Motherhood: Mommy guilt

by Grace Ko in


As soon as I birthed the child I had carried in my womb for ten months, a new realm was opened to me, a whole new world of emotions both in breadth and depth spanning from joy and pride to anxiety, fear, guilt and shame. My highs felt higher, my lows felt lower, everything a bit stronger, deeper.

Someone once asked me what was most surprising about becoming a mom. I think it’s how easily the mommy guilt came. How quickly and loudly I began hearing the little devil sitting on my shoulder, shouting, “Do more! That’s not enough! How could you? How dare you?” I’m still working at quieting that voice.

“I should be able to exclusively breastfeed. What’s wrong with me?”

“I should keep him home. Why am I sending him to daycare? That’s selfish.”

“He’s sick, again. It’s because I’m failing as a mom.”

“We had fried chicken and French fries for dinner. That’s awful. If I cared about my child’s nutrition and development, I wouldn’t be feeding him this.”

If I could rewind and go back to those first few months that felt so sweet, so precious but so vulnerable, raw and unwound, I would whisper to myself, “Take time to lean on and lean in. Be “good enough”. You’re navigating unchartered territory. It’ll take time and space to grow into this role, this new identity, this new part of you. You’re doing the very best you can. And that’s more than enough.”

Once, after an emotional talk with my mom, she turned to me and said, “You’re a great mom. How could you give, do any more than you already are?” I wept. In the deepest corners of my heart, I was afraid I would never measure up to my mom, my hero.

There was another time I distinctly remember my dad was talking to some of our relatives. He told them, “Y and G are pouring out everything into being the best parents they can be for J.” This affirmed me in the deepest parts of my heart. My inkling is to hang my head, shaking it, saying, “Oh, no, no, no… You see, there’s this and that I could be doing, should be doing…” But I’m learning to just nod and say thank you and to acknowledge that it’s all by grace.

Strangely enough, I’ve realized guilt wasn’t magically birthed into me as I birthed my child. It was a pre-existing condition of my heart, only exacerbated and accentuated by hormones and the highs and lows of motherhood.

I’m not writing this because I have the panacea for mommy guilt. I’m not at the other end having defeated it. It’s still a daily battle. But I’m chipping away at it, with my pen and paper where I go to war against my internal tape, with the help of those that speak truth over me, with daily reminders to myself that “I am enough”.


Motherhood: SAHM life

by Grace Ko in


I’ve been “stay-at-home” even before I became a “stay-at-home mom” (SAHM). I moved here to Korea at the end of 2014, leaving behind my “dream job”, a supportive work community, a loving church family, my brother, our pets (Laila- a pitbull/boxer mix, Emmy- the queen of the household: a cat of what kind I do not know), relatives, and dear friends. Before I left, I felt like everyone I spoke to was telling me not to rush in finding a job but to embrace the season, to explore the city, to try out new hobbies. And I quickly daydreamed of the life I would create: a couples’ cooking class, strolls along streets lined with cherry blossoms with a cup of coffee in hand, visits to museums to explore my roots.

But the reality looked far from it. The novelty of “free time” quickly dissipated as I constantly was reminded of everything I wasn’t doing: wasn’t making money, wasn’t putting my graduate degrees to use, wasn’t exploring the city and all it had to offer because I didn’t have anyone to do it with because everyone else had a job and I didn’t, wasn’t making friends because “Why should I make friends when I have friends back home and I’m only here for two years?”

Making friends was especially hard in that season when every time I met someone new, the small-talk that ensued would lead to pangs of shame and swallowing of pride:

“Uh… I’m a housewife? I’m looking for a job? I’m unemployed?” It would pain me every time I felt like everything I am, everything I do was watered down to these one-liner response to the omnipresent question: “So, what do you do?”

Truth be told, what I really did those first few months was sleep in, watch K-dramas, read, count the hours and minutes down until my husband would come home.

The irony is, my life now doesn’t look all that different from what it did back then. Now that J (26 months) goes to daycare for most of the day, I’m left at home with a flexible schedule.

