Wednesday, April 17

The Issue of Loneliness and Lack of Support in Parenting

Flowers from a friend.

I've been thinking about writing on this topic for a long while because it is a road we've walked and are still walking. Somehow I think I cannot be the only mother, regardless of family size, to unexpectedly encounter motherhood this way.  When my husband heard that I wanted to write about raising a large family in a small family culture, he warned me to tread carefully and gently and so I am going to try hard to do just that.

Generally, there is very little addressing in the Christian community of the attitude towards large families or the lack of older women taking up the call to mentor younger women.  I've heard it said that family and marriage are the two least addressed topics from church pulpits because leaders don't want to preach about what they fail at and/or make their congregants feel badly for the state of their marriages/families.  I'd like to think this isn't always the case and it might just generally be an oversight.  I am so thankful for those addressing and encouraging Christians to have gospel centered homes and have a deep appreciation for our friend Sam who has a gift for encouraging families.  As both a starting-to-be-an-older woman and as a mother of a large group of children, I see and feel deeply the importance of both these things.  As the older woman, I try to reach out through this blog and through having younger mothers in our home.  As the mama of many, I do feel at times that my hands are limited to how much I can do, even though I have the desire and see the need to do more.

We are raising our children, with essentially no more than sporadic support, either in the practical or the spiritual/emotional sense.  We've had to lone-dog it pretty much all the way, and thank God for other large family blogs, sermons available online, and a few key books for support in parenting our large crew.  My husband is largely without support and we feel the effects of this.

I think the most common assumptions when you have a large family in a small family cultural mindset is that you are either trying to one-up on others, or else you're assumed to be so legalistic and must be trying to reach favor with God through family size.  I recently left a room of women talking about birth control and their small families when one of them snorted and asked if I was ever going to stop having babies, only to enter another room and have an older Christian gentleman ask why I was having another child.  At this point, I made myself smile and said, "Once you have four, you're already considered to have gone off the deep end, so why not have a few more and enjoy them?"  Probably not the nicest and Christ-like answer I could have come up with but out it popped.  At this point I just wanted to go home.  I wish moments like these were not the norm, but unfortunately, they are.

When the rude comments seem overwhelming and there is no support in mothering or parenting, what to do?

First, realize that you aren't alone. 
No matter how alone you feel; no matter how alone in the daily mothering or parenting you actually are - you really aren't alone.  (I tell myself this all the time.) In one fit of frustration between myself and God (or myself towards God) I informed Him how I understood that He never leaves me alone but that He doesn't have arms to help me feed my children when I'm sick and cannot get out of bed, or a voice to tell me how to deal with repeated toddler tantrums and so on... It was one of those all-out hysterics that I've since apologized for and I know God doesn't hold against me but there it was.  God showed me that He is just as grieved or more grieved than I am at the lack of people being his hands and feet and that still, when I'm in the deepness of sitting and folding laundry for hours, He is still there.  His spirit does speak to and encourage my heart, His words of life that lay open before me in the morning are the sustenance of the day.  We may not have ideal support for raising a family, but we are never without Him.
As a side: to the elderly woman who brokenly poured out her heart to me in a thrift store on the subject of wishing she had had a large family, to the elderly Russian woman who with tears in her eyes, gestured to all of the kids with me in Walmart and blessed me over and over in the produce aisle, to the random people who stop us when we're out and share how they were the eldest of seven or youngest of nine and wouldn't trade it for anything, to the older women who pray for me- thank you! Thank you, thank you.  You bless me.

Second, guard your heart.
It is easy to become hard-hearted without even intending to be so.  In an attempt to protect ourselves from the hurtfulness regarding comments about our families we might avoid people all together.  Weekly, I ask God to give me a love for His church - not specifically the local church we attend though that is a good place to start - but a Christian culture that accepts what God calls a curse and complains about what God calls a blessing.  Walking around with a chip on our shoulder, for any reason, blocks us from showing the love of Christ fully and compassionately.

Third, DO find the support available online.
This is essential.  I'm not talking about facebook because mostly I feel more encouraged without that than with it.  It is a lousy filler for loneliness.  At the bottom of this post, I'll list some sources where I've found strength and encouragement as a Christian mother and wife.

Fourth, do reach out: blessings may come in the most unexpected of places.
Doing something as simple as saying "hello" to a woman I saw walking a stroller has blessed us with seeing a couple come to faith in Christ as well as friendship between our families.  I've gotten texts from this friend when she's at the grocery store, asking what she can pick up for me... and really, isn't it just the small things like this that can encourage and brighten our days when we're deep in the midst of things?  I'm so thankful for the other busy moms who text me or e-mail me during the week just to say "hello"!

