Soon after our son was born, I developed a somewhat standard response to check-in questions: “Hard and best.” That’s how I described my transition into motherhood. Because it felt impossible to mention one without the other. The sleep deprivation without the joy, the loneliness without the fulfillment, the loss of one identity without the discovery of another.
Eventually, I graduated to the blessing sandwich.
You know, the “I’m grateful I get to stay home with him. Sure, sometimes it’s isolating. But I feel really fortunate to have this time together.” Or the, “He’s a really happy baby. Still not sleeping through the night. But all the smiles during the day make up for it.”
One good thing. One hard thing. One good thing again.
Just to prove that this journey is in fact better than it is difficult. That I love it more than I struggle through it. That for every moment I’m on the verge of impatient tears, there are two more that I’m grinning and grateful. That if motherhood was a contest, and you could love your way to a victory, I would win.
And then, somewhere in the midst of all the thanksgiving, with noticeable shame rising within me, I sheepishly admit the rest.
I share the way I struggle as my mom brain fails to produce a big words or deep thoughts. How I sometimes feel like I live in a continuous loop of “when’s the last time you pooped?” and mindless errands. That it’s tough to silence the comparisons, resentments, and insecurities of my mind. How I grapple with the question of where I measure, what I’m bringing to the table, and whether or not I’m doing enough.
When I see other women who appear to be seamlessly juggling their careers and their families, I find myself thinking, “I’m just a mom.” Or when my husband tells me about his day at work, and I report back that we read books, played with blocks on the floor, and took a walk around the neighborhood, I leave out the part about feeling lonely when I saw other women talking between their yards. Or when the cashier at Target asks me if I did anything exciting over the weekend and it suddenly seems a little lame to admit that shopping at Target was the cool thing we did.
At the end of the day, I let it be known that even in the midst of tough moments, I’d never trade the life I have. I carry on about how I can hardly remember my life without our son in it. I express all the joy, pride, and appreciation I feel. I speak aloud my gratitude for the family we’ve created, for the home we’ve settled into, for the experiences we’ve had that have led us to where we are.
But somewhere along the way, I discovered that what I need more than this curated blend and imagined balance of blessing sandwiches is grace.
Grace to stop conflating the way that I feel with the love that I have.
Grace to allow the complexity and contradiction of the messy and beautiful, empty and full, doubting and trusting, and hard and good of this season, without explanation.
Grace to get through the worst, to cherish the best, and to live within the ebb and flow of the two.
Grace to know that having bad days doesn’t make me a bad mom and that having the best days doesn’t mean I’ve perfected the gig. It simply grants me space to feel both, at once or neither.