Is this us?

by Chelsea Kathleen Johns

I know we’re all obsessed with Jack and Rebecca’s Crock-Pot this week. Sitting nervously on the edge of our loveseats, we’ll be waiting for the Super Bowl to end so we can find out the truth about what really happened to Jack. But, can we rewind the tape and replay something else real quick?

Will all the moms who found themselves curled up in a ball crying with Rebecca Pearson a few weeks ago as she watched, listened, and grappled with the broken hearts being flung around the room please stand up. Broken hearts took the form of the painfully honest words and emotions of each of her three children at Kevin’s rehab therapy session. Do you remember? Was I the only one that wanted to reach right through the television screen, hug her, and through my own tears say, “I know. It hurts. I’m sorry. But, Rebecca you loved hard and fierce, and even with these results, you were and you are enough.”  

You see, I am Rebecca. Moms, we all are, in one way or another. I’ve asked myself more than once over the last twenty-one years of motherhood if I am really good enough to take on this job of raising these beautiful babies.  I’ve tried so hard to give my children a better childhood than the one I had, not that mine was terrible, but it did come with its challenges. But so has my own children’s childhoods. I wanted to be their biggest cheerleader (I still believe that I am), the best mom the world has ever seen (and I quickly realized I wasn’t). I was going to be the stay at home room/team/carpool mom that made the best cookies and meals, threw the best birthday parties, and eventually became the best friend any of them ever had–the mom that everyone wanted–with the home where everyone wanted to hang out. That was going to be me. That was going to be us

We all start this journey of motherhood with grand plans and intentions. We may not say it at the time, we probably don’t realize it at the time, but we think we know it all. We have these amazing fresh slates of little human beings that we are absolutely determined not to screw up. We live in the aftermath of the mistakes our own parents made, and we’re not going to repeat them. And, let’s face it, all parents make mistakes, even the best of the best. But the thing is, we don’t know. You don’t know until you know. And then, what you do know is so very different from what you thought you knew. Are you with me?

Yep, we arm ourselves with the “What to Expect” books for each stage of an infant and toddler’s life, but the series stops before things get really tricky, and sticky, and icky. Because who really wants to tell you how hard it’s going to be when you can no longer kiss away their boo-boo’s? AND even worse, that some of those boo-boo’s will be (unintentionally) inflicted by YOU, despite the best intentions and immeasurable love you pour out over your years of dedicated parenting. And, those boo-boo’s, they are the ones that leave the scars that end us up in therapy sessions like the one Rebecca found herself sitting in with her three children. And suddenly instead of confidently proclaiming, “This is us!”, you’re begging to know, “Is this us? How did we get here?”

It’s a mother’s heart, goal, and mission: to make every single one of her children, no matter how many she has, feel loved, supported, protected, cherished, and at the very least noticed. I imagine that it really doesn’t matter how many children you have. You could have one or you could have ‘19 and counting’. You still hold that baby in your arms for the very first time and instantly love them with the fiercest and most vulnerable type of love, a mother’s love. Yet you are only one person, one mother, and far from perfect at that. And your life experiences that built your understanding of love in action are different from theirs. The way you love and feel loved will almost certainly be different in one way or million ways from the ways they love and feel loved.  And one day (actually many days), you’ll be doing your absolute best to meet all of their individual needs, and you will turn to and focus on the one that you think desperately needs your love and attention in the moment, not even noticing that another sits by silently feeling unnoticed. (Insert knife into a mother’s heart).

We run around trying to make sure they all get what they need when they need it, and then, God forbid, that one doesn’t get more than another. Because that wouldn’t be fair, and we try so hard to be fair–to show them that they all mean the same to us and that we love them all equally. Fair. Equal. Those two ideas can be easy in the realm of motherhood at first, but they get really muddy as 21 years of mothering 6 kids (for me) comes and goes. Because the truth is, you DO love them all with ALL your heart and ALL your soul. You would die for all of them and any single one of them in a heartbeat. And, when they feel pain or loss, you feel it a hundred times over. BUT, you can’t love them equally or the same. You can’t because they aren’t the same. They don’t each need the same actions of love poured out by you into them. Some of the love you give to one, doesn’t even look or feel like love to another. They are all different, speaking different love languages and receiving different messages from the acts of love you show. No matter how hard you try to show them that you love them equally and the same–you don’t–not really. I mean, you do, but you don’t. And sometimes it’s in this rat race of trying so hard to make sure they all know that they’re loved equally and the same, that we unknowingly highlight for them in their own mind’s eye that they aren’t, or at least they don’t feel like they are.   

