Life with Lots of Littles

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Episode Synopsis

Jani talks with one of her daughters-in-law about the constant demands and stimulation overload young mothers deal with. How can the Lord restore your soul in the midst of so many needy little people pulling at you?

Audio Transcript

Jani: Hello everyone and welcome to He Restores My Soul with Jani Ortlund. And I have convinced my daughter-in-law, Esther, to stay with me and record a second podcast. We just had so much fun last week on our podcast, so thank you for recording another one for our listeners, Esther.

Who is Esther Ortlund?

Jani: Some of you might remember from our last episode, Esther is married to our youngest son, Gavin. She and Gavin serve at a church in Ojai, California, where Gavin is the lead pastor and they have four little ones. Let’s see. The oldest one just turned 8, and then they have a daughter (6). The oldest one is Isaiah, and then Naomi is six. Elijah is three and a half (he made sure I know he’s a “half”). And then little Miriam just turned 10 months.

Jani: Esther and Gavin and the children have been here with us for a few days visiting, and I have been so impressed, Esther—I know you didn’t know I was going to do this but I just want to brag about you to our listeners—I’ve been really impressed with how hard you work with these children and how much it shows. I mean, what you are doing is reaping fruit.

The never-ending Task of Parenting

Jani: I know we’re going to talk about how you restore your soul during these hard years of raising littles but, I’d like to ask you about goals for your family because I’ve seen you work with your kids on having good manners; I’ve seen you work with them on being kind, on speaking kind (you model it for them, you tell them, you insist on certain behaviors); I’ve seen you work hard to feed them healthy food. I mean, you just get done with one meal, get it cleaned up and I think you have time to maybe comb your hair or get yourself a drink before you nurse the baby and start the next meal. You’re really, really busy. And I just wonder how do you do it?

Jani: Do you have any advice for young moms in goals you’ve set for your family and how to achieve those goals? I mean, is it a conscious thought in your mind, “I want my children to be mannerly therefore I’m going to work on this?”

Esther Ortlund: Well, it’s very humbling because I’m in the throes of young motherhood and don’t feel like I’ve got it all figured out so, “Thank you.” But I think, yes, about manners I do. I think probably all parents probably have different goals or maybe things that they emphasize. But I do think manners is something that’s important to us. And so we try to insist on that. Not in a legalistic or demanding way but try to emphasize “please” and “thank you” and just politeness. Not chewing with your mouth open. Those kind of things that sometimes I feel like I’m saying them 50 times a day. But my hope is that when they’re older and they’re adults, they have good manners and that they’re pleasant and enjoyable to be around. So trying to take the long view of, “I don’t want to be just a nagging mom.” My hope is to see the fruit, you know, by God’s grace in later years that they’re learning how to treat people with respect.

Jani: That’s one of the things that I’ve appreciated seeing. As we’re eating together, you don’t like “I told you 10 times, chew with your mouth closed.” But it’s more “Now remember, we we want to with our mouth closed.” And you keep saying it until it happens. Or when I give the children something you’ll say, “Say, “Thank you, Mamie.’” And then they do it. I mean you’re modeling it for them all the time over and over and over again. I appreciate that. I mean, with four little ones, that’s a lot of modeling. So, way to go girl! Wow.

TIP: Team Up

Jani: I wonder though. I know our young moms who are listening, like you, I just don’t know how you do it. You must be very tired. You’re nursing your baby. You have three other little ones, two of whom you’re having to do, what do they call it distance learning?

Esther Ortlund: Distance learning.

Jani: And so you’re setting them up on their Zoom calls and all these things I’m learning about. And that’s a lot and you’ve got to take care of the three-year-old in between so the two older ones can do their school while you’re nursing the baby. Okay, how do you do it?

Esther Ortlund: Well, I get pretty tired.

Jani: What do you do when you get tired? How do you handle it?

