Space and Grace
It’s odd to admit this but with kids ages 3-8, I’m no longer in that ‘new mom’ phase. I recognized this when I strolled past the baby aisle of Target the other day with nary a glance. Part of motherhood that is so wonderfully maddening is that it involves constant change. Changing of jean sizes, of furniture (cribs to bed, highchairs to booster) of children, but also of our identity.
My journey as a mother of three has involved quite a few physical changes as well, mainly in international and cross-country moves. A pregnancy in London resulted in an Atlanta, Georgia birth. The next son was born a year after we moved back to Durham, North Carolina but within six months of his life we were moving to Ann Arbor. Less than two years later, our Michigan girl was born. Coupled with this transitional whirlwind has been the professional journey that the Lord has had me on. I never knew the extent to which I hung my hat on a title, on a job, until I had my firstborn. I worked for 8 years before pregnancy, in fields as varied as finance to education to research consulting to non-profit. I had confidence in my abilities to travel globally, run meetings, manage clients, etc. To say that I was a bit lost in that first year with a newborn is an understatement. Some women suffer from postpartum depression and by no means do I want to minimize that, but in my case, I felt it was postpartum confusion. I would meet parents at the park and they would ask me what I did. I never knew what to say, that I ‘stay at home’? That I’m ‘Shepherd’s mom’? That often was a conversation killer given that my son couldn’t even crawl yet.
Or should I rattle off my resume and make sure they understood that I had a Master’s in International Relations and that I used to spend more time in airports than at home? Most disconcerting was how at church, many of the moms I met seemed so content, and at peace, with where they were in this season. Meanwhile, I felt a swirl of emotions: anger, frustration, restlessness, etc. I was trying my best to serve my family by being at home, but I also felt as if I were losing myself in the process. But then there would appear that small still voice telling me that all was okay. That I didn’t need to give into fear and anxiety; that there would be work waiting for me when this season was over. I prayerfully leaned into that space…with community and meditation. A year later with the encouragement of my husband, I incorporated my own consulting firm to handle some of the freelance contracts that began coming my way. It was so encouraging to see that in a season of setting aside, of letting go, work found it’s way to me.
But as work began to ramp up, so did our family life with the addition of a new son born 18 months after the first. Some of the most complex consulting work came in that year after we moved to MI and I had two kids in less than two years. I felt fulfilled in many ways but also knew that I wasn’t ever fully present, neither professionally nor personally. At that point I began to hear from the Lord that my focus was to switch from the internal to the eternal. I began to worry less about my resume and more about the hearts of my children and serving the community around me. I found myself turning down work, which surprised my clients and myself. Three kids in five years with a husband who travels and little family around to help forces an intense sort of reckoning with limitations and boundaries.
I think my professional low point was when I was awarded with a contract of a very well known public brand, just days before my third child was born. I was so torn, and quite angry at the Lord given the timing, but I also knew in my heart that I wouldn’t give my daughter any sort of attention the next few years of her life if I took it. I surprised even myself when I wrote the email firmly stating that I would not be able to begin for 6-9 months from that date, and was saddened, but not shocked, when I never heard back from them. While I felt very secure in my decision at that point, I was consumed by regret and disappointment about six months later. It was so interesting how the spirit of professional scarcity began to creep in despite the abundance that was my personal life in that moment! The Scripture that got me through this season emotionally was Psalm 16:5-6 (NIV)
Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup; You make my lot secure. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; Surely I have a delightful inheritance.
My daughter is now three. I still consult, but it’s very client and project dependent. Last year a former boss called to ask me if I would serve as an Adjunct Professor for his business class. That was a delightful surprise as he was someone I truly enjoyed working with and I had missed my time in academia. I also was given the opportunity to blog for a well-known news outlet and have found a rekindled love for children and adult literature, which is working it’s way into a unique endeavor of its own.
This season is one I never imagined to find myself in...there are days where there is joy and peace, others where there is frustration at dreams unfulfilled. But I know that the Lord can handle this, I know He sees my gifts, my passions and I trust that He will use them in His timing. There is now a trust in the future, faith for what I still cannot see. My word for the year was “wonder” and while I haven’t seen specific fruits of that word yet, I have noticed my perspective shift…and there in that space lies the grace.
By Natalie d'Aubermont Thompson
Natalie lives in Dexter, Michigan with her husband Dave and their three young children (2 boys and a girl). She's an avid reader & coffee aficionado; you can often find her chasing after her kids with a book in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other! She moonlights as CEO of Saltar Consulting and offers her perspective on her favorite adult and children's reads over at @livingbythepagewithnatalie on Instagram. She also serves as an Adjunct Professor for Temple University's Fox School of Business. Natalie is Argentine-American and has worked, studied and volunteered in over 35 countries. She and her family attend Knox Presbyterian Church in Ann Arbor.