A meditation on the shocking idea that maybe we’re actually not just lazy whiners

January 16, 2013 | 140 comments

When Joe first saw me in the hospital, he said I reminded him of this scene from Office Space:

I had tubes in my nose, a 16-gauge IV in my hand that was causing me constant pain, had just received a daunting diagnosis that left me with a ton of questions about both my immediate and long-term circumstances, and yet I seemed…happy.

Undoubtedly, a large part of that can be attributed to being lifted up by so many wonderful prayers. But there was something else, too, that was responsible for my surprisingly peaceful state of mind:


December was a hard month. I couldn’t seem to stay on top of anything, and my inability to deal with life seemed to get worse by the week. Three days before Christmas I cleared off an entire evening to wrap presents, and quickly became so angry and overwhelmed that I went to bed in disgust instead. I felt like I barely survived the chaos of Christmas day, and in the week before New Year’s Eve I hardly lifted a finger around the house. I was unmotivated to do anything. I began backing out of social events, and felt exhausted by even the simplest tasks around the house.

I was aware of my abysmal state, and knew what the problem was: I’m lazy. And kind of a whiner. Not to mention not being fully dedicated to my vocation, and unwilling to carry my (small) crosses. Christ asks a few simple things of me, and even gives me this lavish, first-world life surrounded by luxuries, and I let a little pregnancy fatigue keep me from getting the job done! If only I were more open to God’s grace, I’d be able to unload the dishwasher without feeling like it was such a big deal.

I’m ungrateful.

I’m spoiled.

I’m lazy.

These are the thoughts that were going through my head for the better part of a month. And so when the doctor at the Emergency Room sat me down and told me that my lungs were full of blood clots, some of them large, and that he was astounded that I’d been able to function at all, I almost cried with relief. To be completely honest, I was more relieved than I was scared. I know the facts about pulmonary embolisms and know how dangerous they are. Later, I did experience worry and fear. But first, relief.

There is truth to the accusations that I’m ungrateful, spoiled, and lazy. No false humility here — I really do posses all those attributes to some degree or another. But it was simply not true to say that those faults alone were the cause of my suffering. I was struggling against a terribly difficult physical condition, and my body was running in the red zone for all of my waking hours. In those weeks when I was unaware of the reality of my situation, I worked under the incorrect assumption that my circumstances were normal, and that therefore the problems must come down to spiritual and mental character defects on my part. Not surprisingly, this caused me to be in a state of constant inner turmoil. In fact, it was reminiscent of the hidden angst that simmered silently within me when I was an atheist: whenever you live under false assumptions about reality, you will live in anguish. It may be buried and only pop up occasionally, or it may burst to the surface in explosions of acute despair, but whenever you try to jam a square peg of your perception of reality into the round hole of actual reality, there will always be friction.

And you know why I bring this up? Because I think I’m not the only one who could benefit from an outlook-shattering diagnosis.

Once I felt like I had permission to admit that one area of my life was legitimately hard, I began to look at other areas as well. And in the process I’ve been reminded of something I’d known for a while, but had slowly forgotten: that 21st-century motherhood is really hard, whether or not you have clots in your lungs.

Yes, motherhood has always been hard, and our ancestors faced more grueling physical challenges in a month than many of us do in our entire lives. I wouldn’t trade my life for that of my great-great grandmother. However, I think that being a mother today comes with exponentially more psychological challenges than moms have ever faced before. A few examples that come to mind:

We live in isolation. From time immemorial mothers have raised their children in close-knit communities, surrounded by their own mothers and aunts and cousins and nieces and lifelong friends. In traditional human villages, women would gather to wash and cook together, their kids running around freely with friends and relatives. Even the more-isolated farm wives and suburban moms of our grandparents’ generation had refuge to the classic sanity-saving phrase, “Go outside!” (My grandfather reports that he and his siblings often only saw their mother at mealtimes and after sunset, since they spent so much time hunting and exploring each day). Mothers were never meant to be the sole people in charge of their children’s wellbeing all day, every day. It is utterly unnatural to go for 12 hours without having a face-to-face conversation with another adult.

And here’s a big one that’s rarely acknowledged: it feels like what we do isn’t important. It is important, of course…but the reality is that, thanks to all those wonderful modern conveniences, what most of us do on a daily or even weekly basis doesn’t necessarily contribute directly to anyone’s survival. Pouring effort into my vocation can bless my family tremendously, and makes all the difference between thriving and just getting by. But the reality is that if I were to totally slack off and not do much of anything for a few days, everything would be fine. Nobody would starve. We’d still have shelter and food and clothes and clean water.

Not so for the women of history. I doubt that my great-great-great grandmother and her friends had to remind themselves that motherhood is the most important job in the world: if they didn’t cook, their children would literally have nothing to eat. If they didn’t fetch the water from the well, there would be nothing to drink. If they didn’t launder and mend the clothes, there would be nothing to wear. The daily work that the housewife of 1813 did was of life-and-death importance; the daily work that the housewife of 2013 does doesn’t have anywhere near that level of urgency. And that’s a good thing — I don’t think any of us would want to go back to a time when basic survival was so difficult — but it’s also worth admitting that it’s a little demoralizing to know that most of your day to day work falls under the category of “nice to have” rather than “have to have.”

I could go on: the fact that our isolation means that no one outside of our immediate family ever sees the fruits of our labor; that our kids are constantly lured to become peer-oriented; that the norms of our culture push us to pile way more onto our plates than we can realistically handle…but you get the idea.

What we modern moms do is hard, and not just hard in the way that motherhood has always been hard. We’re laboring under unique conditions that few people in human history have ever experienced, trying to thrive in utterly unnatural circumstances. It may not be hard physically, but it’s a great challenge psychologically.

My point here isn’t to wallow in self-pity, or encourage anyone else to do so. In fact, as odd as it may sound, my hope is to inspire fellow moms to deeper peace and gratitude.

We’re hesitant to admit that our lives are difficult in any way. We feel the pain, but then we look around at our washers and dryers and smartphones and televisions and all the other trappings of our first-world lives, and we feel embarrassed to complain about anything. It feels easier, and certainly more noble, to blame ourselves, to assume that the problem must simply be moral failings and character defects on our parts.

But what I found with my undiagnosed medical issues is that when we refuse to accept real suffering as legitimate, it actually makes it harder to be grateful. We spend so much mental energy fighting the wrong battles and beating ourselves up over phantom failings that we don’t have much energy left to take stock of all the wonderful things in our lives. Living in a false reality is exhausting and demoralizing. It’s much easier to be happy, peaceful, and close to God when we acknowledge the truth, even if that involves acknowledging that some things are hard.

I’ll never forget the powerful, soul-cleansing relief that poured over me when I learned that there really had been something wrong with me for all those weeks. Even though I had not begun to receive treatment and felt no better than before, I was suddenly inspired to do my best despite my circumstances. Almost immediately, I began to approach my situation with joy. Once I stopped lamenting sins I wasn’t really committing, I could take a clear look at the sins I was committing, and made a better confession than I had in months. Even sitting there in a hospital room, I felt closer to God and happier with my life than I had in a long, long time.

I feel like I’ve been given a divine permission slip to stop defaulting to self-blame for all of my little daily difficulties (not just as it related to my lungs, but in every area of life) and I want to share it with you. If you’re a mom and you’re struggling, let me just tell you that the problem is not you. Well, I suppose I can’t know that for sure; if you find that you’re regularly too drunk to put the Cheez Whiz on your kids’ cookies for dinner, then maybe the problem is you. But, short of that, my guess is that your suffering is due to your difficult circumstances far more than it is due to laziness or lack of holiness or ungratefulness on your part. What you’re doing is hard, harder in certain ways than what your grandmothers experienced, and don’t let the voices in your head tell you otherwise.

Just like the medical professionals in the ER did for me, Dr. Jen is here to give you a diagnosis: you have condition called “life as a 21st century mom, ” and it’s known to cause fatigue, drowsiness, nausea, vomiting, confusion and conditions mimicking insanity. Your suffering is legitimate, and it’s not your fault.

I wish for you that same moment I had, when I was hooked up to wires and IVs, dried blood splattered down my arm, tubes all up in my nose, and yet was so profoundly relieved to know the reality of my situation that I gave my husband a big grin and a thumbs-up sign as if to say, “Life is awesome.”


  1. Heather's Hodgepodge

    Well. I was going to write along the same lines of this (only without the life-threatening medical stuff). But you’ve said it far better than I could, so I’ll just say, “Amen!”

  2. John Gillen

    You’re just one tough cookie Jennifer! I’m joyful that you are healing and we continue to pray for you and your family.

  3. Calah

    Jen…thank you. I’m sure you’ll understand how much I mean that.

  4. Ashley

    I just started reading your blog and really appreciate this nuanced view of the difficulties of motherhood. Sometimes I feel like it’s difficult for me to articulate why motherhood is hard for me, because it isn’t as stressful as my husband’s job, but this post was really helpful to read.

  5. Amanda S

    Thank you. Thank you for writing this post. I have the same negative thoughts, day in, day out. Even when I had the flu recently (and am in my first trimester with baby #3) I was still beating myself up about letting the house go, ordering out too many times over the last few weeks, not being present and upbeat enough for my kids, and on and on. Mothers need to hear this! Especially mothers with young children but probably the more experienced ones too. Thank you again.

