I logged off of my virtual work desktop and went downstairs to prepare a ridiculously easy dinner. I felt mentally drained and the week wasn’t even half over. As I set about tossing the salad and searing the sous-vide pork loin, my 18-year old step-son came into the kitchen to ask what time dinner would be ready. The question irritated my already frayed nerves and I replied, “when I have everything done.” He quickly retreated and I became more irate that there was no offer to help with dinner. I knew if I asked, he would help with alacrity and no complaint. He should know I’d want help with dinner after working all day.
I seethed as I aggressively combined the salad components and closed drawers and cupboards harder than necessary. I knew I was completely overreacting and being unreasonable. Being married only 15 months, I was astonished how quickly my husband and his two sons had relaxed into this routine of me doing 100% meal preparation. To be fair, they do 100% of the clean up, but that was four people doing that task with my daughter helping. With this being my second marriage, I knew that there would be things that I would have no idea would upset or irritate until they did.
I enjoy cooking and providing good food for my family so I was surprised I was reacting this way and it hadn’t been the first time. When I first noticed the boys only asked what time dinner was ready or what we were having with no offer to help, I started giving them a task to do in response to the inquiry. I had hopes this tactic would result in them spontaneously setting the table. The result was never asking me a question about dinner for months.
My seething only lasted a few minutes, when the still small voice interrupted my inner diatribe to say, “he [my step-son] will only be here another two months.” He had enlisted in the Coast Guard and his departure date for basic training was quickly approaching. I felt reproached, but before I could think much more on it, I heard, “they didn’t have a mom to cook them dinner for 8 years.” My husband’s wife had died when the boys were 9 and 7 years old. Cooking for them had been a way for me to bond and connect. My husband will be the first one to say that cooking is not one of his strengths and it was clear having me cook dinner and treats was something they truly appreciated.
I let love and compassion swell and grow within my heart with this gentle nudge that greatly changed my perspective and then my mood. I truly love my family. My mind flashed with memories of how happy both boys were when we told them we were getting married, the sweet gestures of bringing me my favorite soda when they get off work, standing in the doorway of the bedroom excitedly chatting about an idea or upcoming plan, how quickly they do help when asked. As I felt compassion for them not having had a mother and new gratitude for their open hearts to welcome me into the family, I found myself feeling cheerful and glad I was there to prepare a dinner they would enjoy.
I even had some compassion for myself in still figuring out my step-mom role. I hate when I am grumpy and snarky. I usually try to warn those around me if I’m in a bad mood so they can steer clear until it passes. Really, was it any wonder that my stepson cleared out of the kitchen with my snarky answer to a reasonable question? Motherhood doesn’t usually offer the luxury of being left alone for a mood to improve or even the time for those things to improve it. There are always tasks and needs that in their unrelenting presence quickly can become overwhelming and exhausting.
What I loved about this simple experience is that my loving and patient Father in Heaven gave me the gentlest of nudges to pull me from a rotten mood. I felt His love and care for me but even more for my family. I was so engrossed in my own grumpiness, I had no idea how anyone else was doing or if they had a bad day. I did know my own mood could definitely influence how each of them were feeling.
I also love that not a single thing changed that evening other than my perspective. My job still stressed and overwhelmed me. I was still tired. I was still cooking dinner after a long day, but that now filled me with purpose and love. God truly wants us to have joy, but His joy isn’t found through leisure, success, adventures, or wealth. Joy and holiness can found in the everyday, redundant, and unrelenting work it takes to be a mother. If you are overwhelmed and understandably grumpy with all you must do, ask your kind and merciful Father in Heaven for your own nudge of your perspective. Or ask for His help in finding joy and gratitude in the small things each day. Joy, love, compassion, and gratitude and the influence of the Holy Ghost are powerful and effective tools to combat stress, anxiousness, and grumpiness and help us be better and stronger moms.