Mothering doesn’t get easier. It gets stronger.

You know how intensely irritating (read: soul-sucking) it is when you’re barely surviving the raising of little littles and you’ve been covered in spit-up and boogers and yogurt and poo for days, and you’re praying for just three hours of uninterrupted sleep (or a terrible car accident that will put you in the hospital for at least a week where soft-spoken nurses will bring you soup and say, “there there” and hit you with a shot or twelve of morphine every couple of hours), and so you post a cry for help (or at least for sympathy) on Facebook – “SO TIRED!” – and some mother / soon-to-be-former friend who’s apparently FORGOTTEN EVERYTHING about the early years of child-rearing says something like, “Oh. You think you’re tired now?? Just wait ’til you have teenagers. HAHAHA!”, and then, to rub it in extra hard, she adds a winky face, and you want to unfriend her but that’s not at all homicidal enough?

You know that experience, mamas?


I just want you to know that Not Every Mama of Teenagers a) thinks that, much less, b) says it aloud. REALLY. I SWEAR IT. LOTS OF MAMAS OF ALL AGES ARE UNITED.

In fact, I was just expressing sympathy to a Mama of Teenagers who was at the hospital all night with her sick husband, and she responded, “Meh. Being barely functional works out just fine when you only have teenagers. They can fend for themselves.”

Oh my goodness. It was such a hope-filled, gorgeous thing to say in the midst of her own exhaustion that I felt I SIMPLY MUST share it with you so we all might feel the warmth of hope together.


P.S. THANKS TO ALL THE UNITED MAMAS OUT THERE! Really. You make a WORLD of difference.


I shared that run-on gem on Facebook last night.

And it would be enough to put here all by itself because it’s true.

But it generated a question that captured my attention. A mama of teens wrote this in response: “I have to say that sympathy is what the young mommas need, not one-upsmanship. But when they ask me, with desperate faces, if it gets easier, should I lie and say yes?”

SUCH a good question. Really. SUCH a good one.

What do we do?

What do we say?

What do we mamas who’ve run and run and run our race on the Mama Road say to our newest members? What do we say when they’re tired? What do we do when their confidence is shaken? How do we help when they’re faltering and wobbly and certain that this race was the worst idea?

Oh, mamas. How do we run this race together? What do we do to become friends and not foes? How do we offer sympathy and share our pain and still encourage each other?

Well, I don’t know – not all of it, anyway. But I know a piece. And I will give you that gladly.

Here is what’s true in the truest way I know to say it.

Mothering is a breathless endeavor. It’s breathless in the running. Breathless in the wonder. Breathless in the pain. And breathless in the joy.

Mothering is a race. Make no mistake. It’s a marathon and more. An epic story that moves, mile upon breathless mile, and coast to coast, and then even further, where no roads exist.

Mothering is a breathless endeavor. And that is a Not Lie to share.

Mothering is a breathless endeavor because mothering changes as soon as we figure it out. And then it changes again, and it changes again, and we mamas keep running. We run no matter the weather, no matter the season. We run when we’re aimless with exhaustion, and we run when we’re sure of our purpose. We run when we’re desperate to sit and to quit, and we run when we’re sure we can go for eternity.

Mothering is a breathless endeavor which is why it’s so strange and abrupt when we find rest in the running. Rest that looks like no rest we’ve ever known. Rest in a sigh. Rest in a triumph. Rest in a cup of coffee or a friend’s kindness or our baby’s first steps. Rest that’s always more fleeting than we’d like, but rest we learn to catch in fits and starts. In split seconds and pauses, we learn how to make the little bits enough.

Mothering is a breathless endeavor, but, oh, the strength! What strength grows from the stretching and the pulling and the soreness of prolonged mothering. New mamas, you’re earning your strength right now, at this very moment, on the altar of weakness, like every athlete that has come before you. You’re winning your strength during every long night as you discover your mama self and forge your resolve and become dependent on the Divine.

This is the Not Lie, new mamas – this is the mystery of the Breathless Endeavor – that strength comes from weakness and that we, the most reluctant of the runners, somehow fall in love with the sacred ground we tread.

No, friends, mothering doesn’t get easier. That’s the Truth. Mothering continues to change us and to challenge us. Always. It moves us and it shapes us. It pains us and it soothes us.

Mothering doesn’t get easier. It gets stronger. 

And therein lies our hope. Not in ease. But in strength.

Strength in weakness. Joy in the journey. Rest in the running.