A typical day for me (recently) looks like:

  • 8:00: wake up with J and morning snuggles

  • 8:00-8:30: Feed J breakfast

  • 8:30-9:00: Get J washed up, changed, dressed and fit in some play time

  • 9:05: J gets picked up by bus for daycare

  • 9:10: Clean up after breakfast, vacuum, tidy up the house, make coffee and sit down to do “my morning routine”

  • 10:00-12:00: Work

  • 12:00-1:00: Lunch with husband

  • 1:00-2:00 Work

  • 2:00 Head to gym, shower, prep dinner

  • 4:15: J gets dropped off by bus!

  • 4:30-5:00: snack time/play time

  • 5:15: Daddy comes home!

  • 5:30-6:30: Family time and prep dinner

  • 6:30: Dinner

  • 7:30: Bath time for J

  • 8:30: Bedtime routine for J

  • 9:30 Free time for Mommy & Daddy! (Usually consists of watching a show. Currently: Mr. Sunshine)

 

In the name of vulnerability, I’ll admit I feel guilty even calling myself a SAHM anymore. I fear judgment from real SAHM's. I spent the first 18 months of J’s life as a SAHM but now? I feel like I have too much free time to be considered a true “SAHM”.

But reality is, I work part-time from home, too. I know I’m blessed to have the “best of both worlds” being able to work and be home with J. But often, I’m bombarded with feelings of inadequacy that I’m not doing either well. That I “could be” doing more. I think about the ideas and dreams that are untapped, unexplored. I think about what I “should’ve” been able to accomplish (since I’m home all day) but didn’t accomplish because I feel pulled in a thousand directions. I feel like a complete and utter failure when I don’t have a house that’s spic-and-span with a home-cooked nutritious meal ready for my husband and son when they both come home, because “What were you doing if you’ve been home all day?” I hear in my head.

So I lied. That “typical day” schedule is far from the truth. That would be what my day would look like if everything went swimmingly, in an ideal world.

What my typically day actually looks like:

I wake up to J stroking my face, saying, “엄마, 밥…” (“Mommy, food…”) “Man, what time is it?” I look up at the clock on the wall. 8:15… My intention had been to be up at 6:30 so that I could have a bit of me-time and a head start to the day. Well, so much for that…

I make the bed, open the curtains and make my way to the kitchen to “make” breakfast. I can hardly call it “making” anything because more often than not, breakfast for J is yogurt, some nuts, a smoothie and maybe some fruit, if he’s up for it. I get him dressed and off to daycare.

I breathe a big sigh as I walk back into a quiet, still house. I take a moment to relish this moment. Then I go into the kitchen to make a cup of coffee to sit down and start my day. Halfway through my morning routine, I remember I didn’t even use the bathroom yet because J woke up late and I was in a mad rush to get him ready and on the bus. “Did I even wash his face…? I should wash my face…”

I come out of the bathroom and remember I should load the laundry so it’s running while I do my work. So I go to the bedroom to grab our hamper and load the laundry.

“Oh yeah… my coffee!” It’s gone cold.

I heat up my coffee and sit down, finally, and open up my computer to start work. But I check my email while my work programs are loading and I see an email from Ebates and it reminds me, “J needs some clothes for spring. I should place an order soon…”

I start my work and then I hear the laundry machine’s little tune go off, signaling its complete cycle. I get up and throw the laundry into the dryer. On my way through the kitchen, I see the sink full of dishes. I do the dishes. While I’m at it, I clean the counters. The crumbs from the counters fall to the floor. “I should vacuum.” I put out the vacuum to tidy up the kitchen, but while I’m at it, I should just vacuum the whole house.

I sit back down at my dining table turned “work station” and get back to work when my phone rings. Y wants to know if I want to meet him for lunch. I tell him I’ll meet him after getting dressed (because yes, it’s lunchtime and I’m still in PJ’s…). I throw on my work-out clothes because the plan is to hit the gym after meeting the husband for lunch. I hurry back after my gym session and throw together a protein shake, gulp it down and desperately try to finish my work before J gets home, because Lord knows I can’t get work done with a toddler clinging to my leg.

