I became a mother at the end of summer. That following spring, a mother bird built a nest on my front door wreath. I was instantly fascinated by her industry and dedication. When I discovered eggs in the nest, I, too, became committed to the babies’ survival!
After this mother diligently sat on her eggs for a week or so, they hatched, and three tiny baby birds came to life. (On my front door!) I loved hearing their tiny squeaky cries for food, and loved to see their skinny necks reaching outward and upward, open-beaked, knowing that their mother was on her way. I was amazed at how quickly their fuzz turned to feathers.
Too soon, my baby birds—my fledglings, now—left the nest. One day I came home to find it empty. They had left a little trail of nest debris on my doorstep as they hopped away: not quite flying yet, but in the process of learning how to fly.
Now, at this point, one may expect that I will compare myself to the mother bird. But really, I am a fledgling: I do not yet know how to fly.
I have a son who is three-and-a-half and a sixteen-month-old daughter. As I struggle to nurture them, I often feel like a fledgling that has fallen from the nest but has forgotten that she can still walk: overwhelmed and incapacitated. The incessant demands of a preschooler and toddler are draining and exhausting. I taught junior high English for seven years, but even that doesn’t compare to how taxing my stay-at-home mothering feels sometimes!
So, after those most difficult days, how do I wake up the next morning and start trying to nurture again? My strength comes from being a woman of faith. My Heavenly Father did not send me my children to fail them! My relationship with God also reminds me how much he values me as not solely a mother, but an individual. I often let the needs of my children overshadow my own personal needs, but that leaves me feeling even worse!
Neill F. Marriott, a leader in my church, taught, “We build the kingdom [of God] when we nurture others. However, the first child of God we must nurture is ourselves.” I find her counsel even more significant as I recognize that this advice comes from a mother of eleven children. (!!) If Neill can find time to nurture herself and her large family, there’s no good reason why I cannot!
However, I’m only in the beginning stages of learning how to nurture myself so I can nurture others. I think I’ve harbored the misconception that if I’m not always selflessly sacrificing my time for my children—and smiling while I do so—I am not a “good” mother. In this comparison-laden world of social media and information saturation, it’s too easy to feel that, just because I’m not nurturing my children the same way that “others” are, I must be doing something wrong.
But I am doing many things right—things that nurture my family and me.
I had an epiphany about this today.
One aspect of stay-at-home mothering that I struggle with most is the isolation I feel. After working in a very social profession that I loved for seven years, I still am adjusting to the “stay-at-home” part of my current job description. Connecting with others through social media is one antidote to that (although it’s definitely not foolproof…that comparing thing again…). After a quick social-media check during breakfast, for the rest of the morning, I try to only use my phone to take pictures or do a quick text to my husband. So, while I feed lunch to my kids, I usually catch-up on social media on my phone, standing at my kitchen island, while I shuttle food back-and-forth and meet the needs of my children.
However, during lunch today—perhaps because this nurturing topic was on my mind—I decided to dock my phone and play the “Toddler Radio” Pandora station instead. And it was delightful! My preschooler son was tickled pink to hear songs he recognized, he and I both loved signing along, and my little daughter was grinning her jack-o-lantern grin to see us both so engaged and happy.
And then, in the middle of all this unexpected happiness, it hit me: I can nurture myself as I nurture my children. Those acts of nurturing do not have to be mutually exclusive!
I have always loved music; I grew up in a musical home and have sung to my children every day of their lives. But I’ve felt like I should listen to music with my children more. As we enjoyed music together today, I felt more connected to my children—that need of mine was actually met by them! I didn’t have to momentarily escape into social media to feel that personal connection that I crave.
(Important side-note: I will still always be on Facebook and Instagram. I live too far away from most people that I love to ever quit social media! However, it was an epiphany to me today that my children could actually help fill that “social connection” need too.)
I may not ever be the “crafty” mom whose social media feed is full of the creations she and her children make, but I am already the mom who crafts reading time into each day. It nurtures my heart when I witness my children falling in love with reading, as I have.
I may not ever sew my children an article of clothing, but I do nurture feelings of accomplishment and gratitude when I find and purchase cute outfits for my children…especially when they are on sale!
I may not ever push my kids in a running stroller while I train for a half-marathon, but it still nurtures my soul when I take the time to walk to the park with my children and enjoy the sunshine with them.
Though sharing these few examples does buoy up my confidence, I know I still have a lot of room to improve my self-perceptions of my nurturing. Tomorrow’s challenges might obscure today’s insights—I’m still a fledgling in many ways! But, I know I will feel more balanced as a person when I consistently feel more confident in my nurturing choices for myself and my family.
I have renewed hope that I, too, will learn how to fly.