I entered the McDonald's play land area with my four kids, simply grateful for the chance to catch my breath while enjoying the fact that I was not my girls' “sole entertainment” and that my boys would have new surroundings to explore. I was exhausted – it had been “a week” and things with my toddler twin boys were only getting more difficult. Which at that moment really meant one thing: my life was getting more difficult and my days at home were anything but a break. I scouted out a table as guilt waged war on my mind: guilt about the food I was going to feed my children, guilt over the way I felt about being a mom in that moment, guilt over the way I craved a break.
And that's when I saw her.
Beautiful, calm, strong. And she smiled in my direction. I smiled back.
I sat down in my brightly colored chair and began to unpack our less-than-nutritional-guilt-inducing lunch. Soon the smiling woman's son came over -- tousled hair, standing much taller and a bit older than most of the other kids present, but no less excited by the concept of time with mom and playing during lunch. It was quite clear that this boy was “different”, perhaps plagued by autism or Asperger's, severe ADD or some other struggle.
Regardless of the label, the boy's wonderment and joy intrigued me. And his mother captivated me. I couldn't deny the fact that I had spent the better part of the week throwing myself a pity party in response to my four active, healthy children. And here this woman was smiling. I couldn't help but feel she needed this “break” more than I did. And then came that oh-too-familiar feeling: guilt.
How could I feel so sorry for myself? How could I look at my children as demanding and exhausting tasks and not as the incredible blessings which they are?
But as I began to ponder this situation, these two mothers side-by-side, both with the same goals on mind (their child's happiness and an easy lunch), the gratitude began to cover my guilt. The thankfulness that my struggles stemmed more from the sheer number of my children rather than physical, emotional or mental challenges that any one of them could have had. As a person who often questions and analyzes my own thoughts, I began to wonder: which feeling – the guilt or the gratitude – was right, more appropriate?
If this woman were in my head and knew my thoughts, would she want me to feel guilty or grateful when I looked at her son? Or was she sitting there watching me and silently thanking God that He had only given her one baby at a time? As I sat there eating my cheeseburger, I looked up only to discover an even bigger smile on the boy's face and one of my daughters following closely behind.
“She showed me how to get down the gigantic slide, Mom!” he exclaimed. And Delilah beamed.
Captivating mom and I exchanged glances and smiled. When they walked passed our table to leave a little while later, we nodded at one another and she quietly wished me a good rest of that day. And that's when I realized: maybe it wasn't about feeling grateful or guilty. Maybe it didn't have to be a competition. Maybe it was just about having a comrade – someone next to you in her trench, feeling just as exhausted, overwhelmed and trying to take it a day at a time and trust that God had fully equipped us for the challenges set before us. After all, He had created us specifically for the task at hand.
For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. ~Ephesians 2:10
Motherhood was never intended to be a competition as to who has it hardest – it's one of life's most challenging experiences no matter how you slice it. But at least we're all in it together.