I went to see my dental hygienist the other day. During the moments when her fingers were not in my mouth, she and I chatted (like we do every six months) about parenting. My boys are three and five, her daughter is two. There is always something to chew on about preschools, naptime rituals, kids who won’t eat vegetables–the usual. This time, we talked about coping with the stress of parenting. She told me that a few days before, she had been talking about the same thing with other working moms who looked at her and said, “Aren’t you on Zoloft? Or Paxil?” with an air that clearly implied, “Because everybody else is.”
I did some reading, and it turns out, my hygienist and I have been living in a bubble. Those other moms are right. It’s not quite “everybody,” but prescribing antidepressants to frazzled moms is becoming increasingly common. I, an incessantly frazzled mom, can absolutely understand why it would help. My rose-colored parenting glasses came off when my oldest son was diagnosed with a developmental disorder affecting his language and motor skills just after he turned two. I was three months pregnant with my youngest at the time. My life ever since has been an unending whirlwind of choosing therapies, investigating schools, learning how to continue therapy at home, plus all the normal headaches that come from raising two boys. While writing this paragraph, I have been interrupted to fish a naked toddler out of the bathtub and to engineer a way to keep him from scaling the built-in desk in the hall. I also work full time. Not a day goes by when I couldn’t use a good chill pill. But, in the midst of all the chaos, it is easy to forget that our frazzled hearts will always be restless until they rest in God.
Let me be clear. Depression is very real and very dangerous, and it can definitely affect mothers. Some of the dearest people in my life require psychiatric medications, and I am truly grateful that science has developed ways to help them. Anyone–man or woman, parent or not–who believes he or she may be suffering from a mental illness should seek the help of a psychiatrist. If you need medication, please take it. I am only here to say, there is something else you need, and it is more powerful than any drug.
It’s called prayer.
Mothers do not always neglect prayer because we lack faith. We neglect it for the same reason I haven’t had a haircut in six months; there is no time. For most of us, the only way we have been taught to pray is to carve out a few minutes of silence, which is a very good way. For me personally, however, “finding time” proved to be impossible. Prayer became just one more thing to add to the agenda, another gratuitous source of stress. I had to give up the idea of finding time and learn how to find opportunity instead.
God does not exist somewhere outside our busy lives, like a kind old uncle we need to visit now and then. He is there in the very midst of headache, heartache, and frustration. He is there every time your child cries, and every time he smiles. Every hug is an opportunity to thank God for the gift of that beautiful little person in your arms. Every sleepless night is an opportunity to throw yourself upon His mercy and experience His grace. I cannot tell you how many times my prayer has been as simple as, “Holy Spirit, I can’t do this. You’re going to have to take over.” If and when I get to heaven, I’m going to throw a barbecue for my family’s guardian angels. They do a marvelous job of catching us in the moments when I fail–and those failures are another opportunity to praise God because He has not left us orphans. We are right when we say, one person cannot do this job on her own. One person does not have to. We have whole legions, both in heaven and on earth, ready to answer our call.
This is what prayer can do:
In the three and a half years since my son’s diagnosis, he has gone from being completely unable to communicate to being at or above normal in every linguistic category except social skills. The advances in his motor skills are more difficult to describe–he still looks awkward when he tries to gesture–but he tries. We expect him to overcome the need for therapy in another two to three years. For all of this, his magnificent team of therapists deserves a big round of applause. My son deserves a standing ovation; he is the one doing the work. My husband and I will accept a pat on the back, because we have hardly been idle bystanders. But behind it all there has been a small army of people praying. Every night, God has gone to bed with countless of those persistent, hungry friends from the parable (Luke 11:5-8) knocking at His door. Just as He promised, He got up and answered.
My radical solution to the problem of motherhood stress is this: pray, but don’t just pray. Ask others to pray for you, too. Then, instead of restlessness, weight gain, and anxiety–the side effects of antidepressants–we might find that motherhood brings love, joy, and peace–the side effects of prayer.