by Stephanie Morris
Mother’s Day is a special day for me. It’s no surprise. I have countless reasons to bask in such a wonderful day focused on women.
Womanhood is an incredible thing, in and of itself, but there’s nothing like the moment you realize that you’re going to be a mother! I’ve had a unique journey as a mom, but one I wouldn’t trade for the fairytale version because that would mean the loss of some amazing human beings. My experiences have helped me understand a few unusual facets of motherhood.
Let me start at the beginning . . .
My mother is an unbelievable woman! She raised five of us, all born within eight years. Talk about chaos. It was constant. I have pictures that show a little bit of the crazy she had to endure while we five maniacs grew up. Then we turned into teens. I like to think I had it all together, but “moody” is the word that seems to best fit me during those years. (Grumpy or annoyed might also be appropriate.) I have no idea how she juggled our emotional rollercoasters and busy schedules—so many after-school sports, dance lessons, officer responsibilities, social events, dances . . . and let’s not forget five kids that needed to do homework every day! As that phase ended, then came the dreaded season of dating, church missions, leaving for college, and the expense and stress of weddings.
Looking back, I remember my mom being a happy, funny soul—still is. She battled the bullies alongside us, trudged through the trenches, and celebrated the victories as if they were her own. (Now, I realized they were!) She managed to keep things astoundingly organized and kept her cool even when we refused to listen.
What did I learn?
That the glass is half full most of the time, and how I perceived it would be how those around me perceived it. (And, boy, did that come in handy!) I learned to never give up. I learned to keep smiling. I learned to keep doing what I loved and develop my gifts and abilities. I learned to plan family “fun.” I learned how important family is. I learned to be organized. (Okay, so I kind of came pre-programmed that way, but I learned how to be more effective at it.) I learned how to put my best foot forward, how to cook and sew, that DIY was an incredible opportunity, and that a mom works miracles or is superhuman – depending on the day.
My mom wasn’t the only woman to play a part in my growth (as it is with most people). My grandmother (on my dad’s side) was a special influence. She had a grace, a poise, a structure for life like no one else. I look back on the times that she took me shopping or to the symphony with great fondness. She had dementia at the end of her life, but she never stopped smiling and laughing, and she simply adored my grandpa. Watching them together definitely made the fairytale-endings seem more possible.
What did I learn?
She taught me so much more than etiquette, how to set a table, sit up straight, and how to be an effective secretary and file like a pro. I learned how to plan special times with those I loved. And she always said, if she had to do it differently, she would spend more time with her boys and less time cleaning her house.
Then I got married. And five years later, got divorced. My story wasn’t going as planned.
That was when I met Ted, a tall, dark handsome dad to three young children. I fell in love with not just one amazing soul, but four. So, I married him and became a stepmom. This was definitely not a step I had planned but was a blissful, happy time for all of us from day one—oh, who am I kidding?! Being a stepmom is hard. I love my kids with my whole heart and I willingly stepped up to that plate, but I had to remember that they already had a mom and loved her—I did not want to, nor could I, take her place. These darlings had divided loyalties, which put them in a lose-lose position most of the time. Watching this was hard. Dealing with the back and forth of visitation was hard. Picking up disappointed pieces was hard. Dealing with the court was hard.
But sitting outside their rooms and reading bedtime stories was wonderful. Working together and building our “team” wound up being fun. Taking trips, planning theme nights at home, moving into a house we could call “ours,” sharing life and food and family and love all proved to be the glue that bound us in a new, messy conglomeration of big and little human beings.
What did I learn?
I learned to focus on the good. I learned to gather my kids around me as often as possible and shower them with love, love in whatever form I found landed with them. I learned that each child needs different things. I learned when to share information and work through issues as a family, and when to withhold to protect from unnecessary pain. I learned how to take the high road and accept that there might never be an understanding of our sacrifices or efforts. I learned that new chore charts were a necessity for my kids and a developmental exercise for my brain. I learned that stickers do belong on faces and that extended family can be both a connector and a lifeline. I learned to how tease in a way to bond. I learned that shared experiences are powerful.
Then I got pregnant. Talk about a whole new level of bliss, of fear, of excitement. Where I had to be careful to not tread on my older kids’ “mom” spaces, I could let my mother-heart love completely, madly, deeply. And I did.
Two kids later and my husband and I had five of our own. I had a new appreciation for my mom and her dedication, patience, and perseverance.
For several years, I got to stay home and dabble in helping my husband with a growing business. But then the recession hit and our business disintegrated overnight. Pretty soon, I worked in the food industry as the manager for a catering company. The hours were horrible to have kids in high school and elementary. Every day, I felt like I’d failed somewhere, dropped a ball I was juggling, let something slip through the cracks. But even though we didn’t recover as fast as the economy did, I realized that our kids gained resilience, saw and appreciated our efforts, and became a little more selfless and self-sufficient.
