The Definition of Insanity and Motherhood

My first serious boss, at my first serious job, used to repeat it over and over. It was a mantra to try new approaches, to work harder, to get the job done.

A few years later, when I was now the serious boss, I used to say the same thing to my team, expecting creativity, diligence and success.

The statement has been mis-attributed to Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein, and Mark Twain.

No doubt, you have heard it before.

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing, over and over, and expecting a different result.

Untitled design(31)After six weeks of intense crying, 45 minute feeding schedules, and driving for two hours a day to get him to nap, I remember looking down at my four month old son and thinking, “I have to try something else, something new, something different. It’s insane to do the same thing over and over again and expect a different result.”

After saying to my youngest son, for the 1,450,230th time to please put down the toilet lid, close the door behind him, stop singing at the top of his lungs while everyone else in the house is sleeping, and make sure you brush the back teeth too not just the front, I think to myself, “I have to try something else, something new, something different. It’s insane to do the same thing over and over again and expect a different result.”

After scrubbing the bathroom, wiping down the kitchen counters, feeding all the people again, picking the throw pillows up off the floor and putting them back on the couch for the third time in five hours (incidentally, I now completely understand why they are called throw pillows), I am exhausted. I think to myself, “I have to try something else, something new, something different. It’s insane to do the same thing over and over again and expect a different result.”

dishes-197_1280The other day, I heard it again. The definition of insanity.

We were talking about new things to try, new books to read, even new prayers to pray in an effort to help our children progress.

At first, I nodded knowingly. It makes sense. If something isn’t working, try something else.

In fact, most of my life as a mother has been a series of trials and errors that have finally gotten us to answers.

But this time, hearing the quote made me feel hollow. Something wasn’t quite right, although I couldn’t put my finger on it at the time.

Later that evening, my son had an anxiety attack in the middle of the night. We were up for hours, snuggling, crying, talking, deep breathing and eventually calming down and getting back to sleep.

As the dark, exhausted minutes ticked by, my mind began to race. What did I miss? How do I fix this for him? What can I do differently to stop this from happening?

Somewhere, deep down inside, I heard the answer.

Sometimes, being a mom means you just keep doing the same thing, even if you don’t get a different result.

It means losing sleep, and getting dirty, and scrubbing a floor that’s been scrubbed a thousand times.

It means a budget that is stretched a little too thin every month.

It means getting up and facing the day, knowing it means meltdowns, not getting a shower, messes, crying in the bathroom with the door closed, reheating the cup of coffee four times and then finally forgetting it in microwave until dinner, endless reminders about basic hygiene, breaking up fights between brothers, and pouring out every last bit of ourselves.

I think the definition of motherhood, at least in the day to day, might be insane.

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photo credit – S. Ballard

Motherhood is chaos.

It is slippery and unpredictable.

But when I try to somehow control it, to figure it all out, to get it all mastered, I miss the point.

Motherhood means rocking the crying baby, wiping the sweet bottom, reading the same book, and sopping up the bath water as the delighted boy splashes, over and over again.

It means ignoring the muddy footprints, instead focusing on the excited child who can’t wait to show you the fort he built.

It means just being there, present and comforting, in the middle of the night or in the midst of the meltdown.

Loving my children means surrendering, not fixing.

And so, I pray the same prayers for my sons, over and over, trusting the result is not mine to manage.

I wake and begin another day, expecting the chaos, and looking for joy in the midst of it.

I love, and I cry, and I fail, and I yell, and I apologize, and I laugh, and I hug, and I clean, and I tuck in, and I wipe tears, and I kiss, and I love some more.

Motherhood is doing the same thing over and over again, no matter what the result.


The Definition of Insanity and Motherhood

6 thoughts on “The Definition of Insanity and Motherhood

  1. This was so beautiful! So many times I have struggled with that quote when it comes to motherhood – and I especially loved that line about expecting chaos and looking for joy in it.
    thankyou!

  2. YES! Love this post (and your blog) It is so true – we do the same thing over and over again, don’t we? Today when I picked up the hand towel for the three hundredth time I thought, ‘Why do I bother?’ Then I remembered, because they’ll need it. That’s it. They need me to do the stuff I do. Period. Here’s to finding joy in the chaos.

  3. Hi guys, I’m a new mother and I am trying to get my two month daughter to sleep longer during night. Right now I’m fortunate to have three hours rest a night. Thanks

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