  6. elizabethe

    well, tonight for dinner I offered my kids the choice between rice cakes and applesauce — or both! So, maybe I’m just one step up from the too drunk to squirt cheez-whiz on the cookie model.

    (full explanation for child protection services, I cooked them a nice hot dinner — but they wouldn’t eat it. They were overjoyed to get the “well, you can eat this or have a rice cake and applesauce, but this is what I made,” lecture). Over. Joyed. They gobbled down their rice cake with delight. Maybe I SHOULD try cheez-whiz on a cookie to expand their food choices.

    • Gina

      lol! With that sense of humor, you can only be an awesome mom. 🙂

    • deltaflute

      I here you. Tonight I made a nice hot meal. My oldest refused it. Later he wanted pretzels. That’s pretty much all he ate all day. It’s downright frustrating. I find it funny that I can’t get him to stop eating paper but he won’t eat something like a hotdog. He’s almost three.

      • Kathleen Basi

        Ha! You guys are all making me laugh, although I’m sure it doesn’t feel humorous AT.ALL.

      • Caitlin

        Maybe he just needs more fiber? Try oatmeal for dinner. Or, winter squash? Hah!

        The paper might be healthier than the hotdog? 😛

    • Lauralee

      You are TOO funny Elizabethe! Thank you for making ME laugh out loud on this very rainy and lonely-for-Mommy kind of day! 🙂

  7. Maggie

    Thank you. Yes, motherhood is the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. And it’s not the physical stuff, it’s the mental anguish I put myself through every single day with my “ideal” version of what motherhood should be. It’s exhausting to be everything to your family and feel like a failure because you can’t maintain a perfect home complete with non toxic cleaners, perfect nutritious organic meals and snacks, creative crafts that stimulate the spirit and mind, being ever vigilant about what is seen or read in media and books, monitor homework,and manage extra curricular activities, etc. All while maintaining chore charts, making sure chore charts are followed, teaching about cooking, grocery shopping, finances. And feeling completely ALONE! And I haven’t even touched on the spiritual things I’m supposed to be passing down.

    Thank you for giving me permission to feel overwhelmed. You’re one amazing person. Here you are with everything going on and you’re still writing blogs posts so a complete stranger can find some healing and sanity in her own life.

    Prayers to you and your family!

    • Sue

      Maggie, you really hit the nail on the head. I feel exactly as you described in your post.

    • Maggie

      Thank you. I am a Maggie too. A chronic illness and 5 kids is a recipe for feeling like a failure. Beyond not easy. Thanks for your comments, and great post, Jennifer!

  8. Gina

    Hmm. Need to re-read and process your post again. “…fatigue, drowsiness…” I still think I’m lazy because more than half the time I’d rather be doing something else, like living my life (some of it) pre-children, which then starts the ungrateful voices and thus I need to hear “don’t let the voices in your head tell you otherwise.” Oy vey. Lots to chew on with your post. Thanks! 🙂

  9. Mary

    You know, it’s funny, whenever I feel like life raising four little boys is super difficult (read: often) I always ALWAYS think of some random pioneer woman who had it way harder than I did alone out in the middle of nowhere battling for her and her children’s survival. Sometimes that gives me hope (if she can do THAT, I can do this!) but sometimes not. Sometimes it just makes me feel like a huge whimpering wimp. I don’t normally think of the OTHER women throughout history who had hard lives, yes, but they had help. And community. Or at least servants. Much to think on here, Jen. Thank you! Prayers still coming.

    • Kim A.

      You know, as much as I LOVED the Little House series growing up and read them over and over again, I, too, compare myself to Caroline and Laura constantly. Right now, with 6 kids and homeschooling, I can barely get the dishes done and keep up with the laundry!! I can’t imagine having to do it down at the creek! 🙂

      • Lissy

        Just remember how in one of the later books, when they were finally living in a town, Pa said something like, “Hey, you know, maybe we should move out to some wilderness somewhere again” and Ma very quietly and finally said, “NO.” Laura wrote that it was like thunder and lightning had struck when her mother said that.

        If even women like Ma had their limits — they couldn’t do everything, either! — then it’s no wonder that we do, too!

        • Sigrun

          Rememeber too that they literally had one plate per person, and Mary & Laura had to share a cup until they were about 6 & 8 or so (they get a cup each for Christmas in one of the books). And laundry was your spare dress & shirt once a week – when Laura is getting married she & Ma having a sewing binge resulting in six dresses, which they consider will keep her clothed for any possible event for years. So while everything had to be done by hand, other than the cooking (which was WAAAY more time-consuming) it probably didn’t take much longer than it does now, because of there was so much less of it.

    • Mary

      Oh my goodness, I do this, too. Every day. And almost always it just makes me feel more guilty. Thanks for that jolt of recognition.

  10. Mary Therese

    Jennifer THANK YOU for sharing these thoughts! I agree whole-heartedly with your paragraph on isolation, but you have explained it much better than I could. You continue to be in my prayers, and I’m so grateful you’re still able to share with us while struggling with your own health issues. This is the encouragement I needed to pick myself up, and begin again.

  11. Kaitlin @ More Like Mary

    Thank you so much for this. How many times a day do I beat myself up for being “lazy”! And yes-I am lazy. But not all the time.

    I’ll be sharing this one with every mom I know.

  12. bearing

    I wish for you that same moment I had, when I was hooked up to wires and IVs, dried blood splattered down my arm…

    Um…. Thanks?

    LOL! No, really, I get what you’re saying, but this is kind of fun to read.

    I’m glad you made the comparison to Office Space. I completely understand that kind of happy.

  13. Ana Hahn

    holy cow this was insanely timely, then again so is pretty much everything you write.

    so many prayers for you, thank you so much for this.

  14. Deanna

    Excellent post. I watch mothers all the time and I couldn’t agree with you more.

  15. Melanie B

    Thank you for this. One of your most beautiful pieces. I so understand what you are saying here about how realizing that it is hard takes away some of the burden.

    But Jen, I have to say this. I recognized what you were feeling when you got the diagnosis even as you described it because I have felt that kind of relief before. Over the last few years many of your blog posts have brought me a similar peace of mind. It’s a well of comfort I do need to visit again and again. I keep reminding myself of a blog post you wrote long ago about how we aren’t meant to be isolated and how the internet, while it can be a source of distraction, can also give us some of the community we really do need. Thank you for sharing all of your insights. They are one of the things that keep me sane in the midst of this crazy life.

  16. Erin

    I’ve had similar thoughts, too, that I have no right to complain when my life is so much more secure than those of the past or even most people in the present. But you’re right. I’m farther and farther from my family all the time it seems, more separated from what I considered family growing up, and I want my kids to know and love their great aunts and uncles like I did. We have physical needs met better than ever, but severely lacking are the emotional and family bonds, which I think can make us parents pour more and more into our kids because they don’t have Great Aunt Martha to teach them to bake the perfect apple pie or Grandpa to go fishing with. I guess that’s where churches need to step in and BE a family.
    And I even totally get the physical aspect of your story. I don’t think I was ever more relieved in my life than when the doc told me I had a broken leg- this after 4 weeks of drill instructors screaming that I was the weak link in the chain.

  17. Michele

    Wow. This made me cry. Thank you for writing this. It’s such a relief to know someone knows how you feel.

  18. Peter Millan

    May be the ony man commenting on this (but maybe not the only one reading since they will miss lots if they don’t read you). This post makes me appreciate my mother even more, who continues to offer her help and support even as we siblings are all grown up and have our own lives to live. She (with my Dad) is extending her stay with my younger brother, sister-in-law, and nephew, because of my SIL’s preeclampsia that developed over the Christmas break. My folks spent Christmas with them and would have gone back home after New Year’s. Even as she has lots to do (mostly in her parish, and even after an MI last year, she continues to keep busy), she chose to help out. I sent my brothers and sister a link to this post so they too can read. Thanks for your writing.

  19. Scott Alt

    Jen, so glad to hear from you on the blog again. You’ve got a lot of tough; I pray you keep it.

  20. Timothy Jones

    As a one-time Mister Mom, this was helpful for me, too. This is the first of your posts I have ever read through completely, but I’ve been aware of your conversion (through Mark Shea, and some others) and have prayed for you, too.

    Your insight about our social isolation is right on. Mother Teresa had a great deal to say about the loneliness of the modern world. It’s a kind of profound spiritual poverty that is worse in its way than the material privations our ancestors knew.

    Thanks for your post.

    • Ellen

      I have somewhat the same problem with isolation. I am working, teaching and taking care of my 91 year old father. I have 8 siblings, but few of them come by. I am often tired down to my toes and beat myself up for not keeping things in better shape. I am so lonely at times. Prayer is often the only thing that will lift my heart.

  21. Jenna@CaIllHerHappy

    Well, isn’t life funny? You are sick in bed, and yet, you are healing me. I almost cried reading this. I never even knew this is what I was feeling until you said it. I have spent so many days thinking I was lazy, I was ungrateful, that I was spoiled (and, you know, I am all of those things), but I am not those things so much that I need to beat myself up. I feel like you justified my feelings of isolation and “excuses” I had been coming up with in my head.

