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What a Mom of Toddlers and Preschoolers Really Wants for Mother’s Day

Confession: Reflecting on Mother’s Day experiences for moms of young children, I recall when my life with four kids under four resembled a chaotic Tide commercial.

Mother’s Day was just not my favorite day.

Even on Mother’s Day, I awoke at dawn to the all-too-familiar scent of toddlers, a staple in the Mother’s Day experiences for moms of young children. I still strategized infant nursing times to make sure we could all waddle our way out the door for church, hoping no one had messed their pants and we had in possession two shoes per child.

I still tossed handfuls of Cheerios and dog hair from the car seat in order to buckle in the children, handing them a board book with soggy edges. Someone was still guaranteed to melt down; bonus points if it wasn’t me.

I still needed to cut lunch into small squares on plastic plates and make sure the house didn’t smell like a diaper pail. My most realistic wish remained that everyone would nap at the same time, please oh please.

Grant it; I did cherish the macaroni artwork, the red-marker drawings where my body and head resembled a cardboard box balancing a smiling muffin. I did love the prompted hugs; the wet, open-mouthed kisses; the lisping “Happy Mother-th Day! Can I have a snack?”

But, echoing the sentiments of many, the Mother’s Day experiences for moms of young children often lack the one gift we desire most: a day off from motherhood.

I felt guilty for wanting zero responsibilities of the job being celebrated. Guilty for wanting to feel acknowledged and cared for by someone other than my nurturing, also-hardworking husband. These were the people I kept alive every day of the year until I was so exhausted a freight train couldn’t keep me from catching up on a REM cycle. Unless it had a nightmare and required a sippy cup with a chewed-up lid, a prayer, and to be rocked back to sleep.

(Once when my husband had volunteered to get up with the kids, I told them the next day, I would sleep in. “Sleep in what?” one of them piped up.)

“I see you”

I tell you this because if somehow you had enough childcare to grab a Mother’s Day decaf frappe and sit across from me, hopefully feeling no need to spackle concealer over the under-eye bags—I would look you in the eye, gently place a hand on yours, and say, “I see you. This coffee is on me. And for the next hour, we talk about whatever you want, or you can go home and take a nap.”

The Mother’s Day experiences for moms of young children are a testament to how motherhood is both more challenging and rewarding than ever anticipated.

With the honor our culture projects onto Mother’s Day, perhaps it just exacerbates your days’ thankless cycles: small T-shirts never all washed, folded, and put away. Dishwasher running 24/7. Runny noses, Goldfish, price-club boxes of baby wipes.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

And besides forgetting what it’s like to sleep until your body desires to wake up, perhaps you simply feel unseen. I remember the word “faceless” ricocheting around my head during these years of shuttling kids to library story times, playdates, zoo trips.

At some point, I realized that if something terrible happened to me, my children would likely not remember me; or us snuggling for naps, making cookies, molding Play-dough into snowmen.

But here’s how I’d comfort that burned-out version of myself with the unlined face. I’d tell her as the older version of her, who just launched two of the four into adulthood, men with broad shoulders and easy grins, whose malodorous sneakers wouldn’t even fit in the abdomen that kept them alive for nine months. My oldest may not call home for Mother’s Day this year, due to his deployment as a Marine in Asia.

I would tell her this.

You are seen.

I love Bible verses like Genesis 16:13, uttered by Hagar, a fleeing, verbally-abused woman. Later, she would encounter God again, clutched by fear for her dying child, the pair of them turned out, not on the streets, but into the desert.

She called God, The God Who Sees Me.

This is the same God who promises to “gently lead those that are with young” (Isaiah 40:11). In Isaiah 46:3-4, He identifies with young moms, too, describing Israel—God’s people, His kids—as “borne by me from before your birth, carried from the womb.” Deuteronomy elaborates that God carried Israel in the wilderness as a parent carries their child (1:31, albeit a dad in this instance).

You are not faceless to God. He sees what’s done and who’s served in secret without fanfare (Matthew 6:3-4). Psalm 139:1-3 says He knows every time you sit down or get up, that He’s acquainted with all your ways. We’re promised that “whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward” (Matthew 10:42)—which I certainly believe applies to apple juice.

And I believe God prepares unthinkable rewards for moms. In Luke 14:14—and in so many other Scriptures speaking of those who help the powerless—He praises those who serve people who can’t pay them back, “for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” He “give[s] every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds” (Jeremiah 17:10).

