The Challenge of Motherhood
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Kara-Kae James thought that motherhood was a cinch. And then she had kids! James admits that motherhood made her emotionally and mentally tired, weary and burned out with postpartum depression.
The Challenge of Motherhood
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, October 30th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. Have you ever felt like being a mom was nothing/like it was inconsequential?—like you weren’t accomplishing much of anything? Have you ever felt overwhelmed in the process? Well, Kara-Kae James can relate. We’re going to talk about that today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I want to know about your first months, as a mom. Was it heavenly mom bliss? I mean, I know you have to recover from delivering a baby and all of that, but were you just in mom heaven in the first months as a mom?
Ann: I felt like a semi-truck hit me; and I was laying on the ground, thinking, “What has happened to my life?” [Laughter]
Bob: Like for months you felt that way?
Ann: For months; yes!
Ann: I felt pretty competent and secure in most areas of my life. I felt confident going into motherhood—I’d read books; I’d been to Bible studies with other moms; and I thought, “Okay, I’m going to be great at this,”—not realizing this would be the hardest season of my life, when they were little.
Bob: When you picked up the book, Mom Up, by our guest today, Kara-Kae James, you went, “I can so relate to this.”
Ann: Exactly! I thought, “Thank you for writing about this.”
Bob: Yes; Kara-Kae, welcome to FamilyLife Today.
Kara-Kae: Thanks for having me.
Bob: Kara-Kae and her husband Brook live in Wichita Falls, Texas. Kara-Kae is a blogger; in fact, a lot of our listeners may follow her on the Thrive Moms blog. The book, Mom Up, is about Thriving with Grace in the Chaos of Motherhood.
What Ann described, you were right there with her—maybe even amped up a little bit from what she described—right?—because your first months of motherhood were awful.
Kara-Kae: They were; they were awful first years! I would almost say, “Still are many days.” [Laughter]
Bob: Did you go into it with the idealized, “I’m going to be great at this”?
Kara-Kae: Yes; yes! I have a perfectionist personality. Anything I go into, I’m set out to do it right/do it well. When I went into motherhood, I thought, “I’m going to do this really well. I’m going to be the best at this. I’m going to do it great.” I even struggled to read some of the parenting books, when I became a new mom—even before I was a mom—because I thought, “They don’t know what they are talking about. I’m going to figure this out on my own. I’m going to do it right; I’m going to this best.” Then I had a baby that was not what I expected.
Ann: I love what you say—you said, “I was a great mom until I had kids!” [Laughter]
Kara-Kae: Exactly! I could tell you how to do it! Now, when people ask me parenting advice, I say, “Oh, don’t ask me; I don’t have any idea what I’m doing!” [Laughter]
Bob: Actually, your pregnancy/your first pregnancy was pretty rough; right?
Kara-Kae: Yes, yes; my pregnancies were all very rough. I carried my first baby
42 weeks; and then she was born, and she had colic. It’s like: “What’s wrong with this baby?” “What’s wrong with me?” “Why am I not doing this right?”
Ann: Did you start doubting yourself?
Kara-Kae: Yes; absolutely! I doubted that I was doing things right; I doubted her; I doubted my/our capabilities, as a couple, that we were able to do this parenting thing. I quit my job and stayed home; but I was miserable/completely miserable, because it wasn’t anything like I imagined that it would be.
Dave: She’s not sleeping at night—
Kara-Kae: Oh, no!
Dave: —at all!
Dave: Now let me ask you this: “Is the husband helping?”
Kara-Kae: Oh, yes!
Kara-Kae: He was great help! Yes!
Dave: He was great, and still—
Kara-Kae: But he was still working, so he helped when he could. I had quit my job to stay home to take care of her—to do the mom thing. That was a really hard transition for me, because I never imagined myself to be this stay-at-home mom person. I always thought, “Okay; I’m going to be this career-driven woman. I worked really hard; I have all these goals and ambitions for myself.”
But then, all of a sudden, I have this new path for myself. Being a stay-at-home mom felt like a failure to me. It didn’t feel like it was anything important; it didn’t feel like a good job/a good role. I didn’t feel like I was doing anything to give back to society or to my family. That was a huge struggle for me.
Bob: I want to jump in on that, because this is a decision you guys made for you to be a stay-at-home mom. Going into being a stay-at-home, were you thinking, “This is the right thing to do,” or were you thinking, “I’m settling for less than”?
Kara-Kae: A little bit of both, because of what my career was. I was an event planner; I worked so many hours. I knew that it wasn’t really the right job that I could do for my family at that time because I wasn’t able to see my daughter and my husband the way that I wanted to do. Either I would have to find a different job or I would have to/we would have to make some major sacrifices.