    I don’t want to use this piece as a ticket to stop trying, but it certainly makes it easier knowing that I’m not alone and not insane in these thoughts 🙂

    Thank You!

    p.s. Whenever you write something that I just love, I always pin it so I can read it later. Don’t be creeped out if you go to my boards are there are pictures of you on them. There are no other images to pin!

  22. Jessica

    Thank you for such an uplifting post…you are an inspiration and I am so glad to have great blogs like yours to help me stay connected in some way. Most of the other adults I regularly interact with (besides my husband), are friends who have kids the same age, my kids teachers’, etc., but we don’t always have a lot in common or necessarily a relationship that’s based on much more than our kids, so having a chance to read a great blog post is almost as good as getting together with a close friend. Thank you!!

  23. Serena

    Yes. Yes yes yes yes yes and thank you. I totally understand the relief of being told that it’s NOT you, there IS something making this much more difficult, but you bringing it around to motherhood in the 21st century? Thank you so much.

  24. Katherine

    I want to thank you for this. Truly. I spent December and the first week of January 9 months pregnant. I never handle my 9th month well. I get whiney and moody and don’t wish my presence on anyone. And then I despise myself for it. What kind of a Catholic can’t wait until Christmas Day is over because it is one more drain on what little energy she has? I hadn’t thought of my “job” before as hard. Yesterday though, my husband asked me, as I was debating between getting the crying newborn or holding off another minute to wipe down the toddler covered in cupcake, how I kept my sanity. It made me laugh at the time. I don’t think of myself as doing all that much and yet when I take the time to look at everything I do, it adds up. I wanted to add one thing though: I think, because there can be this stigma against stay-at-home moms, moms of big families, homeschooling moms, etc., there is this pressure to not admit things are hard, to appear to have everything under control, etc. so that we don’t give society any excuse to criticize, condemn or lecture us on our choices and in trying to convince others that we have it all together all the time, it can become a point of guilt when we know we don’t. (I hope that made sense. )

    • Sue

      It made sense to me. I’ m a homeschooling mom of a family that’ s considered big by the world’ s standards. I know what you mean about feeling the pressure to have it all together.

    • uxordepp

      “What kind of a Catholic can’t wait until Christmas Day is over because it is one more drain on what little energy she has?”

      This kind!

  25. Caroline M

    I would also like to add that the same is true for those of us suffering from depression and debilitating anxiety. It really is hard to get out of bed many days, especially when the anxiety merely amplifies the self blame and negativity. Sometimes the most charitable thing to do (for the sake of others as well as yourself) is to get help.

  26. Barbara

    Wonderful articulation of today’s challenges. It IS hard, and just having permission to acknowledge that is like having a little vacation from all the self flagellation because my laundry is piled up.

  27. Laura

    From your last post: “…our plans only matter to the extent that they’re ordered toward deeper intimacy with individual people.”

    Your posts since you’ve gotten out of the hospital and had a birthday have done just that. You certainly are a lady of action…even in your infirmity! I think your 36th birthday is wearing very well on you, and you’ve given us some amazing gifts as a result of your traumatic medical experience. Thank you!

  28. Anne

    We are meant to do what we do in community. It would be hard to move somewhere and start all over without family and friends around you. How do people do it when they move far away from their support network? On the flip side, I am prideful and private and don’t want family around ALL the time. 🙂 Thanks for writing this, Jennifer.

  29. melody

    Oh my word… I am bawling like a baby. You nailed it. I recall sitting in a blue gown after some tests and descending into misery as the doctor smiled and said “everything looks great!” And all I could think about was what a lazy loser I was. After almost 2 decades of wondering which percentage of my failures were sick/sinner, I am healing. And finally looking back on those painful years with gentleness. I was at walmart last night on a date with my husband (we’re a FUN couple) and I started to cry with gratitude for health… and for freedom from the burden I had carried of “lazy” “spoiled” “ungrateful”. Like you, I am those things… but not to the degree I thought. I wasn’t just the loner loser messy house mom… I was sick. And by the grace of God, my children are okay anyway. Thank you for sharing your gifts and for helping moms learn to suffer well. God be praised. Now, I am going to blow my nose and offer my evening cares up for you…

  30. Laura

    You are spot on with this! So many times I look to my what I consider my utter miserableness as a human being when in reality, like you said exactly, our lives are hard and complex. Thank you for saying this!

  31. Maggie

    Almost never actually comment on anything, but wow…..and I see another Maggie up in the comments who said many things I wanted to say too. And also have a chronic illness………very hard to figure out what is sickness/spoiled/laziness, etc etc. I am guessing many of us are at home with kids while most of the block is a ghost-town. I mean, I have friends and family who live in same suburb or adjoining towns, but, really, it’s not the same as being surrounded by a real community of friends and family. It IS hard; women especially need a lot of social interaction – with other women.

  32. Sharon

    What an amazing and insightful perspective. It moved me to tears, and has helped me find some personal peace. I’ve suffered for most of my life from depression, and one of the main internal battles that I have to fight is trying to prevent all the blame and negativity that I heap upon myself from weighing me down to the point of paralysis. I have that same argument with myself all of the time, that perhaps it’s the depression, but more likely, it’s laziness. And the thought that it is, perhaps, laziness just makes me feel more depressed. It’s a terrible cycle, and just for that reason I should learn to push such thoughts away, but sometimes I let them come out of some warped sense of a need for humility and/or accountability. But you’re so right- the main point is that motherhood, and all that it entails, is hard, and it’s okay to think that it is. Your words have really struck a chord in me, and I will try hard to keep them in mind the next time I start beating myself up over all the things I could or should be doing better.

    Also, it’s wonderful to see you posting again.

  33. Karen

    Thank you so much for sharing this wisdom, Jen! I have always been so independent and quite the introvert. So I never in a million years would have imagined that the hardest part of parenting would come from/through isolation – not having a support group, a network, a family, or even close friends nearby. On top of that, my husband separated from me soon after the baby was born. I know that God is speaking to me through your words, especially these: “when we refuse to accept real suffering as legitimate, it actually makes it harder to be grateful.”

    So much to reflect on…. Thank you, and God bless you!! Praying for you and your family.

  34. Kimberly

    Dearest Jen…thank you for this. In the midst of your own suffering you seek to comfort others…how precious. May God heal you soon…and keep you ever in His care…may He bless your dear family…and bring peace and joy to all who love you.

  35. Jesabes

    I love this. I often think my life can’t be harder than…ANY other mother and that I should never complain because it’s almost criminal how good I’ve got it. But there are always things that are hard and I’d never specifically thought about the fact before that if you acknowledge them instead of pretending they’re not there it will be easier to deal with. Thank you.

  36. Kate

    I’m not a mom, but I’ve been through several medical situations similar to yours. Pop psychology has convinced too many women that they are in total control of their bodies and their lives, and that if they just work harder, eat better, exercise more or get a nip and tuck, anything can be fixed. Well, sometimes, we can’t fix ourselves, no matter what we do — then we have to seek help. It’s as true for single women as wives and mothers — and we can even be more isolated, since there’s not a husband or kids around.

  37. Kerry Wolf

    Jen, I can relate to you but in kind of an unusual way. My husband Robert just got some bad news from his liver transplant coordinator (he is awaiting transplant for hepatitis C that he got from a blood transfusion 23 years ago). He had his annual MRI scan of the abdomen last friday and they found a mass in his liver. They said it was easily treatable and would bump him up to the top of the list if that was it, but they also saw “something”, smaller than 1 cm, in the base of his right lung. Now, he did have surgery in that lung 23 years ago after it collapsed, and it was a very extensive 13 hour surgery, so we are thinking maybe that is what they saw, Anyhow, they sent him today for a lung scan, and we are to call in the AM for results.

    Anyhow, I am scared and fearful way beyond what a good, faith filled catholic spouse should be. You amaze me daily with your incredibly brave kids, Please, hold us up in prayer before the throne. Thank you.

    • Eric Rosenberg

      Kerry, I was reading through the comments to Jen’s blog post and came to yours. Your decency and generosity shines through your words and I am deeply saddened by the difficult news you recently received. Please know that there is a stranger in London who will be praying for a benign diagnosis, a quick match on a liver donator, and a rapid recovery.

      • Caitlin


    • Jennifer Fulwiler

      Wow, Kerry, that is SUCH a difficult situation. You and your family will be in my prayers!

  38. Cynthia

    Jen, this is beautiful, thank you. Needed words for myself and so many…for sure.

  39. Lucy

    Having also been a mom with blood-splattered arms and IVs sticking in veins and doctors not sure I’ll make it through the night (at 32 – over six years ago now), I will just say, Thank you. I don’t know how you do it. But I needed this. So much. And while I don’t have as many kids as you do, my situation was just as bad. I darn near died. Sometimes I need to cut myself some slack and be ok with not being supermom. You know, supermom with a heart condition. Egads. Prayers for you and your family. Lord have mercy.

  40. christina

    Although not a mom I remember that feeling from high school. I spent four years thinking I was lazy for sleeping 24/7. Then my senior year a doctor finally sent the ekg of my ‘panic attack’ to a cartiologist. Turns out Ihad a heart condition and wasnt lazy and useless.

