In writing this post and considering why I have everything I ever wanted and yet have felt so unhappy, I realize that some of these concepts might be personal and not apply to all women out there. We are built with different talents and personalities. There may be some of these thoughts that resonate with you completely, while others you cannot relate to at all. Although all of these ideas will not apply to everyone, I have done much talking to many moms in the past seven years, and realize that all of us struggle with at least a few of the traps written below. I know that many women say to themselves, “I have everything I ever wanted. Why am I so unhappy?” I would be interested in hearing what you would add to the list or what has been your own journey as you transitioned to becoming a mother. I also want to add that unhappy is not how I feel the whole time. There are just funk times where I do feel unhappy, but when I put my life in perspective, I really don’t think I have a right to be so mopey.
I Have Everything I Ever Wanted. Why am I so Unhappy?
- I Am in it for the 50-Yard Dash – I didn’t realize that parenting would be more like a marathon that a 50-yard dash. I thought, foolishly, that if I was consistent with my children for a couple months that they would get it. They would suddenly learn that life goes better when they are cooperative and pleasant. If I let them know that whining won’t get them anywhere, then within a short amount of time, they would give up at that game and approach me in a big kid way because things would go better for them. I did not understand that parenting would take years and years of teaching, lots of trial and error for both the parent and the child, and lots of love and consistency to see results. In entering parenting, I failed to remember what I had learned in my child psychology classes about developmental stages. Foolishly, I didn’t remember that I was rebelling against my parents and God throughout my lifetime. Unfortunately, kids often need to learn the hard way through their own mistakes. Why did I think that my kids would suddenly and magically arrive when I still haven’t? This is a marathon. Nothing is going to happen overnight. The encouragement is that we see a lot of progress and steps forward as we are consistent in both discipline and grace. In my own experience, however, the progress isn’t as instantaneous as I had hoped. Living in a day in the information age where we are used to things happening quickly and becoming frustrated when a website doesn’t open up as quickly as we would like, it only makes sense that we would want to see instant results in the lives of our children. We need to begin looking at the finish line, which is farther down the road than we originally thought.
- I Am Caught Up in the Comparison Game – You can blame it on Facebook and blogs, but the truth is, we would compare ourselves to others even if we were just looking into the lives of our neighbors, friends or strangers at the park. There is a famous saying that says, “Comparison is the thief of joy,” and I believe that to be true. We need to remind ourselves that what we see is only what we see on the surface and not behind closed doors or even the depths of the heart. We are comparing our whole story with snapshots of the highlights of someone else’s story. We also need to recognize that this journey is unique for all of us. We all come from different backgrounds, belief systems, experiences, talents and ideologies. We need to stop judging one another and stop beating ourselves up on this parenting journey. It is not productive. We need to learn to do the best we can do with the information we have and strive to learn more and do better. There can be a healthy form of comparison where we seek out role models and mentors who seem to be doing or have done it well. There is also the unhealthy comparison that can paralyze forward progress. I would hope that people could choose the latter.
- I Didn’t Know How Hard it Would Be – I had no idea that parenting would be so hard. I didn’t realize that this job would be a mirror to all of my shortcomings and sinful nature. My impatience, selfishness, pride and anger would suddenly bubble out of the depths of my being. Parenting is a demanding job that we face from morning until night, and sometimes in the wee hours. It will make us tired, both physically and mentally. Some of us will face kids who are strong willed, high energy, painfully shy, needy, or come with any variety of physical or mental challenges. They come to us knowing nothing, and it is our job to teach them everything from zipping up their own jacket, wiping their own bottoms, teachings of how we draw on paper only or learning to carry a bowl in a way where the left over contents don’t fall to the floor. We won’t do this teaching one or two times but over and over and over again. There will be lots of spills, frustrations, Sharpie on walls and tantrums along the way. This job isn’t for the faint of heart, especially if you want to do it really well. While we do begin to recognize all of our weaknesses, we can also be surprised at how much stronger and wiser we are becoming through the refining process.