I know that many women don’t have the capabilities of staying home. We decided, “Okay, we are going to make some big sacrifices.” My husband is a pastor, so it’s not like we were rolling in millions of dollars that we could say, “We have plenty; we’re fine.” It was a really difficult decision to say, “I’m going to do this.” We just felt it was the right thing, at that time, for me to have the time to spend with my daughter at that age.
Bob: Here’s the thing I want to take apart a little bit. You felt it was the right thing; but then, in doing it, you’re feeling like: “I’m settling for less than. I’m not being the woman I should be.”
I think, a generation ago—and maybe you can tell me, Ann—I think, a generation ago, there were more young women, who grew up thinking, “If I’m a wife and a mom, that’s a good thing. It’s something where I’m contributing,” and “I’m doing what’s important, and this matters.”
I think today, among your generation, there are many fewer young women who think to be a stay-at-home mom is a right and good thing and “I’m fulfilling a significant mandate if I’m doing this.” Has the voice of the culture so reached in that it said to young women, “Motherhood is insignificant; and unless you’re contributing in the marketplace, you’re really not doing anything important”?
Kara-Kae: I think it has. I think a lot of women feel like being a mom is inconsequential. If you’re not providing, somehow, to your family financially/if you’re not doing something to put back into the world in some way, we feel like we’re not doing something. We don’t see that what we’re doing—of raising our children—to be something to put into the world.
I do see that the culture has shifted in that way—that we look at our role as a parent—I think dads struggle with this, too; I don’t think this is just a mom thing—that we look at our roles in this world and we think, “Oh well, my career is really important,” because whatever that job is that I’m doing and, then, these other things fall under there.
But raising our kids and teaching them about Jesus, and teaching them to grow to be responsible human beings that can give back to society, and that can grow to know God and love Him, very well can be the best thing and the greatest thing we ever do.
Dave: Yet, you didn’t feel that.
Dave: I’m sitting here, looking at two different generations of moms. I know I can’t speak for Ann, but I can remember what she told me—same thing you’re saying.
Dave: You know, you felt the same thing, even in a different generation. I remember you saying exactly what Kara-Kae said right now—it’s like, “I’m doing nothing.”
Ann: Yes; I did the same thing. I went from a thriving ministry to being at home. I felt like, “I’m doing nothing—
Ann: —“to contribute to the kingdom,”—
Ann: —even though I knew/I knew—like, “I’m raising this disciple; I know this!” Then I would go to the grocery store, exhausted, with no make-up, with my sweatpants on. The woman would grab me and say, “Oh honey, this is such a wonderful time of your life. It just flies by.” I remember thinking, “Every day feels like a million years!”
Kara-Kae: Yes! [Laughter]
Ann: Here you are—you’re struggling; you have this baby at home; and then, you get pregnant again—a couple times!
Kara-Kae: —a couple times!
Ann: As Dave said, you had three kids, three and under. What was going on then?
Kara-Kae: We decided: “We wanted to have more kids. Let’s get this over with,”—[Laughter]—the pregnancies were challenging.
Ann: It wasn’t necessarily getting better.
Kara-Kae: No, it wasn’t getting better. We just said, “Okay, lets do it! Let’s get it over with; maybe it’ll get better.” We had three under three. My oldest was still two when my youngest of the three was born; so I had a newborn, a one-year-old, and a two-year-old.
And that year—I joke now, but I always say I don’t remember anything about the first year of her life—but in so many ways it is true; because I was so tired, mentally/emotionally. I was so disconnected, and so tired, and weary, and burned out, that I just wasn’t there; I wasn’t present.
Bob: Physical exhaustion, but also post-partum depression.
Kara-Kae: Yes, yes. I walked through a really tough season of anxiety/depression. I had always seen mental illness as something that people, who aren’t strong, deal with.
Ann: Saw it as a weakness.
Kara-Kae: I did; I saw it as a weakness; I didn’t understand. I just had never really gotten to a point that I understood or had never really walked through anything like that with a close friend. I didn’t understand what mental illness truly was until I walked through it myself.
Dave: How did you discover that’s where you were at? I mean, I read about the sippy cup—
Dave: —which is sort of a moment.
Kara-Kae: Yes; I had never been an angry person. I’d never been the type of person—my husband and I don’t really ever fight, angrily, yelling, or anything like that. I’ve never been the type of person to yell at people until I lost it with my kids, and we’re talking tiny children.
My two-year-old wasn’t putting something away correctly. I was losing it, yelling at her! I tell the story in the book that I threw a sippy cup of juice against the wall. It was this out-of-body experience of watching myself and thinking, “Who is this person?! This is not me. I’m put together; I’m calm; I’m collected. But something about motherhood has unraveled me.”
I finally told my husband, “Something is wrong with me.” That was challenging to admit; because it’s hard to, sometimes, admit that we have a struggle/that something is going on; and I didn’t even realize what it was at the time. He said, “Lets go talk to the doctor just to see.” As I talked through some of the things, we realized that was what was going on.