During this time, our youngest son developed a bone disease and had several surgeries. My mom-heart nearly broke each time he went into the hospital. I had to be strong, had to paste on a smile and force happiness out of my mouth even when I just wanted to curl in a ball in the farthest corner and cry.
What did I learn?
I learned to make a mean sandwich, bomb salad, and the best brownies on the planet. I learned that mom-hearts are strong and somewhat elastic. I learned that kids can be flexible and appreciative. I learned that a mom can make all the difference. I learned that a momma’s boy has a special place in a momma’s heart. I learned how to develop a soft strength and stand when those I loved couldn’t. I learned that life has a way of teaching a variety of potent lessons, few of which come easy or without a price. I learned that some children are simply packaged and sent from heaven as a special gift.
Our older kids grew up and sometimes didn’t come to see us very often. It was harder to keep track of them, know what their challenges and successes were, know how to help—or if they even wanted us to. Being a parent to adults was a whole new level of hard.
Now all our kids are grown up (the youngest is 19 and heading on a church mission this summer), but stepping back and letting them go has been extremely difficult. It is no longer scraped knees and which candy bar to choose, how much homework they’ll do or how long they’ll spend in time out. Now, it’s car accidents and college, jobs and credit checks, and partners and babies of their own.
Speaking of babies . . . bring on the grandchildren! I’m not surprised that you kind of have to go through some serious and difficult stuff to earn the privilege of being a grandparent. A grandchild is a whole other level—like finally making it to the highest rank on a video game (yes, I’ve participated, purchased, and been a spectator for thousands of hours). This is where I realized the benefits of having children far outweigh the requirements and responsibilities. With a grandchild, I could be the respected adult while choosing to feed my granddaughter ice cream for breakfast and her parent could say whatever she liked but I could do it anyway. (Yep, just like grandpa.) Now, I could enjoy the cuddling, the playtime, the trips to the park, and spoiling to an unhealthy level, but I wasn’t in charge of diaper changes or diaper bags, naps, bath time, full-time disciplining, vegetable intake, or managing meltdowns.
What have I learned?
I learned that a mother-bond doesn’t have to look a specific way. I learned that loving is boundless—as boundless as patience should be. I learned that life always has some “hard” to it, but just like a cloudy day, the rain is growth-inducing, refreshing, and important—and rainbows do exist. And life is like the lapping of the ocean on a beach, in and out, in and out—when life is hard, it will get better—and to make sure to enjoy the times when life is good. I learned that “paydays” aren’t just the big things, but the everyday little things too. I learned that a mother has unique and special powers, the power to shape, the power to lift, the power to understand, the power to cherish, the power to empower, the power to be bigger than oneself, the power to let go while still holding on.
This woman is still in the middle of her journey, a journey that’s consisted of torturous mountain climbs, beautiful vistas, refreshing valleys, and desserts of discouragement—and I still have lots to learn. But most of my path has been filled with wonderful family members to keep me company and encourage me along the way. And some of my very favorite people on the planet call me “mom.” I am truly blessed!
TAKE PICTURES! Lots and lots of them.
Kids thrive on consistency. That isn’t the same thing as routine or being strict. If you have a boundary, keep it. If you’re spoiling one, spoil them all. Just be a foundation that they can count on.
Money is nice, but doesn’t have to matter. Holidays don’t have to be expensive. Fun can be planned in small ways. Things can be learned without a suitcase or flight. And relationships are priceless. Simply plan time to be together and make memories.
Plan a theme night. Make a poster of a scene or sign for your “restaurant.” Find the right “mood music.” Make or pick up delicious and fitting food. Play a game, do the limbo, play in the sandbox, learn how to jitterbug. And take pictures while you’re making memories.
Include everyone in the work. Just like you want everyone to join in the fun, everyone gets to feel the satisfaction of accomplishing something that makes a difference to the whole. A child is filled to overflowing when they know they’re needed. (This isn’t a servant role, but a family working together situation.)
Teach them to cook. Cooking is as vital as eating and there are so many simple recipes out there. Start small with things they like, then build from there. Let them choose the recipes—they’ll be way more interested and invested.
Be deliberate! The most important job in life is to raise responsible, healthy, capable kids. Give them your time and the very best of you.
Stephanie is the author of two children’s books, I Hope Your Dreams Are Sweet and The Children in the Box, and several articles and short stories. Learn more at @stephanieannmorris.author on Instagram.