, fit in the extra stuff that is supposed to make them smart, healthy, and well-adjusted. Besides the fact that the smartest, most successful and well-adjusted child who goes to hell is a total loss, I truly believe that God honors those who put His requirements first and blesses their children with intelligence, success, and a healthy, thriving, blessed life.
Dear mama, the most important way that we put God's requirements first is by modeling a Spirit-filled life for our children. This includes nurturing a healthy and loving relationship with our husbands where we are meeting and prioritizing his needs as well as those of the children. Kids hear what we say, but it is by watching what we do that they decide whether or not they want to buy into the things we are teaching. Let's meet first the standard God sets, and leave the leftovers of our time and energy for what the world recommends. We have God's most trustworthy word that He WILL honor us and our loved ones if we honor Him first.
We Need To Improve In Organization And Discipline
This is kind of a simple, obvious one that I don't want to spend a lot of time on, but it can be a real problem and actually one I personally struggle with. Often times, I find motherhood overwhelming simply because I am falling prey to lack of discipline and organization. I can stay up too late at night and so not wake up early enough to really dig into God's Word and pray. I can get lazy to do things at the proper time and then have to play a very overwhelming game of catch-up where I'm trying to do the laundry, cook, clean, and take care of Emmie all at the same time. I can fail to schedule events properly or take time to plan out my day in such a way that things flow smoothly.
This is just an obvious sin problem of laziness, lack of discipline and time-management. I feel like I can't even sugarcoat it much because it's something I'm constantly struggling with so I'm more preaching to myself here. It comes down to whether we choose to live by the Spirit or by the flesh at the beginning of our day. For all of us, that determines the outcome of our day - our behaviors and choices. One truth that I have found very helpful is the passage in Ecclesiastes 3 that says:
1 For everything there is a time a season, or everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
2 a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; 3 a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
and so on.... God is very clear throughout Scripture that there is a right time for everything and that we are to work towards developing wisdom and diligence in how we organize and use our time. In Ephesians 5: 15-16 we are commanded, "Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil." In Psalm 90:12, Moses prays "So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom." And in 1 Corinthians 14:40, we are reminded "But all things should be done decently and in order" (though this verse, in context, is referring to church organization, the principle still applies that God is a God of order and organization).
Dear mama, the reason these verses are so encouraging is because they make us confident that there is a time that is "exactly right" to do each task of our day and that there is a Spirit-led way to organize our responsibilities so that we can accomplish what we need to without floundering. As long as we are staying plugged into God's power and wisdom, we find ourselves able to smoothly accomplish our most important tasks and feel that we are in control rather than being controlled by our responsibilities.
We're Not Actively Pursuing Biblical, Excellent Motherhood
I'm not exactly sure how to put this, but I felt this section was a real struggle for some people, so I wanted to include it. I think what I'm trying to say is that sometimes we just float along. We just do our human best, or not e
ven that, just check the box and hope for the best. We get stressed if the situation is stressful, snapping at our husband and children. We get overwhelmed if we're in an overwhelming situation,
breaking down and crying or throwing a mini, adult temper tantrum. We neglect things if we feel we can't accomplish everything and shrug it off. We get angry when people anger us; we get depressed when tragedy strikes. We lounge around when we're tired and over-stretch ourselves when we have a burst of motivation. We just go with the flow of our circumstances and allow the flesh to respond to external stimuli without fighting much against the current. We're not motivated to be an excellent wife and mother; we just want to get through it so that we can do the things that we enjoy.
To those struggling w
ith this type of passivity, my best advice is to find out what it is that we do care about. We all care about something. We all have a passion, even if it's not acknowledged. Even if it's as simple as comfort or entertainment - we fight to get through our day so we can stretch out on our comfy bed
and watch mind-numbing Netflix shows. We all care about and enjoy something, and are driven to gain it. But this is a sin just like any other, and it requires repentance.
Something key to understand if we find ourselves here is that if Christ is our Lord and Savior, we are called to align not only our lives, but our loves to Him.
Dear mama, let us pray and seek the Spirit's heart-change so that instead of going through our day to get to what we
enjoy, we live in such a way that God is genuinely Who we enjoy. He is truly able to transform our passions and interests so that they are centered on loving and enjoying Him and Who He is. We may not feel like pursuing this change, but as an obedient child of God, we must if you want to live pleasing to Him. Let's look past our feelings and simply obey. And when we come to enjoy Him, we will automatically start caring about reacting in holy ways to the circumstances and trig
gers around us.
God has called all of us to balance many roles and entrusted us with many responsibilities. For those of us who are wives and mothers, we consider these roles to be equally important and our top priority. But ultimat
ely, they're not. Our top priority is actually our role as a child of God, and the more we pursue living in holiness and deepening our relationship with Him, the more we will stop living our own dead life and the fruitful, balanced, beautiful and loving life of Christ will live in and through us. I hope some of these thoughts were helpful in identifying what higher plane the Spirit is leading you to, next. You have 24/7 access to God's power and Spirit, Who was sent to help you. That's how I know you can do it.
...for it is God who w
orks in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.
P H I L L I P I A N S 2 : 1 3
Stay tuned for Part II where we will discuss what our husbands needs are and practical ways to fulfill them when it's not a sin problem and the demands of motherhood are just A LOT!!
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