It was challenging to fit even a frozen personal pizza in the half-size oven, and roughly two dinner plates could fit on the tiny square of countertop that made up our kitchenette. We crammed our newlywed lives into the smallest (and least expensive) one-bedroom apartment we could find, eager to pry open the gifts of wedded bliss. I had just graduated college with a degree I haven’t used since, and my new husband had one year left in his program. The apartment was simple, and became the backdrop for the first pages of our story.
With all the maturity you would expect from a twenty-two and twenty-one year old, we planned to wait about five years before having children but left the door wide open with respect to contraception. It should be no surprise we became pregnant three months after the wedding.
I know we chose natural family planning and all, but the idea of becoming a mother did not seriously cross my mind until the lines blinked at me. Or I blinked at them with a thrill and gasp and a resounding yes within me. I embrace you, little one, I wrote in my journal that day. I let my usually-heavy heart soar in those first weeks, daydreaming my way through the evening grad-school classes I was taking at the time (and could barely stay awake for due to first-trimester exhaustion). When the semester ended, I turned my full attention to preparing for motherhood. I had much to learn; as in everything.
I had zero experience caring for an infant (or any small child), and the learning curve proved astronomical. Heart and eyes open wide with thrill and trepidation, I stepped into motherhood as green as they come.
On our first anniversary, we sat at an outside restaurant table on a pier in downtown Seattle. My belly was decidedly larger than any watermelon I’ve ever seen, and my husband kept annoyingly (and excitedly) asking me if I was in labor yet. Over fish and chips, I said again, “Not yet. When it happens, you’ll know!”
Two days later, spontaneous membrane rupture and a precipitous labor brought my first daughter into my arms.
I hadn’t even really read many books, except the week-by-week pregnancy book to help me understand everything going on in my body while the baby developed. Leading up to the birth, I watched a few birth story shows on TLC, but with my focus on the big event, I didn’t give much thought to all the stuff that would come after her arrival: the years of wild adventures raising my daughter and all the children that came after her.
For me, motherhood came more suddenly than naturally. With new stages and challenges arriving all the time, I quickly learned how much I didn’t know. I bumbled through all kinds of baby and toddler nonsense, and as our family grew, I searched desperately for a guide, for the right answers to my pressing motherhood questions.
Thirteen years have passed since that humble season of discovery. I’m still painfully aware of how much I don’t know regarding what my children need at each turn, and I still bumble through the new ages and stages we are leaning into as a family, but I have also observed some very important things.
There are many questions about motherhood with no one right answer.
For example, there is not one right way to be an intentional and committed mother. Mothers can invest themselves in raising their children in countless ways with heart and soul, and each one is a unique expression of that mother’s talents, values, and personality.
In my own village, I see mamas doing the hidden and profound work of motherhood in a kaleidoscope of colors. Jenni giftedly sets things in order and making her home a peaceful and beautiful space where her family can thrive. Sarah intentionally sparks wonder in her kids with thoughtfully curated and rotated toys to stimulate their imaginations. Marilynn Song continues simple traditions that bring her children joy and delight, wearing a path in their souls where they’ll never be able to forget how loved they are and how important each one is within the family. Lynne pioneers adventures with her kids, learning alongside them and holding space for their creativity to blossom.
Lora has convinced me my daily work to cultivate my children’s character is more praiseworthy than any other thing I could give my attention to. As the host of my weekly Bible study, sweet Jan received me with a top knot, bags under my eyes, and with a babe in arms, and taught me how powerful a gift it is to bear witness to the beauty and struggle of a new mom’s first months after birth. My dear Grandma Bryant reminds me that a smile and hearty chuckle is all it takes for a child to feel like they are a delight. Even in her eighties, Grandma Mac’s constant clearing away discarded packaging after a toy has been opened, or clearing a table after a meal—quietly and without hesitation—has helped me recognize that every little household task done is a gift toward meaningful time together, a space curated for connection and love to blossom.
I am not a self-made maven mom. I am the sum of love and nurture and encouragement and wisdom I have received from many other women, and my life is woven in turn with still more mothers. We all play irreplaceable roles in each other’s lives.
I am currently postpartum with my seventh baby, struggling hard through the brokenness of my body and the needs of a larger-than-average household. I am humbled by my very real limitations and discouraged about what feels insurmountable on some days. After taking a 4-month hiatus from Instagram, I started posting just one picture a day to celebrate small moments of gratitude. My village has been there, encouraging me. Michelle said, “Love these simple posts, Emily. I see: You are showing up. You are brave! You are so loved by God and your people. God is so faithful.”
Reading this comment brought me to tears.
It is one of many other gestures by women in my village that tether me to hope in the midst of this difficult season. Friends continue to supply my children with a steady stream of hand-me-down clothes, often at just the right time when pants become highwaters and shirts are decorated with stains of all kinds. Friends come to help me organize and purge the excess we have collected and stuffed in all the corners of our house. Friends host our whole crazy crew in their nicely fenced backyard for afternoons of casual play, and offer to take my energetic boys hiking for the day (thus giving me a break from their constant sibling conflicts).
Every one of these gifts makes a significant difference for me in this very challenging season. I feel seen. I have been held. Loving and supporting the mothers around us is as simple as giving what we can.
Celebrate the triumphs of the mamas around you. Shine light on their victories, cheer them through obstacles, and join them in their sorrows. Rest in the reality that as you pour into your family, you are a force of nurture and a powerful influence on your children and the women around you. You are not expected to fabricate a beautiful life out of thin air. You have a tapestry of mothers to learn from, draw inspiration from, and as you invest your own unique talents, the colors you bring to the tapestry of mothers will be every bit as essential and vibrant as the ones offered by the mothers around you, and the mothers before you.
Featured image by Holly Shafer Photography
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.