The Out of Place Mama

Out of Place Series – Elisa’s Story

I never expected that mommying wasn’t really my thing until I became a mama.  

Although my childhood fell short of sunshine and roses, I had a great family life growing up. I came from good Christian stock, with a tint of hippie love and missionary-radical in the mix. This worldview included a more traditional view of family. As I left the nest, I expected I would change the world and that I would do so with a hot husband at my side and happy children bounding at my feet. Maybe we would serve in India together or something… 

After a couple years alternating between college on the Californian coast and doing humanitarian missions work overseas, I had a whirlwind wedding and moved to the D.C. suburbs. I felt like we lived in insulated richness, full of arrogant adults with their careers and their degrees. I hated it. But to be real, my first cold winter weather, our difficult first year of marriage, and new adulting expectations were probably more to blame for my discontent than the location. But I didn’t infer that. I only saw that in Northern Virginia I did not belong.

I was a vivacious wander, caged. The only remaining vestige of my identity was my peasant-style wardrobe. I wanted to make a difference anywhere else, with the like-minded humanitarian, missional and globally-thinking people I fit in with. But since I couldn’t go, I went back to college to study social issues I felt like I could only gripe about from afar.

Joining the Mama Club

However, subconsciously, the idea of having children seemed like it could be my solution. After all, it was the next step in the American dream (and traditional Christian families). Would I fit in if I could join the ranks of mamas in their tennis skirts? Maybe if I had a baby, I would want to settle down instead of run away! If I became a homemaker, my angst at the indifference to injustice might dissipate. I might finally be satiated. 

I was thrilled when I got pregnant three years earlier than our tentative plan (oops). But after my first was born, I still hadn’t found the purpose my soul craved. I played house with my beautiful doll and remained disconnected.

Would I become more like a mom if I had more children? Let’s just say I didn’t try very hard to not have a second baby (this time a sweet baby boy who loved to cuddle).

Would you be surprised if I told you that nothing inside me changed? Now, not only was I depressed, an angry advocate, and I still felt purposeless, but I also had two children to run after!

the out of place mama, moms making a difference

Born to Make a Difference

I wasn’t born for mommying, I was born to make a difference! I was indifferent to homemaking. I didn’t fit in with the moms who cared about volunteering at their kids’ schools. I was failing at the mommy dream.  After a while, I stopped trying to play house and regularly spent my energy dragging my children with me anywhere else.  We’d go on adventures, or be part of what I’d define as “world-changing” activities, like church ministries, packing meals for impoverished children, or planning meetings for the first human trafficking nonprofit I was starting. 

Did these help me belong? Yes and no. Over the following years I grew in many ways, both in my understanding of changing the world, and in my identity as a mama. I was already enough without having to prove a thing. 

I also discovered that motherhood is a lot like navigating the halls of high school through those awkward teenage years: most of us just want to be loved, are looking to belong, and are doing the best we can. In fact, I began meeting mamas from all over who were just like me. They also didn’t fit into the box of perfect motherhood, whose only dream was to have babies with lovely kept homes. Together, we’ve been redefining what it means to be a mama: empowered women who make a difference in our homes, communities, and world.

I discovered that motherhood is a lot like navigating the halls of high school through those awkward teenage years: most of us just want to be loved, are looking to belong, and are doing the best we can.

Mama and World Changer: Having it Both Ways

When my third baby was born–another surprise, nearly five years later–it felt like God gave me a chance to redeem my experience of motherhood. I took maternity leave from my nonprofit and the ministries I was involved in. I stayed at home with the kids more and even enjoyed them. And ever since then, even as I’ve moved and changed roles multiple times, I finally don’t feel like I am out of place. Maybe I was born to be a mom after all.

If you’ve ever felt like you don’t belong, this series is for you! Every Monday, we’ll hear from someone who has also struggled to belong. Be sure to subscribe below to get The Scoop so you never miss a post! As a thank you, you’ll receive access to belonging-themed scripture cards and adult coloring pages in the free for you library!

Thanks, I can't wait to connect with you!

Meet Elisa

Elisa Johnston empowers ordinary people to be fully alive while making the difference they were born to make at Average Advocate, procrastinates on Instagram, and brings freedom to the exploited through Blackout Trafficking. Whenever and wherever she can, she explores with her three littles and adopted housemate. Thankfully, God, her husband, and other favorite introverts are all particularly grounding, because otherwise her passion to raise-up leaders, live missionally, and start world changing things would compel her into a creative oblivion.

*Feature Image Photo by Liana Mikah on Unsplash

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Sarah K. Butterfield is an author, speaker, and ministry leader who has a heart for empowering women to grow in their faith and be intentional with their time. She and her husband and two boys live in San Diego, where she writes about pursuing a deeper relationship with God in the midst of motherhood.

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