- I Need to Feed into Myself a Bit – When you become a parent, you learn to see what it means to sacrifice yourself. All of your time and energy is spent on trying to be a great wife to your spouse and a great mom to your kids. Your time is no longer your own. While this is good, it is also important to be aware of your own needs in the process. You might need to learn to ask for help. I remember talking to the Kelli Pritchard and saying to her that parenting had robbed me of my joy. She asked what were the things that filled my tank and encouraged me to find a way to get that time to myself. I know that it might seem impossible for some of you – especially single moms or wives with deployed or uninvolved husbands. It might take some creatively. Once example is that I have a couple friends that I kid-share with during the week. I take her kids one day, and she takes mine another. This gives me a handful of hours to do whatever I want to fill my tank. For me, I began doing some mural painting and artwork for our church. I baked and cooked more often. Then, I found the passion of blogging, which has not only given me the motivation I needed to try and do the parenting job better, but it has given me an outlet for creativity, pursuit and expression. Becoming a mom meant that I had to go through a re-birth. I used to be independent and carefree – travelling, seeking adventure, hanging out with friends and exploring my own talents and interests. When I became a wife and a mom, much of that had to be put to the side. Rather than waterskiing behind the boat, I was the one left on shore watching and nursing a new infant. That transition was hard for me. There’s definitely a new sacrifice that I have needed to embrace in the process, but my joy has slowly returned as I realized the importance of reclaiming a bit of who I am and giving myself permission to feed into my own dreams and talents. That said, it’s a balancing game.
- I Need to Stop Being so Selfish – Selfishness is something I struggle with the most, both in marriage and in parenting. I have recognized that this is something I have had to combat, or I would grow in bitterness. I am trying to still learn, daily, what it means to die to myself and live as Christ would want me to live – both with my family and beyond. I know it will be a lifetime journey that will come with its own hardships and blessings. However, I believe the words that teach us, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interest of others.” Philippians 2:3-4 It is a lofty goal that often seems out of reach, but I’m working toward it.
- I Need to Reach out for a Village – The world of mothering can be very lonely. If you are like me, you might find you are more of an introvert then you ever knew. You are talking or being talked to all day now, and when given time, you want to just be by yourself and have some quiet. I don’t like to ask for help, so I spent much of the beginning years not knowing how to find reprieve. I encourage you to find ways to bond with other moms or wise mentors through play dates, MOPS groups or coffee dates. It can be challenging to reach out, but I finally reached a place where I felt like I had a village, and it made a huge difference. I always had friends to meet for play dates or have girl’s nights, but it became different when we became a more intentional village. Suddenly, it became less difficult to ask someone to watch my kids, pick up my kids from school or ask for help in any variety of ways. I found the freedom in not only being able to ask but also realize the blessing of being about to be one of those friends that people would call to help them. It felt good to not feel so alone in the process – to not only have people who could help physically, but others to relate to in the process of parenting. It not only benefited me, but it benefited my children as they were around kids who were being raised with the same principals and end goals in mind. They could see other kids who had parents that were saying some of the same parenting phrases or having the same kind of expectations in their home. Finding your own village while help alleviate some of the pressures you feel as a mom.
- I need to Communicate with my Husband – Our husbands don’t understand what it feels like to become a mom. In the same way, if you are a stay at home mom, you have no way of knowing what it is like to face pressures at work and then immediately transition into the pressures at home. I am a part of a marriage ministry, and I get to talk to a lot of couples that are struggling with marriage on different levels. One common thread that I see in parents with young kids is a lack of understanding of what the other parent is going through. As moms, we might have had a chaotic and harried day where the kids were at one another, disobeying and creating all kinds of messes or conflicts. When our spouse walk through the door, we think that they should see the look on our faces and know that we need a break from the madness. They should take the baby from our hip and let us go take a shower, read a book or go out to run errands alone. On the other hand, our spouse walks through the door with burdened with loads of pressures at work and they want a safe place to decompress from a tough day. Rather, he walks through the door to find chaos and a harried wife. Both the husband and the wife must learn the dance of empathy. We must try and see life from the other person’s perspective and sacrifice some of our own hopes and ideals. It is hard on both parties, and it takes a lot of grace-filled communication rather than drama and accusations, whether in our heart or our words. We often have well-meaning spouses who just can’t relate because a) they aren’t in our shoes, b) they are wired differently and c) they have their own shortcomings and set of expectations.
