Battling Futility in Motherhood

My baby cries. I look at the clock and sigh. Quickly, I finish drying the plate and get him from his cot. Here we go again.

There are some women who have a strong innate calling to motherhood. I was one such woman. I was eager for children and did not make the decision with my husband flippantly.

But when I did become a mother to a little bundle of joy last December, my happy expectations slowly withered away. I learned just how many things will not go my way—especially when sleep is involved.

My baby is a light sleeper who overtires easily, so my goal is to make sure he catches enough sleep. It is an ongoing cycle that never seems to end. But on occasions, when it seems as though I’ve finally cracked the magic code, something new—such as a developmental milestone or a change of surroundings—throws a spanner in the works. All my effort goes down the drain, and the struggle to get my baby to sleep becomes mentally defeating and tinged with tears.

I know that caring for a baby is tough, comprising days of unfinished plans and nights of interrupted sleep. I was ready for that. But I wasn’t ready for the sense of futility that came with it. Overcome by exhaustion and frustration, I lost sight of the call of motherhood that had shone so brightly months earlier. I found myself asking, “What is the point when I fail every day?”

The thing is, I know the general purpose of parenting. I know that we are to “start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it” (Prov. 22:6). A good book on parenting I read said that parents are to demonstrate the gospel to little ones. But at this stage of babyhood, I need a purpose more specific than that to anchor me down. How am I supposed to share the gospel to a baby who’s only just started babbling?

I prayed for a light bulb moment. Instead God answered me in a whisper of a thought from 1 John 3:16, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.” God revealed that my purpose this season is to demonstrate—and to grow in—selfless love.

I understand now that through parenting, I am to learn what it means to love unconditionally. There is nothing my son can do for me in return for all my efforts. Sometimes it even feels as though he’s making it harder.

But that’s not all. Now that I have a child, I am responsible for this person for the rest of my life—or at least until he becomes an adult. That means no giving up. No surrendering. It teaches me how to live out the second commandment to love others as myself. I had thought that marriage teaches that, but parenthood brings it up a notch. It’s really learning to give of myself, my time, nourishment, and words—to give my best essentially—because this little human deserves nothing less.

It’s amazing how one’s attitude can change the minute one has a clear purpose. I still face the daily challenge of making sure my son sleeps enough. Yes, I’m still tired and still fail. My son is still a light sleeper. But I don’t feel bitter about it anymore. Purpose has helped me find peace, nurture patience, and practice grace through the little acts of feeding, playing with and comforting my child.

There are various dimensions to the role and purpose of motherhood. But to me, the one that sums it up the best is this: To love selflessly in its fullest. And that is how I can demonstrate the gospel to my baby.

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  1. […] Monday, I finally published my first piece on my new role as a mother. It took weeks to put that essay together. It was hard work working through the fog of […]

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