Disclaimer: This post is directed to a more exclusive audience than most of my posts as it was originally posted on The MOPS Blog, a space for mothers, but I think it can be applicable to us all!
There is a special kind of loneliness that comes with being a mother, especially of young children. Your life is consumed by the details of their day, leaving little room for you to pay attention to your own. You crave community to remind you that you are more than a dish-washing, Lego-cleaning, diaper-changing hug dispenser. You hope for some conversation about the other parts of your soul that are still awake, despite the tired bags under your eyes. So you schlep the kids out the door and to the playdates or the classes, as much for you as for them. At the playground or that music class, you join a group of other adults—finally!—to discover you are all just part of one herd, parallel parenting. The passing words exchanged amount to a few superficial clichés. If you sneak in a moment to go deeper, you are interrupted by a demand for a snack or needing to rush off to referee a toddler squabble.
Walking back towards home, you feel a pang in your gut that is more than a stitch from pushing an overloaded stroller. It’s that loneliness again, reminding you the herd behind you is probably the most able to relate to what you’re feeling and the least likely to be able to address it.
Besides the many skills we acquire in order to raise children, we mamas need to learn another tactic for our own survival: to go deep quickly. Here is a cheat-sheet for the frazzled mama brain that is too tired to be intentional when there are littles running around (or for those of us that seem to have forgotten how to speak to other adults even when we’re kid-free). This is a guide to reach the introverts, the guarded, the craving mothers who need something more than “how’s it going?” to access the depths longing to be known.
1. What keeps you busy these days?
As a mother, there’s nothing I’ve come to hate more than the question “what’s new?” So much of my day is spent in repetitive tasks that the question leaves me speechless. “Ugh, not much,” I end up replying, feeling like the only appropriate response to that question is a big update I don’t have. But each day of parenting ushers in newness: tender moments, meeting developmental milestones, fresh struggles, breakthroughs in our relationships. “What keeps you busy?” opens the door for those answers to be valid ones, even if our week doesn’t look any different than it did a month ago.
2. What are you reading right now?
I feel that many of us choose TV or film as a source of entertainment, but when we choose to commit to an entire book, there’s a bigger goal in mind. To learn something about baking. To read more black authors. To answer questions in my faith. To understand more about politics before the next election. This simple question can lead to deeper conversations about who we want to become or what we value. (And if doesn’t, well, maybe you just get some good recommendations out of it!).
3. What has been on your mind lately?
This is a question of sisterhood, asking someone to invite you into their growth. Our minds are sacred spaces for the deepest fears and hopes, the forbidden thoughts, the experiences we think we are alone in. Getting this glimpse into a sister’s soul can carry me through the week.
4. How is your relationship with [insert significant relationship]?
Even though the role of “mother” seems all-consuming, our other roles—sister, daughter, friend—still linger in the background. Being asked this question validates our larger identities and, as relationships are always changing, it can be asked again and again. And while it is nice to be remembered as more than “mothers” and maybe “partners,” at the end of the day, as we slip exhaustedly under the covers and into sleep, it’s those relationships that are the last on our minds and in our prayers. Ask about those too.