on being a mother of four

For as long as I can remember, I wanted to have four children. I am one of three girls and we always wished we had one more sibling to round us out.  When I met Ryan, he had the same desire for a large family.  Among so many other things, I loved that we had similar ideas for our ideal family.

So here we are, 14 years later, with our precious family of six. To tell you the truth, we didn’t try for any of our kids, yet we feel so thankful for the perfect timing and blessing of all four of them.

But let me be honest with you …

Having four kids is hard.

I wouldn’t trade it. Never, ever. But sometimes {like right now} I just sit and cry from exhaustion, frustration, feeling like maybe I’m not well-enough equipped for this task of raising four little ones. FOUR! Sometimes it is just plain overwhelming.

Yesterday after church I needed to grab lunch for the kids on our way to visit Ryan who was working at the fire station.  The easiest thing would have been to go through a drive-thru, but we are trying to make healthy food choices and since I wasn’t in a major rush, I decided to stop into a sandwich shop instead.   I should have realized that a quick lunch place like this would be overflowing on a sunday afternoon, but by the time we parked and walked to the restaurant, it was too late.

First of all, let me say that I regularly have all four kids with me.  Ryan works for 24 hours at a time and so I’m on my own every couple of days. I take the kids to church by myself. We go out to eat. I take them with me on errands.  We frequent the post office, Costco, Target, our local Mexican restaurant.  While it is not always the easiest or most enjoyable way to dine or shop, it is the life of a mom with kids.

So taking the kids to lunch yesterday was normal for me.

We found our place in a long line behind an older woman in a hot pink sweater. She took notice of the kids and seemed friendly. #3 {4} went off climbing on some sign. I brought him back into line. Then Audrey {2} made her way over to the sign and I grabbed her too. At that point the lady turned to me and said,”are ALL of these YOURS?”.

“yep. All four of them”.

“Well, it looks like you finally got your girl.”

Let’s stop right here. This is just about the WORST thing you can say to a mom of three boys and a girl. Can you image what the boys think when they hear some stranger assume that his parents just weren’t satisfied with them and so they kept trying for a girl? I know they are too young to put this idea together, but someday soon, they won’t be. And NO, we did not keep trying for a girl. We didn’t even try. We just got her. Of course we were thankful. Of course I wanted a girl. But we would have been perfectly happy with our three boys.

This wasn’t the first time I’ve heard the finally-got-your-girl statement. I hear it regularly. Normally I just smile and nod. Or say something to turn it around like “Yes … she sure is lucky to have three big brothers to look after her.”  It normally doesn’t get to me too much. But for some reason, I was not in the mood for the statement from the hot-pink-sweater-lady.

She went on …

“I have three girls. We stopped after three because I did not want a boy”.

To which I just smiled.

Then #3 started pushing #1 who elbowed him back and she started shushing them and telling them to stand still and not hit.

She moved on to order her food at one register. I moved to the next.  It was chaos. I fully admit to that. Ordering for four kids who change their minds every three seconds is a challenge.  The whole process of choosing chips or an apple, whole wheat or sourdough, white or chocolate milk can fluster anyone, let alone a mom who is also trying to corral three boys, hold a squirmy toddler and find a wallet in a vast black hole of a purse.

As I was finishing up, hot-pink-lady tapped me on the shoulder and chuckled, “you sure are brave.”

Maybe she was just being funny. I don’t know. But it made me fume.

I wanted so much to turn around and say:

That is not helpful. Can’t you see that I am trying my best? Can’t you see that I love my kids and want to feed them healthy food and do fun things with them? I could have just gone through the drive-thru and I probably should have. But instead I decided to make a lunch date out of it and you are not helping. Can’t you remember when your three girls were little and what it was like to take them to a restaurant by yourself? It is not easy. But it is worth it. Because I want them to know how to act in public.  I want them to experience life outside of our home. Sometimes they misbehave, they climb on things they shouldn’t or elbow their brother or change their minds at the last second.  But they are BABIES. I’m trying lady.  I really am.  And your condescending tone telling me I’m brave is basically a cute way for you to say I’m a bad mom and that my kids are not welcome here. It is not helpful. 

Instead, I ignored her; I didn’t even turn around. I knew if I did I would say something snippy and that wouldn’t do any good.

We ate our lunch. Audrey spilled her yogurt down her shirt. #1’s sandwich dropped on the floor. #2 ate all the chips. #3 cried when we left because I couldn’t hold him.  It wasn’t a perfect lunch date. But we sat together at the table and enjoyed the few minutes of a tasty lunch.

When we got in the car and drove to the fire station, I fell apart. My feelings were so hurt by the lady with the hot pink sweater. I felt criticized, so looked-down on. There was no compassion in her tone of voice or the way she interacted with the kids.  She was mean. And she probably wasn’t even meaning to be.

