Read Time: 4 minutes

Three Things I’ve Learned After 25 Years of Marriage: Part One

This may seem odd, but I don’t really like giving marital advice.

In order to give advice, you need to be thought of as someone who has attained a certain level of expertise on the subject at hand. In the area of marriage, even after 25+ years, I do not feel like an expert.

However, early on in our marriage my husband and I agreed that we would alway try to be learners, that we would try to grow individually and as a couple so we could have a strong and healthy relationship. We’ve kept that promise, and I’ve learned three important things along the way. Here is part one.

Nurturing Your Relationship Gets Harder When You Have Kids

It’s incredibly tempting to let your whole world revolve around your children when you become parents. Without even trying, kids are all-consuming with their physical, emotional, and educational needs.

This doesn’t stop as they become self-sufficient and the exhaustion of raising them transitions from worrying about feeding schedules and developmental milestones to their high school grades and dating choices.

Many parents shift, or even slowly drift, to expending all of their time and energy on their kids and neglecting their relationship with one another.

Date nights start being put off for school recitals and sporting events, conversations transition to detail swapping and scheduling logistics, and physical intimacy dwindles as couples deal with fatigue, fussy babies, and complicated bedtime routines.

Children Are Supposed to Leave the Nest, Spouses Are Not

One of the goals of parenting is to release self-sufficient adults into the world to make their own lives and create their own families. Couples who understand this realize they have to fight to nurture their marriage alongside raising their children.

They know that someday their children will leave their home, and they need something greater than co-parenting to keep them together.

My husband and I learned this lesson in a variety of ways over the years. We felt it as tension and anger that built up when we neglected each other. We saw it when we watched couples who made children their #1 priority struggle when their kids became adults. We realized it when we recognized that our kids, even when they were older, couldn’t handle our emotional needs in the way that we as partners could.

Understanding the Difference Between Your Identity and Your Roles

Because of the consuming nature of parenting, I sometimes found it difficult to separate my identity from the many roles I had as a wife and mother. I even introduced myself to new people by the roles I had:

“Hi, I’m Jessie, I’m Chris’s wife and a homeschooling mom of five.”

While those roles were wonderful and deeply satisfying parts of my life, they really weren’t who I was. They were wonderful gifts that allowed me to love and nurture people in an intimate way, but there was, and is, so much more to me.

Our identities, or who God uniquely created us to be, actually shape the way we perform our roles. We may grow and change, but the core of who we are remains quite steady. Understanding our identities can help us accept the changing demands of parenting, and it can help us have a healthier marriage.

Relieving Others of the Burden of Validating You

When our identities are rooted in the knowledge that God created us and gifted us with unique characteristics, we free ourselves and others from having to constantly validate us and make us feel important.

We love others more unconditionally, without a list of silent demands that can never fully be met.

This allows us to pour our attributes into parenting and being a spouse in healthier ways:

It allows us to create boundaries with our children because we can handle them being angry with us at times.

It allows us to let them become independent because we don’t need them to need us.

There are many more benefits, but these two alone are crucial to the health of your marriage.

Finding the Space to Focus on Your Marriage

There are a million ways to nurture your relationship as a couple while parenting, and it will be a constant flow of successes and failures, but making your marriage a priority is healthier for both couples and their children.

There are rhythms in life that provide natural places for rest, but couples with kids will always have to be intentional about spending time alone.

My husband and I used to joke that every time we went on a date, we ended up at the grocery store. Looking back, that’s not a negative thing at all.

Even taking the time to help each other with chores or routine tasks can be a bonding experience. In addition, couples have to figure out ways to be alone for small moments every day, and at least once a week for a couple of hours and once a year for an overnight retreat.

It’s About Progress, Not Perfection

If your marriage is growing, you’ll be able to see it. You’ll look back and see that you’ve grown closer, you understand each other more, and you’ve stopped having some of those petty arguments.

Your kids will see it too.

They will understand that their parents are a united front, there to offer love, support, and guidance as they navigate their way to independence.

It’s not always easy, but as your children become adults and move out, it’s incredibly gratifying to be left with your best friend. The partner you’ve shared so many memories with, worked through so many difficult moments with, and trusted with your most intimate thoughts and feelings. It also helps to have a wonderful friend who will still go to the grocery store with you.

Up Next:

Part Two: Your Sex Life Will Have Lots of Ups and Downs (Coming Soon!)

Read Time: 6 minutes

When I was a young mom, I had several mentors in my life that were around 15 years or more older than me and in the later stages of parenting. To me, they radiated spirituality after years of practicing their faith, and they seemed so composed when I compared myself to them and the craziness I felt both internally and externally while parenting small children. I actually thought they were saint-like at times, and I wanted to be just like them.

