How to Fall Back in Love with Motherhood When It All Feels Hard
With Tessa Lee Brown
Listen to the episode, and see the full show notes here.
Rachel Nielson: I’m here with Tessa Lee Brown, an artist and a mother of three littles, ages six, four and eight months. And Tessa strives to live each day with intention and love. She is an Idaho girl. She grew up in Hailey, Idaho, which is actually the small town where I live now and she and her family currently live in Pocatello, Idaho, which is where my husband grew up. So I feel like we kind of traded places and she is a mom who I greatly admire. I always love reading her beautiful words about motherhood on her Instagram page, @tessaleeart, where she shares her incredible talent for painting. She truly has a gift for finding the beauty in life.
And I’m so excited to hear her three takeaways today for how we can fall back in love with motherhood. So Tessa, welcome to 3 in 30.
Tessa Brown: Thank you so much for having me here, Rachel. And I love hearing that you love reading my writing because I love reading your writing.
Rachel Nielson: Oh, well thank you. You really do have a gift. I know you are primarily a painter, you’re an artist. But whenever I read your writing I’m like, she’s a writer too. Your captions and your descriptions of your titles of your art pieces adds so much depth to your art. I really enjoy reading your thoughts about motherhood and often your paintings are about Christ and just it’s so touching. I hope people will go and follow your artwork and I’m just really grateful to have you here to talk to us about how to find some of the beauty and the magic in motherhood even when it feels really, really difficult to do that.
Tessa Brown: Thank you. Yes. I’m so excited to be here. And I know it is something that my husband says to me often that maybe I live in a little bit too much of a magical land in my head that it kind of makes it harder for me because I want it to be that way in real life. And so I’ve kind of just realized that the magic comes from the love and sometimes you have to practice the love more than you think you should have to, but it’s worth it.
Rachel Nielson: Oh yeah, for sure. And I do feel like when you decide that you want magic in your life, you create it. I think it’s a very good quality to want motherhood to feel magical because then you are looking for it. You are creating it; you are employing these little strategies. And not to say that you don’t acknowledge the hard because that’s another thing that I love about you and your writing and your work. You are very quick to say it’s hard and it’s okay to sit in that for a minute and just acknowledge your feelings. But then you can move past that and focus back on the love and that’s where you’re going to find the magic again.
So I would love for you to share some of the strategies that you have found to be helpful for you when you’re trying to focus back in on the love and stop focusing so much on the hard stuff in motherhood.
Tessa Brown: Yes. So my first takeaway is to visualize the love you want to feel. And I feel like that can kind of sound a little bit cheesy and I know a lot of people are probably not into meditation or visualization or those kinds of things. But there’s a book called Miracle Morning— he was very depressed and he researched the most successful people in the world that he could think of, a bunch of them. And he found over and over again that most of them use some sort of meditation or visualization or affirmation to kind of put their life in track and make it how they wanted.
And so he started doing that every day. And he said within like a week, his whole life and his whole mindset has shifted. And I think as mothers, we all want to be successful because what we’re doing is so important and we’re raising these kids, these real people. I want to be successful in that. And I really took what he said to heart. I also feel like practicing is what it comes down to when you’re not really reaching the expectation that you have. And I know Ralphie, the Simply on Purpose Instagram, has been on your podcast and a lot of people follow her– her big thing is if a child is not meeting your expectation, either the expectation is wrong or you need to teach the child better and practice with the child.
And I think that really holds true to ourselves as mothers, as parents, that we need to look at our expectations of ourselves. And if we continually are not meeting them, then either the expectation is wrong or we need to teach ourselves and practice a little bit better. And the expectation to love I don’t think can ever be wrong. And it’s already in us. It just sometimes gets a little lost. So the expectation for me to really want to be in love with my kids, it’s not wrong. So I decided I needed to practice it, and I decided to use the visualization that I had heard so much about to practice it. And so that’s really what visualizing is about. It can kind of sound a little hippy-ish or something, but it’s just about practicing what you want to feel throughout your day.