I’m not sure why I’m writing all of this for the world to see. I think I just need to ‘journal’ this part of my life. I’m a mom of four kids and sometimes it is hard.

I try {as I’m sure most other adults do} to look right, act right, say the right thing when I’m out in public. I don’t want to be embarrassed. And yet I have these four little clueless children who seem to sabotage my appearance everywhere we go. They are good kids – they really are. But they don’t think the fabric store is all that fun and they take spools of thread out of its appropriate spot and leave it on the floor. That’s embarrassing. They throw fits in the toy aisle when we’re picking out a birthday gift and they don’t get something for themselves. That’s not how I’m raising them! They do that dreadful arched-back-so-buckling-is-impossible thing when getting in the car. Mortifying to think other people hear my sweet angel-baby sound like I’m torturing her when all I’m doing is trying to protect her by buckling her car seat.

Someone once said that parenting is not so much about teaching a child as it is about refining a parent. There is no one who can teach me more than my own children. I see my behavior, my words, my food preferences, my mannerisms reflected right back to me through them. And I don’t always like what I see.  I can try to look good on the outside, but my kids see the real me and its not always the patient, put-together, grace-filled, selfless person that I wish it was.

My kids embarrass me, they do. But no more than I should be embarrassed by my own ugliness that I so easily hide.  I may not leave spools of thread on the floor or throw myself on the ground when I don’t get what I want, but I sure do think some unloving thoughts or mumble under my breath when I don’t get my way.  I’m thankful to them for the ways they refine me, teaching me about grace and forgiveness and new mornings after particularly exhausting nights.

The speaker at church yesterday said there’s a funny thing that happens when you have children. You don’t need them to be complete. But once you have them, you can’t imagine being complete without them.

I love my kids. I learn from my kids. I can’t imagine my life without my kids.

I’m sure you feel the same if you have children of your own.

No matter how challenging they are, or how exhausted I may be, I would never trade this life.  I just wish there were fewer pink-sweater ladies who make me feel like I’m not doing a good enough job.

So here is what I want to say to wrap up this long-winded thing.

If you see a mom who looks like she needs help, HELP HER. Even if she says no.

If you see a mom who is doing a good job, ENCOURAGE HER. Even if it is awkward.

Whether you have little children, grown children or none at all, you can make such a difference to a young mom.

We’re all struggling through this thing called motherhood – some days are better than others – and we need each other. We need community.

I needed that Costco worker who distracted Audrey from her crying fit. I needed the man who held the door open for my entourage. I needed my best friend to watch the kids for an extra hour so I could enjoy a few minutes of free time. We needed the elderly couple at Starbucks who complimented Ryan and me on our well-behaved kids. These simple kind gestures made such a big difference to me.

I am thankful for the chance to raise four kids. I am so proud of who they each are and continue to find more things to love about each one. Yes, it can be hard. Yes, its chaotic and exhausting to keep up. Yes, I fail and will continue to make mistakes. I’ll probably run into more critical old ladies at restaurants and my kids will probably continue to elbow each other. I’ll probably be embarrassed and maybe even cry about it again.

That’s life.

That’s my life.

And I wouldn’t trade it.

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407 Responses to on being a mother of four

  1. Amy May 6, 2013 at 7:05 am #

    Love this post, and the one comment that follows. I understand both and as the mother of 4, three boys and one girl, totally understand the hurt and misunderstanding that can happen. I love that you share so honestly what we all feel, and I know that is the best part of your blog. Honesty is so rare in a world of people who want to look good. Love what you write and relate so much, so THANKS, from the bottom of my heart!

  2. Malia {Playdough to Plato} November 14, 2014 at 10:38 am #

    Amen!! I have three kids 5 and under {2 boys and a girl} and know exactly what you’re talking about – the awkward stranger comments, the well intentioned lunch turned stressfest… parenting is so rewarding and so hard at the same time. You summed it up perfectly. :)

  3. tara February 16, 2015 at 8:23 am #

    I love this post! I am positive I have read it and probably commented last time, too. I am a firefighter wife, mom to three, who spends the majority of outings alone, who’s kids embarrass her sometimes, but who is determined to teach them how to act in public … even in Hobby Lobby (oh, the horror!). And I am also determined to be the woman who acknowledges and encourages that struggling mom when I am out alone because I soooo know what it feels like to be told when and where the Mother’s Day Out Programs are (so rude, by the way). I soooo feel you on this post. And I will probably read it again one of these. Probably with tears in my eyes again. And long after my kids are driving me crazy at sandwich shops and Target and Hobby Lobby and wherever else I drag them to, I hope that I am still reading this post just so I can remember what it feels like to feel slightly defeated in this mothering thing and that it will encourage me to encourage that young, kid-crazed mom I run into!!


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