Fifth, be in God's Word and in His presence.
I don't know about anyone else, but parenting a large crew has made me starving for spiritual food.  I am never off duty as a mother, even errands are usually run with a few children with the pressure to get home and back into the swing of things there. There are no vacations, time away with my husband, blog/marriage/homeschool conferences or the other things that seem possible with support or smaller family size.  I know I'm not the only mother to wonder how I can give more when I feel like I've given everything possible to give.  Morning Bible reading with my coffee and later on a podcast while I'm housecleaning are literally the food that sustains me.  God doesn't call us to take vacations or attend conferences, though those things are lovely, but He does challenge us to spend time in His Word.  I would have gone crazy long ago if not for the Word of God feeding my heart. :) 

How do we stay mindful of the presence of God?  By involving all of our day in Him.  For me, this is continually asking, begging, thanking and thinking... "Lord, how do I handle this?"  "Lord, thank you for this heavy asleep head on my shoulder." "Father, I don't know how to teach these sons to get along, I desperately need You in this situation." "Lord, I praise You for being my support and strength!" and so on... 
When we're mindful of God's eagerness to be involved in every aspect of our day, we're forced to see the loneliness of our days filled with Him.

Useful links:
Voddie Baucham.  You can also hear his sermons on sermonaudio.com
John Piper and Desiring God.org.  Search by topic, like "parenting" or "marriage" for resources.
Family Life Today - great resources for raising children and staying married
The Mission of Motherhood - one of my favorite authors on motherhood
More Hours in My Day - practical wisdom for mothers
A Deeper Kind of Calm - such a good book
Open Heart, Open Home - practical, compelling wisdom on hospitality
Homeschooling with a Meek and Quiet Spirit - a must read for any mother, regardless of whether you homeschool
She Shall be Called Woman - I was blessed by this audio series, full of practical wisdom
Love and Respect - one of my favorite books on marriage
True Woman Conference audio - more great podcasts here for during naptime or cleaning time
Revive Our Hearts - love these podcasts!
Andy Stanley on parenting
Eyes of Wonder blog - I've been blessed to know Jewels and can say she's just as lovely and gracious as she comes across in her blog
Celebrating Motherhood Every Day - another mother of many's writings
A Holy Experience - continually pointing us back to our need for Him; love Ann for this
Momma Bug's Blog - another mother of many's writings
Large Family Logistics - great book on the practical issues of mothering many
A Sane Woman's Guide to Raising a Large Family - another great book with practical wisdom
Let My People Think - because mom's need the meat of the word, podcasts like this are a life-saver
Round Table on Parenting - great parenting perspective

As always, I may not agree with everything written/spoken in the links above, but as a rule, they have encouraged me tremendously.  Also, just a reminder that what I write here is not necessarily a representation of our local church that my husband serves in.  I'm sure there are others which I am missing, so tell me, any other wisdom or resources you'd like to add to my lists?





 

21 comments:

Anonymous said...

Your blog is that encouragement for me! We only have four, but it always lifts my spirits to share in your wisdom. Thank you!

MaggieJoy said...

Thank you for this! The Lord is truly using your gifts as a sister in Christ and a writer to encourage and inspire. (ps: I'm a long time reader of your blog, such a blessing). My husband and I have two sons, 18 months and 4 months, and plan on having a large family. And we've already encountered hurtful comments due to how close in age they are - which I awkwardly laugh off :) I haven't found a good response yet...

Corinna said...

It's a tough subject to discuss and especially online without really knowing your complete audience. But THANK YOU. I'm a long time reader of your blog and you are perhaps the biggest influence in me beginning to blog as well. I admire your open honesty and reality which flows out of your writing.

In response to this issue, I often wonder if it is harder for my husband than for me. I have my home which is my haven and I have the ability to create a welcoming, friendly environment for my family while he is out in the workplace day in, day out surrounded by people constantly.

You have blessed me this evening and also challenged me to reach out more to those around me, through my blog but also in tangible ways as well. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

I'm a long-time reader and also so encouraged by your blog! Thank you- it's such a blessing and encourages me to be a better wife and mama! I especially love this post, though. I'm a mama to four and we'd love another couple or so. I'm an army wife, so coupled with having many moves in a short amount of time, trouble finding a church home, and being an introvert :), I have a terrible time with the loneliness and isolation. I'm thankful for the links you've given, and will pour over them.