It doesn’t take too many years to realize that maybe it wasn’t a good idea to start buying them a Christmas ornament each year so they would have 18 to take with them when they leave home (and by the way, who in the world leaves home at 18 these days). Eighteen times seven, times ten bucks a piece–do the math on that! Because all of a sudden when you’re buying 6 new ornaments for each child per year, plus the family ornament you wanted to get for your own Pinterest picture-perfect family tree, you begin to find yourself bankrupt–even before Santa withdrew the money from your account for the gifts they asked HIM for. And then there’s the stockings and the keeping up with all that the Jones’ are giving to their kids next door…  

And, moms, how in the whole wide world do we get so caught up in the stuff anyhow? This is ME, that’s what they truly need, ME. Spending time with them instead of money on them, that’s what they need even when it’s not what they want.

“The squeaky wheel gets the attention”, it’s true. But, it’s also true that some kids and teens and young adults aren’t squeaky. They never will be. They will always sit quietly watching, and silently observing as the squeaky one(s) get your attention.  And you think they’re just fine, doing great, sometimes they are. But, sometimes they aren’t.  

Do you remember the scene when Kevin wakes up in the middle of the night to realize that both Kate and Randall are gone?  He walks into mom and dad’s room to find his brother and sister all snuggled up safe and sound in between them, and he quietly makes up a bed for himself on the floor. I have a couple in my little tribe that have made a bed on the floor next to mine, instead of safe and warm in between daddy and I, because another one had beat them to the coveted spot. My. Heart. Broke. As I watched a fictional character named Kevin on the television screen, but saw in him one of my own little boys. I wanted to be Rebecca, waking up and realizing the “silent unnoticed one” in that moment, moving down to the floor to cuddle up next to him.

You might be wondering where all of this is going. Do I have some secret to help you avoid or overcome these painful miscommunications between mother and child? I don’t really know. And if you have the secret, I’m all ears. I guess I just wanted to voice something that I think we all deal with at some point or another, to some degree or another. I guess I just wanted to say, “I know.” Sometimes we just need someone to know. We need someone to tell us that we aren’t alone, crazy, or different. We may experience it in different ways or levels and we may have different ideas and opinions about it and how to handle it all. Some of us are work-out-of-the-home moms (I had one of those), some of us are work-at-home moms (I am one of those), we’re all moms working toward giving our kids the best life we can possibly give them. We’re moms working toward raising decent, kind, loving human beings that will contribute to our world in a positive way. We’re moms that love their children like only we can, like only we were made to.  

I guess I just wanted to give you a high-five and tell you that you’re good enough. We may not always be doing good enough. But we always are good enough. How? Why? Because we were made to be their mom and they were made to be our child(ren). We are a huge and intentional part of their story. You being that child’s mom, that’s no mistake. And it’s in our triumphs and even in our failures as mothers that our children are being shaped into the people they were meant to be. And, maybe, just maybe, one sleepless night as they are praying and crying and grappling over how in the world to meet their own child’s needs to feel loved, supported, protected, cherished, and noticed they will realize and remember that we too struggled–and even when they didn’t think so, we loved them with the fiercest and most vulnerable type of love–a mother’s love.

Will our children ever really know or understand how crazy in love with them we are until they have a child of their own to fall crazy in love with? I can’t wait for the day that mine know what they never knew. That moment, when a piece of their heart, bigger than they ever realized their heart truly was, is placed in their arms in the form of a tiny little “perfect” person. Then they will know first hand, for the first time, what they never knew–a love that absolutely wrecks them and at the same time heals them, leaving them forever changed from the person they once were.

Chelsea Kathleen Johns is a wife of 23 years and a homeschool mom of six.