    I needed this reminder as I suffer through a winter low. I need to pay attention to the sins I AM commiting

  41. Margaret

    Wonderful article!

    I would also add that in a modern family all of our modern conveniences make it much harder in a way. 200 years ago, each member of the family didn’t have dozens of outfits all needing to be washed/put away. People had a daily outfit, a nice outfit, and nightclothes. Much less to wash. Kids didn’t have the mountains of toys. Caring for all of our material abundance, has added a lot of stress to our lives.

  42. Bonnie

    And how could you be asked to pick up your cross and follow Him if there wasn’t real suffering involved? You moms aren’t failing at motherhood, you are struggling and suffering under the weight of the very real cross. God bless you!

  43. Abigail Benjamin

    Love this one Jen!!!!

  44. Abigail Benjamin

    Also, I can’t imagine what that thumbs up sign did for Joe. It’s totally freaky to see your spouse in that situation, but you were like “the real Jen is still here!”

  45. Mama Aho

    I was JUST beating myself up in these EXACT ways – and here is Dr. Jen, reassuring me. Thank you for this blessing.

  46. Maria

    I think added to the reasons above for unique challenges would be a less present husband/father. There is more of an expectation for dads of single-income families to work more hours away from the home, which means less time as a team raising the kids, less time to renew the marriage, less time for family apostolate, etc…

  47. el-e-e

    Jen, this post is a gift and has brought me to tears this morning. Thank you so much. I hope you’re feeling good today.

  48. Kelly @ In the Sheepfold

    Jen – We continue to pray for you. What an insightful, encouraging post. Get rid of the imaginary sins and then we can repent of our actual sins and, most importantly, move on in joy! Blessing, blessings!

  49. Rose

    The office space clip was hilarious! I forgot that scene and wasn’t sure what you meant until I clicked on it. Definitely sounds like your situation relates to it. I love your blog, and I don’t read many- definitely addicted.

  50. Kristen @ St Monica's Bridge

    I woke up this morning in terrible, terrible physical pain. Nothing like what you have but worse than normal aches and such. I needed to read this. Offering it up for you and giving myself a little break if things aren’t perfect around here today.

  51. Micaela @ California to Korea

    Thank you for this, Jen. As others said: extremely well-timed and perfectly apropos. Hope you continue feeling better. We’re still praying for you.

  52. Margaret Mary Myers

    Thank you, once again, Jennifer, for sharing with us, even as you are dealing with all that you are dealing with!

    The principles in your post are things I’ve only recently begun to learn, especially that we need to be kind to ourselves. You said, “Even sitting there in a hospital room, I felt closer to God and happier with my life than I had in a long, long time.” This fits with my current belief that when we stop beating ourselves up, we open ourselves more fully to feel God’s love.

    Not that I’m so good at that; it’s a work in progress…hm, or should I use the word “work” in this context? Sometimes it’s a “less work” in progress, like buying the ready-cooked deli chicken without guilt, or stopping for a bit, when possible, to take a nap or read a good book. Or just acknowledging that psychological stuff can take its toll on us just as much as physical work can.

    God bless you, and praying for you.

  53. Kelly

    I must echo the thank you! I recently went to confession (don’t worry, not going to TMI you to death), and realized how hard I am on myself. And sometimes allow others to join in the fun. It has been an eye opener.
    Prayers for you as you walk this scary, difficult path.

  54. LazyMom

    Wow, I have been saying this same thing for nearly two decades. Modern motherhood is harder than it should be and it’s because we isolate ourselves from our extended families. We’ve bought into this notion that the normal thing to do is get married and move away to where-ever the jobs are. Young couples don’t make it a priority to job hunt in their hometowns. Then when they have several little children and Mama comes down with the flu, everything falls apart. There is no one to help them. I don’t think God intended family life to be like this.

    I tell my children all the time: When you grow up, live nearby. I will help you. But I can’t be there for you if you are all scattered across the country.

  55. Suzanne

    Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I wept reading this. I think it’s especially easy to think ourselves lazy when we will sometimes hear an older mom with whom we might spend time in our home look around and suggest this to us in a roundabout way. “When I was a Mom of young kids, I used to x, y, z every day.” They, and we, see our attachment to FB and other social networking tools as confirming signs of selfishness and laziness to boot. They forget their families grew up in neighborhoods where from 9-5, you would in fact see other human adults and the children had other children their age to play with! Every. Single. Day. It just dawns on me that the people who say “I couldn’t be home with my kids all day, so I work” might not actually dislike their kids — they despise being isolated. And, I think homeschooling is compounding this isolation for many of us. It’s hard for families with children my children’s age to get together with us because they are so very busy at home with school and everything else.

    • LazyMom

      Soo much agreement! My addiction to Facebook = proof of my selfish laziness. Or… does it mean I crave connection? And yes, when I was a child I was outside from sun-up to sun-down. My kids are squabbling (loudly) over the Wii. There are no children with whom they can go out and play. We used to live in a neighborhood with a swimming pool and even in the summer we were the only ones there. It was creepy weird.

      I’ve been isolated for 18 years and I’ve got 18 more to go. I am so over homeschooling, so over full-time stay at home-ing. I love my children and so I’ll keep on keepin’ on. But some days I fantasize about being a stewardess.

      • herewegokids

        LazyMom, I love you! Haha!!! I struggled through whilst homeschooling and homechurching with undiagnosed Lyme disease for about 15 years….totally castigating myself for my ‘laziness’ or lack of character, or whatever. It was hard to admit I was also ‘over’ the homeschooling but after I became Catholic hubs agreed to let the gradeschoolers attend Catholic school (which is a 50 minute drive one way…yes we live in the boondocks.) I still have a preschooler, a jr. high student who attends once weekly classical school co-op, an online highschooler, and one (!) graduate. *sigh* But the gradeschoolers!! Aren’t home all freaking day!! I LOVE it.

    • Marie

      You said, “It just dawns on me that the people who say “I couldn’t be home with my kids all day, so I work” might not actually dislike their kids — they despise being isolated.” Suzanne, I think you have hit the nail on the head! Great insight!

  56. Kathleen Basi

    This post makes me want to jump up and down and shout YES! YES! I think we also assume that being open to life means we aren’t allowed to ever say, “That’s it, I just can’t do anymore right now.” I’ve come to realize that it’s okay to say, “I have to have enough physical health and emotional sanity left to take care of the kids God’s already given me.” My kids are really close together, and one of them has special needs, so it’s like having three preschoolers/toddlers I’m trying to train all at once, and only one who’s old enough to help in any significant way. I don’t have the medical issues you do, but I’m maxed out, and it’s not sinful to admit it.

  57. Liz

    Funny, I want to believe it, but I still feel like a whiner. So says the girl with three kids who lives 300 miles from a support network and whose *only* local social interaction in the last six months has been dropping and picking up her oldest child from preschool…

    • Morag

      Liz, I know how it feels – I moved from family and friends in Scotland to middle of nowhere desert California. It is hard, it’s still hard, but I have a few friends now that make it bearable. I will pray for you to make friends locally. You have courage, or you wouldn’t have moved, you can do hard things!!

  58. Kris, in New England

    Beautiful post and if I may submit – not just about mothers. 21st century life is hard on everyone; it’s just degrees of difficulty. We are never truly unplugged and even though we can set down the iPhone or iPad or other device-intended-to-make-your-life-easier – for some self-torturing reason we don’t anywhere near as often as we should. When you could be guaranteed private, quiet time on the commute to work – now you have a cell phone that was supposed to be for convenience and now? You have to make yet another decision to answer it or not.

    I know – first world problem.

    The fact is that all of our lives – mothers and non-mothers (like me) – are not as easy as they should be. Oh sure, we are more efficient but that efficiency just lets us fit more things into the day – and we do that all day, every day.

    I work 50 hours a week, my husband the same. We are busy with our parish-life, our regular life, with commitments after work and on weekends. Some of them are of our choosing, others are obligations. And they all combine to make us – all of us – exhausted and beating ourselves up about how much we didn’t do, rather than look at all that we do – do.

    We aren’t inherently lazy – in fact I would posit that we all do far more than we really should.

    I had a hip replacement 4 months ago at age 49. And once it was time to go to the hospital for the surgery – I was glad. Because it meant I had 8 weeks off from work and a perfect excuse to say no to things. So I know what you mean about that sense of relief – and how sad is that; that it takes a major health crisis of some kind for us to disconnect, step back and examine our lives.

    • Kris, in New England

      As a follow-up to my own comment, I have a friend who says this:

      We are human BE-ings, not human DO-ings.

      Something to think about.

    • Gina

      I agree — even as a non-mom, I found this post helpful!

  59. VERANU

    Im not a blogger, but I follow yours and am always checking in on it everyday.
    I really appreciate this post because I feel like that everyday. I am not a stay at home mom, I work full-time, but the feeling of being inadequate and not a good enough mother is always there. Sometimes I get home from work and just sit and watch the kids play and let them eat whatever they want because im exhausted and would rather spend time with them than clean the house and cook. I get stressed from work, I get stressed because they are non-verbal and sometimes the crying, sleepless nights, and clinginess are too much for me…and i feel so guilty and so horrible for being lazy.

    anyway, thanks, this made me feel alot better.

