Surprised By Motherhood

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“So how is it being the mom of three kids?”

My cousin asked me the question as we sat in the sunshine outside of Starbucks. She’d just spent a year as a nanny to four. And she wanted to know my secret. Because she thought I had motherhood all figured out.

“Most days, I feel like a failure,” I confessed. Because the truth is that most young mothers feel like they’re just faking it until they make it. But that’s not being fair to each other. Because if we were more honest about the way motherhood challenges us and refines us, we could be more help to each other. If mothers and daughters were more open with each other, there could be less hurt, more healing. But we’re afraid of failure, afraid of watching our mistakes repeated in our children, afraid of seeing disappointment mirrored in our daughter’s eyes.

There’s a reason babies don’t often arrive five at once. Because even one at a time, becoming a mother is a life-changing experience that surprises the most prepared. And when you combine the hormonal ups and downs with the inevitable lack of sleep and onslaught of well-meaning advice and overwhelming expectations, it feels like a setup for failure.

#SurprisedByMotherhood #MarchOfBooks #giveaway

Lisa-Jo Baker was 19 when she lost her own mom to cancer. That was about the time she decided she was never going to become a mother herself. There was too much potential for hurt, too much history in her own life to want to revisit the story of motherhood in her own generation.

Surprised By Motherhood is the story of how God changed one hurting girl’s heart and bound up the broken pieces of her story in the blankets that wrapped her three children. My tears spilled over again and again as Lisa-Jo told of entering adolescence as her mother was entering a hospital. I could hear the heartbreak as she told of how her dad had to sell the farm to pay the doctor bills and of how she agonized over what to wear for her mother’s funeral. That’s not what most teenage girls’ dreams are made of. But this was what had made the girl who declared she was never going to have her husband’s children. And that is the pain of death that God healed anew with each of the births of her three children.

And the laughter. The surprise. There is so much delightful and hilarious in Lisa-Jo’s story that I was laughing with tears streaming down my cheeks from a few paragraphs earlier. If you’re wondering what to get for the new or expectant mom in your life, Surprised By Motherhood is just the ticket to keep her laughing during those late-night feedings.

But Surprised By Motherhood is just as much for daughters as it is mothers. It’s a story that touches deep in the heart of every daughter. Because no matter how good our relationship with our own mother may have been, there’s still a part of us that mourns for the disappointments and hurts along the way. Reading Surprised By Motherhood is like listening in as a sister tells her own story, and realizing many of the points mirror our own. And as her wounds become less painful in the sharing, so do ours.

I wanted to reassure my cousin that I know she did an awesome job with those kids. I am sure they will never forget the memories they made with her. But instead, I just told her that I fail every day. But every day I see God’s grace and love in my kids. And that is the healing balm of motherhood that never shows up in the books about what to expect, but should be in every story we tell about being a mom.

The only way to fail as a mom is to expect to be a perfect parent.


We have 3 copies of the brand new book Surprised by Motherhood to give away (many thanks to Tyndale for providing the review & giveaway copies!). Congratulations to Anna, Kelly, and Andrea, selected by as the commenters who get their own copy of the book! (Giveaway ended April 7, 2014.)

We’d love to have you comment with a favorite story about a mother in your life!

P.S. Pop over to my blog to read my story of how I didn’t expect to be surprised by motherhood.


  1. One of my favorite memories of my mother is the memory of her presence at the birth of my daughter, her granddaughter, just last month. She held my hand and was there at my side when i held my baby for the first time. And during the weeks that followed, she was there to listen as i struggled and cried over sore nipples in breastfeeding and sleepless nights. S h e has been there for me in ways i hadn’t thought of. She may not be perfect, but i am so blessed to have her in my life.

  2. The best motherly role model I had was my Grandma Ruth. She was born with a servants heart. Her devotion to her marriage and her two boys was unrivaled. She had an inner beauty that only come from knowing and being know by her Lord and Savior. Grandma passed in 1995 long before I had a husband or children of my own but she left a spiritual legacy for me to follow.

