The Joy Thief
From the time that Claire was a child, she dreamt of being a mommy. She would play with her stuffed animals and baby dolls for hours- rocking them, singing to them, and putting them to bed. She loved dreaming of the day when she would walk down the aisle, marry her "Prince Charming", and have her first baby. She wanted nothing else in life.
Much to her delight, everything went just as she had planned. She got married young, and with stars in her eyes and joy in her heart, she entered married life with high hopes and expectations.
Imagine her and her husband's delight, when, just a month after her wedding day, she took a pregnancy test and a positive showed up within minutes! She couldn't be happier. Life was perfect, and nothing could take away the joy that she had.
Nine months to the day after her wedding, Claire became a Mommy. As she gazed into the perfect face of her firstborn son, she felt deep, overwhelming love wash over her. Nothing could take away her joy. Nothing.
So she thought. Reality hit as soon as Claire came home from the hospital. The baby boy cried all the time. He was asleep the whole day, and then awake the whole night. Claire's milk came in. She was engorged, and in pain. Her baby wouldn't eat, so she had to pump and try to feed him the milk in a tiny bottle. She had to have blood tests because he was jaundiced, and it wasn't getting better. She was tired. And sore. And a little bit in shock. This is not what she imagined. The blogs she read never shared this side of motherhood. All she had read had made her think that breastfeeding was going to be the most natural, wonderful thing in the world. No one told her that a baby born a month early might just want to sleep all the time, and never eat. No one told her about the engorgement, and the constant let downs, and the nursing pads, and the pain, and the struggle that breastfeeding would be! She started comparing herself to other mothers. What was her problem? Suzy from the wildly popular mommy blog didn't go through all this trouble. Something must be wrong with her.
She felt a little of her joy slipping away.
Then Claire got pregnant again. Only four months after her first child. She now had a fussy four month old, and nausea and sickness on top of that. She felt awful most of the time, yet she still had to cook, and clean, and nurse, and take care of a baby. She read of other moms in the same situation. They were handling it with grace, while she felt like she was falling apart. Surely something was really wrong with her.
She felt more joy slipping away.
A few years into her marriage, Claire was pregnant with child number three. She felt like she muddled through each day, every task mundane to her. No one told her or prepared her for the tedious tasks of being a stay at home mom to little people. She felt like all she did, all day long, was wipe snotty noses, change diapers, cook, clean, go to sleep, clean up vomit, wipe some more noses, and do it all over again the next day. Everything she read about being a stay at home mom was about the blessings of staying home. How joyful they were to be able to stay home. How rosy life was. How perfect their little family was.
Claire looked around her house. She looked at the strewn papers everywhere, the toys, the crackers, the dust, and the grime. She couldn't even keep her house clean, much less her kids! What was wrong with her? Compared to other moms, she was really failing.
And even more joy slipped away.
Life continued on. It was hard. So hard. Nothing had prepared her for the sheer exhaustion that motherhood brings. Nothing prepared her for the long, grueling hours of being up with a puking child, or grocery shopping with four little kids. Nothing prepared her for the Mommy guilt. Night after night, she would lay staring at the ceiling, knowing that she should be sleeping during the hours the kids were, but feeling crushed by despair and guilt that plagued her heart and mind. What if she was messing her kids up? What if she wasn't enough? And surely she wasn't enough. I mean, everyone on social media had it together so much more than her. They were happy, in beautiful homes, and perfectly groomed children. No dirty houses there! Everything looked pristine and spotless, and she could even smell the aroma of cookies through the phone screen. She was such a failure.
And so the joy slipped away.
Gone was the sparkle in her eyes. Gone was the stardust, and the happy feelings, and the happiness that used to flood her heart. Gone was the joy. And she hated herself for it.
Until the day came when she was reading through Isaiah. Even with Bible reading, she felt like a failure- because she didn't even manage to get to that every day. She tried, oh, how she tried. But between homeschooling, and cleaning, and cooking, and being everything for her kids, she often failed at even finding time to open her Bible. But somehow, she had managed to make it to Isaiah in her Bible reading. And she stumbled across Isaiah 40:11.
Isaiah 40:11- He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.
Claire read it again. And again. And suddenly, a spark lit in her heart. The verse reached into her very soul and breathed life into it. God saw! God understood! He knew that Mamas needed to be led gently! God understood how very hard the job of being a Mama was!
Claire thought back over her life as a Mama. She remembered how, in each situation where she lost a little bit of her joy, it was always when she was comparing herself to someone else. She never felt good enough compared to Suzy down the street. She never measured up to Diana. She always felt bad when she saw pictures of Laura's kids. Her house was never clean enough. Never cute enough. Never decorated enough. She was never thin enough. So many moms she knew lost the weight as soon as they had the baby! She gained ten pounds with each pregnancy! She sighed. And then shook her head.
Why was she always comparing herself to other moms? God said in Isaiah that he would gently lead those with young. He didn't say, "I will lead those that have it all together", or, "I will lead those who are perfect at this mother thing." No. He said he would gently lead THOSE that are with young. He saw every Mama. And he was going to lead all of them gently.
Claire's joy didn't magically return after reading that verse. But, it woke her up. She was done comparing herself to other Moms. Sure, she was overwhelmed and stressed at times. Sure, her house wasn't perfect, and her kids were dirty a lot of the time, and she felt like a failure more often than not. But her husband was happy. Her kids were happy. She was living her childhood dream, and that made her happy.
And when Claire's two year old brought her dandelions, a little bit of joy came back. When her son told her he loved her, and wrote her a sweet note, more joy flooded her heart. When she tucked all her babies in bed every night, and watched them sweetly snore, even more joy came back.
But it wasn't until Claire stopped comparing herself to every other mom that she had stars in her eyes once again and joy in her heart.
For you see, comparison is the thief of joy. It peers into the windows of our soul. It knows what we lack in, and it makes us focus on only those things. It tells us we aren't good enough, or brave enough, or smart enough to be a good Mom. It tries stealing away all the joy that once used to flood out hearts.
Comparison is the thief of joy, and it's also a liar. Because honestly, none of us are perfect. None of us have it all together. We all have dust in our houses. We all have dirty kids sometimes. We all cook a frozen pizza on hectic nights. We all yell when we shouldn't, and pick fights with our husbands even though we know it's stupid and petty. We are all broken people, living in a broken world. We battle daily against our flesh, and our laziness, and our insecurities. The human race is, and always has been, pretty much the same.
I know Claire well, because I am Claire. And it wasn't until I decided that I was done comparing myself to other women, that I finally started getting my joy back. I was the starry eyed bride, and the young mother. I was also the mother on the edge of burnout. I had to firmly tell myself that I was done letting comparison steal my joy. No more would he be my joy thief.
I am still not perfect, nor do I have it all together. But I no longer compare myself to other moms. I am who I am. My children aren't perfect, and they don't have it all together, but they are mine. I love them fiercely.
And I find joy, oh so much joy, in being their Mama.