A few weeks back, I was feeling a bit audacious. I decided to take both of my kids to church without another adult to assist me and dangerously close to the little one’s nap time. Maybe audacious isn’t the right word. Maybe stupid, or delusional, or unrealistic. The drive to church was uneventful, as was the first 10 minutes of so of the service. But the church was fairly empty, and my three year old very quickly figured out that empty churches are very echo-y and perfect for singing and talking loudly. My little one was cranky, fussy, and couldn’t decide whether she wanted to stand or be held. I spent the whole hour hushing and rocking, threatening timeouts and spanked butts. I could not even tell you what the church service was about. No idea.
So why did I even go? I am at home with the kiddos alone this week, as my hubby is traveling for work. Taking both children anywhere is a full on production. It takes a half hour to get everyone ready and loaded up and it is a rare occasion where no one has a meltdown while we are out. And God forbid anyone have to go potty or need a diaper change. When I am in public with the two of them, I feel as if a spotlight is following me around, as well as a sign that says, “This woman is in over her head. She doesn’t know what she is doing. She can’t manage her children.”
But the feeling of being stuck at home is also pretty awful. I don’t like feeling trapped and I don’t like keeping my children in the house all day. So, once, in a while, I convince myself that we can handle it. I get brave and take them out alone.
We sat in the back of the church, although I really don’t think it did any good to distract the other churchgoers from my children’s voices and my constant reprimanding. From the second we walked in, it felt like all eyes were on us. Even a well behaved three year old is of a noticeable volume. My saving grace was a kind woman who took the time to come over an talk to us before church began. She welcomed us, introduced herself, and spoke to both of my children. She told me about her grandkids and mentioned that she knew church was very long for little ones. She put her hand on mine and her eyes said empathetically, “It is okay. I understand it’s hard. You and your babies are welcome here.”
For the rest of the hour, each time my children screamed or dropped a book, she smiled or winked at me. I am sure she doesn’t know it, but, man, did I need those smiles. After the service ended, the woman smiled at me and my brood, and told me she hoped to see us back next week. It meant the world. It meant the difference between and embarrassment and a sense of belonging. My kids are just kids, I reminded myself. They are not the first children to laugh during church and they won’t be the last. This is the circle of life.
If you are a mom of little ones, the next time you all venture out, take a moment to adjust your expectations to the ages of your babies. I find myself imposing grown-up standards of behavior on my 3 year old – I have to check myself when I do this. Celebrate them learning manners and appropriate social behavior in baby steps and praise them when they do a good job!
How often do we go through the world as moms feeling alone, overwhelmed, and in over our heads? For me, it’s all the time. But all it takes is another soul to recognize us in our struggle and let us know that we not, in fact, alone. That our struggle – the struggle of mothers raising babies – connects us to a whole network of women who have fought the same daily battles and have had the same thoughts of self-doubt and anxiety.
In the few weeks since my encounter with this lovely woman in church, I have found myself noticing other mothers a little more, noticing the not quite dormant state of panic in their eyes while they tell their child to be quiet in the library or keep their hands inside the grocery store cart. I am trying to be the reassurance for other moms, because Lord knows I need that in my own life. We all need another mom to look at us, see us where we are, and say, “It is okay. I understand it’s hard. You and your babies are welcome here.”