Child Change: Anne Calver on the challenges of changing into a mom and the place God is within the center
Anne Calver with her husband Gavin
Anne Calver thought she was the perfect mother – until she became a mother!
When reality set in, she was surprised at how difficult it was for her to adapt, not only to be responsible for another person, but also to know who she was and where her identity lay.
As a mother of two, she wants to share her experiences with other mothers and has written Baby Change to support and encourage them.
Anne talks to Christian Today about the challenges of being a mother, but also about the incredible joy and where God is in everything.
CT: What was the biggest change for you about how you lived your life before and after you were a mother?
Anne: I would say the biggest change – or challenge – for me was that I felt a loss of freedom, and that is partly character dependent. I worked as a freelancer for Youth for Christ and national ministries, and much of my work was flexible. I wasn't necessarily set to 9 to 5. But after I had a baby, I suddenly realized that I had to have a lot more routine and structure and that I had to rediscover freedom.
CT: What was it like – rediscovering freedom?
Anne: If you have a baby, you suddenly need to take care of another person who has to become your priority. So your life has to move to the back seat and essentially the front seat. There would be moments when my kids were tiny, when I might want to relax on the sofa and take a little break, but they said, "Mom, I want to go out!"
Furthermore, We can think oh we will only have one child and they will fit our way of life but they have their own little personality and we adapt who they are. Your children could be extroverted if you're introverted, that's the reality of being a parent!
If you have a child who is very calm and easy going, doesn't really cry and sleep, if you want him to eat and eat what you want, you may have fewer challenges these early days. But my first child, my daughter, was a strong character – she came out of the womb with shiny, attentive eyes and I'm sure she turned her head to look at us immediately!
CT: Was there anything about becoming a mother that surprised you about yourself, about your own character and who you were? Was there anything you expected, perhaps in terms of your skills or how you would adapt that was different than what was actually happening?
Anne: Definitely, and I think that's probably one of the biggest challenges. I thought maybe I was a pretty perfect mother (ha, ha). I thought I was pretty sorted in terms of my character, I didn't have too many problems and I was pretty strong!
One of the biggest things that hit me after I was born was the realization that I can be pretty selfish and how much of my life depends on what I want to achieve, what I want to do and when I want to do it. And I think the I and the I of my life just stared at my face now.
I realized that parenting is the greatest call to selflessness I have ever had, and of course selflessness is the way of the cross. Jesus gave up everything for me, his whole life, and so I am called to go. Giving up and putting down what I want is a good thing – not to be exploited, as I don't think it's divine, but I've been blessed with the gift of children coupled with a reputation for denying myself. Take my cross and follow the king.
I think God really honors the sacrifices parents make when raising children. At first I had a little attitude: I will have the child, I will have the job, I will have everything! I think we're probably sold this lie through the media; that we can do what we want, be what we want, look fantastic and have it all together. But if we believe that, we end up feeling less than God says we are.
I think there are seasons for things. And yes, some people are brilliant at balancing everything at once, but I think there are seasons when God says ok, I'm putting this in your hands for now. Give everything. And later he'll put something else in your hands. There are these precious different seasons that come and go, they don't last forever.
CT: You just mentioned the pressure created by the media. Do you feel any pressure in the church to be a perfect mother raising perfect divine children?
Anne: I think there could be an old model of duty that we can accidentally slip into if we think we have to do certain things to look good for the rest of the world. And that's an enemy lie! In our weakness it makes us strong and it is okay to be broken and vulnerable and to fight. I really wanted mothers to know that when I write my book it is okay that it is okay if you don't feel brilliant.
My own journey was definitely one of the realization that when you have a baby there is this moment of thinking: where has my life gone? But when I look back at these very early years, I think God showed me that my relationship with him was the best. My intimacy with him and my dependence on him grew more than any other time in the service. Being a mother is service, service that has changed my life for the better. I realized that what we value humanly is really different from what God values.
CT: In your book, you talk about the fact that when you were kids you didn't even have the strength to survive an episode of Peppa Pig, let alone pick up your Bible and study it! Back to expectations: how difficult is it to maintain your spiritual life and your path with God when you have a child who needs you around the clock? How do you fit God together on a practical level?
