On Being a Broken Mother
Updated: May 10, 2021
This piece was written in spring of 2020 after our initial weeks of quarantine. I wrote this the first morning my mom was able to take my daughters out of my house so I could have a break from them. I initially just shared it with my mom, but have decided to share this more vulnerable piece with you all here. After all, Brené Brown reminds us, “staying vulnerable is a risk we have to take if we want to experience connection” (The Gifts of Imperfection, 2010). And since I am here to connect with you, I will share these words from some of my harder days of motherhood.
I breathe in and out and settle into the silence. Oh silence, my body aches and even screams for you some days. I can’t keep on like this, no breaks and so much noise. So many questions. So much touching and pulling and grabbing. Sometimes I feel I will explode. And then I feel not enough; a failure.
"Mama likes alone time," says my three-year-old.
Her five-year-old sister adds, "Mama get frustrated a lot."
The words hit me like a punch to the gut.
Yes, girls, this is all true. But how do I explain what it is to be what I recently learned is called a highly sensitive person? Daddy can keep running and yelling and playing, but mommy has a limit. And some days it feels my limit has already been met for the day when it is barely 7am. The tank is empty. I have no more to give.
This breaking down of myself that has occurred since becoming a mom has been necessary to learn these truths about myself. I can no longer run the way I had for 25 years-- on the fumes of perfectionism and people-pleasing. Driven. Do more. Make sure others are happy.
And I think that is what has broken me. Where before I could retreat and find quiet and a break, I now am constantly being bombarded by questions and requests and needs that are never-ending. I can’t fully please them because they always need more. And I am worn.
So if perfection isn’t the way of motherhood, what is? This quarantine feels like the answer is being broken down until you can’t do it anymore. “I give up! You got me God, I can’t do it. I’m not perfect, I’ll admit it. My strength is no longer sufficient, I see my perfection-driven energy is no longer sustaining.”
So here I am, broken down. A million little pieces lying on my kitchen floor waiting to be put back together, but instead trampled on by my children who don’t understand why mommy would want a break from them.
The fatigue is overwhelming, the guilt is too much to tolerate. I love them with this incredible love, and I desperately need quiet from them to continue on like this.
Yes I know other parents get overwhelmed and tired, but some days I feel so deeply that I can’t keep going because my body is shutting down on me. System overload. And the guilt sets in again, that trap of comparison that others are doing it better than me.
It feels like no one can relate to these more intense struggles I face. No one knows how it feels, their words of encouragement feel invalid because they are thinking I’m just another busy parent.
And then I see her. The ways her eyes look back and forth trying to keep up with the attention both my girls crave from her. One gentle hand to the older sister’s back to let that sister know she is cared for, while the younger sister interrupts bouncing up and down with excitement and a mouthful of words. It doesn’t take me long to see her system moving into overload. The demands of my daughters are overwhelming, but this isn’t the first time my mom has had this experience with sisters like this.
I am six, my sister is ten. We are blasting music with our dad through his stereo system that reaches every corner of the house. There is joy and shouting. And my mom enters the room and turns the volume way down, like a slap to our joy.
I am thirty, my sister is thirty-four. “I’m becoming mom. You’ll never guess what I did today…”
I explain how upon entering my home filled with dancing daughters and a jumping husband, music overpowering the kitchen where I stood, I quickly walked to the speaker and turned the volume down. Way down. And I saw from their faces, I had ended their joy.
Mom, I never understood how it felt. I never understood what would lead you to end our fun like that. But, now I see it. Now I feel it. Now it pulses through my weary body as I figure out how to continue on with the overwhelm of raising these beloved daughters.
So today God works through you, Mom, to bring me the strength He promises. A break from my daughters this spring morning and hope that God’s power is made perfect in my weakness (2 Cor 12:9). You worry that your brokenness as my mother has hurt me. But I’m here to tell you, you can release that fear you hold onto. For God has used it to help me recognize my inmost being and embrace the wonderful way He knit me together in your womb (Psalm 139:13).
“I hear you. This is hard,” you say as you listen to my most recent grumbles about being a mom of little ones. And your words I believe, because I know you have been here before. Adoring the daughters that made you a mother, and learning to let God soothe your brokenness. His grace slowly picking my pieces off the floor as I breathe in and out, and realize I can do another day.