Your hidden offerings to Him, around the clock, in a 3 AM feeding or scrubbing throw-up out of the floor? Those are witnessed and cherished by God. And I believe He will faithfully, overwhelmingly reward.

Ask for the help you desperately need.

Whether due to my own personality flaws or misconceived notions of what a godly woman is, I was (am?) absolutely deplorable about asking for the assistance I need. (We all know that, as it’s been said, the three hardest things to say are 1) I was wrong, 2) I need help, and 3) Worcestershire sauce.)

Mother’s Day was in part less celebratory for me because I didn’t ask to go to a coffee shop, didn’t ask my husband to dress the kids for church. I personally spent too much time expecting him to just see what needed to be done and read my mind—because certainly true affection for someone equates to telepathy.

I’d suggest to my younger self that she lay down her pride enough to be the hero less often, and humbly request that someone wipe off the table, that she sleep in on a Saturday, that a friend watch the kids.

In the end, that help permits others beautiful, intimate, connecting moments with her kids—which her kids also need. And that help allows her space to be a more patient, more thankful, and genuinely loving mom.

Say no to the non-essentials.

I remember feeling hurt when my husband suggested toddlerhood wasn’t a good season for us to host dinner. Sure, when hosting anyone, I found it herculean to have every room of the house above squalor-level at the same time.

Inevitably five minutes before a guest arrived, someone short was dumping something with a lot of potentially injurious pieces, someone else was messing their pants, and something on the stove was beginning to smoke like Vesuvius.

In case you’re picking up on it, I’m kinda bad at not thinking of myself more highly than I ought (Romans 12:3). There was always this yawning chasm between the woman and mother I wanted to be, and the one I actually was.

Ecclesiastes explains there’s a season for everything. And maybe that season—the one when I can’t seem to get to a cup of coffee while it’s hot and little people are experimentally flushing plaisLittle People down the toilet—isn’t the time I should volunteer to bring four dishes to the small-group potluck.

Psalm 23 implies that God does give me green pastures and still waters in every season of my life. It does not, however (as my own mom reminds me), imply I mow the grass and swim laps. I’d counsel my younger self to discern God-provided moments of refreshing nurture, put off loading the dishwasher, and savor them.

Mine out the grateful moments. Tattoo them on your brain.

There’s something humming with beauty in the dimples on the back of a chubby hand, the gloss of curly pigtails, or a child posing, hands on hips, as Batman in your front yard. Or the chance to play hide-and-seek, even if when big people play, parts of them stick out. There’s a certain delight found only in a child telling a meandering story about their day over a juice box as they swing their bandaged legs.

At times, I’ve had to pray, like Moses, that God would show me His glory in my kids. When I am swept up by trying to remember if I added detergent, or fishing poop out of bathtub water, gratitude certainly isn’t top of mind. But my gratitude is connected to my worship; to my ability to tip my eyes up, to watch the small ways God shows up on an ordinary Thursday.

Nineteenth century preacher Henry Ward Beecher wrote, “The unthankful heart, like my finger in the sand, discovers no mercies; but let the thankful heart sweep through the day and, as the magnet finds the iron, so it will find, in every hour, some heavenly blessings.”

No, my teens don’t poop in the bathtub anymore. But it’s harder to hear about their days, their feelings. I long for the days I can lean in and see pudgy arms thrown up beside slumbering downy heads, as if in surrender. My young adults no longer beg me to take them on a picnic. I no longer watch them conquering invisible foes in the backyard.

Keep looking for God in your days.

What you are doing shows God to the world.

I would also tenderly smile at the younger version of me, or you, and remind her that what she does shows God to the world.

Motherhood in the preschool years plays the gospel on repeat: that when we could do nothing for God—and even made things a lot more difficult—He did everything for us.

Human beings showed up in a world we did not create and rebelled against Love Himself. Yet He feeds us, carries us, cleans us, clothes us, sings to us, kisses our wounds, explores the planet with us, grows us up.

Your life may feel small. But the Gospel to that one child? One person loving them like Jesus? It’s unparalleled. Ask any adoptive parent whose child wrestles daily through attachment issues. They’ll tell you: A child’s memory may not recall an absent parent. But they will know from birth whether their cries, their hunger for food, their hunger for attention, their dirty diapers matter intensely.

And that reality, shared among moms, is what truly defines the Mother’s Day experiences for moms of young children, making it a celebration of our deep, often unacknowledged love.

Happy Mother-th Day.

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