“MOM!!! HARRY IS TOUCHING MY DINOSAUR BOOK!”
The cry of this capital injustice rings out through the house at the exact moment I sit down to finally have some coffee. Maybe they’ll figure it out on their own this time… I take a sip, realizing too late that the coffee has already gone cold.
“MOM! He is RIPPING IT!” Cue shrieks, the faint thump of a toddler-sized punch, and cries from everyone involved.
“What is going on!?” I walk into the playroom, frustrated about the cold coffee and the fighting siblings only to find the previously clean room completely coated with magna-tiles, duplo legos, and ripped up Tyrannosaurus-rex laden pages.
It’s only 9am, for goodness sakes, and it feels like I’ve done nothing but break up squabbles and correct bad behavior all morning. And then from the kitchen I hear: “Oh MAN! Mom, I spilled the orange juice!”
And I promptly turn into a real life version of the exploding head emoji.
As I help my oldest mop up orange juice from the kitchen table and make a mental note to find the scotch tape, it seems like the whole day is heading south, and my attitude is going down with it.
I expected the day would go smoothly. I expected the boys to play nicely together. I expected the playroom to stay tidy, the orange juice my six year old poured herself to stay in it’s glass, and to drink a hot cup of coffee in peace. I basically expected a completely perfect Tuesday morning. And when those expectations inevitably bottomed out, disappointment naturally ensued.
And though it is true that as motherhood is filled with daily blessings, it’s also filled with trials that can put us to the test. There’s no problem in feeling momentarily annoyed by clearly annoying events. But an issue can arise when unmet expectation after unmet expectation evolves into chronic discouragement.
When left unchecked, these kinds of disappointments can aggregate into a conglomerate film which tarnishes our outlook on motherhood as a whole.
Hope is the remedy
Theologically, the virtue of hope is a deep trust that the ultimate battle for salvation has been won, and a calm assurance that we will one day share in the victory by way of His grace alone. Hope is like spiritual armor for despair.
Still, an important question remains: how can we maintain and practice hope in motherhood when every day brings events both big and small that don’t shake out the way we expect them to?
We all hope the baby will sleep perfectly, the pregnancy weight will fall off promptly, the toddler will be charming and agreeable, our work will be valued and applauded, and that the house will stay clean for more than five minutes. And often we feel sharp disappointment when those expectations inevitably implode.
And on days when we tirelessly bounce the crying baby, try on the jeans that still don’t fit, put the toddler in time out for the seventy thousandth time, and gaze around at toys strewn all over the floor, it is human to feel undervalued and disenchanted; “This is not how I expected motherhood to be,” we might grumble.
In adjusting our aim, we free our ability to navigate motherhood with hope
In Jordan Peterson’s lectures on personality, he asserts that “What you aim at determines the way the world manifests itself to you. If the world is manifesting itself in a very negative way, one thing to ask is: are you aiming at the right thing?”
This idea changed my outlook on motherhood. I thought I was aiming and hoping for good things. After all, siblings who get along, a house that stays relatively tidy, and drinking coffee while it’s still hot are all very good things. But it only took about a minute of honest thinking to see what I was really aiming at and hoping for was ease.
And every mother knows that if you’re hoping for ease, you’re bound to be disappointed. And if you’re chronically disappointed, it can be hard to be hopeful.
So when I find myself feeling bogged down or despondent because it seems motherhood is falling short of my expectations, I try to re-assess and adjust my aim. I do this by asking myself these questions:
What’s my overall goal here, as a mother? What am I aiming at, and how much of my disappointment is associated with the fact that I am aiming at the wrong thing?
Humans are goal-oriented, target-seeking creatures, so much so that we see the world not as a place of things, but as a collection of advantages and hindrances toward achieving our goals and hitting our targets (Peterson).
Take the way we might see an upended basket of toys. If we’re preparing for guests, we see this as a hindrance. It’s literally getting in the way of our goal of a neat house. But hours later, if we’re hurriedly searching for a child’s nighttime blanket, that same upended toy bin can be a helpful thing in quickly determining said blanket’s location.
Our aims, goals, and hopes shape the way we see the world.
So, is there a transcendent aim, goal, or hope that helps us see motherhood, trials and all, in a positive way?
Changing our expectations
When our ability to see motherhood in a positive light feels inhibited by the weight of incessant disappointments, instead of cursing the world and the sibling squabbles and the way our toddler always asks for a snack the exact moment we plan to sit down for a dang second, we can pivot.
Instead of aiming for less difficulty and feeling distraught every time adversity rears its ugly head, we could voluntarily embrace unpredictability, ripped dinosaur books, and spilled orange juice as very real, recurring trials that, if met properly, might make us better.
This may seem like an overcomplicated way of saying “lower your expectations so you’re never disappointed,” but really, adjusting our aim in motherhood is fundamentally about raising our expectations. Instead of aiming for ease, we aim higher, and redefine our goal to meet the inevitable challenges with patience, courage, and hope. Not only could this shift in aim alleviate some negative emotion, but it could also make us better mothers.
Siblings will bicker. Babies will skip naps. Toddlers will color on furniture. Someone will always forget shoes, or spill the orange juice, or be extra clingy right when you’re feeling touched out.
And if my aim is ease, I will be perpetually disappointed by these inevitable occurrences. But if I aim to expect and seize these moments, annoying as they are, and meet them with patience, courage, and hope, maybe I can mitigate the degree to which that disappointment negatively shapes my perspective on motherhood.
Maybe I can carve out space to grow in hope.
Because the fact of the matter is that in this life, hope must direct and guide us every step of the way. After all, life, and motherhood with it, is nothing short of a very beautiful, but very tumultuous voyage on a storm prone sea. And if we are to weather the storms, both big and small, while maintaining a capacity to be mothers who are hopeful always, we must make sure we’re ready, and aiming for the proper things.
Embracing the reality of motherhood with courage might keep the heavy chain of recurring disappointment from lowering our necks in despair, and unfetter our ability to look up lovingly and hopefully at the beauty of our vocation as mothers.
*Peterson, Jordan B. Maps of Meaning: the Architecture of Belief. Routledge, 1999.
Photo by Emily Hannon