And so what I do is I just take a couple minutes. It really does not take long, and you can do it while you’re brushing your teeth or while you’re taking a shower or driving. I would suggest attaching it to another habit that you do every day so you don’t forget. And what I usually do is I just picture each of my children and I start with my youngest. She is eight months old and I picture her little sweet eyes–and I know this is something that little kids do better than big kids–but little kids look at their moms with so much love. And so I picture her eyes and the way she looks at me, and I picture her eyes pleading a little bit and then I picture her asking me, “Will you accept my love just as it is?” And then I picture all the ways that eight month old shows me throughout the day that she loves me. Whether it’s things I love, like the way she moves her arms up and down really fast when she sees me come into a room or things that are sometimes a little bit hard– how she cries every time I leave a room, you know I picture the way she’s showing me all day long that she loves me.
And for my five-year-old it might be something different, like him asking me over and over again, “will you play with me yet? Will you play with me yet?” Or for my four year old, I love how he still absent-mindedly will grab my hand as we’re walking somewhere. So just the little things like that all day long and they can be things that you love and you should picture a few things that are a little bit harder for you but still ways that they are showing you they love you. And I feel like it is such a soothing and beautiful thing to realize that your kids, whether you realize it or not, are showing you and telling you they love you all day long. And that is what you need to get through a lot of the days in motherhood is that love. And it’s so easy to not recognize it for what it is because they’re not showing you the way you always would want to be shown. But they are giving you their love all day. And after I picture it, I tell them I will accept your love and I give them a little kiss.
I’m just visualizing myself giving them a little kiss, and throughout the day when they’re doing things– whether things that are maybe annoying me or not annoying me– it is so quick to come to my mind that little thought that they’re showing you love right now.
Rachel Nielson: I love the reframe there that those behaviors that are sometimes so annoying are really your kids showing you how much they love you, like asking you all day long if you can play with them. And that doesn’t mean that you have to drop everything and play with them, but just having the reframe of “they’re showing me their love” changes the way that you respond to that annoying behavior, and you can respond with more compassion and grace even if you have to say, “no, I can’t play with you right now.” You’re doing it in a much more loving way when you recognize that it’s them showing you love, that they want to spend time with you all day long, every day.
Tessa Brown: Yes. And it doesn’t feel so heavy. All the things that they’re demanding and wanting of you. When you reframe it, like they’re showing you their love and it totally doesn’t mean that you’re going to do all the things that they need you to do or want you to do, it just means that you recognize it for what it is that they love you. And that is so freeing in motherhood because then it doesn’t feel like all you’re doing all day is giving yourself and not really getting much back in return. And it’s easy I think as women and as mothers to feel that way that we’re not getting back. But we are getting so much back with our children if we will just notice the way they are giving it.
And I do want to say I do not have teenagers myself, but I have kind of a unique family situation and I have two younger siblings way younger than me, about 15 years younger than me. And so I have been able to kind of see my own mom raise teenagers, and I know how hard it can be to really notice someone giving you love in certain stages when they are really not showing it at all. I mean, teenagers aren’t really looking at you with those love-filled eyes and older children aren’t really like wanting to hold your hand or anything. So if I had teenagers right now and I was listening to me say this, I feel like I could maybe be rolling my eyes like, “okay, that’s all sweet and dandy for the ones with the little kids that adore them. But what about us with the kids that are annoyed with everything we say?” So I want to reframe the question a little bit that you would ask a teenager in your mind.
Rachel Nielson: In your mind you would ask them this, in your visualization?
Tessa Brown: Yes. Thank you. Yeah, this is all just visualizing. My kids don’t know I do this, but I would picture my teenager or older child or whoever it is, the child that’s giving you some grief right now. And I would picture them still with those pleading eyes because no matter what your kids are doing or saying they are looking for your love and they need to feel that love, just like you want to feel their love. They are desperately, desperately looking and asking and pleading for your love all day in the way that they are. So I would still picture their eyes pleading and asking you instead of saying, will you accept my love today? I would picture them asking you, will you love me exactly as I am today? And then picture the way that teenager or child is showing up in his or her life, whether good ways or bad ways. What I mean by showing up is: life is hard. Whether you’re two or five or 10 or 12 or 18, it’s not easy. And so chances are this child is going through something. If they’re giving you a lot of grief, a hard time, not showing you love, they’re experiencing their own difficulties right now. And the way they’re showing up is probably the best they can do. Whether you feel that or not, it’s the best that they can do right now.