ABOUT BETH WOOLSEY I'm a writer. And a mess. And mouthy, brave, and strong. I believe we all belong to each other. I believe in the long way 'round. And I believe, always, in grace in the grime and wonder in the wild of a life lived off course from what was, once, a perfectly good plan.
  1. […] Mothering doesn’t get easier. It gets stronger. (Beth Woolsey, Five Kids is a Lot of Kids) […]

  2. As a toddler mom who has entertained the car accident/nursing fantasy more than once, thanks for this great post! Rest in the running is still an abstract concept, but I like it.

  3. I just watched the comedy “What to expect when you’re expecting” and I have to admit, I liked it for several reasons. But the one thing I really like is where they dads are having their “man” time and trying to get one of the other dads ready to become a first time parent, he says something along the lines of: yeah your life ends when you have kids, which is true as your life is no longer yours alone, but I wouldn’t trade my kids to have that life back. Yeah it’s hard, my SIL was scared about having a second child as her first happens to be a little spit fire, and I told her it doesn’t get any easier, but there are plenty of times as they start getting older that make it all worth it. It’s like watching a movie, you don’t leave during the scary or sad parts because if you don’t you never appreciate the ending. Love the momradery that is found here!

  4. It’s funny ’cause it’s true. When I was a single mama of two (started the singlehood when one was 3 years and one was an infant), I shuttled them to daycare, went to my morning shift of work, picked up the baby from daycare to nurse and nap for 3 hours, took him back to daycare, did my afternoon/evening shift while my mom picked them up from daycare and got them dinner, got home, fed myself, bathed and bedded the kids, and conked out. My very favorite times of the day turned out to be my drive time! It was the only time in the day when nobody needed anything from me. It was my peace.

    Now I’m a married SAHM with a new baby, and my husband was grumping about how he doesn’t have any down time anymore. I told him that he has ample time to relax in his 15 minute commute! (And how I don’t even get that much private time anymore, the lucky bum.) He’s still trying to find his balance, but so are we all. So are we all.

  5. Motherhood never ends, it just changes its shape. In the end I think that’s what makes it so wonderful!”
    I found your website through “World’s Best Father”! This quote is one of the best I have ever read on Motherhood-so true! I am forwarding your website to my daughter who is a new Mom. As a mother and now grandmother it is true that motherhood never ends, but it does get easier as you get stronger. I have always said that young motherhood is physically exhausting and teen motherhood is MENTALLY exhausting! I have spent the last 45 minutes on your blog when I should be putting dinner on the table! Thank you for the laughs and tears!

  6. Just found your blog tonight and it is HILARIOUS!!! AND…I wish I had found it a few years ago. I am a single woman, no kids of my own who God said…I think you should do foster care. I have on and off over the years taken in kids and it has been amazing and crazy and so hard and so fulfilling-just like any form of parenting. Sooo….this particular post is AWESOME! I have experienced the same one-up-manship from friends and thank the Lord for my other friends who have said to me, “Angela, I raised XX number of kids and none of them came even close to what you are dealing with right now.” Not to say that I necessarily have had it “harder” but it is certainly a different scenario and none of that really matters anyway. Sometimes a little sympathy goes a long way when you are so far up over your head you don’t know where the top is and pretty much always in life telling someone who feels like they are drowning “it will get worse” or “welcome to my life” or “Ya, it’s hard huh!” just isn’t that helpful. I am hoping I remember this the next time I want to one-up someone!
    Love you posts!! I can’t wait to read them all and even though I am currently kid-less I will be going “back in” and am bookmarking this blog!!

  7. Thank you for writing this Beth. It brought me to tears. So beautifully and truthfully put! I am a homeschool mom of four kids Ages 5 – 15 so I run the whole gamut! Each season and stage brings it’s triumphs and challenges, joys and tears. I loved your word “breathless.” That’s perfect! Both for the precious moments of beauty that we enjoy with our children and the breathless exhaustion we feel from the struggle to just get through the frustrating and tiring days. Thank God He gives us grace for each day! Being a Mom is the hardest, but most wonderful calling ! I also agree that we all need to be gracious and kind with each other as Moms . Kind words of encouragement from others, even strangers, have given me strength to get through some rough days and ultimately benefitted my children too! Thank you for sharing! I would like to sign up for your blog.
    God Bless you!

