It's 3:45 a.m. and you have been lying awake for almost an hour, plagued by self-doubt and anxiety. It begins with your son’s dropping grades at school, and how he is losing his confidence. This rabbit trails to your daughter’s heart, and the defiance that leaves you exhausted. You blame yourself and how you are failing to reach her. The clock keeps ticking and you move on to other stressors: you don't call your parents enough, your siblings are far away, you have an inbox that never empties.
Two restless hours pass and the sun is rising and you have given up on the thought of going back to sleep. The sleep deprivation migraine kicks in, and you stumble out of bed a few minutes later to get your kids ready for school. You are a spent, hollow version of yourself and you make a mental note to not go to bed without a Tylenol PM or Benadryl ever again.
This routine is painfully familiar for many women.
Different topics include a baby that won’t sleep, a toddler that won't stop screaming, a husband that works too late, a friend that doesn’t call back, parents that are sick, the uncertain futures of our kids, our financial stability, and on and on it goes.
Are we grieving our lives because they don’t look the way we imagined they would when we headed off to college?
Could it be that we put pressure on our children’s potential because we realize we aren’t living up to our own?
Have we faded by surrendering every moment of our days to the cultivation of everyone else…but ourselves?
A recent study released in USA Today reported,
“Use of antidepressant drugs has soared nearly 400% since 1988, making the medication the most frequently used by people ages 18-44. Women are 2.5 times more likely to take antidepressants than men and 23 percent of women aged 40 to 59 take antidepressants, more than in any other age/sex group."
Almost 1 in 4. That’s devastating. What’s even more telling, is that this study finds that most don’t seek counseling to discover the roots of their pain and emptiness. These high functioning women simply don’t have time for therapy.
We are all susceptible. We tell ourselves a quick fix will do just fine. Whatever pills can keep our head above water, allow us to keep making lunches, paying the bills, getting through sex, carpooling, working out, pursuing that career and so on will just have to do. We don’t want to be the crazy lady at the bus stop. We think to ourselves, “Just give me the meds that she’s having. I’ll be fine.”
Recently, a friend confessed through tears that she is struggling with deep bitterness. Her life doesn’t look the way she imagined it would. She couldn’t reconcile how her life—looking so successful on the surface—could disguise the aching void that brings her tears the moment she lets herself feel any deeper.
What is most alarming is that many women don’t see past their manicured lives, a grasping for society’s definition of being “put together”. We have pretty ways to mask it, don’t we? We use all kinds of retail therapies and beauty products. We have homes to furnish and decorate, then re-decorate once we tire. We have styles to keep up with, parties to throw and attend, and a rigorous pace to maintain. While these things are all delightful and beautiful and worth celebrating, the danger comes when we use them to conceal a desperate identity crisis.
So we compromise. We say, this life I lead ought to be enough. I ought to be content being a mother. The dreams I had in my youth were simply that—dreams. Let it go. And we push down any hope when we see it flair up. The desire for change uncovers that which we are most terrified of—failure.
These women are brightly shining stars fading away behind the shadow of everyone they care for. They are a little worse for wear. Their light is dimmer than it used to be, unable to dream beyond their current reality. So they medicate, and numb out.
This narrative seems to play out in a couple of different ways.
First, some women uncover their talents and life purpose before they have kids and then shelve it while raising them. They’ve experienced a sense of fulfillment in living their calling but believe they must set their pursuits aside to raise the children. They’ve bought into the belief that their calling and child-rearing are disparate parts, unable to co-exist. Instead of fighting to figure out the balance, they give up and stuff their dreams away.
Other women never identify their life purpose before having children. The label of “motherhood” sets in and can unknowingly become the excuse to stop cultivating their unique talents and dreams. Instead, they place their quest for significance on the lives of their children (as we see played out on Facebook each day). But this suffocating pressure is too much for any teenager to bear, much less a 5 year old.
In either case, this displacement of a mother’s purpose (beyond child-rearing) becomes a huge loss to our communities. If women aren’t empowered to cultivate their uniqueness, we all suffer the loss of beauty, creativity and resourcefulness they were meant to contribute to the world.
Can we imagine a mother chasing the dreams that stir her heart and simultaneously raise her children?
What if husbands saw it as their responsibility to cultivate the unique gifting in the lives of their wives?
How could our communities of faith support this type of lifestyle?
Next time your mind is racing at 3:45 a.m., redirect the stress of play-dates and meal-planning to imagine who God’s created you to be. Reflect on the moments where you felt fully alive. In time you may discover a hope reborn.
This is where the journey begins.
Alan Manning Chambers
Melody Harrison Hanson
J. Christy Wareham
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