  60. Suzanne

    I am an introvert, and pretty good at being alone. Like many mothers, as you said, I find being a mom hard and exhausting sometimes. We recently had three house guests for three weeks. I expected to find this time exhausting and draining, not only because the guests (an adult and two teenagers, who are family members) and I don’t speak the same language, but because I value my time alone. Well, I was surprised to find that everything was so much easier with them here. Cooking and cleaning went quickly and happily, even though the number of people in our house had doubled. We went for a walk together every afternoon, and played board games after dinner. It felt like this was the way life was meant to be lived, rather than having two tired parents and one tired preschooler trying to enjoy a tense dinner together. I didn’t have to watch our three year old all the time, and she got to go outside to play with the other kids pretty much whenever she wanted. It made me realize too how much easier everything would be if we had any friends or family living close by (we have recently moved). With my husband away, I literally have not talked to anyone else in three days. Your post made me realize that maybe I’m not failing to do what I need to do when I go online to relax. I didn’t need the internet when our house was full of people, but I do need it when I’m alone.

    • Jana

      I think I feel the same way with the internet. It’s hard to be alone all the time. Thankfully, one day a week I spend with my parents at their house and my boys run wild. I wish my neighborhood had families living at home and homeschooling. Then we might have the whole over-the-fence conversations rather than FB time or the internet.

  61. CMerie

    This is beautiful Jen. Thank you for writing it.

  62. Colleen Mahoney

    Thank you for this post. 100% true. Continued prayers for you.

  63. Mama Turtle

    I love this post! I had a similar realization during my last pregnancy…I hit 32 weeks and still had the fatigue of the first trimester. The exhaustion was just crushing. This third baby was doing me in, and I felt like such a wimp. I kept blaming myself and soldiering on with my one and three year old. And I kept wondering how anyone could ever have a big family and why couldn’t I keep up when I only had two little ones?

    It turns out I was VERY anemic. When the midwife called with my blood work results, I practically leapt for joy. She was really surprised with my reaction “I’ve never had anyone be so happy about being anemic!” and I replied, “But there’s a pill for that! We can fix anemia, I thought I was just being a wimp this whole time. This is such good news!”

  64. Jamie

    I haven’t read through all the comments, but I’m sure I’m not the only one saying THANK YOU – needed to read this so much today. You are still in our prayers here, hope you’re feeling better with each day!!

  65. Paige Kellerman

    What a wonderful post and so timely for me! I’m one of the only SAHMs I know, which is why I started blogging. You’re 100% right, the isolation is a killer (something husbands don’t even grasp sometimes), and it’s fantastic and refreshing to hear you say it’s ok to acknowledge how hard it is.

    I’ve beat myself up more than a thousand times about the time I spend on social media, chalking it up to laziness, but you’re right; women need camaraderie, friendship, and a way to touch base with one another during the day. In this day and age, shutting yourself away from everyone and everything is completely overwhelming.

    At the end of the day, if the kids are fed, semi-clean, and I’ve made someone laugh, it’s a good day. Thanks for reminding me that the pizza we’re about to have tonight won’t make Julia Child roll over in her grave from my inadequacies.

    Get some rest and feel better!…:)

  66. Leticia Velasquez

    God bless you Jen, you continue to inspire us even while sick.
    I had a similar epiphany last night, filling out a very detailed form on my daily activities (or lack of them) for my Social Security Disability claim. When I noted how much harder it is to care for my girls with constant back pain and fatigue, and how this robs my writing time, I felt absolved of guilt for being constantly behind in my duties. As you said, no one is starving, there are just more cobwebs and fewer flowers and great meals.

  67. alison

    I can relate to so much of what you say here, now and when we were trying tto have our son. So many people say “oh just relax” or “quit stressing” and fail to acknowledge that it is indeed suffering to have to continuously hope for something that God will not grant right now. And that doesn’t take away from the suffering of others but it is still indeed suffering. I would feel like I was just whining and that I was being selfish but allowing yourself the slack to admit its hard is the first step in during out what you can do to make it better.

  68. Karen

    Thank you for this. I’m moved to tears that someone could formulate that thoughts and feelings that I didn’t even know I had. It helps to explain why I was so sad to find out I wasn’t pregnant (we have 5 already) In reading this I realized I was also sad to find out I wasn’t because I felt like if I was pregnant I’d have “an excuse” to not have it all together, or not get the best dinners on the table, or to be tired or overwhelmed and when I learned I wasn’t pregnant–well it was just my lazy self to blame. Thank you for a different perspective.

  69. lurker

    The truth is … you are not Mr. Griswold. Stop trying to be.

    But I’m totally with you about our culture not letting us be human. My family has suffered terrible tragedies … one for each member of the family except me … over the last 3 years. So since I’m the only one not suffering a direct tragedy, guess who gets to keep everything from flying apart … and let me tell you I am invisible. No one wants to hear about our struggles; they just want us to say everything is going well. No one cares to help us, not even in the deepest depths of the suffering in the early part of our biblical saga. Only my mother has been an emotional support because she physically cannot help us any other way, may God bless her richly. Let youself be human, for your own sanity if for no other reason. You’re lucky to have a support system so you CAN have a physical or any other kind of breakdown; I never had that option. Enjoy the love you have and pray for those who have no one.

  70. Kathy

    Love your blog.
    Yes, lonliness and isolation has often befallen the homeschool community.
    My women friends struggle with this far more than academics.And so do I.
    I’ve got 4 kids ages 13 to 21 and have homeschooled for over 16 years.
    It’s been lonely. Our subdivision empties out at 7am and I see no adults till evening. We own one car and husband works 40 minutes away which means I’m always home. For the pst 7 years we’ve been in a state of ‘genteel poverty’ {DUE TO MILL CLOSURES]
    Even though I am a creative and resourseful women, I’m totally burnt out from having to make magic with the little we have. No one sees the great
    effort it takes outside of these walls. I feel terribly guilty for feeling envious of others now and then. Shouldn’t I just be able to pick up my cross and suck it up? My husband is a good man and we pray daily to
    accept God’s will in our lives. My discouragement comes when I’m just living in a grin and bear it attitude.I know in my heart it is not healthy….but we pray and hope and go on.


  71. Christine

    I grew up right next door to my grandma and had lots of family around. It was heaven. It was meant to be like that. I also tell my children I hope they live close to home. What good are grandbabies if I see them once a year!

  72. Marie

    I think I’m going to print this out and INHALE it twice a day! Thank you for writing this!

  73. Jenny

    After my 3rd child, I became an angry, mean person. I was exhausted but had insomina. I beat myself up everyday for how I treated my kids and my husband. I prayed every morning for God to give me the graces necessary to be gentler and kinder and I asked for forgiveness every evening.

    It was only after I started charting again for NFP that my doctor and I realized my estrogen and progestrone had tanked. I was overjoyed that there was a medical cause for my emotional outbursts and inabliity to sleep. A few shots at the right time of the month and I was the person I was before my third child. Not perfect but certainly not a monster.

    I completely get your happiness at your diagnosis and the peace that came with it. However, I’m not as insightful as you. Thanks for sharing all your thoughts. It gives me much to contemplate for the next few days.