So picture them showing up in their life and trying as hard as they can, and tell them in your mind, in your visualization, tell them, Yes, I will love you exactly as you are today. And I will talk a little bit more about this in another takeaway. But I really think that unconditional love is one of the most beautiful and healing things that you can give to someone. And because it’s such a beautiful, wonderful thing to give, it feels good. And so when you’re giving love like that unconditionally, you can accept love better even if they’re not really giving it at all.
Rachel Nielson: You can feel love even if it’s not necessarily coming from them. I feel like this is so powerful. So you do this one, you visualize your kids individually, and this whole process doesn’t take you longer than a couple of minutes, right?
Tessa Brown: Yes, totally.
And sometimes I’ll do it for a really long time cause it feels good. It really does feel good to just picture them and love them, you know? But if you don’t have much time, which a lot of times you don’t then yeah, two minutes at the most.
Rachel Nielson: And you picture each one of your kids individually with those eyes full of hope that their mom will love them as they are. And then you tell them I do love you as you are and I accept love the way that you give it to me. And you’ve said before that you also visualize your husband too, right?
Tessa Brown: I do. And it has been a game changer for me and my husband. I know he appreciates it because he has seen a difference. But when I started doing it to him and with him, I do a tiny bit different. I imagine all the ways he shows up for me that I don’t think about because you know, as you get older and get through marriage and have all the kids and the job and everything, it’s not roses and cards and dates all the time. Instead he’s showing up in a lot of different ways that are actually more meaningful when you look at it.
And so I picture him kind of bent over from all of the ways he’s trying to show up in his life to be the man that I want him to be and he wants to be. And it’s kinda heavy and it’s hard. It’s almost like he’s carrying a load and then when I say, I will love you exactly as you are and I’ll accept your love, I kind of picture him standing up like, “Oh my gosh, this load I’m carrying has been made lighter” because I do think that when someone loves you exactly as you are, it feels so freeing and light. Like you can get through anything. If that one person that you need to love you really loves you, then you can get through anything. And it really has made me see him in a different way and just be so grateful for him day in and day out for the things that he does that I take for granted sometimes.
Rachel Nielson: Well I feel like it almost makes me a little bit emotional to think about this, like picturing the people you love the most vulnerably putting their heart out to you; and asking for love is powerful and really brings you back to the grace and the compassion that you have for them. And I love what you said about practicing. The two minute visualization is a daily practice of how you want to live out each day, but you have to practice loving well and you have to practice loving unconditionally.
So what is your second takeaway? For times when we’re feeling really rundown in motherhood and we want to fall back in love with our kids.
Tessa Brown: All right, so my second one is called “savor it.” And I have to start with, I looked everywhere for this quote. That is the whole reason I started doing this. And I could not find it anywhere, but I think it was from an artist or a writer and I read it on a blog years and years ago. I think it was when I had my very first baby and it was this mom and she said something like, “There’s a picture of me and my children laying on a blanket outside in the grass and we have some food, a picnic in front of us. And I see my little kids all around me. And I wish I could remember what they were saying to me that day. I wish I could remember how it felt to have their little hands on me.”
And she just kind of went through a few things that she wishes she could remember. And it hit me so strong that I can take all the pictures in the world, but I’m not gonna remember in 10, 20 years what it feels like to have that little tiny toddler that I created, put his little hands on my face and say, “I love you, Mama.” Just those little tiny moments, I’m not going to remember that. And it made me sad. It kind of broke my heart that I’m going to forget how wonderful that is.
