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Only Pretty on the Outside

We have a magnolia tree in our front yard and when it started to bloom my 3 year old daughter asked for a magnolia for days. Finally, one bloomed low enough for my husband to pick and she was so happy to have her magnolia! After playing with it for a few minutes we put it in some water inside and as the day went on she would stop and admire it and say how beautiful it was. Over the next two days, this white blossom began to turn a pinkish color as the petals started to wilt. My daughter was delighted by this change and thought her special flower was even more beautiful than before. I admit, the color was really beautiful but I warned her that it was only turning that color because it was dying. She insisted it was fine because it looked so pretty and she was quite upset when I told her it was time to throw it away because it was dead. She couldn’t understand how something so beautiful was dead.

It made me think about how often we do this to each other. A friend says they’re having a hard time and we brush it off by saying “but you look great!”, “you look like you’re doing a great job!”, or “this is just a hard day, you’ll get through it.”

I recently found myself in this situation. I have really been struggling with parenting lately. I have a 6, 3 and 2 year old, so life is pretty busy and crazy. But for a few months it has been downright hard and exhausting. I talked to friends, family, older women who made it through the toddler years and survived, and searched an embarrassing amount of mommy blogs. But the responses I got were all the same - “this is just a season”, “one day you’ll miss this”, “what are you talking about? I think you’re a great mom”, or “you look like you’re doing fine!” Like the magnolia, things appeared ok on the outside, some days it even looked pretty, but on the inside I was dying. I was so frustrated that I was doing the right things -I was talking to others, sharing my burdens, and seeking counsel. I was drowning and asking for someone to throw me a life preserver but instead they yelled back “Just one more wave coming, you’ll be fine. You look like a really strong swimmer.” I know these people had the best of intentions and were trying to be an encouragement, but instead, I felt so alone in my struggles and helpless. If one more person told me “this is just a season” or “you’re going to miss this” it would have been by the grace of God alone that I didn’t punch them in the face. Satan was using their words that they meant for encouragement to wage war against me. All I heard was “this isn’t a big deal”, “this isn’t that difficult”, “YOU need more patience”, “YOU should enjoy every moment of motherhood”, “YOU are the problem.”

One day I reached out to the right friend. This friend has four children and although they are older now, at one point she was raising a 5, 4, 3, and 2 year old. I told her everything I was feeling and how frustrated I was that I tried to seek help and felt like all I was getting in return was empty promises of “this too shall pass”. She told me she remembered those days and she agreed that it was hard and exhausting- physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. She said she remembered having the same feelings, and because her parenting situation was similar to mine, I actually believed her. I also reached out to my counselor, who assured me that I’m not a horrible mother if I don’t enjoy every single moment of parenting. Both of them gave me practical advice on how to handle the stress I was dealing with from self-care tips to breathing techniques. For the first time in months, I felt validated and heard. I felt like they looked at my heart instead of how things seemed on the outside. Within just one day, I felt better and saw improvement in my mood. It just took the right people with the right words.

When a friend comes to you with frustration, sadness, anger, anxiety, or feeling overwhelmed, be the right person. Listen and validate the emotions that are being expressed. Don’t assume things are ok because they look pretty on the outside. Don’t tell her she looks fine and it will all be ok, she is dying inside. Don’t tell her she’ll miss this one day, she’s currently wishing she could be anywhere but where she is. Don’t tell her it’s just a season of life, she doesn’t feel like this season will ever end. Hold her hand, let her cry and vent, ask how you can help, or better yet, just do something. Take her kids for an hour, bring over a meal, pray for her and with her right then, do anything to help her not feel alone in her plight. Don’t be fooled by the outward appearance of things, listen to her words and learn what is inside her heart.

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