Looking back, I realize that most of what I admired about those ladies was just that they were in a different stage of life than I was, and they were reaping the benefits of having been faithful to their husbands, families, and God for a lot longer than I had. What I coveted was something you could only have after years of being on that journey and experiencing life. I was never going to have the steadiness of a 38-50 year old woman at the age of 22.

When we talk about developing our personal spirituality, it’s imperative that we recognize it is, in fact, personal. The journey a woman takes to understand God, herself, and her place in the world may have similar components, but it will be as unique as the whole person God created her to be.

Therefore, while having mentors and spiritual leaders is an important element of your own spiritual growth, the focus of the journey needs to be on where God is taking you, not where he has taken others. However, there is value in hearing how others have experienced God so that we can know it’s possible and learn the many ways He communicates to His people.

I share below the story of my journey to connect with God while raising my kids. It is an example, not an instruction manual.

The Most Important Time of the Day for Spiritual Growth

I am not a morning person. When my kids were babies and toddlers, I stayed up late to get control of my household chores and finally have time to myself while they were sleeping. This made mornings even worse for me, and I stayed in bed till the absolute last second, sometimes allowing my groggy kids into bed with me for snuggles so I could enjoy a few more minutes of downtime before my feet hit the floor. As a mom of five, once the day got started, it was off to the races.

Those ladies I admired had older kids, different temperaments than mine, and different routines. I felt like they all got up at 5 AM ready to read their Bibles, pray for the world’s ills, and write in their devotional journals. I tried a million times to make that a reality for myself, but 5 AM and me never really meshed.

I learned an important lesson from an unlikely source in those days: a 17th century monk named Brother Lawrence. Brother Lawrence worked in the kitchen of a monastery and is most well known for his ability (and the small book by a similar name) to practice the presence of God at all times. Since his primary responsibility was washing dishes, he learned to discipline his mind to focus on God and pray for others while he worked, turning a chore of drudgery into an opportunity to worship.

A line in the book that struck me was,

“The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the blessed sacrament.”

Since my days as a stay-at-home-mom were filled with tasks related to caring for others and keeping our household running smoothly, those words resonated with me. If Brother Lawrence could pray without ceasing in the 1600s while doing mountains of dishes by hand, a monotonous and dirty job, I could pray while vacuuming, folding laundry, and changing diapers in a modern home with modern technology.

That message created a small habit for me that continued for years, one I even find myself doing today as an empty nester when I fold my husband’s clothes or make a pot of soup for my visiting children and their partners. I pray while I work. I ask God to give me empathy for the people I’m serving. I reflect on the many ways He has served me, and I’m grateful. I repent for being selfish, impatient, or resentful in my relationship with that family member.

“I will do all things for the love of God.” – Brother Lawrence 

The subtle shift that happened when I turned ordinary and sometimes mundane tasks into opportunities to focus on God and others was incredible. I didn’t realize then that I was practicing a form of mindfulness, learning to be fully in the moment with all of my senses, and it taught me to appreciate even the smallest moments of my life. Focusing on God and others while I worked turned my obligations into opportunities, and it became hard to resent the opportunity to pray for and bless others when I recognized that’s what I was doing.

The Little Changes Are Catalysts for Big Changes

I always want the big rewards in life, and I sometimes forget that there are thousands of small, everyday choices to be made for every big reward. Learning to bring God into those little everyday moments, choosing to focus on him rather than indulging in feeling sorry for myself over the mountains of laundry and neverending kitchen chores, made it easier to bring him into other areas of my life.

Because I was praying for my kids more often, it was natural to need more answers from God, and I began seeking them out in the Bible. Because the Bible is kind of hard to understand sometimes, I made more time for study and went regularly to classes at my church. Because classes are usually more lecture than discussion, I joined small groups where I could talk about what I was learning and ask questions. I even traded out some of my entertainment down-time to read books recommended by my spiritual mentors and journal about what I was learning.

Those actions varied depending on the season of life we were in as a family. When my ability to commit to things outside my home was limited because of a new baby or lack of transportation, I invited women to gather in my home once a week. Bible studies with babies playing in the center of a circle of women were a common feature of my life for years. When the kids were sick or I was simply exhausted, I stayed home more often and made sure to connect with friends and mentors on the phone.

As my children grew older, I joined studies outside the home and made time for weekend retreats at least once a year. Whatever the season, I found it was possible to create space for spiritual growth both privately and corporately, but it looked so different depending on the time of year, my energy levels, our family finances, and the availability of my husband. I found that if I just gave myself the freedom to discover what made me feel connected with God, and allowed space in my life to grow closer to Him, it was a source of joy in my life, not guilt or shame.