If I could, I'd like to add an example and help get some recent hurt out... This is why I'm "anonymous" today, without my usual sign-in. As I said, my husband and I are anxious to have another little one and were hopeful to have one by now. I had four easy conceptions and pregnancies and births, but was thrown when I had a very early miscarriage early last fall. Thankfully, we were pregnant the next month again, but only to find a pregnancy with no baby. Another miscarriage... At this point, I'm still trusting in The Lord, but pleading also. We praised Him to be pregnant again after the new year!! I felt wonderful, pregnant, and growing! Last Friday was our first peek at our tiny baby. Up it popped on the screen- praise The Lord! But we quickly realized there was no heartbeat, as our sweet baby had passed exactly one week earlier. We're still thankful. Still hopeful. Still trusting Him. My parents however, have mentioned and flat-out told me that maybe we shouldn't ignore what God's trying to tell us, and that our family may be complete due to already having four healthy kids. Oh how it hurts and upsets! My own parents, the ones with four children themselves. My health is good, and doctors seem to think it's just really bad "luck". We are godly people, try to live simple lives, homeschool our children, make good money, but still the hurtful "your plate is so full" and "maybe this is God's way of telling you to be done".

I'm so sorry for the long-winded post, but really other than my husband, don't feel able to share my hurt by this. I'm hoping to encourage others that may be getting the comments from family members. Be blessed! Trust God in all circumstances!

Elisabeth O'Lone said...

Thank you for sharing this!! I grew up in a large christian family and completely understand what you mean. I currently have one child, but with hopes to have more!! I want to let you know that you are on my prayer list. Your blog is very encouraging to me.

amy said...

So good Hannah! Thank you for this. So glad to have you as a friend :)

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your thoughtful and heartfelt words, especially the emphasis on getting into God's Word on a daily basis. I need prayer for this as I do not fit that in, and I need it so very much. . . Even just being a stay at home mom, I have felt a lot of opposition and judgement, and with us having more than two children (we are expecting our 4th in a few weeks) it is only seen as all the more "backwoods". I am now in a supportive Mom's Group, and this really helps so much to be with other women that are passionate about God and parenting, and have a desire to support each other regardless of differing views on family size/birth control. . . Thank you again for your words, they have been a blessing to me.

Julian said...

Your post was encouraging,thank-you so much for honestly sharing your heart. Looking for a church,and having many kids,it does get lonely. But I realize my need to be in His Word even more. Many blessings on you.
Christina

Verna said...

It's like you read my mind! What an encouraging post! We're expecting our 3rd in July. We've already received comments about needing birth control for Christmas and maybe my OB leaving was a sign that we shouldn't have anymore kids. When I talk to my mother, she just says I've been there. No encouraging words, nothing supportive to add, just deal with it. I'm thankful for my children and I love them dearly but being pregnant with two toddlers can feel overwhelming at times and I often feel very lonely. I'm so thankful for your blog and others like yours that have given me some encouragement on the hard days. Thank you!!

Anna said...

Thank you for sharing your heart in such a lovely way. We're only on baby number two, and have no idea yet what our family size will be, but loneliness definitely comes anyway. There is this constant yearning for an older woman to approach me and just take me under her wing.

One small thing I've learned is that sometimes I need to just ask for help. Even when people aren't offering and I worry that asking will make me appear silly and unorganized. My husband first suggested this to me - why not just ask so-and-so if you can meet together every so often? But that's not the way it's supposed to work, was my retort. In a matter-of-fact-way he observed that it would be better than nothing.

I haven't yet approached someone in an official sense like this, but I do ask a lot more questions to try and get insight.

What are your thoughts about approaching other women and just asking for help on whatever level?

Roslyn DeMaere said...

Dear Hannah, You are certainly not alone in your thoughts about raising a large family and encouraging others to do the same! That is something I prize very much, too. Along with nearly 15 million other members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I too support the divine nature and purpose of the family. The following statement gives me strength and courage in the sometimes-lonely pursuit of placing marriage and family as the greatest priority in my life:

"WE, THE FIRST PRESIDENCY and the Council of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, solemnly proclaim that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and that the family is central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children. . ."