And so I started doing this thing that I called “savoring it,” which is probably something that lots of people do, but in a moment that I am just really taken aback by how much I love my kids– like we’re sitting on the couch and they’re cuddling up to me and I’m reading them a book. And you know how you kind of get that feeling like, “Oh my gosh, I love them so much. I can’t even hold it in me.” You know? And it doesn’t happen every day and it doesn’t happen multiple times a day always. And sometimes it’s just for two seconds and then they’re fighting or whatever. But I think all parents get that feeling, every so often of, “Oh my gosh, I love my kids so much.” So in that moment I try to take a step outside of myself. And I kind of, I always joke that my favorite part of any movie is when the music is just going and it’s like you can’t hear anybody what they’re saying, but it’s just showing like these little snippets of the people falling in love, you know? And it’s just so amazing and you’re like, “Oh, I wish the whole movie could just be this.” Everyone’s happy, nothing’s wrong. So it’s almost like that, it’s like that part of the movie, but your own life. You are kind of just looking at it for just the perfection you can find in it.
And it helps me if I take a sensory snapshot. What I mean by that is– what do they sound like right now? Are they kind of laying on your shoulder and you can hear their little breathing, or are they making funny noises or singing a cute silly song? Or if they’re older, I truthfully don’t know what they would be doing, but I’m sure you still get those moments of, “Oh, I love him so much.” So what did they sound like? And what do they look like? What are they wearing? Are they wearing their pajamas? And they kind of, you know, are all, all messy from sleep? Is there hair sticking up? Do they have yogurt on their face? Just the little tiny details of it and go through each of your senses.
And obviously you’re not going to be tasting them. So when I get to taste, sometimes there’s not anything that I can taste, but a lot of times I’ve noticed it’s when we’re eating, you know, cause I think food is so joyful. So are you guys all eating ice cream together and it’s dripping down their face, whatever it is, really picture and feel all of your senses taking this moment in and just sit in that and it feels so good. It almost feels like sunlight warming your soul. There’s actually a study that Yale did about savoring it, and they say savoring it helps you to look for the good and it helps you to stop your mind from wandering. And it helps you to increase your gratitude. If you will savor it and they say that writing it down really does help create the habit to look for those savor moments.
And so I do try to write it down. Sometimes I’ll just do it on Instagram with a little picture from the day that I love of my kids, and I’ll write down the little tiny things that the picture doesn’t show that I want to remember. Or sometimes I’ll write it in my journal. But truthfully, you know, I have an eight month old and so right now I feel like my schedule is all off and I hardly ever have time to write things down in my journal. And actually I’ve been so sleep deprived that even savoring it sounds like too much work. So if you are in a stage where you’re not loving it really, and what I’m saying sounds like no, there’s just no savoring them in the moment right now. Then I would maybe change the word to notice it.
And “notice” is such a little word, and it’s kind of taken for granted how powerful it is because when I even just think, notice it, just notice one thing about your kid that you just still love right in that moment. It really brings you to savoring, but it doesn’t feel like so much work. And so just the other day, my five year old, he is in the stage where he’s telling me these stories that sometimes last like I think they might never end.
Rachel Nielson: Oh yes! We’ve all been there!
Tessa Brown: Oh. And he thinks they’re so funny and this sounds terrible, but sometimes I just get so like irritable while I’m listening to them. Like, oh my gosh, how is this my life right now? Totally. Oh, the other day I was listening to him do that and I was just going crazy in my brain, like I have to get away because it was just going on and on.
And so instead I said, “Nope, notice it.” So I looked at his face and I kind of blocked out what he was saying and I just noticed how his nose from the time he was a little baby till now; he just kind of scrunches it when he laughs. And it is just the cutest thing. So I just noticed that while he was talking and it was so easy to feel love for him because I wasn’t focusing on the things that were frustrating or annoying and I wasn’t doing all the work to savor each little tiny moment, which is such a beautiful thing to do. But all I could do right in that moment was just noticed his little nose crinkle and it was so easy to let the love back in.