Bob: That what was going on?
Kara-Kae: That I was dealing with post-partum anxiety and depression. I started having panic attacks and just having the young kids was overwhelming to me. So many of the things in my life were really, really overwhelming.
Dave: You even write—I mean, it was shocking as I read it—but you’re driving and thinking about “I don’t want to keep going.” You’re talking real depression.
Kara-Kae: Yes; it was hard. A lot of it was—I never really had suicidal thoughts; but I had, “How can I get myself out of this for a little while?” thoughts; because it’s the daily exhaustion, and it feels like it’s never going to end. It made me realize there are so many women that have these thoughts. I had help; my parents lived close—they would come and watch the kids.
There was awhile that I didn’t want to be alone with my kids. I never had the feeling of hurting my kids, and I’m so thankful for that. I know so many women walk through that of feeling that feeling of wanting to hurt their kids. If you are listening and you feel that, I really, really recommend talking to somebody and reaching out for help. I think that we have to ask for help. That’s the hardest thing for us to do, as women, because we feel like we have to do it all on our own.
Ann: It feels like failure.
Kara-Kae: It does!
Ann: It feels like, “What’s wrong with me that I can’t be…” Especially at your age, Kara-Kae, you’ve been watching people on social media that look like these moms are doing everything!! And they seem to be thriving in this stage. Did you feel guilty in that?
Kara-Kae: Oh, Absolutely! Absolutely.
Ann: So what happened?
Kara-Kae: I was attending some Bible studies and walking through this with some different women, and I got help. I was on a lot of medication. I had to just come to grips with the fact that that’s okay. It was okay to get help in whatever means that was necessary for me in that season of life. It was about a year that I walked through it. It took a while for my body to get back to normal/for my mind to get back to normal—for me to feel somewhat normal again.
I was doing a lot of reading at that time; and I had some older women that were mentoring me, and just walking through that season and helping me understand that who God says that I was in that season really helped me and did a lot of transformation in my heart. Because there was so much that—I had thought I had changed completely. I thought I wasn’t worthy of God’s love anymore, because I was so broken and was so damaged, and I wasn’t good enough to be the mom to these kids that He had given me. God kept coming back and saying: “I’ve never changed,” and “I’m always right here, and this is who I say you are.” That was so redemptive for me.
Bob: Your youngest is how old now?
Kara-Kae: She is nine now.
Bob: We’re going back nine years to this phase of motherhood for you. If you could go back and redo it/if you knew then what you know now, how would the experience be different?
Kara-Kae: I don’t know if I would change anything.
Kara-Kae: Honestly, yes!
Ann: Even the moms that are going through that, what’s your encouragement to them?
Kara-Kae: I would say that the most important thing is to ask for help. Thankfully, I did. I think I felt like—because it had a title on it—that there were other women that were out there, saying, “Oh, post-partum depression/post-partum anxiety is real,” that it made me feel like it was okay. That was what helped me speak up about it, because I wanted other women to know: “This is a real thing that real people deal with.” I’ve even struggled with anxiety and things since then.
I think I had an easier time dealing with the post-partum, because I felt like the hormones were there, it was all because of that; that I was able to almost blame it on something, if that makes sense. I was almost able to put this label on it, and say, “It’s because of what I walked through/it was because of the season of life I was in, it was so overwhelming, that I was able to go through this.” I had so much help to walk through it with a supportive husband that was there for me, no matter what. He got me through that and, thankfully, my kids came out on the other side; and they don’t remember anything from that season. [Laughter]
Ann: Isn’t that sweet of God?
Dave: That’s good.
Kara-Kae: I am so glad they were so young and don’t remember mom sitting there, crying every single day!
Dave: You mentioned your husband helping you through it. I’m thinking of the husband listening. Even if Ann goes through something, sometimes I’m stuck. What did your husband do? What can a husband do?
Kara-Kae: That’s so hard; because he always would say, “I don’t know what to do.” I think that’s just really wise for the husband just to say, “What can I do? What can I do?” When I’m having a hard day, he’ll say, “What can I do?” Sometimes I can give him an answer; sometimes I just say, “I don’t know. I don’t know—nothing.”
I would say, “Just be there and be willing,” because sometimes the wife doesn’t necessarily know what she needs. She may not know what she’s feeling and trying to sort out all of these feelings. I told him, early on with this, “Don’t try to fix me; just be here,” and that’s helped us a lot. There are times, that somethings going on with me, and I’ll say, “Okay; you can fix me; you can fix the situation,” and he gets really excited because he’s ready to fix; but then there are other times that I say, “I don’t need the situation fixed. I need you to just be here.”