"THE FIRST COMMANDMENT that God gave to Adam and Eve pertained to their potential for parenthood as husband and wife. We declare that God’s commandment for His children to multiply and replenish the earth remains in force. We further declare that God has commanded that the sacred powers of procreation are to be employed only between man and woman, lawfully wedded as husband and wife." (From The Family: A Proclamation, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1995. www.lds.org/topics/family-proclamation)

I have enjoyed your beautiful blog for quite some time now and applaud all you are doing and hoping for your family. I believe there are many, many mothers out there who are quietly living what you have described, and are grateful to you for your example and strength. Keep up the lovely work!

Roslyn DeMaere
Magrath, Alberta, Canada

Andrea@FlourishingMother said...

Hannah, thank you for speaking out about this! I am not sure it's neccesarily that we are raising a large family in a small family culture (although that does play a part), but more of our culture drifting away from God's design for marriage, home and family. And I'm speaking of the Church.
I do believe that not only is the church not speaking and teaching about strong families at the pulpit, but they are not teaching how to strengthen and encourage each other, including mothers. There definitely needs to be more *prayer* because *prayer* changes hearts and actions.
Really enjoyed this, Hannah, thank you.

Momma Bug said...

Dear Hannah,

Good good words. Timely and written with grace. I can see already, that you've touched hearts with this post - you've touched my heart.

I have a lot to say on this subject, but today I limit it to "Thanks Friend."
You have spoken truly, and reading comments I wish we could all gather for tea and hugs, and the refreshment of seeing the many who share the same struggle and are yet victorious.

It looks like there are a lot of young mothers (women just starting out on this adventure with one or two children) who are longing for the support of women a few steps ahead.
Anna specifically said something about asking for help.
To this I'd like to say; I remember being newly married and feeling the same way, wanting so badly for the older women I admired to invite me into their lives. I didn't feel it was my place to ask.
At that time I knew their plates were full, but it hasn't been until this season (now in full swing with my sweet new number 8) that my experience tells me just HOW full their plate actually was.

These days I can't get to the phone to catch up with a friend. I don't jog hither and yon to ladies functions, and can barely meet the basic demands of meals and laundry and relationships with the people under my own roof, but.....

But, my hearts desire is for your encouragement Anna. I have a precious friend who at a few steps behind me in life circumstance, was bold enough to ask for help.
She asked for encouragement and came into my life to participate as I lived.

I lived... and made sandwiches, and picked playdough off the floor, and corrected squabbles, and administered hugs while her tiny ones played with mine.
She asked questions and I spread peanut butter. We sipped tea in between diaper changes, and cried together a few times too.
I'm sure I quickly fell off my pedestal but I lived my life and she shared it with me.
This woman is one of my dearest friends and I'm so glad she asked. My life is the richer because of the Lord's blessing me through her.

I was not on the searching for more to fill my plate, but her asking was a brave gesture that blessed us both.
You have much to offer back, with your fresh hopes and dreams friend.
Do, oh please DO ASK!

Hannah, thank you again. I consider you one of those dear friends I've never met but one day look forward to sharing life with :-)

All my heart,
Analene

Anonymous said...

Great post and wonderfully written. I still remember the sting of announcing my 5th pregnancy even amoung family and certainly at church. Congratulations were missing and many jokes and questions about what were we doing. It is super hard to swim upstream. So glad you've found your support online and you have made me realize that I should seek out to support those behind me. Thank you, Janet

MrsCookin said...

Hannah-
I came to your blog this afternoon looking for respite and encouragement and found it. After an "ugly cry" in the shower this morning, feeling at the end of my rope, completely lacking patience with my toddler and feeling totally unprepared for #2 in 5 weeks: I needed to read this!
We pray for a large family but after weeks like I've had recently I wonder if I can manage it. Support is a huge void in my life right now and I pray that the void can be filled! It makes all the difference.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts on the topic!

Olga said...

It always amazes me how global our culture has become. It's just the same here in Russia. Only 20 years ago having many children was a norm among Christians but now we are oh so civilized...
Well, I enjoyed your response to the curious gentleman :) I don't think it was not nice. Sometimes people need some "shock therapy" to change the direction of the their thinking. I'm going to the hospital to have our 6th child in about a month and I pray God to give me wisdom, love and patience to endure these countless questions, raised eyebrows and remarks. I see it as a ministry and why should it be easy?
Hannah, if it's appropriate to ask you here, could you please give me links to your posts about body image? I'm going to address this topic, too, and would love to quote some of your wisdom. Thank you once again for your blog :)

HannahRuthie said...