  74. What I picked today

    Beautiful post-thank you. I once worked in a refugee centre (in New Zealand) and became friends with a wonderful young Kurdish woman called Berkhat. She had fled Iraq with her sick elderly father and nine younger siblings at the age of ten. (Her mother had died). At the refugee camp (in Jordan?) her father arranged for her to marry a man in his upper 20s. Her point of view on this was that it was her dad’s love that motivated him to do this while he had the strength. He was ensuring the protection and provision of her since he knew he may not live long. The man was steady and kind and had a good family. Once married, the man and his family would provide for Berkhat and her little brothers and sisters. She married him and had two babies and they got a placement to a new country when she was 16, her children were four and two. They had many crises/adventures before finally arriving in NZ via China a year later. I got to know her the year she turned 30. She and her husband were settled, renting a house, her husband had a job, her two elder children were doing well in school and they had another baby aged three. She had a good relationship with her husband and her siblings were settled in Scandanavia. We used to talk a lot about about life, motherhood, cultural expectations, modern life etc. I asked her if she thought she might have more children. She said emphatically no, not in NZ. I asked why. She said having her eldest two babies had been a complete joy and no trouble. Everyone was around to help and care for them and her. Even though living in the Refugee camp was dire in terms of material life/sanitation/dangers/anxiety about the future etc to her being a mother there was a joy. And she would have had more children there had they not got the placement to a new country. In NZ, though they were physically safe and had more material goods and prospects she felt life was very hard – the isolation of being in a house in the suburbs by yourself all day while her husband was at work at older children at school. Berkhat is a very bright and resourceful person and spoke great English and involved herself in local community activities including volunteering at the refugee centre where I worked supporting new refugees in their settlement. However to her, the inner experience of being a mother was glaringly different- one built her and her family up, and the other in NZ was uphill hard work all the way.
    We are called to be in the world but not of it.
    Living in developed countries, we are caught in a bind. On the one hand we can enjoy more or less comfortable houses, good sanitation, medical care, education, internet etc… along with that comes lots of stuff, lots of choices, high expectations for our lives, our children, our own inner lives. Because we can read about everything we reflect and worry about everything, things which didn’t concern our fore-mothers or Berkhat formerly. It sometimes seems as if life is an exam eg childbirth, food for our children, ethical products, any new challenge… You could say it’s the price of wealth (society if not individual).
    Jen, I love your clarity and grip on seeing the big picture- what it all means. Hearing Berkhat state so categorically that being a mother in rich, modern day NZ was very hard was music to my ears and helped me get some perspective. Here I’d been feeling sorry for her having her babies in the Camp whereas her heart went out to me never experiencing the close love and connection where being a community is the baseline of experience. How can we do this where we are here and now? Much as we love our First world comforts it comes at a high cost. Many choices doesn’t foster peace of heart and lots of stuff, a tranquil life. Even we we buck the norm (being Catholic, raising and educating our children at home, living simply) we have the double bind of all the society wide first world issues plus those of our own making- hard to make ends meet, feeling emotionally spent all the time etc. When I try and involve myself in Parrish and local community activities to build community it feels like such an effort though it’s a good thing to do. Melanie B wrote eloquently on this recently.
    What to do?
    Why did God make me? To know him, love him and serve him in this world and be happy with him forever in the next.
    As you said, Jen, love people one person at a time. So at any one moment the focus can just be on being open and present to the one in front of us.
    That what other people may think is their business, not ours.
    And gratitude. A million times a day to be able to say thank you. The rain -no drought, my children- they are healthy if a bit loud, etc that God is making something so wondrous out of our straggly heartfelt imperfect efforts. We only get to see the back side of the tapestry of life but trust the Holy Spirit has the design in hand and is getting it sorted…
    Maybe it has been given to our generation to pioneer community in a world impoverished by riches.
    Love and prayers to you and your family xx

  75. Nancy Ward

    Jen, I’ve been following your blog since I met you at the Catholic New Media Conference in Aug. You were on my prayer list when I got the wod from CWG. So glad you are feeling better, inside and out.
    As a mother I struggled with these same attacks on my self-image when I raised my own children. Now, as a grandmother, I am sending this blog to my daughter and my daughters-in-law with my blessing.

  76. Joy

    What a wonderful post! Thank you, Jennifer, for sharing your insightful views. Although I’m a college student and not yet a mother, I think your message is universal and I can totally relate!
    Keeping you and your family in my prayers!

  77. richard

    Yes. In our times families are rather isolated. I myself experience a generational gap even within my own family. That said, there are extended families which do succeed in passing on the traditions. You and your family are being remembered in my daily prayers.

  78. Kathleen

    When I read your blog and heard about the blood clots in your lungs, I felt compelled to tell you ask your lung specialist about pulmonary hypertension, an exhausting and debilitating disease that has blood clots in the lungs as one of its causes. Many doctors, even lung specialists, are not aware of it. My husband was diagnosed with PH about six years ago, and fortunately, blood clots were found to be the cause in his case. I say “fortunately,” because he was able to go across the country to Thornton Hospital in La Jolla, CA to have the clots surgically removed. A couple of doctors at this hospital pioneered this surgery, and, at the time, it was the only hospital in the country to do this, but there may be a few more now. He is fine now since the surgery, although he has to take blood thinners to prevent additional clotting. He has done advocacy work for pulmonary hypertension awareness, and he has tried to get bills passed in Congress which would fund greater awareness of PH among the medical practitioners as well as the general public. Our prayers are with you that you will find the best treatment and have a full recovery.

  79. Claire

    This is an amazing post. I suffer from first-world guilt, and I appreciate your insight that our failure to acknowledge our suffering actually makes it harder to be grateful. I guess like anything, it’s about balance.

  80. anna lisa

    One great thing that I learned through spiritual direction is to reflect in the midst of the day on what I’m doing. If I have a hunch that I could be using my time better–(those five loads that I haven’t gotten around to folding), and I’ve followed three tantalizing links, and *suddenly* I find myself looking at a picture of Kim Kardashian, and I’m actually wondering if she got butt implants, I suddenly realize that my stomach/heart is signaling me with the gross-out alarm. I amend my ways. On the other hand, I might find myself clicking on the 50th silly photo with another silly meme, and when my kid walks in saying “What’s for dinner Mom?–Why are you laughing?” I can be in such a good mood, when I tell him, “beats me–hey come here and look at this dog with eyebrows drawn on” that I’m still chuckling as I peer into the freezer. A half hour later, when I’m sweating it out trying to pull dinner out of a hat, my husband walks in. I feel a little guilty for the extra chaos that I’ve let happen, but guess what? I’m NOT A MARTYR. I don’t greet him at the door with a knit brow. I used to play this silly game with myself that I wouldn’t let myself relax until I had achieved a perfectly ordered house. Part of the problem was the small house, and some of my kids’ spoiled friends, that I thought would judge us for having so many people in such small quarters. I finally got entirely sick of myself, and all my uptightness. I quit trying to be the perfect wife and mother. I even resorted to a few potty mouth expressions, because one day on NPR they reported on a study that bad language relieves stress. Lol, it does. Okay, I’m not recommending that, but it did play a part in my recovery. So I really REALLY stopped being a martyr. Why was I a martyr? Because I allowed unhealthy Catholic guilt paint me into an unhealthy corner. I learned how to say ” Ehf that, I’m not your maid”, or “hey I can’t help it if you don’t have any clothes. Your dirty clothes are all over the floor, and your hamper is empty.” I realized that my life required more balance and less outward (impossible) perfection. Laughing at blogs and dogs with eyebrows drawn on them is GOOD FOR YOU. So when my daughter’s boyfriend (only child alert!) said, “Wow, what a mess,” the other day, I sort of absent mindedly agreed and went back to reading an interesting article. Uh oh. Guess what? Hubs just called and said he’s on his way home–better start cooking dinner!! 😉

    Blessings on you and yours, and praying for you too.

  81. Pat Gohn

    Just happy to “see you” here as prayers continue for your full recovery and happy delivery.

  82. Janet

    God Bless you! I have read this three times, I hope you re-post it in the future. We all need to give ourselves permission to feel that sense of relief sometimes.

  83. Shauna Schenke

    I was relieved to be diagnosed with mono this past summer for exactly the same reasons you were relieved to hear your diagnosis (although your situation is much, much more dire and difficult!). Thank you for putting in words the difficulty of motherhood. I, like you, am an introvert, which makes raising multiple kids (or any for that matter) that much more difficult. I process my thoughts through talking to trusted friends and mentors or writing them down — so I feel incredibly drained and numb most of the time since I no longer have the luxury of time to myself. This post makes me know (because I forget!) that I am not alone and that the exhaustion I feel does not mean I am a weak wimp. Thank you!

  84. Fr. Christopher M. Zelonis

    The combox on this one resembles most politically charged articles (in terms of length only; and God forgive me, I scrolled down like a hot knife through butter). Others are not as consumed with their own comments, I suppose, as we are about our own. But let them all stand as testimony to your blogospheric effect on countless people. I often lament that my personal virtual footprint is not so huge, but now as always, I remember that I celebrate the Mass. “So there!” I tell my self-pitying self.

    Life seems to be very much about the parsing of whose responsibility is whose regarding this messed-up situation, or that one. Not likely are we to have it all evenly diced and in a row, as you well know. But my brother priest Gerard Manley Hopkins said, “My own heart let me have more pity on…” (http://www.bartleby.com/122/47.html). God, it seems by His mercy, has granted us permission. Continued prayers for your recovery!

  85. jen @ Saving Kaia

    Thank you. I needed to hear all of this.

  86. Kathy

    BEST POST EVER!!! thanks so much, i still dont know how you can have a bright head in such circunstances…
    Reading your post, i felt very much the same when i was diagnosis with ADD (atention deficit disorder) , i fet relieved , that i wasnt as lazy as i though i was for my whole life, and that my day to day struggle is harder for me than for a “normal” person, because of ADD. God made me like this and i am grateful to Him, He knows best.

    THANKS THANKS THANKS, thanks be to God for you and your shared thoughts!!

  87. bill bannon

    Wonderful analysis and I’d add that the modern parents also have the new cross of their childrens’ mobility once grown. “Will they move two states away or 50?” Ipad2 and Facetime therefore came to the rescue as a Godsend. I dial up Taiwan visually and audibly quicker than some phone connections within the states….but not everyone has that instant bridge.

  88. MrsD

    This brought tears to my eyes this morning and really touched me as it did so many others. I feel so guilty about thinking motherhood is so hard. The only person I ever admit it to is my husband as I’m afraid of judgement if I said it to anyone else.
    My prayers are with you and your recovery 🙂 Thank you for a beautiful post.

  89. Miriam

    I’m so glad to see you writing again, Jennifer. God bless you and prayers continuing! What you wrote is so true:
    “I feel like I’ve been given a divine permission slip to stop defaulting to self-blame for all of my little daily difficulties (not just as it related to my lungs, but in every area of life) and I want to share it with you. If you’re a mom and you’re struggling, let me just tell you that the problem is not you.”