Rachel Nielson: That’s so beautiful. And I feel like noticing beautiful moments can contradict in your mind that it’s always hard. Sometimes we get in these frames of mind during the seasons where we’re like, no, literally it’s always hard. They’re always hard. But if you can stop and notice a really perfect moment, it sort of interrupts that and you’re like, it’s not always hard. This moment isn’t even if it’s just one moment of every day, it helps you to see: I do have beautiful moments with my kids every single day, even if it’s one single second. And so it can kind of help you to reframe that picture in your mind of like, it’s always going to be this way. It’s always hard
Tessa Brown: And I think it’s important– it makes you present in the moment and be okay in that present moment. Because I’ve found that sometimes when I’m really savoring a moment and– this is so silly, all of a sudden it will turn into guilt for I know later today I’m not going to be feeling this and how can I ever forget how much I love them? Or, oh my goodness, five minutes ago I was just yelling at them, how can I have yelled at them when I love them? I don’t know why the mind does that so naturally, and I don’t think that that’s unique to me. I just feel like it’s really easy for mothers to let guilt in when we’re not feeling so much love. So swap those thoughts away and just sit in that.
I like to think of it as, a lot of times on hard days there’s just kind of clouds over you and it feels really hard to see or feel that sunshine. And when you get one of those savor moments or when you’re just noticing the cute little crinkle in your son’s nose, it’s like the sun breaks through the clouds and just is warming you; sit in that warmth for a minute. Don’t let any of the clouds distract you and don’t think about how later that day you’re probably going to be annoyed at them again because you probably will be. And that’s okay. It’s just a good sweet sunshine, wonderful love moment and just let that be that..
Rachel Nielson: Yes, absolutely and then what is your last takeaway for us?
Tessa Brown: My last one is probably one of the most powerful experiences I’ve had in my life as a mom. My first child is just such a fun, intense excitable person and he’s been that way since he was little, so it’s so fun, but he had pretty intense tantrums, and he’s kind of a bigger boy. And so when he got to be about four years old, the tantrums– he was a pretty big hitter for probably three years and everyone said to me, “Oh, it’s fine, it’s fine, it’s fine.” But it’s hard when your kid is hitting other kids. And so it was a hard thing for me and I was trying a million different things to get him to stop and he was not stopping and I was just getting more and more angry about it because I kept feeling like it should stop. And so he was about four years old, and he was still having these huge tantrums once in a while, and he would turn red. Like I always joked that he kind of looks like that little baby on the Incredibles. He’s such a sweet boy and his whole demeanor would change and he would just come at me and hit me. And it got to the point where he was getting bigger and it hurt. I mean, even though he was only four, it hurt. And so not that he’s doing that, but I’m mad that he’s hurting me.
So it was just getting to be this awful cycle and I was trying everything, reading all the books and listening to everything, trying to figure out how to stop him. And I had tried so many different things. I was reading a book called Siblings Without Rivalry because I had my second child as well at this point. In it, it said that a child will do anything they can to get attention from their parents. And oftentimes they kind of get thrown into a category or a box. And it’s almost like it perpetuates itself into this cycle. Like you think that they’re being bad and so they think they’re being bad and then they realize they can get the attention for being bad and it just gets worse and worse and worse. And so whatever you’re giving them attention for is whatever they’re going to keep doing. And so really what they’re looking for and what they’re fighting for with their siblings or with themselves is just your love. And whenever I read things about love, it always really hits home to me. And so when I read that, I thought, well, maybe that’s all he’s really wanting is to feel love from me when he’s having one of those moments.
So the next day he was so mad about something and so tired and he totally changed his red face. And he came running at me and I got right down to his level, so I was kneeling and he came at me with his little fist all ready to start punching me. And I grabbed his hand softly and then I grabbed his little cheeks in my hand really softly and I looked at him for one second. And you know how kind of in those moments, I swear it was like time slowed down and for the first time– I’ve always just seen anger in him when he did that. But this time I saw another emotion behind the anger in those big, huge tears; in his eyes, I saw fear. He was kind of scared of himself, of these big emotions that he’s having. And I think we all feel that way a little bit when we’re having those big emotions. It’s kind of scary when you’re putting yourself down this path, and you don’t really know where it’s going to end up, but you just have all these emotions.
