The lights are out and I walk through the playroom where three of our six kids sleep. I can hear the sound of their breathing, especially the small-framed five-year old whose snoring matches her loud personality but not quite her physical size. It makes me laugh that she has the most commanding snore in the family.
The boys are asleep in an adjacent room, two in bunks, and one in a crib. I look in on the big boys, straightening their stray limbs and pulling the blanket corner over the feet that often stick out the sides or bottom of the covers. Those limbs are growing like weeds, it seems. Only two blinks ago, they were wee-little ones, toddling around with little toy trucks and sippy-cups in hand. Now, they are young men with goofy grins and more mischief than I expected to encounter at ages seven and nine. I never imagined I could love them as much as I do.
My one-year-old has his face pressed against Thomas the Tank Engine, the motif on his crib sheet, with his knees pulled under him and his buns in the air. I tuck his blanket around him and tuck these moments into my heart.
Night is a sacred time for this mama’s heart. It wasn’t always that way. For years, I nursed a negative attitude through incessantly wakeful babies and occasionally sick children who cried out for me. If there was a night-time need, they roused me from my desperately-needed sleep to take care of things. I wish I could say it was my joy to do it, but most often, I rose with a twinge (or plentiful helping) of bitterness.
Come on, people. I haven’t slept in years. Please just let me sleep. Let someone else be the mom for a while.
At times, it brought out my worst. I croaked out orders to my sleeping husband to help, snipping and huffing about how hard it all was, and how it wasn’t fair that I had to get up despite my languishing fatigue. It was the kind of tired that brought out everything ugly in my heart. For years, I fed that beast with my disdain for the night hours. Every time I begrudgingly left my bed to tend to a child, I came back to my pillow, irritated that I had to sacrifice my precious sleep for whatever it was they needed.
I was ready to fast-forward these years, so I might find the uninterrupted sleep I felt I was entitled to.
Like the woman who is trying to unsuccessfully button her last-year’s pants (which may now be a few sizes too small), I was trying to fit mothering my young children into the sleep habits I enjoyed as a woman without children. I hadn’t connected the dots between the arrival of these little people with an invitation to love in new ways, because loving my children didn’t look quite like I expected it to; constant self-sacrifice.
Stepping into motherhood is like being thrown into a marathon—without training, and without any real concept of the exhaustion that comes with raising little ones. It wasn’t only my nighttime sleeping habits that would have to change, but my whole life, and ultimately, my heart.
Around the time of my fourth baby’s arrival, a wise mother I know mentioned to me that she cherishes the night hours as a time to pray for her children and husband, and that she has found a deep sense of peace in the midst of whatever circumstances have drawn her out of bed in the darkness.
Her statement perplexed me because I had not found this peace for myself at the time. I tried to figure out what secret sauce she had found to make the mom night-life this brand of wonderful. I couldn’t find a formula that fit. When my fourth baby was born, things changed. I named her Mia Grace, which means “My Grace,” in response to the verse, “My grace is sufficient for you, and My power is perfected in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9 NASB). During nights up with her, I found myself no longer selfishly holding my comforts of sleep and independence closer than the unexpected gift that was being offered to me as I fully embraced the invitation to be the person that comforts these little ones in the hours before dawn.
For years, I fought against the invitation to discover the peace of a servant-mother who cherishes the night hours, but rocking in the dark with that little girl at my breast, God’s grace in my weakness became real to me.
Jesus Himself said that He did not come to be served, but to serve and give His life as a ransom for many. I don’t love cleaning up vomit or leaving my bed to ward off a little one’s nightmares, but I do find great purpose in knowing that I am the constant, faithful one they feel welcome to call on at any hour. I am the hands and feet of Jesus to my family. I have made peace with rushing to them when they call my name, even if I’m leaving restful sleep to do so.
How a mother finds rest looks a bit different than I expected. It doesn’t always come in uninterrupted stretches of sleep, as any newborn mom, or mom of many will tell you. Rest sometimes comes in a different form: in rising to the challenge of wholeheartedly serving our families without resentment, and discovering that the night holds precious space for communion with God and the peace He brings.
I sacrifice sleep, but I gain the deep satisfaction found in surrender to what God has asked of me in this season.
There is goodness in the night hours. With a baby pressed close, I think about the weight of these souls I am responsible to tend, and how great an honor it is to be a mother.
This post by Kindred Mom founder Emily Allen was originally shared over on Leah Heffner’s blog, Life Around the Coffee Cup.
Emily Sue Allen is the founder and visionary behind KindredMom.com, an online community and podcast dedicated to helping women find joy and purpose in motherhood. Emily is passionate about living a deeply nourished life and celebrating the beauty of ordinary moments. She is forever marked by the rescue and redemption Jesus Christ has accomplished in her life. Emily is a featured contributor in Strong, Brave & Beautiful: Stories of Hope for Moms in the Weeds, a collaborative volume of essays written to encourage moms in the weeds of parenting kids at home, a member of Hope*writers, and an ongoing devotional writer for Joyful Life Magazine. She lives with her husband and seven kids—three girls and four boys—in the Pacific Northwest. Emily’s website is emilysueallen.com. Subscribe to her newsletter “Flowers, Children & Other Lovely Things” at emilysueallen.substack.com and find her on Instagram.