Yup, that’s more like it. That’s probably a more realistic picture of what my typical day looks like, although if I’m really honest, I don’t have a “typical” day. Every day looks different. Every day is a new day.

Now that I look back, my SAH life before I became a SAHM taught me about “identity”. That I’m not what I make, that I’m not what I produce, that I’m not a title.

Our daily work can be a calling only if it is reconceived as God’s assignment to serve others.
But in Genesis we see God as a gardener, and in the New Testament we see him as a carpenter. No task is too small a vessel to hold the immense dignity of work given by God.
— Timothy Keller, Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God's Work

God is writing His grand story of redemption is interwoven into the everyday, mundane and ordinary details of our lives. He’s there in my loading laundry, He’s with me as I journal, read, or rest. He’s with me as I change the 2,541st diaper. He sees me as I kiss a boo-boo, give snuggles, read the same book for the fifteenth time. He sees me as I contemplate what it means to be a mom, a wife, a daughter, a sister, a friend, an employee, a writer, a dreamer. And He gently reminds me that He sees it all: my efforts, my struggles and pain, my joys and victories. But mostly, He reminds me that He sees me.


Motherhood: Why write about it

by Grace Ko in


I have spent a lot of time contemplating about whether to write more extensively and more specifically about mommy life. But for fears and anxieties that would creep up and take hold, I have avoided it.

My word for 2019 has been “unapologetic”. I’m learning to be “free to be me”. And after recently receiving life-coaching, I realized something so simple but profound- this is who I am: I’m a mom. “Mom” isn’t all of who I am, but it is a big part of who I am.

So, why now? Why write about it?

Because it’s that important.

Because it’s what I’ve been called to.

Because it has changed me, to the core.

Because birthing a child has birthed a new me, too.

Because not writing about it would feel like not being true to all of who I am.

Because people have asked.

Because I want to share, not because I’ve got it all figured out (because I sure don’t) but because it’s in the sharing where we grow and learn and love.

 

I’ve personally grown the most when people around me who “don’t have it all figured out” have been vulnerable with me, in their mess, and have graciously extended an invitation me into the mess. In the sharing, the processing, the rawness and vulnerability, I have changed.

This “Motherhood: “ series isn’t about giving advice, because God knows I’m still figuring it all out and in the mess. But it’s just my journey, sharing my experience. Vulnerability begets vulnerability. Vulnerability also births opportunities for validation, brings forth connection and community. And I know I need that.


For light, for hope, for love

by Grace Ko in ,


I blinked and baby boy turned one.

Last weekend, we celebrated his 돌 (dol: a Korean tradition celebrating baby's first birthday). I was running around like a headless chicken with preparing for the party (remind me, why did I think it would be a good idea to do everything ourselves...?) that my heart and my head were not able to process the weightiness of reaching this milestone.

As I jogged my brain of all the happenings this past year, in the midst of celebrations, my heart felt a strange sadness. "Joy", "wonder", "bliss" - these are often the words used to describe the magic of motherhood. But no one told me how much "grief" would be part of it. A grieving, knowing you'll never have that particular moment, that day, that stage, that season again. And so I have desperately wanted to catch them, document and capture them, encapsulate them into bottles to be stored in my memory's shelves, in the recesses of my heart to be cherished and revisited.

I've grappled with the idea of permanently gluing my phone to my hand as to not miss a moment, while my instincts have whispered gently, "Be present, be fully present." I've struggled with fully "momming" while realizing "mom" is not all of who I am. I've contemplated about "community", what it means, how it's changed, what I want it to look like.  I've struggled with the fact that others may see my life and think "She's got it all", dismissing me of any "right" to share, but inside there are deep questions of identity, calling, feelings of loneliness, anger, jealousy and fear.

I've been at my parents' this past week, resting, recovering from all the festivities and the prepwork leading up to it all. While here, Y and I took J on his first visit to an art museum. Exhibits named "Nostalgia" and "Light" stirred emotions and the courage in me to write this post. We strolled along, reflecting on how with light comes shadow and how light brings things from the dark to the surface. Without darkness, we would not appreciate light.