  8. […] Your feet are moving on a marathon that’s just begun, but you haven’t trained because there’s no way to train for this. No way to build your muscles or increase your endurance or improve your time other than to start running. And that is okay. It’s the way this thing is done. You won’t always feel this exhausted. This off-balance. This delirious. But I know that doesn’t matter right now and that you want to punch people who say, “It gets better” right in teeth. (But it gets better, mama. It does. And the secret is you get stronger.) […]

  9. […] when I write about the reality of parenting, there are times I accidentally break open my chest and my heart falls out, and I remember those stories the most because they come from the deepest place of mama fear and […]

  10. Your writing brings back lots of memories for me. Our oldest child was 5 years and two days old when our fifth child was born…..all single births. Talk about being barefoot and pregnant! I swore that I would never wear another loose fitting garment in my life! At one time I remembered how many consecutive years I had kids in diapers, but now I am pushing 77 and I’ve forgotten. However, I do remember that my mother-in-law gave each child “real underpants” for their first birthday and reminded me that my husband was trained at 11 months. Give me a break! he wasn’t trained, she was. When our fifth child pulled off her diaper, left it in the neighbor’s yard and came home to go to the bathroom, I knew she was ready.

  11. This is beautiful, Beth! (I’ve been out of town and am enjoying catching up on your blog right now.) I was recently talking to two other mothers of young children, and we were all agreeing how discouraging it was when people tell us that it only gets harder. I liked the spin that I heard one mother of teens give it. She conceded that there were more challenges when dealing with teens, “but it’s much easier to face them when you’re getting full nights of sleep,” she assured us. That gave me hope!
    Thanks for being a giver of hope too!

  12. Amen. Yes. Thank you. Keep up the good work. Hey, this marathon is long and stretching out into the distance. I wouldn’t want to be in another race. Blessings.

  13. I’m so glad you posted this. Mothering has brought me to very frustrated tears the last few days. I was feeling like a total failure, but I read this and I took a deep breath. And now I’m going to keep running.

  14. This post just perfectly sum up how I feel about how mothering has been for me. I love it – “Mothering doesn’t get easier. It gets stronger.” I’m stealing this as my new mantra for late nights and early (oh sooooo early) mornings and all the other frustrations in between. THANK YOU!!!

  15. LOVE this and thank you;-)

  16. Possibly the best thing you have ever written. No sarcasm, no joking, not even a hint of a snicker … the best! I have been reading you for a while now and I still love the other things that you have written but this takes the cake. As another mother of 5, I am breathless. Thanks so much for putting into words my feelings on a daily basis. And KEEP WRITING!!!!

    1. This was a very sweet comment, Angela. Thank you.

  17. Thank you for once again giving me something to share with my dear mama friends. I was reminded of my husband when I read this – that his fathering gets stronger as my mothering also is strengthened. I am so grateful for our partnership because although this is a breathless endeavor I do not have to do this alone. I have a partner that shoulders every stage we will endure and find joy in as our children grow. Thank you Beth for reminding me! Thank you for speaking wisdom with such joy and peace – even though we don’t always feel that joy and peace in the midst of our endeavor.

    1. Yes, yes, yes! I am so thankful for my husband and our parenting partnership, as well as the support of an extensive network of family, friends and church family in the years our kids were growing up. All these helped me feel I was not doing it alone, even though there were certainly times I felt overwhelmed and exhausted.

  18. My children are adults now…and I agree that it never really gets easier. It just gets different. Different worries and problems for different ages. Toddlers are physically exhausting…teenagers are mentally exhausting. And even now that they are adults I still worry about them but I don’t have the luxury of butting into their business anymore. I can’t tell them what to do…I have to sit back and watch them, and sometimes bite my tongue. I really agree with what Barbara said…Motherhood never ends, it just changes its shape. In the end I think that’s what makes it so wonderful! Being a Mom is the absolute best thing that ever happened to me..spit up, tantrums, moods, car accidents and breaking curfew included. And the best part…after they’ve become adults…you get to be their friend…it’s wonderful!

    1. “Motherhood never ends, it just changes its shape. In the end I think that’s what makes it so wonderful!”

      Beautifully said.

  19. Bravo!

  20. I am the oldest child of 9 (bless my mother – she certainly deserves a rest) and my mother was motherless before she started having children. I didn’t have a model of mother-child relationships after the child becomes an adult other than “out on your own make it or sink” – which is the situation my mother was in.

    When I decided I was an adult and left to go be on my own – joined the Navy and left my hometown – I thought that my decisions about how to live my life did not have any effect on anyone else.

    I did not understand that my mother’s concern and care for me was just as intense as when I was a baby and needed full time attention. I did not understand that until my children became teenagers and then moved out on their own. Don’t get me wrong, I always knew that my mother loved me and was there for me if I needed it – I just didn’t know that her heart hurt when I made decisions that eventually caused me pain. I didn’t know that she laid awake at nights worried about me.