Esther Ortlund: I think I’m just so thankful that I have Gavin. We really team up, you know, I don’t feel like it’s just me or I’m alone. I tend to get up with the kids early and, you know, I’m nursing, so I’m the one nursing overnight. She’s teething right now so we’ve been up a little bit more. But, you know, he typically works about a 9 to 5 schedule. Our two oldest kids go to school two mornings a week. He’ll drive them to school so I don’t have to get all four kids in the car just to drive 30 seconds down the road. But when he gets home at 5pm, he really kind of takes over. I usually prepare dinner because I like to cook. But he’ll, you know, take them outside to play or wrestle or watch a show together or something, he kind of takes over. And I focus on getting dinner ready for us. And then typically, after dinner, he’s the one playing with them or doing the bathing, books, praying, putting to bed. I kind of take care of the baby and the cleanup. So we kind of just divide and conquer. And sometimes that may be different depending on, you know, if he has an elders meeting or if he’s out of town or sometimes I lead a small group, once a month, if I’m gone, then he has all four kids.

Jani: So you team up.

Esther Ortlund: We team up. Yeah, that helps.

TIP: Divide Duties

Jani: Now let me ask you. I mean, I know I raised Gavin and he’s just wonderful but I’m sure this took some learning. Do you have any wisdom for that mom who just maybe has one or two and she feels overwhelmed and she doesn’t know how to ask her husband for help?

Esther Ortlund: Yeah, I think, I don’t know or remember, you know, when we decided that, “I like to load the dishwasher and he likes to unload it.” But I think just every couple probably has their own rhythms of how they divide up housework. Or just the details of life. I feel like we were, some of those things were probably already in a groove and then it just continued with children. But I think there are times where you may not know you need help until you lose it and you’re exasperated and, you know.

Jani: You’re at your end.

Esther Ortlund: You’re at your end. And so we kind of use the word “tweaked,” like, “I feel like I’m tweaked.” You know, both of us can say that to each other. And so we can say, “Why don’t you go lay down and take five.” You know, that doesn’t mean literally five minutes only, but give each other the freedom, you know.

Jani: Withdraw for a little bit.

Esther Ortlund: Withdraw for a little bit. I got it. We use the phrase “on duty”. “I’ll be on duty.” I really love hiking and we live close to some very beautiful hiking trails. That’s restorative to my soul—the exercise, the being outdoors. Going through the orange groves in California. Sometimes I listen to podcasts, sometimes I bring the baby in the Ergo carrier, sometimes it’s just me. But that, you know, so he frees me up to go do that and he’s home with the kids. And then there are some times where he’s got some guys from church he likes to go play soccer with and so I’m home with the kids. Those are just a couple little examples.

Esther Ortlund: But we trade off. So if I know he’s got an elders meeting on one night, so he’ll be gone from 6 to 8, you know, he’ll sometimes try to come home at 4 that day rather than 5. So he can give the kids some extra attention and I can go work out if I want or take a nap or just have some time to myself. So we try to just give and look out for each other. You know, look at the weekly schedule and say, “Hey, how can we help each other out this week?”

Communicate: “Honey, this isn’t working for me.”

Jani: Yes, I really like that. And I just might add, I wasn’t as good in asking Ray to help me, letting him know. And so we had to work on it harder than you and Gavin have. You seem to have both gotten into this rhythm. But something that did help me was when I learned to tell Ray, “Honey, this isn’t working for me.” If I just could use that phrase. Because what I would do, Esther, is I would just store up. I’d think I could, I should, I will try. But eventually then I just burned out and I’d be crying before I’d ask for help. And I’d be kind of mad that he didn’t figure out that I needed help. He just didn’t know. He had never been the father of four little ones. He didn’t understand. And he needed, he appreciated it when I could ask him calmly.

Jani: And so just even, dear young mama, if your husband and you are not in a rhythm yet, ask the Lord for a phrase that you could give to your husband, that you could use, that would not be accusatory saying, “You just never help me with the kids and I’m all burned out.” But put it on you: “This isn’t working for me. I’m not strong enough to be able to do this. Can I ask you for some help here?” How can we make this a, what Ray and I call, now a “win-win” where we both feel like we’re winning. So pray about it and ask the Lord to help you speak with your husband.

“What about when you are both on ‘overload’?”

Jani: Esther, are there other ways that you’ve been helped when you’ve been on stimulation overload? I mean, what if Gavin has a book deadline due and he can’t come home early or he has to work Saturdays for six weeks to get the manuscript in?