God Can Teach You to Be a Mother

It seems a little scandalous, but the more I learned about God, the more I saw Him acting with both traditionally fatherly and motherly characteristics. I noticed how many times He related to the human race as children, and since I was neck-deep in full-time parenting, I began to understand His love for the world in a very practical way.

Parenting offers a unique opportunity to glimpse the heart of God for His people. My children, humans that they are, sinned. They sinned against others, against me, and against themselves. They caused me grief, and I feared for their emotional, intellectual, and spiritual well-being. I was compelled, neurotically at times, to defend their safety and attempt to protect them from the evil in the world and the evil in their own hearts. I tried, and I failed. At times, I gave them what they needed, yet they wanted something else. I loved them, and they still felt unloved. I accepted them, but they experienced rejection.

Those things happened in a million ways throughout their journey from infants to teenagers, and they continue to happen even though my kids are all adults now. I am an imperfect parent to imperfect children, and when I consider the responsibility given to me by God alongside the reality that I cannot perform it perfectly, I feel crushed.

But…God.

The crushing reality of parenting has driven me to seek God in a way that nothing else in my life has. Whether it’s praying for the right words to communicate during a sibling squabble or the patience to encourage a brand new reader, God showed up for me a million times in the day-to-day routine of mothering. He helped me soothe broken hearts, celebrate wonderful accomplishments, and cherish the unique people he entrusted me with. His Word, His community of believers, and His Spirit have also comforted me, urged me forward, and brought me peace.

When I felt I had nothing left to give, He was there. As I live now in the new adventure of parenting adult children, staring down grandparenthood, He is there. Cultivating that relationship, learning and growing and allowing Him to change me through motherhood, has been a source of life for me. It can be the same for you. It will look a little different from my journey, but I fully trust that He will support, challenge, and sustain you as well.

This is part three of our three-part series: Maintaining Sanity and Developing Personal Spirituality as a Stay at Home Mom

Read Time: 3 minutes

Whenever mothers think about rest it can lead to guilt. The demands of motherhood are constant. Babies, toddlers, even teenagers can’t set their needs aside to give their moms a break. Mothers know they need rest, but how in the world are they supposed to get it and not feel bad about it when they do?

Setting Realistic Expectations for Rest

If the only understanding of rest is an entire day spent on a quiet beach or a three-hour nap uninterrupted by a baby’s cries or a sibling squabble, it will stay elusive and impossible to attain. The demands of modern life leave little room for down time no matter what your profession, and some of us end up packing more busyness into our time off than we experience during a typical work week.

Since time away from responsibility is hard to come by, and it’s easy to fill available time with errands and other work-like duties, realistic forms of rest need to be prioritized as necessary parts of our daily rhythms. The fact that humans have divided time into hours, hours into days, days into weeks, weeks into months, and months into years provides a natural structure to incorporate rest into our lives. It’s reasonable for a mother to find space in each day, month, and year to recover from her busy life and take some time for herself, but she has to initiate, implement, and fight for those moments.

Making Rest a Priority

Daily moments of rest may be as simple as five minutes of prayer before getting out of bed in the morning, a bath after dinner while dad watches the kids, or an hour reading when the kids are in bed for the night. Even when daily moments of rest become part of a family’s routine, it is still important to schedule time out once a week, once per month, and once per year for longer increments of rest. Moms will benefit tremendously from an evening out with friends, an overnight stay at a family member’s house, or a weekend retreat once a year.

Mothers can initiate those moments by communicating their importance to their husbands and then making them part of the family’s normal routine. Fathers who care about the wellbeing of their wives and children should recognize the value in giving mom a few moments of rest on a daily basis along with longer breaks throughout the year. When parents model healthy attitudes about rest and work, kids benefit from more refreshed caregivers, and they learn to respect the spiritual value of Sabbath rest.

On a personal note:

As a homeschooling mother of five, I had a hard time finding people I could leave my kids with and not be stressed out the entire time I was gone. I really only left my kids with my husband, mother, and in-laws until they were old enough to stay with a couple of very trusted teenage babysitters. My ticket to time away was a very supportive husband, and our date nights were based on grandma availability more than anything else.

I cannot overestimate the value of the encouragement my husband gave me to take time for myself.

Whether it was overseeing after dinner chores so I could escape to the bathroom for a bubble bath or hanging out with the kids in the evening so I could go to a homeschool support group meeting and stay out late with my friends, he made sure I had time to do things independently.

That support allowed me to be a very busy homeschooling mother for almost 20 years while still cultivating my own hobbies and friendships. It also kept our relationship strong and enabled me to return the favor and encourage him to take time for himself as well.