Anne: It is really difficult! But what I learned was to give myself permission not to be in my Bible as I was before. I think we can put so much pressure on ourselves and in fact God loves us no matter what happens; He still loves us. This realization was so important to me that I didn't have to make an effort to meet him and I didn't have to set or set time because the baby dictated a lot of time in those early years!
However, what I started because I love Jesus was spending moments with him, be it washing bottles at the sink or feeding in the middle of the night. I would use these moments when I was alone and things were calmer to speak to Jesus. I would push the buggy onto the street and deliberately leave my cell phone at home and look up at the sky and just think, ok god, I love you, I'm still here, I adore you, I still want to know you, help me !
Sometimes it was an amazing time to drive in the car when they were strapped in the back seat and slept or were quiet and I could play worship music and sing my heart out.
Reading the Bible was more difficult, which is why I sometimes wrote Baby Change. The book gives Bitesize Biblicalchunks to new mothers, because when you are a young mother your brain is amazed, you are tired, but we still need to feed on His spirit-inspired living word.
CT: Did it affect your identity or self-confidence as a person to become a mother?
Anne: I found this aspect really difficult because if you have a role and position in a company or at your place of work you will be seen in a certain way. This can be especially the case in this Christian puddle we are in! Suddenly feeling disconnected from the person I was before, my role and my identity was a huge thing. I just sat there thinking who am I now, who am I without that? After I had to write down an identity to accept a new one, I wondered who I was before and who I am now as a mother.
That was the greatest thing that drove me to God and asked him: God, who do you say I am this time of year? Because I feel like I don't know who I am and feel like I've lost everything that I was, and I don't think I will go back to what I was before. So who do you say I am now?
I had to learn to accept that I am a daughter of Jesus when everything is withdrawn and I don't have to be anything else. Because at some point when we get old or whatever; There will be a season when everything will be withdrawn and we will have to be sure of our identity as sons and daughters.
It was a real struggle; It wasn't an overnight thing. I had to come to him again and again and ask: do you love me, do you love me? But how did I deal with it?
I remember feeling pretty useless and feeling guilty was a massive thing because I was faced with some of my weaknesses. After feeling like I was in a position of strength, I went to a position where I saw some of my weaknesses and suddenly this new friend, guilt, came into play. I had never felt this guilt before and was really looking for the Lord who asked him to release me from guilt and to fill me with love and truth.
CT: Do you feel that your journey with motherhood changes with the age of your children?
Anne: Yes, definitely, it is changing massively. Having a family is the best thing I have ever done, and if you look for the Lord in it, you will become more like him through the process because children scare you off and challenge you and face some things in you. It makes you look at yourself and go, right, I don't like the way I just reacted to it, I want to be more transformed into the image of Jesus, so God, please continue to shape me in your hand!
But there is so much joy in all seasons as they grow. Some people are just incredible in the baby phase; others are incredible with toddlers or teenagers. Personally, I love right now. You are a little older and the conversation is incredible.
CT: Your journey to become a mother has had many problems. Doctors told you that you could not have children, then you became pregnant, but lost a baby, and later you almost lost your son Daniel. Has it all affected how you have experienced motherhood over the years?
Anne: I think it definitely had an impact. It made me thankful to learn that we would have no children at all and then have two miracles. And I see them as miracles, so there's a lot of gratitude to both of them that never really left me.
The other is joy. There was a lot of joy in our house because of the way God got through. When I had Daniel, he had a five percent chance of survival. The fact that he made it out into the world and the journey we made then, the amount of prayers that took place, I have never experienced in my life. It just flooded my being and gushed into my life for years. The joy was so overwhelming that I felt that it must surely be the kind of joy reserved for heaven! And it just made me more excited to know that we can experience more of it in heaven!
CT: If you could go back in time and speak to your younger self back when you expected it, what would you say?
Anne: The reason I wrote Baby Change was because I didn't feel that there was anything that encouraged us as mothers or helped us think about emotional and mental parenting and be really honest about the challenges. I sometimes felt quite isolated personally and just wanted to be encouraged by some of the feelings and thought patterns that were going on.
Being a parent is the most life-changing and incredible thing. I just hope that this book encourages anyone thinking of starting a family, being pregnant, or in the early years of parenting. that it blesses them that they can meet Jesus in the midst of everything. There are seasons for everything and seasons change; When it is difficult to know that it will not be permanent and that Jesus is right at your side.
Baby Change is available now from SPCK and costs £ 9.99.