On Motherhood and the Secret to a Beautiful Life

When I set out on my motherhood journey, I was convinced I’d be a great mom. I hoped to fix the mistakes I believed my own parents had made, and demonstrate to the world how the whole mom thing should be done. I planned to work, fulfill my calling, and raise my kids in the wonderful ways of my Christian faith. They were going to know more bible verses and understand the heart and mind of God better than most adults by the time they were ten years old. They were going to be respectful, thoughtful, and happy. I knew, without a doubt, that where others had failed, I’d succeed. I was going to walk that perfect line between just the right kind of strict, and gentle, loving mother.

I wanted to be an intentional mother. I wanted to nurture their tender hearts, help them with their weaknesses, and foster their strength. In essence, I wanted to prove my own value and significance to the world by the greatness of my mothering.

I didn’t have the corner market in La-La Land, I had the corner apartment complex in La-La Land.

What people tried to warn me about, which for some arrogant and ridiculous reason, I believed I was somehow except from, is that motherhood is boot camp for real life. It’s an in-the-trenches, learn-as-you-go training camp into what it means to be a human being. What I discovered when my children arrived into this world and started growing up, is that we have about as much control over our offspring, as we have over a new puppy. They are adorable and annoying, poop all the time, need milk, grow faster than we can keep up with, and demand more from us than we could possibly provide. We are the ones who end up yielding to them far more than they ever yield to us. They teach us more than we will ever teach them. They will break our hearts, show us the pathway to love and sacrificial giving, and call us to hope and to pray more than anything else will ever begin to do, just by their presence on this earth.

Having children ushers us into the school of humility where we get the rare and beautiful gift of realizing that we have no idea what we are doing. All our good intentions are poppy-cock. We don’t have it all together, and if we’re really being honest, we don’t need help from God to be good parents, we need help from God to stay sane and not go absolutely crazy from the sleep deprivation, urinary incontinence, and overall time management issues that come from having little rebels take over our lives and stage a coup d’etat every morning over breakfast.

Honestly, I don’t know what in the world I was thinking when I believed, without a shadow of a doubt, that I would do anything better than my parents did. At this point, I’m just thankful my kids are standing upright and still want to sit next to me on the couch at night. I’m thankful they smile when they come in from school in the afternoon, that they apologize to me when they realize they’ve hurt my feelings. And I’m ever so grateful they still hear me and believe me when I apologize to them for all my screw ups and temper tantrums. I’m so happy and relieved that they still reach for my hand when we go on walks, and laugh when I burn the dinner, or forget to wash their favorite shirt or lose the field trip notice I swore on my grave not to lose this time.  I’m relieved they talk to me about their ups and downs, the arguments they have with their friends, or the tender things going on in their hearts and minds. I’m grateful they still invite me into the private places of their spirits and ask my opinion and advice about certain matters. They’re also growing up, and have begun to hold their own counsel more often than before, and that too, is beautiful to witness.

I got pregnant with my son just five months after my daughter was born. I still couldn’t jump up and down without peeing my pants when that pregnancy test raged positive. My breasts still leaked milk, and I couldn’t recall what a full night of sleep was like, let alone, gather myself together enough to pretend I was well-rested.

My husband traveled, my mom worked full-time, and I was mostly alone during my second pregnancy, which while I was very excited to have another baby, I was also completely unprepared for a second child. It took me several years to realize I’d never ever feel on top of anything ever again. I’d always feel just a little behind on everything. I’d always have to choose between having a clean house and a play-date at the park, or between sitting in the sand box making mud pies, and folding a load of laundry. There would never be a day, ever again when I’d have the naive luxury of feeling put together. Those days had sailed off into the horizon, never to return.

What I didn’t understand for a very long long time, was that, losing the myth of being put-together was my greatest gift. It was God’s secret reward for giving birth to two beautiful children. What felt like failure, was actually, true success and whole living. It just took me a long time to realize it.

I am learning through motherhood, what we also learn a myriad of other ways: through travel, the death of a loved one, through cancer, and aching loss or disappointment, the secret to a good life.

Here’s the secret to a good life: Life is best, and most whole and happy and tender and good, when you aren’t trying to hold everything all together in perfect white-picket fence perfection. Life is best when we live it with our whole hearts, spacious and open, laughing at ourselves, and lowering our expectations on everybody around us including ourselves. When we finally throw back our heads and enjoy the sacred ground beneath our feet, open wide our hearts and love till it hurts, we have found our way into a beautiful life. 

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Tina Osterhouse is passionate about living deeply and authentically. Through fiction, blog posts, and creative essays, she writes about ordinary life and the way God meets us in our everyday circumstances and creatively weaves the sacred into them. She studied ministry and theology at Northwest University, most recently lived on thirty acres in Southern Chile, and finally returned to the Seattle area in June of 2015.


  1. This is so, so lovely. As I sit here struggling with the fact that Grace is headed to boarding school, I’m learning this same lesson again (and again and again and again): Motherhood is just a vessel for learning about life, right? I love what you say. It’s so true. xox

    1. A few weeks ago, when I read that Grace was headed to boarding school, I couldn’t help but choke up out of tender solidarity with you. I’m thrilled you are finding the way forward, but goodness the days pass so quickly and then they’re flying off to new adventures. Their tiny hands unclench and find new things to cling to … Yes, motherhood is one of the most true vessels for learning about life. Yes. Yes. Yes. Hugs to you. xox

  2. I love this. I am learning to hold space. To let go of notions of grandeur and impossible ideals. And just be the mom that I am. With all my imperfections and huge desires to be present. At the end of the day, I just want my kids to be good and whole and I want them to look back over their lives and smile. Much like we do. It wasn’t perfect, but man, we sure do smile and can still laugh at our double-wide and Rachael learning how to drive a stick. Love you. Thanks for sharing the real substance of motherhood.

    1. Really love what you’re learning. Me too. Holding the space for our kids … I’m writing about that this month, too. Goodness.
      Love you, too

  3. Honesty, good communication, follow-through, reinforcing their strengths, ( essentially shining a light on what we want to see more of). These skills and more are the power tools I like to have on hand.
    Above all, honesty is the center of my teaching as a mum. Communication/reciprocal dialogue falls 2nd. Something you do as a role model in your posts is your excellent self reflection. A good parent (defined my me), is not afraid to self reflect, be honest, and have a dialogue. Thanks for allowing me to write my thoughts and as always, I appreciate your posts.

    1. You have such good parenting insights. I really appreciate that you share them with me. I also think shining a light on what we want to see more of is such a good way to love our kids.


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