Our time away from each other gave us the space we needed to enjoy other relationships and experiences that enriched our lives and gave us fun things to talk about when we were together.

Don’t Feel Guilty Having Fun 

Once you recognize your need for rest and create space for it in your life, take a deep breath and enjoy it. Parenting is a consuming job, and it’s a large part of your identity, but it’s not all you are.

Mothers are still people with their own desires, hobbies, talents, and dreams. When you have time to yourself, explore things you’re passionate about. Learn new things, practice your gifts, and develop yourself. Mothers who are active in their personal growth provide a wellspring of information, creativity, and inspiration to their children.

It’s tempting to want to bring your children and family along with you to experience the things you love, but having those moments to yourself and then sharing the story with your family has its benefits as well. Your ability to set time aside for yourself demonstrates valuable lessons to your kids.

This is part two of our three-part series: Maintaining Sanity and Developing Personal Spirituality as a Stay at Home Mom

Read Time: 3 minutes

Juggling the duties of stay-at-home-motherhood can be overwhelming at times, but there are many ways moms can find refuge to rest their minds, recover from busyness, and develop their personal spirituality.

Moms face a lot of judgment and criticism, and most of it comes from their own inner voices. 

  • Your kids aren’t going to develop properly if you do this!
  • You’re failing at the most important job you will ever do!
  • Your kids are going to be maimed for life because of you!
  • They’ll never get into college…never have healthy relationships…never have friends…and on, and on, and on…

The pressure of caring for the emotional, social, and physical needs of children can be crushing at times. There will never be a job that you will want to do so well, yet feel as if you’re failing so frequently.

Because stay-at-home mothering doesn’t garner the same kinds of positive reinforcement as a career outside of the home (you made good tips, your boss says, “Well done!”, you get Employee of the Month, etc.), it’s easy to slip into listening to your own negative mantras and forget that you have control over your thought life.

When you’re feeling overwhelmed by your own negative or critical thoughts, it’s important to isolate them and begin hearing what you’re really saying to yourself. Write down the thoughts that frequently cross your mind. Write down the thoughts that discourage you. Write down the thoughts that send fear coursing through your body, and write down the ones that make you cry.

Once you have your negative thoughts in front of you, expose them for what they truly are. Say them out loud to yourself and your husband. Journal or talk about the emotions they are rooted in. Do they stem from fear, insecurity, anger, unbelief? Be honest and brave as you reveal these things.

We will only be able to surrender our negative thoughts to God when we have exposed and identified them.

In 2 Corinthians, Paul says, “We destroy arguments and every pretension raising itself against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive in obedience to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:4b-5), and those words still have power today if we believe them and put them to practical use.

Examine each one of your negative thoughts and their root emotion, and meditate on how God’s word speaks about that issue.

Are you afraid your child will be developmentally stunted by your failure to read them a bedtime story last night when you were too tired to keep your eyes open?

Let the truth of God’s mercy and grace comfort you by seeing the bigger picture of the ways you did meet your child’s needs that day. Be at peace knowing that your rest is as important as your child’s reading skills and that caring for your own needs is not a failure.

Did you lose your temper repeatedly and feel guilty for lashing out at your kids with anger and impatience?

Let God show you where your life is out of balance and why you lacked the self control needed to react differently. Ask for his forgiveness and direction for making the changes needed to handle your frustration in a healthier way.

Address each thought in prayer and by journaling or talking about it with your husband. Search for scriptures, songs, or meditations that speak peace, hope, faith, and love into those places previously dominated by negative emotions.

On a personal note:

When my 5 children were all young, infant to 10 years old, I struggled with anxiety frequently.

As a homeschooling mom, I felt responsible for every aspect of my kids’ social, emotional, intellectual, and physical well-being – it was a lot of pressure.

To counteract the negative thoughts I often felt overwhelmed by, I started carrying a small, spiral-bound pack of notecards with me everywhere I went.

The notecards were full of scriptures that reminded me of God’s love for me, his provision for His people, and the hope He provides in difficult times. Those notecards were my lifeline – a very concrete way to stop the negative thoughts and focus on God and His truth.

Taking every thought captive is a lifelong process. At times, it will seem as if the practice yields no positive results, but I urge you to persevere. The discipline of isolating these thoughts, being honest with yourself about their roots, and intentionally surrendering them to God will change you over time. The change will be subtle at first; but, through practice, you will find your burden lifting and your faith shining light on the dark places in your mind.

This is part one of our three-part series: Maintaining Sanity and Developing Personal Spirituality as a Stay at Home Mom