I said to him, “Boston, I love you so much. I don’t love what you’re doing right now, but there’s nothing in the world that would make me not love you no matter what you do. I’ll always love you.” And just even talking about kind of makes me get teary because the moment I said that, it was like everything just melted away from him, all the anger, everything. And he just broke down. He wasn’t angry crying, he was just sobbing and he fell into me. And I hugged him and he stopped hitting me. And then like for the next month, randomly, every few days he would just say, “Hey mom, remember how even if I hit you or do something bad, you’ll still love me?”. And I would say, “Yeah.” And he would say, “Yeah.” And that was it. You know, he’s just four years old.
But I just thought that was so sweet that it was like this aha moment for him that there was nothing he could do that would make his mom not love him. And I think about when I’m having a tantrum and feeling so frustrated and I was recently pregnant and I don’t do well emotionally when I’m pregnant. And so I feel like I had a lot of tantrums. And the only thing I ever wanted was for someone to just wrap me in a big hug and say, “I love you.” Because when you’re loved when you’re being your worst, that means the most, it means way more than when you’re loved for doing something great. And so it was such a powerful lesson to me and it really truly did stop his hitting. It wasn’t overnight, but I did that every time that he would hit me.
And he stopped really quickly. It was the only thing that worked. And so it just taught me that when you love your child, when they’re acting their worst when you love your child, when you least really want to show your love, it reminds you how powerful love is. And it really heals the giver and the receiver. Elizabeth Gilbert, she wrote Eat, Pray, Love, and also Big Magic— lots of books that I just love. And I’ve heard her talk on podcasts, and she said that she believes that trauma cannot be healed until there is a mother-love given. And she wasn’t talking about your actual mother. She was just saying that kind of unconditional love that you can give is the only thing that can heal someone who’s trying to go through trauma.
And I thought that was such a powerful message that unconditional love can heal anything. And I think that oftentimes when we’re going through a hard week or day, it can feel like trauma to your soul– just all the monotony and giving and giving. And that unconditional love from a mother– you are a mother and you’re giving that. You’re maybe not receiving it in that moment or it maybe you can’t tell that you’re receiving it, but when you’re giving it, I think it really does heal yourself and your relationship with your children. And it kind of lets you remember that love is a choice. You don’t just get to do it all the time because it sounds nice. You have to choose to love and especially choose to love unconditionally. And it’s the most important thing you can give your children. And it’s so beautiful and such a gift to be able to give a love like that.
Rachel Nielson: Yes, I absolutely agree. It shifts everything as far as what you’re feeling. Even if your kids’ behavior never changes, like their actions aren’t changing. What you’re feeling is very different when you come at it from a place of love.
Tessa Brown: And you don’t have any control over what they’re gonna do or what they’re gonna say about your love. So realizing that too, that you don’t have any control. All you can control is giving the love and have faith that that will mean a lot to them over time.
Rachel Nielson: Yes, absolutely. Well, this has been so beautiful and powerful, Tessa. I know there are a lot of moms out there listening who are in a dark hard place, and I know that because I have been there so many times as I know you have been where it’s just your kids just feel so hard and it feels so heavy. And so I’m so grateful to you for sharing these takeaways that hopefully moms can start trying today to bring back some love into their motherhood. Can you remind us what those three takeaways are?
Tessa Brown: Yeah, so the first one is to visualize the love you want to feel. The second is to savor it or notice it. And the third is to love them when you least feel like you want to or when they least deserve it.
Rachel Nielson: Thank you so much for sharing these takeaways and for the good and the life that you put out into the world. And if people want to find your artwork or follow you, where, where should they go?
Tessa Brown: On Instagram. My Instagram handle is @tessaleeart.
Rachel Nielson: Okay, great. Well, thank you so much for coming on 3 in 30 today.
Tessa Brown: Thank you so much, Rachel, for having me. I really appreciate all the goodness you put into the world.