    I didn’t know that Motherhood would last my whole life and would be the most important thing I did. I didn’t know that the virtual umbilical cord is never broken or cut – it just stretches. My sons are parents themselves now and the circle gets bigger.

    1. Thanks for sharing your story, Barbara.

  21. This is absolutely beautiful. And encouraging. I love the analogy of a breathless endeavor/run/marathon. As a novice runner, I have recognized the similarities between trying to run and being a new mom. It doesn’t get easier, you get stronger. Thanks so much.

  22. Okay, first of all, how have I not been following you fb? I quickly corrected that error.

    Also, yes. Moms are running ourselves to death in this crazy marathon, yet rather than offer other moms a moment of rest on our shoulders, we increase their stress levels (and our own!) by making this a competition as well. I love facebook, but I feel like it is somehow a breeding ground for one-upsmanship. Recently a friend of mine posted a sweet status about her son turning two. She talked about how much she loved being his mommy and how quickly he was growing. It was a nice little moment. One of those moments of rest you talked about where she could reflect. She did get a few positive comments, but I was horrified by how many comments she got along the lines of, “Uh oh! Here come the ‘terrible twos’!” “Now is when things get much harder!”

    Really?!? We can’t congratulate her on making it this far? Encourage her to enjoy this special day with her son? As moms we know that these moments of rest, reflection and celebration are hard to come by. Why try so hard to take one away from a fellow mom? (Besides, the ‘terrible twos’ are so 90’s. Everyone knows 3 is the new 2…)

    Let’s face it, we all entered this marathon with foolish hopefulness. We were blissfully ignorant and I see no reason to take that away from anyone. You know what? Raising toddlers is hard. Knowing that doesn’t make it any easier, so just say, “Great job Mom! You’ve made it two years and you’re still hanging in there. Atta girl!”

    I also refuse to believe those who try to open my eyes to the difficulties that lie ahead. I simply put my head down and continue to plow forward. Did you know that some people think the teen years are a challenge? Huh, maybe for them, but I’m sure we’ll breeze through. Those will be our glory days!

    Hang in there fellow mom of five! We will complete this marathon and carry a few others along with us. After all, we can do anything- we’re moms!

    1. I love everything about this comment, Beth. The “atta girl!” The “we can do anything.” The foolish hopefulness and blissful ignorance and determination to plow forward toward the glory days. Love. LOVE.

  23. When I see parents dealing with a tantrum while in public, I always try to give them a sympathetic smile.

    The WORST is usually parents of newborns. They see you getting annoyed at your 2/3/4 year old, look at you in horror, and slowly draw their precious newborn close, whispering “I would never do that to you, sweetums.”

    1. I have been that newborn mama. It comes from the hope that I will have learned a better way to cope. Now I have newborn #5, and there have been times when I wince internally and my heart breaks a bit because I KNOW that this little precious bit will sooner or later be at the receiving end of a very frustrated mama or daddy.

    2. I have a good friend with a newborn (well, he is getting older now). I think every time they see my youngest son, who is about 9 months older than him, he has snot running out of his nose. On several occasions they have said, “Eww! Wipe his nose!” I can’t wait til their little guy starts teething and freaking out when you want to wipe his nose every single second. (Much less when their NEXT child does, and ya know, you just don’t care as much.) My kids are snotty and happy, and who cares anyway! Newborn parents, what do they know! Ha!

      I am guessing this is how the teenager mothers feel. I guess I am a stronger mother in this sense because I am stronger in my impulse to wipe my child’s nose 87 times an hour!

      1. “I am stronger in my impulse to wipe my child’s nose” … ha!

        I am the worst at the nose-wiping. I have a friend who CANNOT STAND IT, which is AWESOME because she’s forever wiping my kids’ noses and faces and clipping their toenails and generally grooming them in a way in which we both acknowledge I’m simply incapable. Everyone needs no pride and friends like this… it’s the best combination. 😉

  24. Thank you. As a mother of a 5 yr old and 5 month old…I did need this. One never has it all figured out do they and I always feel like I”m that crazy “mess” running around wishing someone would give a word of encouragement or a kind gesture….but I know I can just keep going somehow! Thanks again!

    1. Read Beth’s comment below, Jill! It’s all kinds of encouraging and kind gesturing. And you’re right – you CAN keep going. Remember to congratulate yourself every day for doing it… we forget in the midst of the “keep going” to honor the fact that we “just went.” Sending love.

  25. Thanks, Beth! This is great. I agree. A breathless endeavor, but maybe our lungs develop more capacity and our muscles get stronger and we can endure more…so maybe it feels easier? At least at times…

    AND I love that it’s breathless because of wonder, too.

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