Esther Ortlund: Yeah, I think, you know, as we were, as you were just talking about, you know, ways you communicate with Ray too. And I was thinking, I imagine some of the people listening may be single moms or maybe you are in a difficult marriage where your spouse may not be available, emotionally, or just physically maybe, you know.

Jani: Maybe he’s overseas.

Seek out help from your Community

Esther Ortlund: Maybe you’re both working full time and you’re both at your capacity and there’s just not margin. I think something that really helps me out is reaching out to other members of the community. We’ve never lived close by extended family so we’ve often relied on our church family and friends to help. You know, maybe there’s older women in your church that would love to help serve you in some way. They may not know. Or maybe there’s other young women, other young moms that can team up with you and say, “Hey, let’s trade off childcare.”

Jani: Do you think they would need you to extend yourself to ask that? Or how have you found?

“You’ll miss these years!” vs. “Can I help?”

Esther Ortlund: Yeah, I think often, it can feel awkward to say, “I really need some help. Is there anyone in the church that can help me.” You know, to make a Sunday morning announcement or send an all-church email? But I think start with the people you already have relationships with. Or maybe there’s an older woman or just someone who you think you’d like to get to know. And, I don’t know, the two of you are talking and they’re saying, “How are you doing?” I’m kind of feeling overwhelmed with the kids right now. I’d love, could you pray for me? Or I’m wishing I had more help. I don’t know that might sound awkward. I’m just trying to think of, just be yourself. Be honest. Pray. Ask the Lord. I think there are, I’ve been blessed by various different older godly women in different churches who have sometimes offered help with childcare. Some who have offered, one lady who has you know, she’ll come once a month and just do a craft with the kids for a couple hours in the afternoon.

Jani: Okay, older ladies, are you listening to this young mama, that’s so great. Because some of them like, I have no grandchildren who lived near me. Little ones mean a lot to me. I know, Heidi’s children are very special to me, our listeners know that. And I like to help with them as whenever I can. So older women, listen to what Esther is saying and maybe if you see that young mama with three kids clinging to her, she’s trying to get them all into the car and she looks overwhelmed. Ask the Lord, is there something you could do even just once a month? If you said “Could I come, you know, once a month for three hours and read books to your children or be there while they nap and give you time away?

Esther Ortlund: Yeah, you can go take a shower or take a nap or go to the grocery store. Yeah, I think you know, we in California, we have been having church outside for a few months and one of our friends who’s one of our go-to just wonderful people who babysits for us. Gavin is the pastor so he gets there early and I’m, you know, driving up in the van with four kids unloading lawn chairs and blankets because we bring our own chairs and our sweet friend, we don’t even communicate about it. She sees my car pulling in the parking lot. She’s at the van as soon as I put the car in park, she’s getting the lawn chairs out, she’s helping the kids unbuckle. That is so meaningful and that’s such a ministry. And that’s something pretty much anybody could do those types of things. It’s just tangible physical help.

Jani: Yes.

Esther Ortlund: Another set of eyeballs and I think sometimes, I don’t know, because I’m not an empty nest phase of life yet, but I wonder, perhaps if maybe if women don’t know that they could help or don’t know that their help would be needed. I feel like often Gavin and I used to joke back when we had maybe one or two kids, people would always say to us like “Oh, those are the best years. You’ll miss those years.” And you know, sometimes we’re crawling out of our skin.

Jani: I probably said that to you.

Esther Ortlund: No I think you are helpful and you say “These are hard years.” Thank you. And they are wonderful and I know we will miss them but they are also hard. And so sometimes you can feel a little bit over-burdened, when you’re feeling like you’re sweating, you’re exhausted, you know, you’ve got the kids to church and maybe it was a battle to get there and someone says, “Oh, isn’t it great. You’ll miss this someday.” It’s like, what you could really use is,

Jani: “How can I help?”

Esther Ortlund: Hey, can I help? Can I carry the diaper bag for you? Can I, oh, that carseat looks heavy. Something. Oh, someone’s misbehaving? “Hey, buddy. Let’s follow mom.” You know, “I got some crayons here you can…” I don’t know.