    Something else that’s true: people who judge others who are struggling. The gossips love to play amateur psychologist when someone is ill. Saying things like “they’re depressed” or “they’re lazy” is a huge sin against charity. I work with the elderly and hear that kind of trash talk all the time from people who are just plain mean. I truly have to resist the “spirit of slap” that comes over me when I hear these people.

    God bless you!

  90. Christine

    An inspirational post that every mother should read!
    Thank you much!!!!! You need to know that you have
    helped me soon much. God bless you and keep
    you and your baby safe!

  91. Carmen S.

    Jen, you wrote exactly what I needed to read. I tell myself those exact same three things every day, and have been told those things by family before. Thank you for giving me permission to stop beating myself up. I don’t even have a dishwasher, and we are so broke, we only have what we need for survival. I have to hand wash dishes that a family of 5 uses and cooks with every day, and my severely dry hands are taking the beating. They are so dry, not even water, lotion and oil combined helps. I have to cook, because there would be nothing to eat if I didn’t. The kitchen is the size of a small closet, and the apartment floors look like they are sinking. It’s a two bedroom 1.5 bath place. We have no dining room table, which means the floor needs daily vacuuming, and both the floor and couch need almost weekly destaining. I am grateful that we are here as opposed to where we were before, but I am very tired and very stressed. So thank you for the post. And I am so glad you are recovering. When I read that you were in the hospital with pulmonary embolism, I felt like a I was this close to losing a friend. Amazing how connected this day and age allows moms to be. I guess this is the replacement for cooking, washing and mending together with other moms.

  92. Catherine

    Jen, I feel the same way! I’ve been on disability from practicing medicine for six years because of chronic headaches and severe migraines, but I still feel guilty that I can’t run a home and homeschool my kids and do everything perfectly. This is why I see a counselor twice a month. I’m slowly getting better at seeing the reality of life, but it’s still hard. I’m praying for your PEs and hope they resolve soon. And I’m praying for my headaches.

  93. Kristine

    I had one of those “oh yay, there’s actually something wrong with me” diagnosis celebrations. I can completely relate to the relief in knowing it’s not mental me, but physical me. (Which was also messing with mental me.) It’s nice to be let off the hook for your self-perceived failings – which in hindsight find a welcome spot on the dusty shelf of stuff we should’ve done. Nice meditation. God bless you.

  94. Annette

    Jen- First, I loved this post. I think so many of my mommy friends would love to read it, so I’m sharing it with them.

    Second, as a singleton, I could relate what you wrote to the single life as well. I think this may be one of the hardest times in human history for a woman to settle down and be married. Why? Because we’re not encouraged to get married any more for starters. We’re supposed to be out working and building fulfilling careers during our prime years for getting married and starting a family. So many of us work hundreds, if not thousands of miles away from our families, so we’re limited in the support and help we can receive from them in meeting someone. And we hear over and over that we have to look sexy and be great in bed if we want to land a guy. Because holding to standards and principles, especially if they are faith based, makes us prudes, old-fashioned and dull.

    Your blog was a great reminder to me that it’s ok to be out-of-step with the singles scene these days and that any suffering my singles friends and I go through is ok. And that holding on to my values will help me to meet a quality guy who will be a quality husband. Not to mention a great reminder of the many blessings we experience through our fellow singleton friends who walk this road with us.

  95. Andrea

    Thank you. So, so much. I’m constantly beating myself up and then everyone around me is amazed at what I have to deal with and what I actually get done.

  96. KelleyAnnie

    Hey Jen…I see how many comments there already are on this post so I’m not sure if you’ll ever even get to mine, but I wanted to tell you that I know EXACTLY the kind of relief you said you felt when you were diagnosed. I read this last night but I couldn’t comment on my iPhone and I wanted to tell you that I have been there.

    I was diagnosed with Systemic Lupus after my freshman year of college. The onset was so gradual that I thought I just wasn’t exercising enough. I thought I was eating well during my first year of college. I thought it was a lifestyle change. I felt guilty when my boyfriend thought I was boring for not wanting to participate in an outdoor event with all those moonwalk bouncy things. I thought my flat-feet were getting exceedingly bad when I couldn’t walk across campus. I know what you mean when you say you thought your laziness was to blame because I think I suffer from the same thing you have! But I must say, when someone gave me an explanation for all of the things I was experiencing, it felt AMAZING. This will be an interesting time in your life and whatever changes are coming will be something you can handle with God. Blessings 🙂

  97. Amy Corrieri

    I thought you were going somewhere else with this post. I once experienced a week of solid Grace right after my husband (and I with him) had a huge revelatory reversion to the Faith. For that week, lifted by His Divine Hand, I was a PERFECT mom and wife, and I didn’t even have to try. I was patient, kind, knew the right responses to every parenting situation. I floated through life with a balance of getting the necessary things done without losing perspective. It was truly heavenly, and I knew it was supernatural – I could not and did not do anything to make it happen.
    And then it ended and I went back to normal. I think God allowed me to see what perfect Grace looks and feels like and to know that my usual state is “fallen.” And it is not my fault. In this life on earth, I am fundamentally broken. I strive always toward that Grace – in prayer, receiving the sacraments, service and sacrifice. But I know that is all an offering now, and that hopefully someday when I pass into eternal life and live in that Grace forever, it will be the most natural and effortless joy and love and harmony.
    I still get disappointed with myself when I fall again and again into being impatient, resentful, annoyed or whatever petty, selfish thing I am going through. But I also have that memory of that one week, and I can be contrite, but also forgive myself the way I know Jesus does when I ask him to.
    I hope this makes sense as it relates to your post.

  98. Kelly

    Jen, thank you so much for this post.
    Despite being repeatedly told that common expressions of grief include social withdrawal; change in appetite & sleeping behaviours; irritability and other not-so-Christ-like behaviours, I have been feeling in a lot like you describe in the first few paragraphs of this post.
    I am very grateful for this post.

    May God bless you abundantly, Jen.
    You remain in my prayers.

  99. Dominique

    Thank you so much for sharing this. If only we could be aware of this profound truth you bring to us every day. I needed to hear this and am breathing just a little bit easier right now than I was an hour ago thanks to some kind words from a friend who had read this earlier and then the article itself which she then emailed me. I have posted it on my FB page because I have way too many mother friends who suffer from this same affliction to varying degrees. So thank you from all of them too as I know they will be equally grateful.

    Pax Christi

  100. Nell

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. And many many prayers for your continued recovery!!

  101. Lisa-Jo @lisajobaker

    And for the first time I think I understand why the night we found out my mom was diagnosed with leukemia and all bawled our eyes out in the parking lot we came home to find her perky and delighted in bed, saying over and over again how RELIEVED she felt. I’d never understood it till just now. How the specialist my dad talked to wanted to know what hospital she was in when he heard her blood cell count and was staggered that she was still at home.

    Thank you – from me and for my mom.


  102. Becky Miller

    In 2010, when I got a medical diagnosis of clinical depression, my husband blurted out, “You weren’t being lazy after all…you were depressed!” It’s not just our own expectations of what we can and should be doing, but the expectations of those around us. It was a relief for both of us to be able to put aside our expectations and choose grace instead.

  103. carrien - she laughs at the days

    I had a moment, about 2 weeks ago, when I realized exactly how much I was trying to do all at once.

    I too had been beating myself up for all the things that I never seemed to be able to finish by the close of each day.

    But as I brushed my teeth, the baby was kicking and it suddenly flashed through my brain, “You are pregnant, you’re moving to Thailand in less than 2 months, so your packing up your house, getting kids medical checkups and shots, not to mention visas, passports and plane tickets, you’re running a non-profit, trying to train people to take over some of your responsibilities, catching up on year end tasks still, your kids have been sick on and off since Thanksgiving, so have you, and you’re trying to home school, oh, and blog. Basically you are a crazy person for even trying and there’s no way to get all this done by yourself.”

    It was just a moment but it was a revealing one. Maybe I’m not as lazy as I think I am. Though I am remarkably lazy. Maybe I’m just a person with way too much on her plate right now.

    I loved this post.

  104. Barbara

    Praying tor you, Jenn, and I loved your message in this post. Due to health issues (mine and hers) my mom has been spending more time with us lately. She is no slouch –was a very hardworking mother keeping an immaculate house and taking care of four children’s bodies and souls, and she regularly tells me that it is much harder to raise children today than in the sixties and seventies. While we have an easier time feeding and clothing our children and keeping a clean house, it is much harder to keep them safe, body and soul. My children are ages 10 to 23 and I feel like I can’t relax for a moment because satan never takes a break!

  105. Caitlin

    Praise be to God for this posting and the relief it brings me in my vocation! May the Lord carry you through and keep His healing hands upon you.

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  107. Elizabeth

    Dear Jennifer, I just wanted to say thanks again for this post. I think about it and the words “The problem is not you” ALL THE TIME. It always helps me snap out of the unproductive self-flagellating mindset that I am so prone to. I know you are going through a stressful time right now and you are my hero! I’m muddling along here with my two little bruisers and thinking and praying for you and your magnificent family….

  108. Amy

    This is wonderful! So true, but I never thought about it in the way that this all relates to my relationship with God. Thanks for this.