- I Need to Let Go of Control – I think that women can be controlling. I know that this is not only a woman issue. Men can struggle with this too. However, I think women often like to have the power. There are two saying that pop into my head. “A happy wife is a happy life.” That statement is commonly said, and I think it comes down to our ability to control our home environment. I also know the quote from the popular movie, “My Big, Fat Greek Wedding,” that says, “The man is the head, but the woman is the neck, and we can move the head however we want. I think part of this control issue comes with the nature of being a mom. We need to juggle a lot of things. We see the balls in the air, and we see what needs to happen to keep them there. With all qualities, this can be seen as a negative or a positive. In parenting and in marriage, we can abuse this control. Ultimately, God is in control, so we need to submit to His ways. In the home, however, when we try and be too controlling of our spouses or our kids, it has negative ramifications. When I went into parenting, I had a plan of action. If I do A, B and C the results will be A, B and C. Well, it doesn’t always work out the way that we had planned. We don’t want our kids steering the ship, but I think we need to be more adaptable to the different personalities we have been given in our children. We need to realize that when our children are infants, we have 100% control. However, at 18, they leave the nest, and we have no control unless they invite us in. If you picture it as a graph, we are gradually giving our kids more freedom as they are growing and showing more responsibility. If we try and keep our thumbs on them for every decision, they can become resentful and rebellious. We need to learn to let them learn from their own mistakes, giving them boundaries and guidance along the way appropriate at different age levels.
- I put Too Much Pressure on Myself – We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to be great – to be super mom. We think we need to have it all and be it all to do this job well. We fail to recognize that God can use us in spite of, and often because of, all of our weaknesses. If you look at the great heroes of the Bible, they were often very sinful and ill-equipped people. God uses our weaknesses to reveal His strengths. We can’t always have the most well-balanced, organic and home cooked meal on the table with the house perfectly clean, homework completed, sick neighbor given a freezer meal, bills paid, kids content and well-mannered, Pinterest perfect crafts adorning the walls, closets looking like they are straight out of the Container Store, and us looking like we just stepped out of a beauty salon after 5 hours at the gym. You may laugh at those expectations, but you also might relate to them. I know these are but a few of the pressures I put upon myself. We can’t do it all, so we often have to ask ourselves what is going to give on particular days. I would encourage you to keep your priorities God, husband and then kids. However, not every day is going to look like that. I’ve already said that some days you need that time to yourself. Some days your kids need your full attention. At other times, you might know you desperately need a date night. We can’t do it all, but we need to keep our priorities straight and have a lot of grace with ourselves in the process.
- I Need to Work on the Things I am Teaching my Kids – I can’t tell you how many times I have, in an impatient way, said to my kids to “Be patient.” I talk to them about how to communicate properly without whining or complaining. I encourage them to “choose joy.” I teach them the fruits of the spirit. After some self-examination, however, I’m learning that I’m not living these out all the time. You may have read my article, “There’s an attitude problem in my house.” Here I readily admit that I am often the problem. Of course I’m going to feel discontented if I’m living a life of hypocrisy and not living out the things I believe to be true and good and right. If I believe what I’m teaching my kids, then why do I have such a hard time displaying them in my own heart attitude and actions.