  3. My mom worked full time and it was very rare that she had…or took a day off! It was a treat when I’d get off the school bus to see her van in the carport. As I walked into the side entrance, I felt the cross breeze because windows were flung open. The smell of clean filled our home; the aroma of PineSol!
    Walk a little further into the kitchen to see bubbling gravy that smothered the pork chops!
    I now wonder what my children would write as a comment if they were writing about a favorite story…

  4. My mom isn’t perfect, and sometimes it is really easy to be hard on her for decisions she has made over the years, but as a young mom myself, I realize just how strong of a mother my mom was and is. Almost like she put all her strength into her mothering. From spending almost 24/7 with us kids, feeding us healthy meals, educating us to helping us so compassionately when we were sick with a stomach bug. I often wonder if I’ll be half the mother she was.

  5. I had 2 little ones, and a friend, mommy to 5, had let us come over to share in their homeschool day. Through the day she commented on how well my older guy (not yet 2 yrs old) behaved, my response was to the effect that we were trying for that result. As I listened and observed her good kids (ages 11- 7) and she talked with me as only mom’s can, she thanked God that her kids were turning out well. As I listened, I learned; our trying means nothing, it is God who will form our children. (Not saying that He does not use our actions to form our kids, but that He is the one controlling who our kids become. If our kids are a result of our efforts they will have to preform to prove our success. If our kids are a result of God’s grace in their lives, all they do will glorify Him!)

  6. My mom, aunts, and grandma are all amazing women. I couldn’t pick just one story to tell, but I can tell you that these ladies are some of the most wonderful mothers I know.

  7. The most important mom in my life is my own mother. She has been a great mom and grandmother! She is a godly woman who is known for her steadfast prayer life. I love her very much and look up to her godly example!!

  8. I don’t have an amazing mom story, but I will say that my mom is amazing! She has always been my best friend, and even now as I am a mother myself I respect her even more. I can’t wait to share this book with her!

  9. I don’t really have a favorite mom-story since all of the memories I have of my mom are wonderful. If I’d have to say one thing I’d say ..she was just always there for me!

    When I was small and couldn’t make sense of my mixed up feelings and frustrations for small-people dillemmas.
    When I was older and didn’t know what dress to wear..every morning again, she’d patiently help me
    When I was in nursing school, doing internship in the hospital and she’d stay up late to make sure I got home safe, picking me up from the train station in the dark. Getting up early with me to drink a cup of coffee before I left.
    Loving me despite me.
    Telling me when I did something wrong and scolding me while defending me.

    And then 101 more things…the list is endless 🙂

  10. My mom passed on to me the love of baking bread & pies. She is a wonderful cook, and I always say that if I’m half a good a cook as her, I’ll be happy!

  11. One of my favorite memories of my Mom is when I would get up in the morning, she would always be at the kitchen table. She was eating but it wasn’t physical food, she was nourishing herself with the Bread of Life, the Word of God. I knew that every morning she would be there, reading the Word and spending time praying, fellowshipping at the feet of Jesus. Even though I’m married now and away from home, I know she’ll always be at that kitchen table in the morning, drawing strength from the One who is able.

    1. What a powerful testimony, Anna! Thanks for sharing this tribute to your mom.

      (And watch for an email from me–you won a copy of Lisa-Jo’s book!)

  12. A favorite story about a mother in my life would have to be the moment I became one — I had just given birth naturally and come through hours of contractions, pushing, and natural childbirth. My husband and I had opted to not find out if we were having a boy or a girl, and my husband was supposed to announce it once the baby was born. When the baby was born, they put him/her on my chest, and my husband and I couldn’t believe that the baby had arrived. We were in complete awe and filled with the joy — the doctor had to remind my husband to announce the baby’s gender. We both were so full of joy at the baby’s arrival, neither of us cared if it was a boy or a girl, and so we completely forgot to find out. My husband looked at the baby and tearfully announced, “It’s a Girl!!!” Our baby girl is nine weeks old, and I still have to pinch myself that I am so blessed to have a daughter of my own. I would LOVE to have a copy of this book.

  13. My mom made motherhood look so easy and natural, and even led me to believe that labor and birth were no big deal. Now that I’m a mom myself and know how HARD it is some days (and how traumatically painful labor is!), my admiration for her is far higher than ever. She’s amazing!