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  110. Lynne

    Jennifer, this may be my favorite thing you have written–and that’s saying a lot. Your blog is my favorite “guilty pleasure” and what you explain here is the reason why: you remind me that I’m not crazy–or at least not alone in my craziness. I can read your blog and know that I’m not the only one with days like that and thoughts like that and kids like that and a house like that or faith like that. I think this is the crux: we’re “trying to thrive in utterly unnatural circumstances. It may not be hard physically, but it’s a great challenge psychologically.” Yes. For five years I lived in Denver with two small kids. My husband traveled a lot. I was alone and generally very fearful. I didn’t sleep much. I was depressed. At the time, I thought, “Do I have a mental problem or am I just a bad person?” I couldn’t distinguish between inner suffering and a faulty character. It wasn’t until after we left there that I gradually began to see how psychologically stressed I had been for those years and how deeply my circumstances had affected me. And still, I don’t know that I would have made this further connection that you have made about isolation and motherhood and the world we live in affecting me in the same way, so many years later. My solution is to pray like crazy, “Jesus, come in your glory!” So I need some practical ideas for living with joy! But thank you for always reminding me that I am not alone.

  111. Laura

    Reading this, trying not to cry because I’m at Starbucks after leaving the house in a huff in pretty much my pajamas… I look weird enough.

  112. Stella

    Your comments on isolation really hit home- as a military spouse I live across the country from any family and what networks we can build are constantly in flux with every move and change of station. I remember when my daughter was smaller an almost paralyzing fear of something happening to me while DH was at work or, even worse, gone for several days on a TDY. I was terrified of falling down stairs, an asthma attack, anything (no matter how outlandish and unlikely)that would incapacitate me and leave her without someone to take care of her and literally NO ONE would even know that something was wrong. While I’m happy to not live in an apartment anymore and sharing walls, I think it would have brought me comfort that at least someone would hear a child crying for hours on end and think to check on the lady next door.

    I think we forget how important it is to develop local support networks. Thanks to technology I can keep maintain friendships all over the country (which is pretty awesome), however it means that there is less impetus to develop the local friendships that mothers (and stay at home dads too) have always relied on!

  113. Laura

    I’m crying right now… I mean literally sobbing. *SOMEBODY* gets it.

    I am blessed that we are able to live with my husband’s mother. Though she’s getting on in years, she takes on a couple of the daily jobs that I would do if no one else did, but loathe with a passion (washing dishes and dirty diapers by hand… urrrrgh!!). She also watches my son half the day so I can work without needing to spend $ on childcare. I love my job, and very soon I’m going to be able to do it from home. My husband works two full time jobs, both of which he actually enjoys, so we squeak by.

    So, there, I’ve acknowledged my blessings. On to the whining.

    I. Am. Exhausted. I’m closing on five months pregnant. My son is (FINALLY) just starting to talk, which means even figuring out what he wants when he’s pointing and shrieking is a challenge. I taught him ASL to get around this, but he’s still two. I have obligations (what a horrible word to use for my service to God!) with my church, and honestly I’ve been ditching a goodly half of those lately because they’re in the evenings and by the time I get home from work, my son is in full mommy-cling and wants his bath and nummies, and all I want to do is put him to bed so I can have a couple of hours’ peace and maybe a little conversation with my husband.

    MIL and I share very little in common… to be brutally honest she drives me crazy. Don’t misunderstand, she’s not a Disney Stepmother or anything, she’s just … well, 73, I’m 30, and she was born in the Czech Republic. Massive generational and cultural differences, makes extended conversation difficult, so we mostly don’t talk unless it’s about house stuff that needs doing.

    DH, I mentioned, works 2 full time jobs. I almost never see him. When we do have rare time at home together, there’s always umpteen zillion things that need to get done, and we’re both wiped out, so half the time we just end up watching tv together in silence.

    I am bipolar, and on the autism spectrum (they call it “high functioning”… HAH!), and that complicates forming new relationships and developing a support network. I have a hard time feeling like I’m even speaking the same English as the people around me most of the time. Plus I don’t really enjoy being around large groups of people, so socializing in order to make new friends is HARD for me. I don’t even like being on the phone, even with people I know, because it eliminates so much of the usual feedback that warns me if I’m saying something wrong.

    Recently a very long-term friend decided she didn’t want to be friends anymore. Her words were “we’re too different”… it’s basically that she herself is sick and tired and in pain, which exacerbates her native tendency to make drama where there is none, and we live too far away to spend the time together that compensates for the upheaval. I’ve refused to be the one to sever ties, and despite her declarations, she keeps contacting me. I’m getting to a point where I can’t handle being the emotional punching bag anymore.

    We’re struggling financially. We squeak by, and I mean by the skin of our teeth. I dread the day when my son gets old enough to notice he doesn’t have the things the other kids do. 2/3 of our house looks like an episode of Hoarders because we’ve inherited at least 3 extra homes worth of STUFF over the past decade. The spare room, the garage, and the full length full height basement? Floor to ceiling boxes. There’s a path to the laundry area. We’re working on it, but concentrated time to box, list, and take things to the donation center is hard to come by.

    I could go on, but you get the idea. Life SUCKS right now, and I can’t talk to anyone because everyone I know is so churchy that sometimes they make my teeth hurt, ya know? “Pray, trust God, relax in His loooooove”… all fine & dandy but it don’t pay the bills, do it? Sometimes I just want to scream, “Why should I trust GOD to help me when YOU, His supposed servants, see our need and do nothing? Would it be so impossible for someone to drop by the house and spend an hour or two helping me load up boxes for Goodwill???”

    Of course that isn’t fair… they have their own lives and struggles too. Still sucks.

    And at the same time, every day my beautiful little boy does something new, and I can’t help but smile at how wonderful my life is.

  114. Lisa

    Thank you for this past. It’s gold and spot on. It’s the loneliness that is hard. And it’s not even the kind of loneliness we all think of that quickly dissipates when company arrives. It’s a loneliness in the journey of motherhood and that one runs deep and is difficult to relieve. It’s also that constant feeling of “why does this feel so hard?” even though, presumably, it is not. But it IS hard. It’s hard because it’s wrought with loneliness (even smack dab in the middle of a mommy-group sometimes) and because it’s really freaking boring! We weren’t meant to have to entertain children all day long – but that’s what it’s come down to and, if you don’t enjoy all the baking, crafting, coloring, mommy-and-me singing and dancing and bouncing, you will feel really badly about yourself – especially since, often, there’s plenty of time to do it … you just don’t want to. Sorry, *I* just don’t want to.

    There’s nothing more exhausting than hour after hour, day after day of trying to be attentive to a small child, without a break for a conversation with someone that can actually put together a real sentence that is not about New Super Mario Bros 2. We all post the super cute and funny things our kids say all over Facebook (I totally do it) and that gives the impression that it’s so fun to listen to them. But, no, the reason those quotes are great is because those are the 140 words my kid said today that DIDN’T make me want to poke a fork in my eye. The rest of it was nonsensical gibberish LOL.

    Even when I briefly tried to adopt the “go outside and play” attitude of yester-year, I came upon neighbors that considered it “neglectful” to let children outside without supervision (8 and 10 years old RIGHT outside with me in my kitchen listening out – not me locking the doors and taking a nap or whatever awful crime a mother can commit these days when she’s not with one hand directly on each child all day long keeping them safe and entertained). So I quickly ushered my ducklings back indoors out of fear.

    But back to loneliness and boredom. I’m terrible at entertaining children (and don’t find them that entertaining either). And I’ve beat myself up over that for years. Then, the other day, my 10 year old was having a problem with a peer at school. After we had talked it over, I said goodnight and went to leave her room and she said, “Thanks for listening, mom. That’s what makes you a good mom – you’re a good listener.” Wow. I’m holding on to that like it is the last morsel of bread in a famished world!! I don’t do much playing, crafts, cooking or coloring with y kids (only the amounts that feel sane to me, which is not much and not every day). I was so relieved to hear that they don’t seem to be grading my mothering on those criteria. She’s grading me on LISTENING when she needs me. Phewwww! I’m a good listener. Always have been. Why wasn’t I giving myself credit for that!! It made me start thinking about what else I AM good at as a person, not just “as a mom” because, ultimately, I won’t be able to do “as a mom” that I can’t do “as a person.” I was thinking of those as separate and trying to force myself to be a “mom self” that wasn’t at all compatible with my regular old self. I am a good listener (TO SENTENCES THAT MAKE SENSE AND TOPICS THAT AREN’T TOTALLY KID-CENTRIC). So if you want to talk about Mario Brothers, phone a friend. If you want to talk about life or something you read, mom will listen. I am patient and kids need that. So, yeh me! I am funny and a jokester and my kids have a lot of fun (and are sometimes embarrassed) by my silliness. I love reading and will read with a kid ’till they beg me to stop. I could go on. My point is that I’m trying hard to stop trying to be something that I am not. It’s been 10 years and I still haven’t transformed into “mom self” – I’m just myself. And it’s turning out that’s just fine by my kids. I’m the one that was having a problem with that.

    As for the loneliness …. I still haven’t figured out what to do about that. When you figure it out, please post and let us all know.

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