Our eldest just received the Sacrament of Confirmation, and the chrism oil smeared across her teenaged forehead transported me back to when she received the same glorious-smelling oil on her bitty baby head at baptism. Incidentally, teenagers don’t tolerate their mothers huffing their sweet-smelling heads as well as infants do. Truly, truly I say to you: The days are long, yet the years are short. 

Now, as a young Mom, my skin crawled whenever someone observed my spirited youngsters and felt compelled to offer this gem: “Treasure every! single! minute!” I’d force a smile and bite my tongue to keep from pelting the well-meaning stranger with a litany of grievances. Did she expect me to cherish every blow-out diaper, each sleepless night, all ear infections and colicky episodes? How about the countless tantrums and the myriad other exhausting maladies of young motherhood?

Today, comments about how full my hands are don’t irk me like they used to. When the cashier at the store is mortified that I have the audacity to mother five—FIVE!!—children and declares: “That’s too many kids!” I’m neither shocked nor angry, and I’m certainly not losing any sleep over her ridiculous opinion. Rather, I laugh heartily and ask: “Which one would you like me to take back?” 

I’m not exactly sure when the shift from defensive exhaustion to more confident acceptance of my vocation happened, but it’s a welcome development. Insecurity in my new identity as a wife coupled with uncertainty as a new mother was a one-two punch that only consistent surrender to God could heal. Perhaps as I gained more experience, I grew more confident. Maybe the unrelenting responsibilities of family life beat me down to the point where I ran out of cares to give regarding others’ observations.

Regardless the impetus, today I’m much more comfortable in my own skin, stretchy and scarred as it is. While I haven’t transfigured into a perfect person (I won’t hold my breath for any spouse or mother of the year awards), I recognize and lean into my God-given strengths and implore Jesus, His Mother, and a small cadre of saints to help with my many imperfections.

Accepting and loving myself better means I can accept and love others better, too, including the young families I often encounter. I never implore these unsung heroes to enjoy every moment of parenthood lest they lose heart. Instead, I try to practice the simple kindnesses I appreciated when I was in their shoes.

Recently I’ve become She Who Smiles at the weary mom herding an energetic crew of children at the grocery store. It’s a bit odd since, for so long, *I* was the sweaty, overwhelmed mom struggling to hold it together whilst cleaning up an infant, toddler, and preschooler on Aisle 12.

Now, don’t get me wrong—I still get sweaty and overwhelmed—but these days, instead of schlepping diaper bags overflowing with toys, onesies, and stale cereal while sprinting after escaping littles, I’m helping our kids schlep the difficult crosses inherent in 21st century childhood and young adulthood. It is still hard; it’s just a different varietal of hard. Call it Motherhood: Version 2.0. 

Not too long ago, my husband and I went on a dinner date. A young couple dined at the next table over with their passel of progeny. The familiar cacophony of hungry and energetic tykes angling for tasty morsels and drink cups was being reasonably managed by Dad while Mom attempted to pacify the newest addition with milk.

As the family finished their meal and began the minutes-long process of gathering children and belongings, I smiled at the mom and said, “You have a beautiful family.” She sighed and said, “This was our first attempt out to dinner with everyone since the baby was born.” I said, “Well, y’all did great!” She beamed as she replied, “Thank you! We just might try it again some time.”

Earlier this month, our family packed tightly into a pew at my parents’ parish for Easter Sunday Mass. Effusive babbling and constant movement behind me indicated the presence of a busy toddler whose mother was striving to keep him from bothering me. I turned and smiled at Mom and son, assuring her I was just fine, and that she needn’t apologize for bringing an active little soul to Mass. “What a lovely child you have,” I said. “Happy Easter!”

I’m no saint; my husband and children still give me a run for my money every day of the week and twice on Monday. I’m just a Mom who knows there are other moms (and dads and grandparents and friends and neighbors and strangers) who could likely benefit from our kindness. As Saint Teresa of Calcutta said, “Let us always meet each other with a smile, for the smile is the beginning of love.” Let’s try to be that love to those we encounter today.