  14. One of my favorite things about my mom is how she was always willing to talk to me when I was a teenager even if it was late at night and she was tired. It made me feel loved!!

    1. What an important lesson for us future moms of teenagers! Thank you, Kelly.

      (Watch for an email from me. You get a copy of Lisa-Jo’s book!)

  15. Andrea Donaldson says:

    My mom is an amazing woman, and a mom of 14 children (ranging from me, 21, to 1 year old twins). What I love most is her willingness to be honest and vulnerable with me, and let me know her struggles, and how she gets through them. Especially in the last couple years, with 2 sets of twins in 2 years, she has kept going and smiling, and yet being real. I know it will be invaluable to me when I have children one day.

    On a separate note, Gretchen, I read your post, and it was really good for me. As the oldest of all these children, it’s easy to think that I know it all, and that motherhood will be easy, and yet it won’t be. Thanks for the reminder, ahead of time, and also a good reminder to give my mother grace, even when I think I could do better (stupid, I know!), and keep learning from her.

    1. Andrea, it sounds like your mother is an amazing woman of God. How beautiful that she can be real and smile at the same time.

      It is a struggle we oldest siblings share, this thinking we know it all! We have so many advantages when we become parents, but we’re also handicapped by the tendency towards pride, I think.

      Grace, grace, always grace.

      (And? I hope you and your mom both get to enjoy this book! Because you were selected as one of the winners!)

  16. My mom died when I was 6, but God has blessed me with some incredible ‘moms’ in my life. One of them especially babysat my siblings and I every Thursday growing up. She taught me how to cook by ‘eyeballing’ it, taught several of our homeschool courses, and has always been someone who I can count on to pray for and with me, to lovingly and tenderly call me out on the sin in my life, to challenge me to seek God and go deeper in my walk with him, and to do her best to answer my toughest questions.

  17. Christina says:

    My mom is amazing. She always has such delicious meals waiting for us when we come home. She is the bulwark who keeps our family together. The life blood of the family. All her children call her blessed. She has been the mom, who has loved and trusted, and prayed and prayed some more, and shepherded and yet pushed us gently out of the nest, knowing that we need to learn to fly ourselves.

  18. I have so many great memories of my mom and growing up. I love that she didn’t make big deals of the unimportant. I dressed myself and she didn’t make me go change so I would match. When I wanted 12 barrettes in my hair before we went shopping, she let me keep them in. I try to remember that with my daughter. Some things aren’t worth fighting over.

  19. My favorite mom who isn’t my mom was my college roommates mom, lanae. She would always have fresh baked white bread for us when we would come stay:)

  20. Brought to motherhood after similar circumstances of parental death and the same declaration of no marriage or kids. God knows best and I’ve never been happier 🙂 I have a feeling I’d truly relate to this book.

  21. Such a beautiful post Gretchen!!

    When I think about my own mother- I think about honesty- I always knew how she was feeling. Many times it was too much for me to handle. {and still is!} But I’ve come to appreciate her vulnerability – it helps me to realize that we as mothers are soooooo far from perfect, we are emotional roller coasters, we get upset with our husbands and our children, we spend many days near tears, but if we let Him- God will use motherhood to shape us into someone so beautiful!

  22. Andrea Lisk says:

    My mom was 25 when she gave birth to my brother who has Down Syndrome. Not the start to motherhood she expected… Welcome to Holland (for those who have read the poem/essay). I know that no one in my family would be who we are today without my brother though,

    1. Welcome to Holland is such a wonderful essay. I’m glad your parents found it and were able to navigate their way through the unexpected blessings that your brother brought to your family.

  23. Victoria Bennett says:

    One of my favorite stories from my own mom is the way that she read to us after lunch everyday. After-lunch storytime is one of my favorite childhood memories and I am so grateful that mom was so intentional about doing that with us. We read so many fun and interesting books during that time and it was a time I always enjoyed, even as a teenager.

  24. I’m amazed every day by how much I resemble my mother…. and how happy that makes me. 🙂

    1. Joelle Brent says:

      One of the things that I have always appreciated about my mom is how she has always enjoyed her children. Even when she had a house full of littles she always took the time to just enjoy us and that is her advice to me as a new mom to, no matter what, no matter how busy you are, just enjoy your children.

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