I couldn’t figure out what had happened. A year before, I couldn’t figure out how to take a meal to a new mom while balancing life with my toddler. It seemed impossible. But there I was, loading up not one but two kids to take yet another meal. And suddenly my husband and I—who had struggled to get just one kid ready for church—were smoothly getting two kids ready.
Was it about the fact that we had been parents for longer? Were we just lowering our standards? Had we discovered some secret?
Perhaps you’ve felt this as you add a new baby or a new responsibility and wonder how you ever thought life was hard before this change. But it’s not just that you’ve lowered your standards or grown used to accepting a life of less. You’re not necessarily being depleted by the new “hard.” Nor was the before necessarily “easy.”
It’s all about your mom muscle.
We learn in PE that to grow a muscle, you have to push it beyond what it can take—just a little. And then keep doing that. So at first, doing reps with the 10 pound weights seems hard. But a few months later, you have worked up to heavier weights. And you can’t just say: “Wow, the 10 pound weight is nothing.” It’s not nothing. It was legitimately hard, and if you hadn’t spent time lifting it, you wouldn’t be lifting the 20 pound weight.
That’s how I have started looking at motherhood (or really any big thing we do—a career change, trying to get connected in a new city). After my first outing with two kids, I was totally wiped out. It felt like it took so much energy. But after a little while, I got used to buckling the two carseats and figuring out which kid to unbuckle first and how to manage grocery carts. It wasn’t just that I lowered my standards and accepted a lesser existence. It’s that I grew more flexible and smarter.
Mom muscle is how I understand my own growth as a mom. Mom muscle is finally being able to drive while your baby fusses without losing your sanity because you have to get home. Mom muscle is knowing what different cries mean. It’s building up flexibility about sleep so that at first you get by with naps and then one day, you realize that you survive on broken sleep even without a nap. It’s knowing when you need to leave your kid with someone else. It’s knowing that you are going to make mistakes and not viewing every mistake as the end of the world. It’s learning how to meet your own needs and your kids’ needs.
Mom muscle is a mixture of strength and juggling and intuition. You learn when they need a nap and when they can skip. You get faster. You get better at adjusting your expectations so you learn to be okay with shorter date nights or a mild amount of crying. The things that used to exhaust you just don’t exhaust you anymore (though new ones will!).
This is not to say that you become perfect as a mom—some nurturing robot who needs little to no sleep and is constantly wise and cheerful and creative. Rather it’s just an acknowledgment that when things seem hard, we’re not necessarily being broken down to nothing. Rather these hard things build muscle. The first time you leave your child in nursery it feels heartbreaking, but it gets easier for you both. The first big trip you take feels huge, and packing feels insurmountable but a year or so later you find packing for two to be not a big deal. We’re constantly using our muscles and growing them as moms. (This is probably the only reason we can have more than one kid, too!).
This encourages me so much when things feel heavy or hard. I know that it will get better—that I will get stronger—whether this means adapting or calling in reinforcements sooner or letting go of nonessentials.
Some of us start off with hard weights in motherhood—a NICU stay, a horrible case of colic, or twins. These weights are so heavy—maybe they are 50 pound weights. Other people add their weight slowly. For some of us, a second baby or an extra responsibility might seem like just an extra 5 pounds. For others of us, it seems like it’s the thing that’s going to break us. We don’t get to progress in a steady, careful way (like we might at a gym), but we can take heart because we are progressing.
So far, this is the hardest but most beautiful thing about life. We’re constantly being broken down and rebuilt. This isn’t so that we can be stronger on our own. Rather it’s so we can carry the responsibilities God has given us in our own homes and also out in the world. One of my favorite verses is Philippians 1:6. It’s a beautiful promise that, “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” We’re not going to be finished here on earth, but we are moving in a forward direction.
I love to think of the strength I gain as I control my temper and speak kindly. It’s easier to do it the next time. Or the little shortcuts and mom hacks I find. I love that we can grow and that the hard things get easier and we build more resilience.
A note of caution: you won’t typically feel it. There are still days when I feel totally overwhelmed. There are plenty of days when I’m exhausted and depleted and moments where I don’t control my temper and say things I later have to apologize for. I don’t think we see the muscle growth every day. Sometimes we’re in a season where we feel like we’re back-tracking because we’re actually adding a new weight (like adding a new baby!).
But there will come a day when we see it—when we look back and see how much muscle we’ve built and how much we’re carrying (and letting others carry for us).
It’s realizing that you’re keeping up with the laundry or no one has cried while you’re making dinner or you don’t get upset because quiet time was a fiasco. It’s realizing that you’re learning how to be okay with mess. It’s celebrating that you’re doing the stuff you didn’t think you could—hosting a meal or taking on a new responsibility.
Our muscles will grow in whatever we are doing as God continues this good work in us. This doesn’t mean self-sufficiency. Rather it’s a strength that serves and blesses others and helps us be increasingly filled with joy in our tasks.
I love celebrating how far I’ve come—how much muscle I’ve built. And during hard seasons, I remind myself that I’m adding weight, and that’s okay. I’ll get stronger or I’ll get help (which is another way of getting stronger), and by God’s grace, the good work he began will continue.