Bob: In the middle of those early years, you were looking and going, “I’m doing nothing/nothing of any significance or any value.” Nine years into the process, as you look at your three kids—and you’ve added—
Kara-Kae: Yes, we have another—a fourth now.
Bob: —and through adoption?
Kara-Kae: Yes; through adoption.
Bob: As you look at this, do you see the significance in what you’ve invested your life in over the last nine years?
Kara-Kae: I do; I do now. I think it is so hard for moms with little ones; it’s hard when you’re doing the cleaning up, the wiping, the changing diapers, when they can’t do anything. Those years are so challenging; but when you can start communicating with them, when you can see the fruits of your labor—those years are rewarding.
I’m in a really challenging time right now with—the elementary years are challenging, but they’re also really rewarding; because we’re in a sweet spot of really being able to mold and help. This is the time that they’re soaking up everything, and they’re little sponges. It’s just really fun to be able to lean into that season. With my oldest right now, that was so challenging as a baby, now she is just this amazing kid. It’s so fun to watch her grow. We joke that she’s my little clone; she’s so much like me. It’s just really amazing to watch them turn into their own little people.
Ann: You’re in the training years/the elementary years. You’re in the continual teaching and training.
And Bob, it’s interesting—when you said you felt like you were doing nothing, that happened to me. We had three little boys, five and under; and I remember getting on my knees, saying to God, “I am doing nothing for Your kingdom.” I realized a lot of my worth was coming from thinking I was doing for God.
Ann: I remember, when I was on my knees that day, I said, “God I am doing nothing for You.” I felt He said, “And you don’t have to do anything for Me to be loved by Me. I love you no matter what you do or don’t do.” It was kind of this freeing aspect.
The other thing I realized, too—I talk to young moms now, where I’ll take this cup of dirt. It’s a clear cup and I say: “In those early years of preschoolers, you feel like you see no growth. The plant isn’t coming up; nothing is happening that brings you satisfaction. Yet, the most important part of that plant are the roots that are going deep. Those years we are building; we are doing things. Just for us to be in the home, and to love them, and kiss them goodnight, and to pray for them—that is where we are building that root system. It matters.”
Bob: Are you glad you made that investment?
Ann: I’m really glad because now I look back and I think, “Those were hard years, but those years probably changed me more than my kids.”
Ann: I think that’s the truth of motherhood. Those years change us; and we rely on God—of saying, “God, I can’t do this apart from You.”
Bob: I just don’t want moms listening to lose a sense of the absolute significance of shaping the lives of young people—pointing them to Jesus, working on that root structure, molding the direction of their life. I mean, we’re talking about human beings.
Here’s the thing, when you’re in the workplace, you’ve got people going: “Oh! You’re really good at this,” “Way to go; high-five!” “You get a bonus!” At home, you’ve got kids going [whiney voice], “Mom!”; right? [Laughter] You’re not going to get the reward system at home that you get in the marketplace. I sometimes think the idea that: “I’m not significant, is because there’s nobody cheering me on.”
I want to cheer on the moms—who are at home, and your kids are griping and whining—and just go, “Look, you’re doing something that is so incredibly significant for the lives of your kids, for the next generation, for the legacy you’re going to leave. Just persevere at this and—and Mom up!”—okay? [Laughter]
That’s the book title from the book that Kara has written, Mom Up: Thriving with Grace in the Chaos of Motherhood. We’ve got copies of the book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center; and you can order it from us, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com. Or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY to get your copy. Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com. The number to call to get a copy of Mom Up is 1-800-358-6329—1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Let me just mention here—both moms and dads could benefit from some interaction with other moms and dads and a little bit of coaching at the same time. FamilyLife® has created the eight-part video series—it’s a small group series called the Art of Parenting™. I’m excited to see a lot of churches that are doing classes or using this in small groups. Find out more about how you can go through the Art of Parenting with other moms and dads when you go to FamilyLifeToday.com. The kit includes a copy of our movie, Like Arrows, which is a great way to kick off your parenting study together. Watch the movie and then get together to go through the classes. Again, find out more at FamilyLifeToday.com
Hey, while you’re on our website, we’ve got something free for you to download, that will help you, as a mom or a dad, engage your kids and help cultivate a heart of gratitude/a heart of thankfulness in your children. We have created what we call, “The Family Gratitude Plan.” There are activities and articles available in the plan—just some creative things you can do, as a family, to help everybody be more thankful during this time of year. Download the free “Family Gratitude Plan” when you go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com.
These resources that we are providing are part of our mission to effectively develop godly marriages and families. We believe godly marriages and families can change the world. We hope this kind of practical biblical help for your marriage and your family is something that you find beneficial. Again, our website is FamilyLifeToday.com.
Now, tomorrow, we’ll continue our conversation with Kara-Kae James, talking about the chaos of motherhood and where you find grace in the middle of all of that. Hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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