The impact of Empathy

Jani: Yes. Empathy, compassion, kindness. Trying to see it from the young mother’s point of view rather than from where you are right now. Yeah, it’s very easy to forget the hard times once the kids are grown and gone. But it is. It’s constant.

Esther Ortlund: Yeah. I think what you just said about empathy is so helpful, because it’s easy to think “I miss my kids. I wish they were still young.” And kind of put that on the mom. And I think another thing to mention is we never know who may be struggling. You don’t know what, none of us ever truly know what other people are dealing with. But people may be struggling with a difficult marriage. They may be grieving. Maybe they just had a miscarriage and they didn’t tell anybody. Maybe they are struggling with postpartum depression. I mean, there’s so many sometimes deep needs people may have that you may not know about. And just throwing out comments like that, even though you’re intending them in a loving way, may not be received as loving.

Esther Ortlund: So I think just having our eyes open to say, okay, if you’re in the older life stage, “Who are the young women in my life or my church that that you’ve put, are there any ways I could serve them?” And maybe even just asking. I’ve had people ask me before, like there’s a lady in our church, a wonderful person during this COVID season who has said, “Could I make you dinner once a week for the next month or so?” So conscious. Like “I have this idea. If you don’t feel comfortable with it because of COVID or anything.”

Jani: I love that woman. I love her. Thank you for loving my kids.

Esther Ortlund: I mean, it was such a meaningful gift. She just called me and asked and she freed me up to say “No, thank you!” if that happened, but of course I took her up on it. What a gift!

Jani: Yes.

“But it’s so awkward and vulnerable to ask!”

Esther Ortlund: What I’m saying is it’s okay to feel awkward and vulnerable, putting yourself out there both as the “Asker” or I’m feeling overwhelmed. Is there anyone who could reach out to me and extend the hand of friendship? I need someone maybe just to take a walk with me and pray with me. Or maybe I want someone to come over and listen to me share about struggles in my life while we fold laundry together. Or maybe you want to disciple someone who doesn’t know how to read the Bible. I mean, there, it always requires a little bit of vulnerability and awkwardness. But it’s worth it.

Jani: Push through that.

Esther Ortlund: Push through that and let’s say you extend the offer and no one is interested. That’s okay. It’s still good that you did it. And similarly, you can feel a little bit embarrassed or awkward if you ask for help and no one’s able to meet it. But I think, keep trying. You know, the body of Christ is diverse and there’s so many different gifts. I think the hope would be that there could be someone who could serve you in some way. It may not be the way you’re desiring or you’re thinking but I think we need each other. I mean, this isn’t just young moms. All single, married, widowed…you know, we need each other. And so look for ways you can serve other members of your church.

Jani: Oh, that’s so helpful, Esther, that’s so helpful.

In Summary

Jani: Well, Esther, thank you so much. You know, you mentioned that verse, he “sets the lonely in families.” (Psalm 68:6). I think that’s appropriate for us to think about now because it is lonely to be a mom of the littles. And it also can be lonely to be an older woman who doesn’t have any littles in her life and she doesn’t know how. So we need each other. And I think what you’re saying is “Extend yourself.” And if no one takes you up, don’t be so hurt that you withdraw. Try to extend yourself again in another way. And for those older, as I am, let’s be listening. Let’s be watching. Let’s be looking. Titus 2 talks about the older women training the younger women, you know, in their, in how to be a young mom and how to take care of their homes. That’s part of our responsibility and delight. And I think the Lord will restore our souls as we follow him in this way as we build relationships among women in the church to care for one another in this way.

Jani: Esther, thank you so much. I don’t want you to have to go back to California but I have to say goodbye to you. Thank you very much.

Esther Ortlund: Thank you.

Thank You

Thank you for joining us today. This podcast is generously funded through Renewal Ministries. If you would like to discover more about Jani and Ray’s ministry or make a donation, visit their website at If you have a question for Jani or would like to learn more about this podcast, please visit our website at

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He Restores My Soul with Jani Ortlund seeks to encourage women with God’s renewing power for their busy lives. Episodes include relevant biblical teaching, stimulating gospel conversations with other Christians, and “Ask Jani” sessions where we talk about what’s on our listeners’ hearts.

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