Hannah, for the last four and a half years you have encouraged me through your words about life, faith and home education (I still make that cinnamon bread recipe--yum!). I've found answers (sometimes hard to hear, nonetheless truth) here as I've found my way back to a relationship with Jesus, and introduced Him to my husband and children, who have also come into relationships with Christ. I'd say this encouragement you bring ripples out further than you can imagine. I still pray for the woman who lost her husband in the tornado a few years back, and when you posted a long while back about peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and families that have neat little two's and three's of children, I felt a little twinge of possible pain in your words. I'm one of those that has two awesome little guys. No more. Looks good, but my heart ACHES. It is a terrible thing to have monthly heartbreak, longing so deeply for something that for an inexplicable reason won't happen. And when I express the desire for a larger family, people don't understand, pooh pooh it. It is dismissed as greed, I've found. We discussed adoption, but instead we have begun the process through a Christian organization in our area to become licensed for foster care. As the classes go on, we are more and more convinced this is what we are to do. (I'd love to hear what you have to say on that subject, having been a foster parent in the past, when you have the time hahaha.) Thank you for everything, and I will continue to keep your family in our families prayers!

Kandle Y. said...

Hannah,
Thank you for this post. Even among family, my little family of three on the hoof, one in heaven, and one in the owmb is met in opposition. My sister (mom of 1) flat out told me I am trying the repopulate the world! But thankfully we do know dear people who support and love us. My SIL is a blessing as well.
While we are on the subject, why is it that once you have more than 2 kids, your intimate life is open to conversation? "Are you going to have more?" "Don't you know what causes that?" "What, no TV?" Are not questions one should ask ANYONE.

Sarah said...

"He is just as grieved or more grieved than I am at the lack of people being his hands and feet"

Oh Hannah. I am so thankful for this post. I've been reading your blog from Japan for ages now and have pretty much given up finding a supportive church, finding older women who take the Titus 2 call to mentorship seriously, and the idea that my needs may in some way be met by others. I have always been a do-it-myself-er and still hold to that. One thing I have had to adjust is how I allow myself to get exhausted in my own thoughts about all I really do. I am a mom of 2 Littles and one on the way, military serving on a tiny rock in the East China Sea with no family and rarely a husband. But in all this, God has been my Constant. The Lifter of my head and the binder of broken hearts. Feeling alone and resourceless can be draining. I decided to find mentor-like figures online since I'm limited here. itakejoy.com is a great resource you may add. Sally Clarkson is pro-mentor and her new co-authored book, Desperate, is centered around just that. I pray peace and blessing on you and your amazing kiddos. I just tell people when they snicker, "I take my blessings from God in the form of children, not prosperity or fame." (or even a clean house) ;) Kids are awesome and no loving parent has ever regretted having one of the children they have!

Shelley Q said...

I am pregnant with my third sweet one. My mom came to visit today and while at the playground with my son and daughter asked me "The Question". She patted my belly and asked me if this would be "it". When I stated that I didn't know, that it was up to the Lord, she pressed in with "I'm serious." I was able to take it in stride and talked about the children being a blessing and how we wouldn't tell God that we've had enough of any other blessing he would choose to send our way. She was respectful and listened and agreed that her grandchildren are blessings, but I can see she just doesn't get it. Thank you for this post that pointed me back to the One that does understand (he is the Author of life after all) and the only one who can support and affirm me perfectly without human prejudice. You and your heartfelt writings bless me so much!

MissJubilee said...

Thank you for sharing what God has put on your heart. I don't remember how I found your blog - I think it was a recipe - but the sense of peace and love and home I found encouraged me to subscribe and read on.

It's odd, when I first started reading this post I was quite surprised. I am a single woman in my 30's and I've been frustrated at how focused on family US Christian culture seems to be, like I'm just waiting for my real life to start. I long to be a wife and mother, but God in his wisdom has not brought me to that place yet. I guess we have a bit of similarity in our desires and needs - for older mentors and good teaching related to where we are in life. I live in Asia actually but I listen to sermons online and visit my parents' church when I'm there. In fact, as an older couple without young children in the home, they have been feeling some of the same frustration I have.

Well now I know that even families can be overlooked or treated with less than te support and love we would expect in the body of Christ. I'm sorry it's such a struggle, an as I can see from the other comments, it's wonderful that you are sharing and encouraging, not in a way to complain about it but to support others and encourage them. I will be praying for your family along with a few other bloggers I pray for. (One I really respect blogs at nihaoyall.com, and she has a very large family, some biological some adopted. She's also honest and encouraging!)

Many blessings,
MJ