Everyone has a mother. Mine was particularly wonderful. But having a mother, even a good one, didn’t exactly train me to BE one.

Around 10 years old, I remember mildly hurting myself through random play. I went to my mom for assistance, but she said, “Well, sweetie, go take care of it. I’ve taught you how. Hydrogen peroxide, Neosporin, and a Band-Aid.”

I admit, it was a shock to my pre-pubescent psyche. Mom, not taking care of my scrapes? What kind of world was this? But you know what? I did it. I fixed up my own boo-boo. And I felt suddenly empowered.

It was a brilliant lesson on independence and led to the realization that I liked tending to, not only my own injuries, but all the ouchies. This is why I decided to go to college for pre-med.

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Oh, the training that went into those educational years. Sure, every class had value in its own way, but the lessons I really learned through those years of schooling were: focus, drivenness, intellectualism, scheduling, how to meet deadlines, how to be efficient, and how to please those in authority.

And while all of those things were good and useful to some degree, they didn’t particularly prepare me for the mammoth transition into motherhood.

I was taught to succeed, not sacrifice. I learned to memorize, not mentor. I was told to raise my game, not a child.

I did finish college. I did earn a degree. And, no, it wasn’t a waste. But when I met my husband after graduation, and we were surprised by a pregnancy in our first year of marriage, it hit me. I had no idea what this whole mothering thing was. I had spent my whole young-adult life preparing for a career out in the real world, doing big things, helping humanity, and validating my time with a paycheck . . . not turning babies into adults.

In all those years of study, I hadn’t spent so much as an afternoon contemplating pregnancy, or babies, or nursing, or midwives, or anything related to child-rearing. I figured, when the time came to start a family, I’d just know what to do. Then I saw those two pink lines and my brain seized with shock, mixed with a hint of excitement and a major dose of panic.

Up until then, the biggest thing I had had to plan for was an organic chemistry test and a 20-page research paper, and, oh yeah, a wedding. But, how to manage sleeplessness night after night? I was clueless! This was no overnight college cram session. We’re talking years of melatonin deprivation.

I was utterly ill-equipped to deal with the challenges of mothering. Why didn’t it just come to me? I mean, moms happen. They’re everywhere. Right?

No. No, they aren’t. Mothers are not the same as birthers, although anyone who carries a baby to term is a hero in my book. But, no, the birthing process does not guarantee you will suddenly feel maternal. I didn’t.

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My oldest daughter seemed like an alien to me. And those first attempts to nurse felt like a leech was sucking the life out of me in a weird and painful way. No one tells you that mothering may not come naturally.

Because of those strange feelings early on, I embraced guilt far before I embraced motherhood. I felt like such a fake. Even after years of having babies, I felt inept at mothering. For me, having babies was one thing, but learning to love them was another thing entirely.

To those of you who may be new at this whole mothering thing. It’s OK if your feelings haven’t caught up to the knowledge that children are a blessing.

For me, it took three children before I felt like an actual mom.

By that time, the college vibe had worn off, the mortgage was real, and the days became a familiar rhythm of nursing, diapers, strollers, and chaos.

Eventually, within that rhythm, came a gentling of my spirit, a softening toward this whole process of being someone I hadn’t really prepared to be. I started to see the true importance of shaping an innocent mind. I got better at strengthening little bodies with nutritious things. And I came to genuinely cherish the opportunity of getting to know and care for and cultivate the five human souls God had entrusted to me.

You may not have been raised to be a mommy, but you will succeed just as surely as you learned to read and count. Time is an excellent teacher. And God’s grace is real.

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To that precious soul who is prioritizing her children over the profession she has trained for, you are engaging in a higher calling, establishing a better reward, and attaining a position the most elite company could not award you.

Some say a mom’s pay is lousy, but I say, the payoff is exceptional. You won’t see it or feel it in those early days of sleep deprivation, poopy diapers, and hormonal catastrophes. But you WILL see it in the older, healthy, thriving souls of the ones you purposely invested in. You WILL feel itlaterwhen they hug you with a gratitude and love money can’t buy. And you WILL know it, when God Himself says, Well done, good and faithful servant.

Jess Litterell

My husband and I have five in the hive, three of which are teens. We homeschool and eat. When I’m not busy doing what I should, I do what I can. And today, that means writing to you.