I've spent much time wondering why I was struggling with so-called "dark" feelings in a season that has been so full of joy. But Henri Nouwen's words in Reaching Out spoke volumes to me:

We do not have to deny or avoid our loneliness, our hostilities and illusions. To the contrary: when we have the courage to let these realities come to our full attention, understand them and confess them, then they can slowly be converted into solitude, hospitality and prayer.
— Henri Nouwen

J was born on Dr. Martin Luther King's birthday. We spent the actual day reading him books on Dr. King's life, listening to his "I have a dream" speech and I picked up my calligraphy brush pen for the first time in a while to write these words:

light.JPG

I leave to return home with heart refreshed and hope restored.


A new year, 2018

by Grace Ko in


As a child, I always followed my parents to 송구영신 예배, midnight service on NYE. We always lived quite far from church so we would leave the house and pack into the car come 10PM, give or take. I never knew the glitz and glamour typical of NYE - confetti and hats, sparkle and dazzle. There was no countdown or champagne or a kiss when the clock struck midnight. Rather, we would meet midnight in quiet meditation and prayer, reflecting on the past year and giving thanks. I grew up never having once seen "the ball drop", and for the longest time I didn't even know what that meant or looked like because growing up, I ushered in the new year often sleeping on my mom's lap in the pews. 

It's funny how in adulthood, you start to long for things you took for granted in childhood. Like home-cooked meals, piano lessons and even midnight church services. 

Since coming to Korea, Y and I have adopted a few of our own New Years traditions - one being praying through different topics and setting goals and visions. I've recorded these things and they've served as benchmarks to be reread and revisited and celebrated. 

During the holiday season in years past, I would carve out time to sit at a cafe with a big cup of joe, pull out my journals and planner and reflect back on the year. I would list out all the year's events, answered prayers and expectations for the upcoming year. But being a SAHM (stay-at-home mom) with a very active, almost-one-year-old child, that's an ideal far from reality. And I'll be honest. I sometimes long for those days of cafe visits, dates with my husband to the movies, sleeping in, being able to go to the bathroom without a little human being clinging to my leg. 

But if I'm going to be really honest, part of me has pushed this task of reflecting on this year aside because of fear it'll trigger too many emotions, that it'll be too raw. 

2017 has been quite a year. It started off with a bang, giving birth to baby boy, an answer to many prayers. And since, it's been a year of transitioning into motherhood. A year full of magical firsts that came and went too quickly, leaving me to have to learn to grieve while remaining present so more doesn't pass me by before I know it. A year of living through the eyes of awe and wonder of a child. 

But it's also been a year of tumultuous changes and learning to transition my heart posture. A year of raw, never-before-felt depths of sadness and loneliness. A year of struggling with body image, comparison and fears. A year of coming to terms with expectations and disappointments. A year full of goodbyes. A year often filled with regrets, "should've, would've, could've's". 

But in hindsight, I wish I could go back to those first few days and months after J was born and tell myself, "It'll all be okay..." I wish I could pat myself on the back and say, "You're doing great." I wish I had taken more pictures with baby, not worrying about how I looked or felt like a cow and told myself, "You'll get your body back." 

I can sit and dwell in the regrets of 2017, the things unfinished, things not accomplished. Like, how is the last time I posted on here eight months ago? What happened to documenting baby's growth and development monthly and sharing my journey of motherhood here on this blog? 

But that's also why my heart swells with an excitement for the new year. It's not a blank state starting afresh. But a continuing, a building on, a going from glory to glory. 

It's been a year of the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, but somehow it always ends with a wake-up call to more thanksgiving and daily reminders to "praise" (Judah). 

Ho Chi Minh City, Dec 2017

Ho Chi Minh City, Dec 2017

Here's to 2018! Here's to finding my song again. Here's to a year filled with more laughter, good books, more travels. (And hopefully more blog posts.) Here's to fullness of joy!