- I Need to Realize Parenting Doesn’t Make us Happy, it Makes us Holy – I stole this phrase from a thought about marriage, but I believe it is also true about parenting. Sometimes people have kids to help fulfill a need or because they feel like it’s the next step in the life journey. We often go into this stage of life thinking that our own children are going to bring us happiness. Don’t get me wrong, in ways kids bring a lot of joy. However, you have to go into parenting with realistic expectations, knowing that your kids are going to challenge and disappoint. We cannot rely on our kids to fulfill some hole in our lives; it isn’t fair to your kids or yourself. I have found that the process of becoming a mom is more refining than it is fulfilling at this point. I am acutely aware of all the things God is still working on in my own life.
- I Might be in a Season of Parenting that is not my Gifting – I truly believe that different people are gifted with children of different age groups. Just as you will meet teachers who excel at teaching kindergarten while others thrive at the high school level, this is reflected in parenting. I know that when I taught kindergarten, I knew it was not the place for me. However, when I was working with Jr. High and High School kids I felt at home. I think this is reflected in my parenting. I’m not a baby person. I don’t really enjoy most of the early years, although there are aspects of it that are a lot of fun. I truly believe I will be in my sweet spot down the road. I see other moms who want nothing more than to hold and care for a baby all day. That just isn’t me. We need to go through seasons where we are challenged and experience growth. However, I think we will all find our sweet spot in parenting that brings us more enjoyment. That spot will be different for all moms.
- I Am Distracted – I will admit that I get distracted. On those days where I have my own agenda, and I feel the kids are getting in the way of my set of goals or expectations for the day, I know my frustration level rises, as does theirs. The distraction leads to discontentment. When I am distracted by phone calls, to-do lists, text messages or computers, the whole family feels it, leading to discord. This kind of distraction and tension makes us feel unsatisfied because our kids become a frustration rather than a blessing. Further, everything seems to only get half of our attention rather than our full focus, making us feel like we are accomplishing little. Sometimes it takes organization and schedule to set apart times to focus on the task or the children. I have been known to set a timer for myself. It often takes sacrifice of our wants to recognize the better for our family. Sure, kids need to know they are not the center of the universe. However, we can make our lives so busy, and our mind can be in so many places that they never receive our full focus and our full best. I know I can raise my hand to that one and say, “Guilty.”
- I Am not Tapping into the Source of My Strength – The parenting season of life brings forth a whole new set of busyness. We are suddenly on duty 24/7, and the world with toddlers and infants if demanding both mentally and physically. Suddenly our free time has gone away, and we are trying to maximize the time we actually get to sleep. With the limited freedom, we often use that spare time in mindless activities like watching TV, Facebook or playing games on our phones. Opening the Word of God and spending time in prayer and Biblical meditation can go to the bottom of our priority list. When I was in that season, I remember some older women saying, “Give yourself some grace. Your time with God is just going to be different now.” Though well meaning, I think this kind of advice can be hurtful. Yes, it will probably look different, but we can’t use this hard season as a time to slack in our relationship with God. In fact, this time can be so challenging (at least it was for me) that tapping into God’s strength is what we need the most. We need a Biblical perspective of what it means to sacrifice self for others. We need to realize that we are weak and can’t do this on our own. We need an extra understanding of the grace God has for us because we often are going to beat ourselves up as parenting begins to reveal all of our sin and shortcomings. This is not a time to disconnect from the gas that fills our tanks. It’s a time to cling desperately to God, who will love and guide us through this time.
Becoming a mom takes us through a rebirth that can feel painful. We enter a season that we may feel like we were born to do, and yet suddenly there is discontentment. We are confused because we have everything we ever wanted and yet feel unhappy. I have been able to dissect some of the reasons I believe that is true. I think identifying these and realizing that many moms can relate is helpful in adjusting to this new period of life. I would encourage you not to settle into the unhappiness but to recognize these common pitfalls and gain a new perspective on the process.
Here are a couple of great encouraging books if you have also felt discouraged in parenting (affiliate link provided for your convenience):